It’s clean, bright and shiny in Singapore. It’s an international city where English is spoken far and wide and the plugs are the same 3-pins as back at home. In fact orientating the centre of this tiny country is about as easy to cope with as any city in the UK – and probably a lot easier with its impressive transport infrastructure.
Get past the gloss of the flashy buildings and the serious glitz of the shopping malls and you’ll be rewarded with quirky and unique districts that are as individual as the Singaporean Chili Crab signature dish served up in the Hawker centres.
Eating in Little India
It was getting late (around 10pm) when we headed down Serangoon Road. There was plenty of activity with the bright lights of Deepavali celebrations but it seemed that most cafes had closed up for the Saturday night.
Stumbling upon an outdoor square with people eating we headed for a much-needed refreshment of a beer in the sticky, humid night air. Befriending an elderly gent (who didn’t actually work there as we later found out) he lead us to a stall whose lager offer didn’t stretch below 8% (when Special Brew is the lowest alcohol content on offer in the fridge you know you should probably turn around). So of course we bought a bottle of Premium Strength Kingfisher – it looked and sounded the least harmful of the choice (Haywards 5000, Godfather, and the aforementioned Special Brew).
With bemused glances from our fellow drinkers our elderly friend informed us the area was for ‘local workers’ unbeknown to us we were sitting in the middle of a potential staff canteen.
After the delightfully tasting lager-syrup concoction we went on the search for food. At 10.30pm this appeared a tall-order for Little India. We had walked through a pungent smelling Hawker Centre (indoor food hall) and a few non-beer serving indian veggie restaurants.
After dodging the traffic and doing as the locals seem to – close your eyes, run across a busy road and hope you don’t get knocked over – we found Jungle Tandoor. This weirdly themed north indian restaurant is full of odd animal paraphernalia. While we’re not sure where squirrels and rabbits sit happily with Lions, White Tigers and Polar Bears – with a few red indians thrown in along Bhuddist Monk – thank goodness the food was more authentic than the decor.
Shopping on Haji Lane
From beautifully made bikes in grass green, sky blue and orange with brown leather trims and, most importantly, shiny white tyres at Tokyo Bike to reasonably priced bags, accessories and uber-cute clothes from the lovely Blog Shop there is a multitude of great things to choose from.
If you fancy a spot to eat there are plenty of cute and inexpensive cafes and sheesha bars to choose from. It is pretty cheap to eat in the area (SGD $5.50/£2.75 for a bowl of noodles with prawns and pork). You’ll get basic but tasty and nourishing food to keep you going for the rest of your shopping trip.
Where to go for Culture
Armenian Street is the heart of the ‘Culture Quarter‘ and has several good spaces to check out. PEEK! sells cult photography items from Lomography and Superheadz and is an analogue phorographer lovers dream. It nt only looks great and is full of lovely items but there is also a gallery space to give you inspiration on what to do with your newly purchased kit.
Meanwhile local artists take up residency in The Substation where a gallery space showcases work in Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts centre. You can see a mix of critically acclaimed artists with new up-and-coming talent depending on the day you visit.
Set over 4-floors Art Plural inhabits an impressive art deco building and presents solo and group exhibitions along with public art projects, conferences and installations. You’ll need to press the buzzer to get in but don’t be intimidated; the staff are friendly and helpful and willing to walk you around the space and tell you about the work if you wish.
Where to Stay
Set within the tranquil surroundings of Fort Canning Park (which hosts the occasional concert – on the night we arrived it was ‘retro night’ with Human League) Hotel Fort Canning opened in November 2010 after an extensive two and a half year refurbishment (costing SGD$70m) from its former use as a club house.
The hotel was originally built in 1926 and used for the British Far East Command Centre as a military base for personnel. With a vantage point on the hill of Singapore’s River (since hidden by buildings and skyscrapers) the park and area is steeped in history. So much so that the hotel has remnants from an archaeological find with pieces on display integrated in to the lobby floor under glass. The displays showcase pottery pieces from the 14th century and contrasting them with the finds of the 19th century and early British occupation.
The sympathetic refurb has discovered many of the period pieces of the building and the design has taken the surroundings of the park and planted them firmly in the rooms. With the use of wood, soft furnishings in golds and greens there are no photo’s or art on the walls rather mirrors, lighting and feature fabric headrests to the ceiling.
The ‘open’ concept of a large free-standing deep bath tub in the middle of some of the rooms might strike you as odd – especially if you’re sharing the room with a friend rather than partner – but it makes for a fun experience. Other rooms have a separate bathing area but with the ability to open the blinds and look out from the tub.
The inspiration for the concept comes once again from outdoors and the park which in the 14th Century was home to the royal bath house. These touches recently lead to the hotel winning Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Architectural Heritage Award for the careful preserving and integrating of the heritage icon.
In contrast one of the hotel’s dining areas is set within a recently added Glass House building. The space also includes a hi-tec gym and a spa. Joining the old with the new are two outdoor pools; one for lengths and one for splashing with the addition of very nice poolside furniture and day beds.
The boutique hotel has 86 rooms all with original conservation doors with glass panels that look out on to the lush park or cityscape. Just a 10 minute walk to the popular Clarke Quay area for drinks and food and a five minute hop to shopping onOrchard Road the hotel is in a perfect place to visit Singapore.
-Free Wireless to keep on contact at home and tweet pictures of the bath tub
-Cocktails from 6-8pm – what is not to like about that?
-The Zepplin Mini to charge your iPhone
- Period Patio doors that open out on to lush green palm trees
One of Singapore’s newest hotels (officially opened in October 2011) OASIA is a glass tower with contemporary styled rooms and an impressively high-ceilinged foyer with beautiful raw wood features. Offering an awesome vista of Singapore’s landscape the hotel teeters happily between business and pleasure clients and offers an impressive list of facilities.
The hotel sits in the Novena District and just outside the hustle and bustle of the city (but only 2 short MRT stops away Orchard Road shopping area) and has the feel of a much more intimate hotel than its 428 rooms might suggest.
One of the jewels in Oasia’s crown has to be the 22nd Floor ‘Living Room’. Open to Oasia Club guests you’ll get to swim in one of Singapore’s highest hotel views with stunning views of the skyline or relax in the Jacuzzi. There are sun loungers if you need some R&R from the city and complimentary cocktails and canapes are served up by the friendly and helpful staff from 6pm to 8pm.
The unfussy rooms are inspired by ‘natural elements’ and give full use of natural light to compliment the wood flooring and furnishings.
-The use of natural materials throughout the hotel
-The gorgeous Living Room pool
-Using the complimentary WiFi while sipping cocktails
-The fab views – especially in a thunderstorm
The details: Oasia Hotel Singapore, 8 Sinaran Drive, Singapore 307470, Tel: +65 6664 0333