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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.
Following its record-breaking event in 2015, ULTRA Singapore 2016 is back with a vengeance – what was once a one-stage, indoor concert has exploded into a two-day, three-stage outdoor extravaganza. This year, Singapore will also host an ULTRA LIVE Stage, making it the third country in the world to do so after Miami and Korea.
Held along the spectacular Bayfront Avenue -a splitting image of Miami’s Bayfront Park location – with glittering views of the downtown skyline, the upgraded event boasts Phase One headliners such as Afrojack, Axwell & Ingrosso, deadmau5, and Kygo, bolstered by supporting acts DJ Marshmello and JAUZ. Other crowd favourites include Above & Beyond, Alesso, Far East Movement, and DJ SNAKE. Drawing further parallels to Miami, ULTRA Singapore will be receiving the full treatment, including the immensely popular RESISTANCE concept featuring techno, deep house and the darker side of dance music.
Considered one of the most spectacular music festivals in the world, ULTRA’S legendary Main Stages have played host to some of the biggest names in electronic music history. ULTRA Singapore marks the start of ULTRA Worldwide’s second Asia run this year, with the highly successful ULTRA Korea festival and sold out Road To Ultra Thailand event having already taken place in June. Part two will see the brand undertake six stops in Asia including Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Bali and the Philippines all within a two-week span – a festival first and a feat no other event organiser can lay claim to.
Chicken Rice – No Singapore hawker centre (food court) is complete without a stall (or a dozen) selling chicken rice, Singapore’s no-frills national dish. In the traditional Hainanese recipe, which dates to the 1850s, the chicken is boiled and then immersed in cold water to smoothen the skin and gelatinize the fat. It is served with rice cooked in chicken broth after the grains have been fried with garlic, sesame, and chicken fat. It is a recipe that Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice in central Singapore follows steadfastly, earning a badge of authenticity among locals.
Chilli Crab – Eating chilli crab is a hands-on experience. Crack the crustacean, scoop out the moist, tender meat, and quickly pop it in your mouth before the brown, flavourful juice seeps out. Use bread to mop up what’s left of the spicy sauce made with hot sambal, tomato, onion, and egg. Matchbox-sized Mattar Road Seafood Barbecue takes an hour to serve this legendary dish, but it’s worth the wait. The owner claims his recipe dates back to the 1950s, and he devotes two days each week to preparing his sambal and letting it rest. The result is an addictive balance of sweet, spicy, and sour.
Dim Sum – Beyond the glass walls of the kitchen at Din Tai Fung, cooks and servers wearing face masks gingerly place dim sums in bamboo baskets before wheeling them over to patrons. The restaurant chain is known for their xiao long bao (juicy pork dumplings), steamed buns, and unagi (eel). The pork and truffle dim sums are exquisitely crafted: silky dough is stuffed with filling, pleated with at least 18 folds, and steamed lightly. Every dim sum is filled with broth, warmth, and goodness.
Satay – Every evening, Lau Pa Sat hawker centre thrums with the voices of satay vendors hawking their barbecued delights. Plastic chairs and tables are set up outside stalls, and the air is heady with the smoky aroma of chicken, beef, and prawn sizzling on skewers. Some patrons take their barbecue party inside the centre, sitting under Lau Pa Sat’s high 19th-century arches, amid Victorian columns with fine, filigree ironwork. The grilled meat is served with sweet-and-spicy peanut sauce, and best enjoyed with chilled beer, which is the second-most popular buy in Lau Pa Sat.
Nasi Padang – Nasi Padang is the Indonesian equivalent of a thali: a lush spread of vegetables, meat, and seafood curries served with rice. Tuck in at the two-storeyed HJH Maimunah restaurant that also serves staples such as beef rendang as well as more unusual preparations like lemak siput (snails cooked in chilli paste and coconut milk). Most patrons team their nasi Padang with glasses of the chocolate and malt drink Milo. Like many other restaurants in Singapore, Maimunah serves them in two ways, “Milo Dinosaur” and the ice-cream-topped “Milo Godzilla.”
Century Eggs – Century eggs aren’t for everybody. The Chinese delicacy is made by preserving chicken, duck, or quail eggs in a saline solution for a few weeks, some say years. The result is an ominous-looking grey yolk with egg white that has turned a translucent black-coffee brown. It’s a far stronger flavour than boiled eggs, but one that’s surprisingly smooth and packed with umami. Available at Din Tai Fung.
Sambal Stingray – Fiery sambal, made with ginger, garlic, onions, vinegar, rice wine, and shrimp, and succulent stingray are a match made in heaven—and a very popular Malay-Singaporean delicacy. At Lau Pa Sat, one of Singapore’s food courts, evenings are a busy time when office-goers stop for a snack, and families throng the stalls and sit around food-laden tables. Try the sambal stingray or barbecued stingray here. The fleshy fish is marinated in sambal paste, wrapped in a banana leaf, and barbecued. The dish is served with lemon wedges and chinchalok, a relish of onion, chilli, lime, and fermented shrimp.
Kaya Toast – Singaporeans love their kopitiams, traditional coffee shops which serve a strong, dark brew that’s a guaranteed shot in the arm. The best accompaniment to a stiff glass of kopi is kaya toast. Crisp slices of bread are slathered with a generous layer of butter and kaya: a spread made from coconut milk, egg, and sugar. Occasionally, kaya is flavoured with honey or leaves of the palm-like pandan tree. It’s the perfect start to the day, or a lovely end to a long one spent exploring the city. Killiney Kopitiam has many outlets in Singapore while Tong All Eating House is an old city favourite.
Fish Ball Soup – Fish balls can be a little hard to like if you aren’t used to eating seafood. The spheres have a slightly gelatinous texture and a strong aroma that some find hard to stomach. Sample a bowl at Chinatown’s Food Street—that spans an entire cobblestone lane with outdoor seating—where vendors beckon hungry customers to their small restaurants and stalls. Each serving has clear broth flavoured with garlic, red chillies, and onions and a few fish balls. Some hawker centres also serve noodles in their soup, and if that’s how you like it, make sure you ask.
Ais Kacang – Corn and beans for dessert may sound weird, but not in Singapore. They’re an integral part of the technicoloured ais kacang, that’s all the rage in the nation. A bit like a Singaporean falooda, the dessert comprises red beans, coconut milk, rice noodles, grass jelly, and palm seeds arranged around a bowl and topped with a mountain of shaved ice. This is drizzled with sugary syrup and a concoction of sweet corn and coconut milk. It is such a popular dish, that there are gourmet versions available in swanky restaurants. Try the options at the Chinatown Complex Food Centre.
Picks for the Pantry – If you like cooking as much as eating, spend a morning scouring Singapore’s many supermarkets. Shelves brim with Chinese sausages, fish balls (vacuum sealed for the journey back), bottles of sambal, and packets of laksa paste. Pouches of spices like Sichuan pepper, dehydrated mango, and bottles of rice wine make great food souvenirs. You could also pick up tropical fruits like rambutan just before you head back home. Tea lovers can make a trip to the teahouses in Chinatown that sell all manner of delicate Chinese and flavoured teas.
Population: 5.4 million
Foreign visitors per year: 15.5 million
Languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil
Major industries: tourism, banking, biomedical sciences
Unit of currency: Singapore dollar (S$)
Cost Index: plate of chicken rice or a bowl of laksa in a hawker centre from S$4 (US$3), artisan coffee from S$7 (US$ 5.50), hotel double/dorm from S$88/17.5 (US$70/14), standard MRT (metro) journey S$1.30 (US$1).
As one of the world’s most multicultural cities, Singapore is always celebrating something. But Asia’s smallest state had an extra special event in 2015: it was her Golden Jubilee.
Since sealing its independence in 1965, Singapore has been on a roll. And while its grand heritage buildings, chaotic hawker centres, luxurious green spaces and glitzy shopping malls have been luring travellers for decades, a slew of new developments has elevated the ‘Singapore experience’ to a whole new level.
First there’s Marina Bay. From the now-iconic, boat-shaped Marina Bay Sands resort to otherworldly eco-park Gardens by the Bay, this new entertainment precinct is like a funfair for the whole family. And then there’s the city’s new crop of swanky hotels – between the W Singapore, Parkroyal on Pickering and the Sofitel So Singapore, it’s difficult to keep track of the latest openings.
Singapore is set to usher in a number of new attractions since 2015, including the National Art Gallery and the Singapore Sports Hub, which had hosted the 28th Southeast Asian Games. And with more than a dozen MRT (metro) extensions currently in development, it’ll soon be easier to get around. Even Changi Airport, named the world’s best at the 2014 Skytrax awards in Barcelona, will receive two new terminals (and a third runway) in the coming years.
Amid all this, Singapore has been nurturing an emerging local fashion scene, artisan coffee has taken off like wildfire, and brunch has become a ‘thing’. While tucking into a plate of chilli crab at Lau Pa Sat will never go out of style, Singapore’s fine dining scene is finally giving Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo a run for their money, with two local restaurants making Asia’s top 10 in San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna’s 2014 list. And don’t even get us started on Club St, the city’s hottest new drinking and dining enclave.
Fancy floats, fire-breathing dragons and pyrotechnics collide at February’s Chingay, Singapore’s biggest street parade.
Have your wallets (and elbows) at the ready for the Great Singapore Sale, which sees retail prices slashed from the end of May until the beginning of July.
July’s Singapore Food Festival provides ample opportunities to sample the city’s top grub, and learn how to cook classic Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes yourself.
It’s already Singapore’s main event, but you can expect National Day, on 9 August, to be celebrated with ultra-extravagant fanfare in 2015.
Gardens by the Bay, hipster cafes, Sunday brunch at the Pan Pacific, Club St, Restaurant Andre, being green
The haze problem (created by Indonesia’s controversial forest-burning for palm oil plantations), MRT breakdowns, Avalon (Marina Bay’s mega-club closed its doors after just two years)
Between its endless urban attractions and the serenity of its green spaces, arguably the most defining pleasure of Singapore is its food. Start your day with crispy, sweet kaya toast before allowing a local latte artist to create a masterpiece in a cup for you at one of the city’s achingly hip new cafes. Head to a hawker centre to slurp down a spicy laksa lunch, being sure to leave room for dinner at one of Singapore’s hottest celebrity restaurants.
Singapore is firmly in the grip of the K-pop phenomenon. If you’re not up with reality show K-POP Star Hunt, you’d be best not to admit it.
Everyone who was present in Singapore on the date of independence was offered Singapore citizenship.
Singapore was declared the world’s most expensive city in 2014, replacing Tokyo. The best things, after all, usually come at a price.
Singapore boasts some of the world’s strictest laws with ‘crimes’ such as chewing gum and pornography (which includes answering the door in your underwear) carrying harsh penalties.
Haw Par Villa. Set up by members of the Tiger Balm dynasty in the 1930s, this Chinese mythology-themed ‘pleasure garden’, complete with lurid depictions of hell, is one of the world’s most bafflingly odd – not to mention gruesome – attractions.
Before you arrive – Singapore clicks. Efficiency is the norm. Petty crime and poverty are considered ‘Asian’ quirks, alien to this privileged little patch of real estate. Some say Singapore is too clinical but you just have to scratch the surface to find a city that is rich in local culture and pioneering history. Since Sir Stamford Raffles founded his colony here in 1819, this jungle island (not quite twice the size of the Isle of Wight) went on to become one of the dominating forces in regional trade. Chinese, Indians and Malays settled in quarters that, while more polished than those in the old homelands, still pulsate with timeless culture.
As your plane banks over the city you see the renovated waterfront along the Singapore River and the gleaming towers on Marina Bay Sands. But there are still many nooks that boast of Singapore’s heritage as one of the region’s most vital trading ports and cultural melting pots.
At the airport – It’s unfortunate delays are so rare at Changi Airport – this is perhaps the only airport in the world you’d choose to be stuck at. It’s no surprise you voted it your Top Worldwide Airport, a title it’s never lost in the awards’ history. Changi’s three terminals are linked by a Skytrain. While you’re airside you have access to five themed gardens, art and cultural exhibitions, a rooftop pool, gyms, a free gaming centre, a free cinema and more than 120 restaurants. Changi has dedicated snoozing areas with loungers. As to be expected, immigration and customs are hassle-free and swiftly passed through.
Getting into town – The MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) includes buses and trains and is easy to understand. Trains run from Changi into the centre via Tanah Merah station; singles cost around S$2 (£1). If you’re planning further journeys, consider buying a SMRT pass, which offers unlimited travel on most public transport; a one-day Tourist pass costs S$10. Alternatively, if you’re new to Singapore and want to make arrival easier, you may want to upgrade your first night’s accommodation to a hotel that offers an airport shuttle.
Other ways to arrive – If you’re travelling overland you’ll likely arrive over the causeway from the Malaysian border town of Johor Bahru (home to much of Singapore’s army of domestic workers and labourers). On the Singapore-side of the Straits of Johor, Woodlands train station and the bus terminal at Golden Mile Complex are both also well served by the MRT.
Population: 5.5 million
Language: English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil
International dialling code: +65
Visas: Not required by UK nationals
Money: Singapore dollar (S$), currently around S$2.12 to the UK£
Best viewpoint: The SkyPark observation deck at Marina Bay Sands offers astounding views from 57 storeys up.
Health issues: None, but stay hydrated and take mossie repellent.
Recommended guidebooks: Singapore (Lonely Planet, 2012), Eyewitness Travel Guide to Singapore (DK, 2010), Fodor’s Singapore’s 25 Best (Fodor’s Travel Publications, 2009)
Climate: Singapore is hot and humid. The average daytime temperature is 31°C, 24°C at night. Monsoon season is November to February but rain is sporadic not continuous, so a visit can be made year-round.
First Day’s Tour – Clarke Quay is the ideal place to get acquainted with the old trading centre of this historical city.Hop-on hop-off River Explorer Boat Tours offer the most relaxing way to get from the heart of old Singapore to its newest icon at Marina Bay Sands. Here, head up to the observation platform for a bird’s eye view before walking across the footbridge to Gardens By The Bay. This incredible botanical display cost S$1 billion to build and, with free admission, represents the most bargainous views in Singapore.
As the midday heat builds, hop on the MRT to Bugis Junction. You can find the best-value lunch in Singapore among the dozens of stalls in the old Bugis food centre. Order what takes your fancy from any of the stalls (try the fish-head soup) and sit where you can best people-watch. The shaded undercover market here is the best place to dodge the heat and shop for everything from fake designer wear to Chinese magic charms. One place still holding on to its charm after more than 120 years is Raffles. Few can afford a night at this most iconic hotel but it’s worth splashing out on a Singapore Sling in the bar where up to 1,500 of these cocktails are poured every day.
Where to Stay – There’s something decidedly seductive about the Naumi Hotel. If the matronly Raffles is the Grand Dame of Singapore then Naumi is the flirty little upstart you just can’t ignore. Rooms are small but so well-equipped and cleverly laid-out that you don’t even notice. Guests also have exclusive access to perhaps the most romantic rooftop infinity pool/bar in Singapore. Doubles from S$390pp (£185), B&B.
Mid range: The Sultan is a fine boutique hotel on the fringe of Kampong Glam, built in converted shophouses in the traditional Malay quarter. Doubles from £80 B&B.
Budget: 5Foot Way Inn represents some of Singapore’s best budget hostels: two in Chinatown, one in Bugis, one on Boat Quay. Rooms are tiny but clean; bathrooms are shared. Doubles from £17pp.
Singapore could hold your attention for as long as you care to give it. The old communities of Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam are must-sees. Beyond the city is Jurong Bird Park and Singapore Zoo, one of the world’s best. Out in the bay is Sentosa Island, a giant amusement park, impossible to explore in one day.
Singapore is also one of South-East Asia’s cheapest airline hubs: you can reach anywhere from here. Popular destinations are Indonesia (especially Bali; 2hr flight) and Malaysia. However, Malaysia is best reached overland. Buses leave from several locations but the usual departure point is a terminal near Golden Mile Complex to the island’s north. Depending on the route it takes 4-5hrs to reach Kuala Lumpur, 3-4hrs to reach Malacca.
The Southeast Asian city that never sleeps takes nocturnal entertainment to the streets once again with the Singapore Night Festival. Night owls take over the Bras Basah/Bugis heritage precinct for two weekends in August to showcase a magical show in the dark during this annual midsummer celebration.
This year’s Singapore Night Festival focuses on the theme of Inventions and Innovation and will see international and local artists combining science fiction with fantasy to create unforgettable performances that will dazzle through the night. Spread out over a few spots, including Armenian Street, CHIJMES, Singapore Art Museum, National Museum of Singapore and many more, festival goers can expect an array of events to fill up the night. Be treated to street buskers with acrobatic acts, Singapore musicians, installations and the highlight of every Singapore Night Festival – Night Lights.
This year will also see the return of PERSPECTIVE talks and CREATIONS workshops, where registered guests will get the chance to discuss in an open panel with artists or make a souvenir commemorating their time at Singapore Night Festival at a workshop.
When dawn breaks, stay in the area to participate in a heritage walk around one of Singapore’s oldest neighbourhoods. The Original Singapore Walks by Journeys will take history buffs through Bras Basah on The Time of Empire walk. Unearth interesting facts about the 19th century as knowledgeable tour guides share about prominent names in Singapore’s history.
Learn more about the Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, the Sarkies brothers, The Straits Times and the cocktail drink that put Singapore on the map as you visit St Andrew’s Cathedral, Coleman Street, Raffles Hotel, Supreme Court and much more (US$28 per pax).
Singapore Night Festival will be held over the course of two weekends from 19 to 27 August 2016. Various programmes are ticketed but the Night Lights shows are free.
Changi Airport in Singapore serves more than 100 airlines flying in from some 330 cities in about 80 countries around the world. National carrier Singapore Airlines is available in 63 international destinations in 35 countries.
Newly opened M Social Singapore is an ideal place to stay for the weekend. The Philippe Starck designed hotel is Robertson Quay’s newest and chicest accommodation that thrives on the idea of community and new experiences. Opening rates are available from US$187 per night for a Nice Room.
WHAT IS ITS AESTHETIC APPEAL? For M Social Singapore, the element of design is not only embodied in its use of opulent materials and contemporary style – it forms the very core of the hotel’s concept and ideology. A new kid on the block that only opened its doors in May 2016, this loft-style accommodation was designed by Philippe Starck, and debuts the concept of “democratic design”. Emphasis is placed on communal spaces that are “snuggish” and relaxed to coax guests out of their rooms and into common areas to encourage mingling, an attempt to bring the delights of in-person socialisation back into an increasingly digital, isolated world. In terms of custom design, look out for the two massive bronze peanut sculptures at the entrance, and generous chandeliers spilling over colourful psychedelic tiles.
BEYOND ITS BEAUTIFUL WALLS? They say Singapore is a city that never stops eating, and Robertson Quay is a hotbed of bustling brunch spots and breezy riverside watering holes. Check out local favourite Toby’s Estate for brunch, slake your thirst for coffee at Common Man Coffee Roasters (which serves a killer Ethiopian drip), grab a casual charcoal-smoked izakaya experience at Shunjuu, or indulge your inner carnivore at Argentinean restaurant Bochinche (a regular star is the 300g ribeye steak with chimichurri).
Food-crazed Singapore is probably the best place on earth for sampling the astonishing variety of Asia’s many cuisines.
There are formal restaurants galore, but what you’re looking for is the city’s wealth of street food, where visiting dignitaries bond with cabdrivers at all hours of the day. And so what if it’s not exactly on the street: This being tidy Singapore, street vendors have been confined to government-regulated “hawker centers.” Locals and visitors alike can take advantage of these concentrated spots, where seemingly hundreds of stalls and booths prepare a staggering variety of food, all under stringent health inspection.
Here among the din of clanging trays, the shouted orders, the tropical heat, and the smells of fermented fish paste, ginger, and curry is a gastronomic and cultural experience that can be had only in Singapore. Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, and Chinese cuisines are blended and reblended into Pacific Rim fusion at its most glorious. Even Hong Kong runs a distant second.
Every Singaporean has his or her own favorite hawker center, though they’re often located out of town in large housing developments. There have been rumors that the Newton Circus hawker center, the most famous and the most touristy, will be tom down soon, though it remains as popular as ever. The noisy and confusing Chinatown Food Center is essential as much for its sights and smells as for the chance to sample every conceivable variety of Chinese food.
This famed white elephant, landscaped with rustling palms and frangipani trees, its public rooms strewn with Asian period pieces and Oriental carpets, “stands for all the fables of the exotic East” – or so wrote Somerset Maugham.
After an extensive restoration that managed to leave its 100-year-old soul and history intact, Raffles Hotel, one of Asia’s great colonial landmarks, is once more the theatrical magnet for well-heeled travelers and the merely curious. It’s as much a tourist attraction as it is a luxury hotel. In its spacious suites, teak floorboards, 14-foot ceilings, and overhead fans recall Raffles’s first heyday, when Singapore was known as “the crossroads of the East.”
As is true in most Asian cities, some of Singapore’s best restaurants can be found in its hotels, and of the many at Raffles, the Empress Room is a standout, serving some of the best Chinese cuisine and dim sum in a city that is a food-lover’s paradise.
As for bars, Maugham liked his Million Dollar Cocktail in the hotel’s Writers Bar (watering hole for the likes of Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling), though the average visitor today heads for the Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling was invented in 1915; more than 2,000 are concocted here on a good day.
Its pace as leisurely as life in the region’s kampong villages, the luxurious Eastern & Oriental train travels from Singapore, the Lion State, up the Malay Peninsula through historical rubber plantations all the way to Bangkok, Thailand’s frenzied City of Angels, then back again.
Tea estates and hilltop pagodas roll by your window as you travel mile after mile through the jungle, its smell heavy and damp. From the observation car, glimpses of country life are precious snapshots: rice paddies dotted with toiling farmers, plows drawn by water buffalo, children in thatched-roof villages waving as the train passes by.
Inside, your time machine on wheels is an indulgent world of opulence, its small but elegant compartments evocative of another era, its dining cars decorated with Chinese lacquer, Malaysian motifs, and Thai silks, and serving exquisite Eurasian meals. After making the 1,200-mile, forty-hour journey, you’ll have an urge to stay on and repeat the entire romantic and much-too-short experience in the opposite direction – if only to maintain the illusion that you’re in the movie Shanghai Express and Marlene Dietrich is about to step into the coach.