Time Out Singapore guide
Tiny country packs a lot in for a long weekend holiday break Discuss this article
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Southeast Asia is a buzz of urban, hyper technological development. And Singapore, the tiny city state off the tip of the Malay Peninsula, is all that and more, but it’s also vibrantly green with a rich history underneath the pristine gloss. And, at a mere few hours away from Qatar, it’s a quick stop for an exotic vacation. Qatar Airways flys direct to Singapore from Doha, and this might be the time to splurge on an upgrade: the first class cabins on this recently buffed-up route include lie down beds, meaning you can go to sleep in Qatar and wake up ready to tackle Asia just over seven hours later.
Variously under the control of other imperial powers, today it’s port is still one of the five busiest in the world, melting between it’s thoroughly British heritage and it’s modern Asian identity. With pristine new developments, as well as strict rules (including no chewing gum allowed), Singapore summersaults between feeling like the product of a Disney theme park ride run amok, and a funky, gritty East-meets-West melting pot. From Merlions to hotels topped with giant boats, there’s a little bit of everything in Singapore.
Coming from Qatar, especially in the dusty spring months, the first place for a must-stop is the Singapore Botanical Gardens (www.sbg.org.sg), and their exquisite National Orchid Gardens. Since 1928, they’ve been growing and developing amazing orchid varieties, and hybrid cross’ dedicated to influential people—including the Qatar royal family. Today, you can stroll through lush paths with water features, overhangs, and gorgeous trees covered in the over 600 different hybrid varieties on display. The garden’s collection now includes over 1000 different species of orchid, and 200 different hybrids, which are rotated by the staff in the specially designed space. It’s the largest display of tropical orchids in the world, and well worth a stop, just for the chance to gaze at the green. But don’t stop there: the gardens themselves host numerous events, including regular concerts, and boast collections of statues, herbs, spices, fruit trees, and bamboo, as well as a Children’s Garden. You can also grab a souvenir here to take home: orchids have been preserved and turned into everything from key chains to necklaces.
Nothing quite captures the ever-so-slightly-surreal post-colonial relationship Singapore has with it’s British roots so well as the weekly Tea Dance at the St. Regis Singapore (www.stregissingapore.com). The hotel itself is a stunning mix of old-world elegance (you get your own butler!) and the sleek modernity associated with Asian development. Held between 3pm-5pm Fridays and Saturdays in Brasserie Les Saveurs, the St. Regis’ sleek contemporary French restaurant, the high tea takes a page straight from St. Regis reigning lady, Lady Caroline Astor. Back at the turn of the century, she became known in fashionable American society for her lavish teas; only the best people made the guest list, and food was presented all at once on tea stands, allowing the servants to leave the room and the ladies to gossip at will. The St. Regis Singapore adds their own twist, offering tasty food and a selection of teas, alongside salsa and waltz lessons! With several instructors, both male and female, they also offer bubbly as part of the tea, to help coax reluctant students onto the floor for a whirl. There’s something very Singapore about learning to waltz while quaffing scones, in the middle of Asia.
Singapore has a lively nightlife, and some of those making it so loud and excellent have four legs and like to wallow in mud. The Singapore Zoo’s (www.zoo.com.sg) Night Safari gives you the option of either walking or riding on a trolley as they take you through the different animal exhibits. Many are penned in only by light fences or wires, and touring at night means you get a glimpse of animals that scorn daylight. This is where Singapore busts out in all it’s Disney glory, offering a sanitized version of an African (or Asian, or American—the creatures range from elephants to raccoons) safari, that’s still good fun and a solid option, especially for kids.
But a night out in Singapore isn’t complete without a stroll down Clarke Quay (www.clarkequay.com.sg). You can hop in a riverboat for a tour along the docks, including a glimpse of the Merlion fountain, the official symbol of Singapore. With the head of a lion and the body of a fish, there are several statues throughout Singapore, but one of the most famous is located near Clark Quay, spouting water into the sea. Once back on land, Clarke Quay is where Singapore gets a little gritty. A mish mash of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, you can hear everything from live Bollywood groves to crooners with guitars wafting from the doors, before you hit one blaring Metallica, and more. Don’t miss The Clinic, a bar with a medical center theme, offering drinks in IV bags and wheelchair seating. Prices range from high to thoroughly reasonable, and you’ll spy everything from flip-flops to haute couture strolling through on a Friday night.
The Intan Museum
If you’ve had your fill of gimmicks and nights out though, get a dose of one of the cultures that makes Singapore so unique. The Intan Museum (+65 6440 1148) started out as a private collection that ballooned, dedicated to celebrating Peranakan culture. Originally settlers from China, the Peranakan developed a unique community and culture that’s still vibrant in Singapore today. Set up in one of their old store fronts in Singapore, the museum is jammed with all sorts of artifacts, from intricately embroidered wedding shoes to luxury furniture, studded with stones and pearls, that would be set so they were visible from the street. The museum is small and viewings are by appointment only but it’s worth the effort: the founder, Alvin, will show you around and explain the many elements of Peranakan life, while his mother prepares traditional sweets downstairs.
A trip to Singapore isn’t complete without a bite to eat: and it has to be crab. Chili crab is the traditional one, a spicy dish of crab stewed in spices and tomatoes to make your mouth ache and burn. It’s not for the faint of heart, but worth the pain as it’s awesomely delicious. For a less sweaty version, try the black pepper crab: The Long Beach Seafood Restaurant (www.longbeachseafood.com.sg) claims to have invented it, and it’s a milder version of it’s chili cousin, still with a bit of bite to make it worth it. And, if you’re really brave, you’ll try the national obsession: durian. Sometimes called the ‘king of fruits’, you can get it on street corners, in markets, and even made into ice cream and candy in Singapore. You’ll know you’ve found it when you get a whiff: some say the fragrance is delectable, but many people describe it alternatively as onions, gym socks, and fruity death. It’s so smelly, even before it’s been busted out of it’s thorny husk, that most hotels have banned it from the premises in Singapore, and it’s not allowed on public transport or in taxis. If you can get past the smell, apparently it has a rich flavor with a smooth consistency that will have you hooked as soon as you try it . . . or so locals keep trying to convince us.
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