When we think of places around the world that we love to visit or wish we could visit, Singapore is often in the top ten list for travellers anywhere in the world. Singapore... Just saying it is evocative of the romance of the Far East, the lifestyles of its colonial past and its contemporary place in the world as a hub for all sorts of adventures, from the fast and furious night-time Formula 1 Grand Prix to the pace of shopping that is equally fast and furious! I’ve been fortunate to visit Singapore many times as a transit destination and as my sole destination. Whether you are spending a few hours, a couple of hectic days or staying a little longer to savour the culture and the history, this is a truly an island that has something for everyone.
How about I take you for a weekend in Singapore? A bit less hectic than a transit tour of the city but still the need to keep moving! Let’s get to the main attractions and find a few places that I think you’ll enjoy, particularly if you enjoy some genuinely amazing food!
Welcome to Singapore, your gateway to the melting pot of the world!
Let’s start with our arrival to Singapore and let’s assume we’ve landed in the morning. Arriving or departing from Changi Airport is an experience in itself. It’s so big that it has its own shopper reward programme. The shops, bars, facilities and attractions make this one of the best airports in the world but keep an eye on the time. The first time I arrived at Changi Airport I heard my name being called because my connecting flight was about to leave! Somehow I had spent three hours browsing the shops and attractions, and completely lost track of time even though, having flown from Perth, I was still in my own time zone!
With more than 80 restaurants and bars in the airport, it won’t be hard to find your first bite of Kaya toast, a rite of passage culinary experience for anyone visiting Singapore and Malaysia. Kaya toast is chargrilled and the jam is made from eggs and coconut milk. Sitting alongside your Kaya toast should be a little cup of Kopi, a traditional and high strength coffee served with some milk and sugar. How’s that for a start to your Singapore weekend? You’re fully fuelled up with a local breakfast and nothing will get in your way for the rest of the day!
For your Singapore weekend, you’re going to need somewhere to stay and I’ve got two hotels in mind. One is luxurious and has floor to ceiling windows to take advantage of amazing views and the other is modern and vibrant with one of the best gin bars in the country and robot butlers to escort you to your room once you’ve fallen off your bar stool. The Mandarin Oriental has an uninterrupted view of Marina Bay and the Marina Bay Sands, one of the most iconic buildings in the world. In the evening you know you have to go out and enjoy Singapore nightlife but it’s hard to turn away from the view of the bay and the nightly laser show.
The Mandarin Oriental is an atrium style hotel which is my favourite design for hotels. When you leave your room you don’t step into a corridor, you step into the life of the hotel, the sound of activity in the lobby far below, maybe some clinking of glasses and laughter from the bar.
There’s activity happening and it makes you feel part of something special. Just a special tip, Mandarin Oriental is one the most recommended five star hotels that is perfectly located to watch the Singapore Grand Prix. If you’re lucky, you may be able to book a room that overlooks the track and after some high octane excitement you can enjoy an indulgent wellbeing experience at one of Singapore’s most renowned spas, located at Mandarin Oriental, and drawing inspiration from Singapore’s rich and diverse past.
My other choice of hotel is the Sofitel Singapore City Centre, a luxury hotel that at first glance is understated but by the second glance will appear confident and contemporary. The hotel bar is called 1864 and while that particular year was a long time ago, this bar is far from being old fashioned. Every drink is a special experience. Avoiding the bright colours of the iconic Singapore Sling, 1864 is creating dark, sultry creations to sip and savour. Gins infused with local herbs and spices, like the herbaceous ‘Roots’, with Paper Lantern Gin, beetroot, carrot and lychee is a showstopper. Even the sweet macaroon snacks are infused with gin! When you’re ready to head back to your room, you can ask for a resident robot butler to make sure you get there safely. Speak politely to your robot in French and it may provide you with a bottle of water when you arrive at your door.
If you need a break from walking, take the opportunity of a ride with Trishaw Uncle, the only licensed trishaw tour in Singapore. Let your Trishaw Uncle rider decide where to take you or give some instructions on what you’d like to see and away you go, peddling past the congestion of cars on busy streets before riding up curious little laneways to discover heritage areas like Chinatown and Kampong Glam.
Kampong Glam on Arab Street and Haji Lane is Singapore’s Muslim Quarter and full of old shophouses serving spicy food and selling textiles and little curios that are perfect gifts to store in your carry-on bag for family and friends back home.
In Chinatown, I recommend doing a walking tour which will normally start from the glorious Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Old theatres, older medicine shops, temples and more than a few bold new bars that are regularly included on lists of Asia’s 50 best Bars make Chinatown fascinating to discover by day and exciting by night.
As night falls and the need for more food beckons, there is no better melting pot of culinary delights than Singapore. For all the fine dining and quirky themed cafes, I’m taking you to one of Singapore’s greatest treasures. Lau Pa Sat is a historic building that was Singapore’s first wet market and now filled with authentic food stalls that spill out into Boon Tat Street where you will find the best satay grills in South East Asia (now that comment is going to get me in trouble with my friends at Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur!). Pick a table, grab a cold, local Tiger beer and order a mixed plate of satays from any of the vendors and then sit back and let the evening fall, surrounded by joyous aromas and a happy community of vendors keen to spoil you with even more satay and beer.
To finish off the night or save until the following night, visit the Gardens by the Bay. Walk through the Cloud Forest, Flower Dome and Floral Fantasy and then ascend to the OCBC Skyway that overlooks the gardens from a height of 22 metres.
You can be educated about plants, forests and habitats but sometimes it’s just enough to wander in awe. By day it’s amazing but by night, it becomes a world class spectacle that will take your breath away.
For your final day of the weekend, I’m going to leave you to discover one of the high end shopping malls on Orchard Road or perhaps the vast Vivo City or The Shoppes, which is part of the Marina Bay Sands complex. Or you might want to visit Singapore Zoo or the theme parks and wild rides of Sentosa.
I don’t know about you but this has been a very busy weekend but I wouldn’t have it any other way. One of the most exciting cities in the world has given us experiences that not only have been wonderful, but also given us an understanding and a connection with the Singapore community. We’ve enjoyed high end afternoon tea, street food satays and travelling in trishaws, walking the streets and discovering a bar scene that is decadently vibrant. This has been a weekend that you will need a week to recover from.
Can you believe we’ve just spent a weekend in Singapore and haven’t been to the iconic Raffles or impressive bars like Ce La Vi and Spago that you’ll find on the roof of Marina Bay Sands? I guess we’ll just have to come back and do it all again, and a little more.