48 Hours In: Singapore
The tiny city-state is gearing up for the Grand Prix, but there's much more to enjoy in this South-east Asian gem, from acres of green to world-class cuisine.
Saturday 01 August 2009
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Why go now?
Singapore is the city that never rests. Construction hardly seems to come to a stop in this pocket-sized city state; the island is continually concocting new ways to entice visitors, whether on a stopover en route to Australasia or as a destination in its own right. Until Resorts World at Sentosa opens next year (comprising a Universal Studios, half a dozen hotels, shops, an aquarium and more), the focus is on Marina Bay where, on 9 August, the city congregates for the National Day Parade (ndp.org.sg), full of pomp, ceremony and fireworks. Then, from 25-27 September, its streets will be consumed by burning rubber for Singapore's second Formula 1 Grand Prix (00 65 6738 6738; singaporegp.sg), the only F1 race held at night.
Singapore's Changi Airport is served from Heathrow and Manchester by Singapore Airlines (020-8750 2708; singaporeair.com); BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Qantas (0845 774 7767; qantas.co.uk) fly from Heathrow. Regional departures are available via the Middle East with carriers such as Etihad (0800 731 9384; etihadairways.com) and Emirates (0870 243 2222; emirates.com).
Changi is on the eastern side of the island and the city can be easily accessed from the airport on the immaculate, efficient, urban railway, the MRT (smrt.com.sg). This will whisk you into town on the green East West Line. A single to Raffles Place (1) costs S$2.80 (£1.20), which includes a refundable deposit for the ticket of S$1. If you plan to use the MRT frequently, invest in an EZ-Link Card, a stored-value smartcard which you can load up with a minimum of S$10 (£4.30) at station ticket offices. Taxis take around 25 minutes and cost in the region of S$25 (£10.70), one way.
Get Your Bearings
Wedged underneath peninsular Malaysia, Singapore's main, diamond-shaped island is around the same size as Menorca. Most visitors head straight to the south – the compact and manageable nucleus of the city. Here, the Singapore River twists its way east and spills out into the Straits of Singapore via a large marina. The town plan of Sir Stamford Raffles, the British statesman who founded the city in the early 19th century, still remains, with the city arranged either side of the river.
On the east, Raffles' Landing Site (2) and the Colonial District seep into the Arab Quarter and Little India. Chinatown and the high-rise business district pile up to the west. Cranes mark the skyline of the reclaimed terrain of the Marina Centre, Park and Bay area at the mouth of the Singapore River, while Sentosa – a resort-style island – is just south. The main Visitors Centre (3), at the junction of Orchard Road and Cairnhill Road (00 65 6736 2000; visitsingapore.com; open daily 9.30am-10.30pm), is hard to miss, with its name emblazoned across an entire wall.
The Capella (4) at 1 The Knolls (00 65 6377 8888; capellasingapore.com) opened this spring and is an upscale resort that has taken advantage of being able to spread laterally across Sentosa rather than skywards in the city. Conceived by Foster+Partners, the fluid, modern building flutters around a sparkling white colonial British military club, with pools, restaurants and a bar. Hi-spec, hi-tech doubles start at S$765 (£328), room only. A more intimate setting is The Scarlet Hotel (5) at 33 Erskine Road (00 65 6511 3333; thescarlethotel.com), a boutique establishment set in a row of art deco Chinatown shop houses. Once a bordello, it's a far more respectable affair these days. Rooms are small and sultry, with tasselled curtains, chaises longues and custom-made furniture; from S$294 (£126), room only. In Little India, The Inn Crowd (6) at 73 Dunlop Street (00 65 6296 9169; the-inncrowd.com) is a lively hostel in a converted shop house. Dorm beds from S$20 (£8.60), doubles S$59 (£25), with breakfast.
Take a View...
...from the world's highest observation wheel. The Singapore Flyer (7) at 30 Raffles Avenue (00 65 6333 3311; singaporeflyer.com.sg) opened just over a year ago and rises an impressive 30 metres higher than the London Eye. The 28 capsules offer bird's-eye views of the Singapore River, Marina Bay, Raffles Place and the eye-catching armadillo-like concert halls of the Esplanades Theatres; on a clear day you can see as far as Indonesia's Riau Archipelago to the south, and peninsular Malaysia to the north. Open 8.30am-10.30pm daily, tickets from S$29.50 (£12.70).
Take a Hike
Start where Sir Stamford Raffles is said to have first set foot in Singapore in 1819. The Raffles' Landing Site (2), on the north bank of the Singapore River, is marked by a white marble statue of the statesman. Follow the river up North Boat Quay, through the Colonial District and then turn right on to North Bridge Road, walking past St Andrew's Cathedral (8) and later Raffles Hotel (9) and the Gotham-style Parkview Square tower (10).
Turn right into Bali Lane and back up into Haji Lane. This is the start of the Arab Quarter or Kampong Glam, where the colourful low-rise shop houses are dwarfed by the skyscrapers you've just left behind. It's also hipster-central, with a healthy dose of vintage shops, boutiques and cafes. The next street along, Arab Street, is lined with fabric shops and shisha cafés. Continue north and cross the Rochor Canal into Weld Road. Breathe in – you're now in Little India, an enclave that's rougher around the edges than the high-rise city, but steeped in sights and smells. Meander round the streets, past vegetable and spice stalls, flower garlands, the tantalising restaurants of Race Course Road and galleries on Kerbau Road (11).
You can walk a mile, laden with bags, without breaking a sweat on Orchard Road (12). This artery is the retail equivalent of the Las Vegas Strip, with a seemingly endless run of department stores and malls, all chilled to optimum shopping temperature. The road takes its name from the notably absent fruit trees that once lined it. Start at either end and weave in and out of Tangs, the oldest department store on the stretch; Ngee Ann City, home to South-east Asia's largest bookstore, Kinokuniya; upmarket Paragon with its Gucci, Prada and Valentino outlets; and the brand new futuristic ION Orchard.
Lunch on the Run
Singapore's panoply of world cuisines is testament to the Malay, Chinese, Indian, American and European migrants who have settled here. The diversity of choice can be overwhelming, but to get a taste for local favourites, get stuck into a hawker centre. Maxwell Food Centre (13) on Maxwell Road in Chinatown is an open-sided food court lined with kiosks, each specialising in different dishes. Bag a table or chair then queue up for steaming bowls of Char Siew noodles, Hainanese chicken rice or satay, washed down with a can of Tiger Beer. Usually, the longer the queue, the better the food. Dishes from S$3 (£1.30) to S$15 (£6.40).
Alcohol isn't cheap in Singapore, but at Loof (14), 331 North Bridge Road (00 65 6338 8035; loof.com.sg) you get added value with a serene rooftop setting – and, if it rains before 9pm, drinks are two-for-one. The bar has breezy city views of Raffles Hotel opposite and the CBD skyline, with tables and chairs clustered beneath trees and plants and colourful light boxes. A lychee martini will set you back S$17 (£7.10) and a Tiger Beer S$14 (£5.90).
Dining with the Locals
Fish-head curry is more appetising than it sounds. A large, red snapper head is stewed with coconut, spices and tamarind and shared among friends and family in a voluminous bowl. Dozens of Little India establishments pertain to have created the dish (it is uniquely Singaporean), but Muthu's Curry (15) at 138 Race Course Road (00 65 6392 1722; muthuscurry. com), established in 1969, is reputed to be a pioneer. The canteen-style restaurant is consistently packed and serves fragrant curries on banana leaves for between S$8 (£3.40) and S$26 (£11) and the fish head curry from S$20 (£8.60).
Sunday Morning: Go to Church
St Andrew's Cathedral (8) at 11 St Andrew's Road (00 65 6337 6104; livingstreams.org.sg) is a gleaming white gothic edifice in the heart of the Colonial District. Surrounded by emerald green lawns, it was funded by Scottish merchants and built in the mid-19th century by Indian convict labourers. Communion in English at 7am and 8am.
Out to Brunch
The five-star hotel champagne brunch is a Singapore institution. But if lengthy, boozy breakfasts and equally lengthy bills aren't your thing, go for the Chinese equivalent, dim sum. Dim Joy (16) 80 Neil Road (00 65 6220 6986; dimjoy.com) serves plates of steamed dumplings, pan-fried radish cake and congee (a type of porridge) between 10am and 3pm; dishes S$3 (£1.30) to S$9 (£3.80).
Completed in 2007, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (17) at 288 South Bridge Road (00 65 6220 0220; btrts.org.sg) occupies an entire block of Chinatown. The pagoda-style temple houses what is believed to be one of the Buddha's teeth, kept in a decorative series of locked caskets. The riotous red and gold décor is elaborated by trinket-peddling stalls and pyramids of fruit and tinned food offerings. Open daily 7am-7pm, admission free.
A Walk in the Park
Singaporeans are proud of what they call their "city within a garden". For all the glass and steel that abounds, there's also plenty of green, including the immaculately laid-out Botanic Gardens (18) on Tanglin Road (00 65 6471 7361; sbg.org.sg). Established 150 years ago as a replica of Kew Gardens, it is a sanctuary of manicured lawns, majestic trees, an ornamental lake and the National Orchid Garden. Open daily 5am-midnight (Orchid Garden daily 8.30am-7pm, S$5/£2.10).
Take a Ride
Wooden "bumboats" used to transport cargo from ships in the harbour, but now carry tourists gently along the Singapore River (00 65 6336 6111; rivercruise.com.sg). A trip starting at Clarke Quay (19), and going past the shop houses of Boat Quay, the CBD, Colonial District and into the Marina costs S$18 (£7.60); 9am-11pm daily.
Icing On the Cake
Head north to the countryside. Kranji (kranjicountryside.com) is an association of farms and agricultural ventures that now has its own "farmstay" experience (00 65 6862 9717; dkranji.com.sg). If you only make an afternoon trip here, visit Bollywood Veggies (00 65 6898 5001; bollywoodveggies.com; 9am-6pm daily, S$2/85p) – a delightful organic farm and café. Take the MRT to Kranji, from where there's an hourly farm shuttle (S$2/85p).
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