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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Singapore.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Singapore.
Here’s what my first breakfast in my new home of Singapore looked like: sticky, slime-colored coconut custard jam slathered over a thin crisp of toasted brown bread, served with a side of two eggs so undercooked that their whites retained the clarity of newly dead fish eyes. Alongside, a small cup of coffee with an oleaginous blackness that rejected the advances of condensed milk. It was not love at first sight.
And yet, in a way that only travelers can appreciate, a passion was born. The basis of a classic Singaporean breakfast, kaya is a custard of coconut milk, eggs, and sugar, flavored with pandan leaf, which gives the jam the perfume of freshly cut grass and the flavor of the underside of a lawn mower. In the Malay language, kaya means “rich.” But the richness doesn’t end with the jam. It’s served with barely boiled eggs, cracked into the runny eggs served in cups. The jam was so fresh I ate three helpings and ordered another tapow (to go).
After more than three years of obsessing over breakfast, I reached the apotheosis of my kaya quest. A search for the oldest kopitiam in Singapore led me to Heap Seng Leong, a flashback to a world of “uncles” in pajama pants, milk-can ashtrays, and old men lingering over newspapers as the day turns from balmy to incendiary. Decades of dietary fads have gone unnoticed at this kopitiam, which specializes in kopi guyou-coffee with an oil slick of butter on top. The taste is just what you’d expect: black coffee plus butter. There’s a reason you don’t do this at home. The most amazing thing I saw here was the ancient proprietor hand-slicing a loaf of bread the size of a cocker spaniel. It was not the best kaya toast, but the improbable fact that this mid-century holdover is in business at all is astonishing.
When friends visited me, the first thing I would do is whisk them off to Tong Ah. I told myself I was showing them a Singaporean secret. But I was also revealing a bit about myself, and that’s the point of obsessions.
My passion for kaya—a food item my father found so inscrutable he put it on ice cream—really has nothing to do with jam. And everything to do with my love for and fascination with Singapore and Singaporeans. Along the way I discovered how to disappear into a faraway place and come away with a rich experience.
HEAP SENG LEONG:
Entering this kopitiam is “like stepping into a time portal,” writes Leslie Tay, the Singaporean behind food blog ieatishootipost .sg. “We need places like this so that our kids know where we came from and what it was like in the past. 10 North Bridge Rd.
TONG AH EATING HOUSE:
Local kaya-philes love the extra-crispy toast served at this iconic kopitiam located on a street lined with old shophouses. Breakfast is not the only specialty- dinner features home-style dishes. 35 Keong Saik Rd.
For deliciously messy breakfasts served on weathered marble tables, try this old-school kopitiam in the Joo Chiat neighborhood, which specializes in toasted buns topped with custardy kaya jam. 204 East Coast Rd.
It’s true that some of the biggest, loudest and longest Chinese New Year celebrations happen in China, but with these come the crowds. The family focus on Chinese New Year in China sees the world’s largest human migration surging towards Beijing, creating deadlocked human traffic jams, which kind of take the fun out of the festival.
Don’t expect empty streets – partygoers pile into Singapore to join in the extraordinary mix of old and new traditional celebrations. The Chingay Parade is the largest street and float parade in all of Asia, with dancing dragons, stilt walkers, acrobats and lion walkers. At the River Hongbao you’ll see traditional song and dance performances and a release of giant lanterns.
No Chinese New Year celebration is complete without a totally over-the-top fireworks display and Singapore certainly turns on the pyrotechnics. Expect a blinding display that turns night into a colourful day.
From evocative artefacts to million-dollar light shows, plus the simple pleasure of hitting the city’s diverse neighbourhoods where daily life is the best show in town, Singapore rewards visitors with enough to do and see.
To explore Singapore without breaking the bank.
From the beautifully-preserved vibrant ethnic neighbourhoods to peaceful gardens, there are plenty of free things to do in this city. While you’re at it, make sure you sample some ridiculously-cheap local food.
ESPLANADE: THEATRES ON THE BAY
Home of the esteemed Singapore Symphony Orchestra, this architecturally-striking arts centre hosts an action-packed programme spanning music, theatre and dance. There’s no shortage of free events, from live-music gigs to art exhibitions and film screenings. Don’t miss the view from its rooftop garden.
GARDENS BY THE BAY
Spanning 101 hectares, Gardens by the Bay is a showpiece of modern Singapore, and much of it is free to visit, from the four themed areas of the Heritage Gardens, to Marc Quinn’s ‘floating’ sculpture of a giant sleeping infant boy, Planet. Topping it off is the twice-nightly Garden Rhapsody sound-and-light show.
MARINA BAY SANDS
Like Gardens by the Bay, MBS — a sprawling hotel, casino, theatre, exhibition centre, mall and museum — dazzles with its own twice- or thrice-nightly spectacular, Wonder Full, a 13-minute light, laser and water show choreographed to a stirring score that sees Marina Bay transformed into a video art screen.
Chinatown is a visceral jungle of heady temples, medicinal curiosities, heritage shophouses and still-wriggling market produce. It costs nothing to explore the architecture of places such as the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, the gut-rumbling Chinatown Complex wet market, or the contemporary exhibitions at pocket-sized Utterly Art.
Singapore’s most refreshingly unruly inner neighbourhood offers an intense dose of colours, sounds and scents. Soak up the hypnotic energy of the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, the fairytale architecture of the Abdul Gafoor Mosque, and the riotously colourful shops and stalls of Dunlop Street and Buffalo Road. Look out for the showmanship of roadside brewers ‘pulling’ hot milk tea, teh tarik, to create the characteristic thick frothy top.
Go farm-hopping in Singapore’s far northwest, home to rustic enterprises peddling everything from mangoes to goat’s milk and frog meat. They offer a different take on Singaporean life and the Kranji Countryside Association, a farm collective helping to promote the industry, runs a daily hop on-hop off minibus service that visits many of the best farms en route.
Singapore Airlines, Air India, Jet Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Malindo fly to Singapore Nits from Mumbai and New Delhi. The convenient ez-link Singapore Tourist pass offers visitors unlimited travel on basic bus, MRT and LRT trains. In the city centre, taxis are good for short distances.
MAKANSUTRA GLUTTONS BAY
This row of alfresco hawker stalls is a great place to start your food odyssey. Get indecisive over classics such as oyster omelette, satay, barbecue stingray and black carrot cake. Head in early or late to avoid the frustrating hunt for a table.
If you need some comfort in a bowl, this cult-status joint off Boat Quay delivers with its bak kut teh (pork rib soup). Literally `meat bone tea’, it’s a soothing concoction of fleshy pork ribs simmered in a peppery broth of herbs, spices and whole garlic cloves. Be in by 11.45am for lunch or before 7pm for dinner, or else head to the back of the queue.
It might be a canteen-style joint in Little India, but who cares when the food is this good? Wash your hands by the sink at the back, and tuck into a delicious thali, dosa or uttapam.
One of the best-value options in Little India, Haising Hotel is a basic but friendly place. Rooms are pokey and some come without a window, but all have private bathroom.
Wanderlust delivers highly imaginative rooms, including monochromatic Pantone numbers and comic-book ‘mono’ rooms. Extra perks include free iPad use and a French restaurant.
Just around the corner from Orchard Road, Holiday Inn Express is good value. Rooms are tasteful, with neutral hues, bold yellow lounge chairs, iPod docking stations and bathrooms with decent-sized showers.
Fancy a curry?
Table by Rang Mahal offers authentic North Indian and coastal food and is very popular with the locals.
Clarke Quay is at the mouth of the Singapore River, where the first major businesses were set up during Singapore’s early years. While no longer a harbour or port for passing boats, Clarke Quay has maintained its position as the heart of the Central Business District. The Clarke Quay stretch is particularly known for its entertainment and dining hubs and its close proximity to cultural enclaves and other popular tourist attractions in Singapore.
Park Regis is the upscale brand of the Australian StayWell Hospitality Group (SWGH), one of the largest independently owned hotel management groups in Asia Pacific with a network of 30 properties in the region. Park Regis Singapore is the first SWGH property to open in Asia.
Park Regis Singapore offers 202 smartly designed rooms to maximise space. A thoughtful addition in all rooms is the alcove next to the window that acts as a reading cove or alternative day bed for guests. All rooms boast either a view of the park, the hotel’s stunning 25m outdoor pool with cascading waterfall or the hustle and bustle of Clarke Quay and Boat Quay near by. The rooms are also complemented with innovative technology, such as the inclusion of Handy, a smartphone device that gives guests free unlimited 3G wireless internet and free unlimited local and international calls to select countries.
All-day intercontinental dining is available at Twenty3 Drink & Dine that serves local and international fare at its breakfast buffet and a la carte meals the rest of the time. The breakfast buffet is worth checking out, soley for its hot noodle station, where chefs prepare a local noodle du jour a la minute. There is also Royal Pavilion, a 142-seater modern Cantonese restaurant with six private dining rooms.
Park Regis Singapore caters well to the solo traveller. There is a self-service token operated Laundromat available 24 hours a day, and bicycles for rent to explore the city with (rental includes helmet, lock, basket, and drinking water, with baby seat available on request). The hotel is also wheelchair friendly and has rooms catered for travellers in wheelchairs and their companions as well.
Discover Singapore from a local’s point of view with Park Regis Singapore’s #sginsiders, a walking guide jointly put together by three local personalities. There are three possible walking trails catered to those looking for Fun &Adventure, Arts/Lifestyle or Nightlife. The attractions recommended by the trio include personal favourite cafes, lesser known watering holes, museums and shopping points.
Rooms start from US$133 per night for a Park Room. Additions of US$11, US$28 or US$56 can give guests an upgrade to a Merchant Room, Quay Room (with pool access) or Regis Room (family room) respectively. Stay the weekend and book the #sginsiders Weekend Staycation package that includes complimentary room upgrade, a specially concocted Regis Insiders Mocktail, buffet breakfast and complimentary two-hour bike rental for two (from US $140++; parkregissingapore.com).
Singapore is a smorgasbord of Southeast Asia, especially with its history of migrants and cultures from the rest of Asia, resulting in scrumptious cuisines, gorgeous working places of worship and charismatic buildings that showcase Singapore’s past. Where better to explore it all than in Katong, where the past still lingers among present day snapshots.
The brand is known for its impeccable upscale boutique hotels and no two hotels in the world are identical. The 131-room hotel in Singapore integrates a modern multi-storey building with an architecturally significant heritage building-the former Joo Chiat Police station that was constructed in 1928. Incorporating the colourful charm of the surrounding neighbourhood into its architecture and design, the hotel features design elements inspired by the rich and vibrant culture of the Peranakans (Straits Chinese).
Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong is nothing like your run-of-the-mill boutique hotel. Each lift lobby exhibits a large canvas of professionally taken shots around the neighbourhood that allows you to discover the sights, tastes and even sounds of Peranakan culture.
Holiday season has just begun in town and there are lots of events and festivities to enjoy! The annual Christmas On A Great Street attracts numerous visitors to marvel at our beautifully decorated Orchard Road while ZoukOut is one of the biggest outdoor parties in Asia, running from 9-10 December.
Each of the meticulously designed 30-square metre guestroom mirrors the flow of a condensed Peranakan home and takes guests from the living room to the bedroom, through to the spa-inspired bathroom, which features a Singer sewing machine leg used for the room’s vanity counter. Art murals behind the bed frames depict the laid back, communal lifestyle of the neighbourhood.
Baba Chews Bar and Eatery serves authentic modern and traditional cuisine from the Straits of Malacca, as well as a delectable selection of western favourites. My personal favourite are the Chilli Crab Cakes, Iberico Pork Ribs Pongtehand Barramundi Goreng Chilli.
Hotel indigo Singapore Katong is a 15-minute drive from Singapore Changi Airport and the Central Business District.
Head on a neighbourhood walk and discover the Katong Neighbourhood Story-one where Joo Chiatwas part of the east coast and coconut plantations covered most of the land.
Hotel Vagabond Singapore is part of Marriott International, Inc., a Tribute Portfolio. Owned by Harpreet Bedi and Satinder Garcha, the hotel attracted me from the moment I stepped inside. Located just outside Singapore’s central business district, in the Jalan Besar area, the hotel represents the history and energy of Singapore, with its colonial-era Art Deco building dominated by the colour red.
Parisian Chic Style
Designed by award-winning French designer Jacques Garcia, Hotel Vagabond Singapore offers 41 guest rooms and excellent service, all near the central business district in the ultra-hip Jalan Besar. Each room oozes Parisian chic style, with tasteful and thoughtful interiors and furniture. Each room has a king-sized bed with 400thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and goose down pillows and duvets. Bathrooms feature elegant Italian marble and glass mosaics, with toiletries from Etro Milan.
The hotel features a modern interpretation of the Parisian salon, Vagabond Salon, giving guests the chance to mingle. Three times a week the Salon is transformed into the city’s hottest music venue, featuring an exciting line-up of talented musicians and DJs. The Vagabond Executive Club Lounge is the most luxurious Starwood Executive Lounge in Singapore. Guests can enjoy the benefits from 7am to 6.30pm daily. You can sit and relax while enjoying a selection of the finest wines and cheeses; a little treat for yourself.
What makes Hotel Vagabond Singapore so special? It seems every corner of the hotel offers a wonderful surprise, ranging from antiques to contemporary photos and paintings. Each item has been personally sourced or commissioned by Satinder Garcha. There are plenty iconic and fascinating art pieces inside the hotel – a solid brass rhino doubles as the reception desk and banyan trees are used to disguise some of the load-bearing pillars of the Salon, making the room look even more opulent.
Another interesting feature is the video playing in the elevator, featuring snippets from blockbuster and cult movies, including Star Wars, Ben-Hur, Interview with a Vampire and Little Shop of Horrors. Because standing in an elevator with strangers is always awkward, Satinder Garcha decided to install this piece of art in the elevators as a way to grab their attention and perhaps spark conversation. The video was made by Marco Brambilla.
Perhaps the most controversial piece in the hotel is Leon Ferrari’s photo of his seminal work Western Civilization and Christianity, created to protest the Vietnam War. Other pieces include a monkey sculpture at Bar Vagabond by Franck Le Ray, the video-art installation After ‘Three Studies for Portrait of Lucien Freud, 1969’, and photos in all the rooms captured by Satinder Garcha.
If you abide by lists, Singapore has three of the World’s 50 Best Bars of 2016 to check out. The well-crafted cocktails at Manhattan (No 11), 28 Hong Kong Street (No 14) and Operation Dagger (No 21) are worth sampling.
But for something more under-the-radar, we recommend making a stop at Native, which uses regional ingredients: Vijay Mudaliar’s signature tipples feature everything from Sri Lankan arak to foraged ants. In Clarke Quay, grab a drink at Red Tail Bar, which serves up drinks (and food) inspired by the cities around Singapore. While the sharing plates will line your stomach, it’s the cocktails – made with ingredients like house-made beetroot grenadine – that will keep you asking for more.
Finally, make your way (though probably not in a straight line) to the Court Martial Bar, at the newly revamped JW Marriott South Beach, located in the military court of a former barrack. Once there, try its twist on the mai tai, inventively called the MT Platoon.
Singapore is a progressive island, and a melting pot of cultures, ideas and histories. With these come a glorious mix of people, historical sites, modern attractions and world-class cuisines (that does not involve breaking your bank). To explore this amazing island, you’ll need a reliable and convenient accommodation option, one that offers a stylish and comfortable stay for discerning guests to enjoy and relax. Situated in the prime location above transport hub Outram Park MRT Interchange Station, Dorsett Singapore offers the best accessibility and hotel choice for both leisure and business travellers.
This 10-storey hotel boasts a full glass building facade on the outside, with modern design elements on the interior. The architecture presents a refreshing landmark that seeks to blend with the heritage backdrop of Chinatown precinct, the traditional Chinese quarter of olden days Singapore. Each of the 285 guestrooms and loft rooms are equipped with complimentary Wi-Fi, 40” LED TV with cable TV and international channels, posturepedic mattress for a healthy rest, cordless phone and IP phone with IDD access, iPhone/iPad docking app-enhanced dual alarm stereo clock radio and complimentary tea and coffee making facilities among many other facilities for an unparalleled staying experience.
Valued guests are able to stay connected 24/7 and explore the wonders of Singapore through unlimited mobile usage, Wi-Fi Hotspot, unlimited calls, comprehensive Singapore city guides preloaded into the phone and dips on exclusive discounts and ticketing offers.
Cast your worries aside if you are afraid you might get bored in-house. Embrace the foliage with a casual stroll at Dorsett’s landscape roof garden, one to offer a quick respite anytime of the day or simple take to the fully equipped gymnasium for a workout fix to get energised. Relax after within the 30-meter outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi, ideal for post workout or simply to recharge after a long day of business meetings or sightseeing.
Chef Willin Low demonstrates a flagrant disregard for rules.
During an eight-course omakase dinner at his restaurant Wild Rocket, I dig into his take on Singapore’s most ubiquitous dish, Hainanese chicken rice. Said dish is customarily composed of tender poached meat, fragrant ginger, garlic-and pandan-leaf-infused rice, and a cup of broth; Low’s version, served in a miniature black casserole dish, incorporates black-truffle butter and shavings of the prize fungus. It’s utterly decadent — and sacrilegious to Singaporean culinary purists.
Low became a celebrity for twisting regional fare into what he coined Mod Sin, short for modern Singaporean cuisine. Although long regarded a foodie destination, Singapore has remained grounded in the humble traditions of grandma’s kitchen and hawker stalls, despite Michelin-worthy, fine-dining spots like Tippling Club, LesAmis, Burnt Ends and Andre.
“When we started, we were worried that people would think we were trying to destroy traditional food,” Low Says. “But we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how receptive everyone has been.”
Wild Rocket continues to grow in popularity, with foodies clamoring for East-meets-West reinterpretations of staples like saucy chili crab and spicy laksa soup.
Fellow chefs also took note, and Mod Sin has swelled into a bona fide movement. Inspired by Low, chef-owner Malcolm Lee added a 2.0 approach to his restaurant Candlenut, which specializes in Peranakan cuisine.
A defining dish, ayam buah keluak, is a flavorful chicken stew made with the black seed of buah keluak, an Indonesian fruit. Although toxic while raw, the seeds become edible when cooked properly — but the flavor is impossible to describe. Not even Lee can articulate it. It looks a bit like tapenade, but there’s nothing olive-y about it.
I find my favorite Mod Sin buah keluak invention at Violet Oon’s National Kitchen, which opened December 2015 within the impressive and new National Gallery. Oon, a former food critic and Singapore’s answer to Julia Child, presents me with a spaghetti dish, the inky puree tempered with prawn, fried red bird’s eye chili and coconut milk. It’s insanely toothsome, pure umami with just enough chili heat and al dente bite. It’s my sixth course, but I clean my plate, and Oon glows with a mother’s joy.
My next stop is Labyrinth, where chef LG Han tells narratives through his madcap Mod Sin five-or-10-course tasting menus. He presents a deconstructed Hainanese curry rice dish that would be true to Dada artist Man Ray: plated to evoke a forest scene with a potato resembling a white stone, a quail egg, and deep-fried mousseline atop quinoa curry and mossy-looking coriander sponge. His version of chili crab, typically a messy affair, entail easily chomped deep-fried-soft-shell crab with a scoop of savory-sweet chili ice cream.
I’m disappointed when the procession of eye-pleasing surprises finally concludes. “What’s next?” I implore. “I’m working on an oyster omelet”, Han teases.
Clearly, eggs and rules will be broken.
WHAT IS THE OUTSTANDING GREEN FACTOR? Located in Chinatown at the gateway of bustling Singapore’s Central Business District, PARKROYAL on Pickering adopts a hotel-in-a-garden concept and incorporates energy-saving features throughout the property. Other environmentally sustainable features include rainwater harvesting and usage of NEWater, automatic sensors to regulate energy and water usage (30% energy savings) and solar cells for powering landscape lighting.
Lush foliage is also a prominent feature throughout the hotel with impressive sky gardens, green walls, waterfalls and a wide variety of plants adding to the biodiversity. PARKROYAL on Pickering also puts their values into practicing philanthropy through charitable missions, volunteer work and donation drives. Their dedication to the environment earned them ‘Asia’s Leading Green Hotel’ at the World Travel Awards 2015.
STYLE BONUS? Beautifully designed with nature-inspired finishes and flushed with natural light, each of the 367 appointed rooms and suites within the 4-star establishment comes with an unobstructed view of Chinatown and Hong Lim Park. Abundant sunlight, lush greenery and earthy tones provide travellers a welcomed sanctuary away from home. On the fifth floor, guests can also indulge in a relaxing dip in the outdoor infinity pool, and then lie back in the comfort of a cabana to take in the spectacular lush landscaping and city views of Singapore. Last but not least, wind down at St. Gregory, an award-winning spa located on a dedicated wellness floor.