Singapore makes an ideal destination. Endless shopping, more shopping and of course, six meals a day. And, did we mention shopping?
A symbol of Singapore, the spicy crab comes in a delightful assortment of forms, slathered in spices and wrapped in banana leaves, as a curry to be mopped up with bread or enrobed in black pepper and chilly.
Indulge your taste buds: A pavement cafe.
One weekend. One country. One determined guide.
Singapore might be familiar. Singapore might be over-sold. But Wong Wee Tee and the Singapore Tourism Board were determined to prove that the action-packed country is still the perfect place to spend an exhilarating long weekend.
How much can you do in just about three days?
Well, let’s start with Friday, when I touched down. Wee Tee (which means “strong one” she chirps over vanilla cappuccinos at the Changi Airport) is practically flexing her muscles in anticipation, “Lots to do. Lots to do,” she trills skimming through her bulky itinerary.
Breakfast is at the Village in the Heeren Mall, a stunning restaurant done up like a food market in a children’s book. Counters laden with intensely coloured salads, shelves of crusty breads in all shades of brown, sizzling woks engulfed in fragrant steam. We try sushi and a tumble of noodles, calamari and finely chopped vegetables, a riot of flavours and textures.
Sentosa Island is next on the list, so we zip through the malls of Orchard Road and drive through the country, with its neat shrubbery-lined streets, disconcertingly polite traffic and beckoning malls.
“We live in government housing,” says Wee Tee pointing out blocks of no-nonsense buildings, “and the Government is very pro-family.” So where do young single people live? “Like good Asians, with their parents,” she giggles, “until they get married.”
Sentosa Island bustles with cheerfully baking tourists. “Always sunny in Singapore!” squeals Wee Tee, hugging the friendly ushers at the 4D animation theatre.
The warmth of the Singaporeans is probably their biggest asset, as far as tourism is concerned. They seem genuinely thrilled to welcome anyone: shopaholics, clubbers, foodies and assorted hobbyists. More interesting, they work hard on specific lures for each category: The Singapore Sale, an endless parade of hip new clubs, posh restaurants as well as astonishingly hygienic hawker centres and a range of activities, which include swimming with dolphins, getting an adrenalin rush from thrill-a-minute rides or just languidly boating down the Singapore river. Like they put it, this is “a world of unique contrasts.”
Meanwhile, we’re strapped, despite misgivings, into what looks like a little car in the theatre. Suddenly the lights dim and we’re tearing through forests, plummeting down waterfalls and touching noses with crocodiles as the car madly rocks, twists and dips. Luckily, the Luge is next on our list, a relatively more sedate type of go-cart you drive down a hill, followed by the “sky ride”, which is basically a ski lift in the tropics. Sentosa ends with the Carlsburg Sky tower, the best view of the island yet, in spite of a gaggle of squealing teenagers lustily singing Akon’s “Nobody Wanna See Us Together” all the way up, and then down again.
It’s late afternoon by now, and time to head to the Singapore Chilly Crab festival on Orchard Road. A symbol of Singapore, the spicy crab comes in a delightful assortment of forms, slathered in spices and wrapped in banana leaves, as a curry to be mopped up with bread or enrobed in black pepper and chilly.
Dinner’s done by 6 p.m. “Eat like the Singaporeans,” says petit Wee Tee, loading up a plate with crab curry and noodles. “Six meals a day. We eat again at 9 p.m.”
But first, we shop. By now Orchard Road is dotted with pretty girls in pyjamas and ridiculously cute sleeping caps, all advertising the newly introduced “Late Night Shopping”. I skid from mall to mall, delirious with delight, joined by hoards of other equally excitable shoppers. Till I’m joined by a posh lawyer friend, who works in Singapore. “Why would anyone want to shop till midnight,” he shudders, looking at the Prada-Gucci-Guess laden shoppers in horror. “Why indeed,” I gulp, sneakily shoving packages into my voluminous handbag.
So we do something “civilised”. Dim sum at the Wisma Atria’s busy Food Republic: spongy, steaming and fragrant and nestled in charming bamboo baskets. Then icy cocktails at a scenic pavement café, while listening to the buskers play their guitars and croon poignantly outdated songs from the 1960s.
Day Two starts at the tranquil Halia restaurant, set between vibrant ginger flowers and lush palm trees in the Singapore botanical gardens, where Wee Tee introduces me to the delights of an authentic Singapore breakfast. Scalding laksa noodles, soaked in a fragrantly spicy coconut curry afloat with spongy bean curd. And then, of course, there’s shopping.
Immaculately dressed, unnervingly chic Elaine Heng, an image consultant and personal shopper, gives us — a motley crew of baggy jeans and faded T-shirt-clad journalists from across Asia — a talk on style and how to pick flattering colours. This is followed by a session of what is supposed to be scientific shopping. But we just run wild again, while Wee Tee pretends she’s interested in buying a massage chair so she can rest her weary legs.
Lunch is at Red, White and Pure, run by a traditional Chinese medicine company that’s trying to draw young people back to ancient methods of healing by luring them with trendy fusion food and their stunning harbour view. So besides items like “ginseng and garlic prawns” and “salmon xiakucao”, there’s a glamorous spa offering yoga, massages and facial.
However, we’ve got to explore Club Street. With its dignified restored building, quirky stores and distinctive collections, Club Street is perfect for people sick of retail chains and malls that look the same whether you’re in Paris, London or New York. We climb winding staircases, chat with delightfully eccentric designers and drape ourselves in whispering fabrics and luscious colours.
And then we eat. (Seeing a pattern here yet?) This time the spotlight is on Jumbo, a crab speciality restaurant set in popular Clark Quay. Singapore’s also promoting itself as a venue for concerts and Christina Aguilera is performing, so we head to their spacious, well thought-out auditorium to watch the tiny, livewire performer sing, amid an audience that seems to be composed entirely of little girls squealing in excitement and slack jawed men.
It’s late, and it’s Saturday night. So, of course, it’s time to party. Ignoring the hideously scary reverse bungee at busy Clark Quay, we walk to the Ministry Of Sound, joining a queue of smugly stylish young things in low-slung jeans and too much hair gel. The club is a maze, divided into various levels, each offering different music, and rooms set-aside for “big spenders” and “celebrities”. Back outside, we pass Bar Fly, (“It’s Buddha Bar renamed, so it doesn’t hurt sentiments,” says Wee Tee), Hooters (“tsk, tsk”) and a truly bizarre joint called “Clinic”, decorated with hospital drips and serving drinks in test tubes.
Sunday’s supposed to be wickedly languid and self-indulgent. So we do as the locals do and head out for brunch, except this isn’t the usually sausages and eggs fry up. It’s a champagne breakfast at the Pan Pacific hotel’s contemporary, stylish Global Kitchen, opening with succulent salmon roe and caviar and ending — five courses later — with a white wine and citrus peel tart.
It’s finally time for culture, and the artfully laid out Red Dot museum of design. (Psst: If you get there on the first Sunday of the month, you can also check out their trendy flea market.) It’s followed by a visit to the fascinating Singapore National Museum, alive with interactive exhibits, including an unusual and entirely appropriate section on the country’s food hawkers, complete with their shouts, comments and colourful history, besides rhythmic swinging chandeliers and a guided walk through the country’s corridors of history, brought alive with maps, pictures, posters and re-creations of historic moments.
How much can you do in a weekend? Well… Judging by my luggage and weighing scale, plenty.
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