Image via Veer (home of the Singapore Kindness Movement)
Today’s City Guide comes to us from Emily Loke, blogger, founder and creative director of Paper Tiger Press, Singapore’s first letterpress studio. Emily takes us on a tour of this magical Southeast Asian city through its traditional restaurants, unique shops, chic lodging and even a vintage Asian toy museum! Thank you, Emily, for this glimpse into the Singapore way of life! — Stephanie
CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!
From its humble beginnings as a British colonized port, Singapura has a long been a magnet for different cultures through the migrants and travelers it regularly welcomes to its sunny shores. Today, the Republic of Singapore is a thriving metropolis, enriched by its society’s embrace of a vibrant history in the face of rapid modernization.
The charm of Singapore, however, is that it’s not actually a melting pot, but rather an exercise in contrasts. Here, you’ll find hawker fare proudly served in every luxury mall and neighborhoods untouched by time, holding their own next to skyscrapers. Singapore — at once a city, state and country — defies easy categorization, which makes it even more rewarding when seeing it for yourself.
Geographical note: the heart of the diamond-shaped island is actually its southern quarter. The “Central” area generally begins at the semi-suburban neighborhoods of Tanglin, Holland, Bukit Timah and Newton, which lead south into the shopping district of Orchard Rd. and then Raffles City/Marina Bay. To the immediate west of these areas is the Central Business District and Chinatown, and to the east along Rochor Rd. lies Bugis, Little India and Arab Street. The areas farther north, east and west of “Central” are primarily residential suburbs.
Central — Orchard
Quintessential — Displays packed with striking jewelry and shelves heaped with unusual bags. This store is a must-visit for fashion lovers who like statement pieces.
Far East Plaza — This warren of clothing stores ranges in style from teen-trendy and indie-chic to cocktail-appropriate. You’ll make out like a bandit if you have determination and a keen eye. The tailors that ply their trade from tiny nooks throughout the mall are both reasonable and efficient.
Chocolate Research Facility — Check out the fun product packaging and unusual clinical décor at this chocolate store, and be sure to ask the friendly sales staff for recommendations and about new flavours.
Books Kinokuniya — A bibliophile’s paradise. The Asian literature and design sections are notable, as is their range of Japanese books and magazines.
The Better Toy Store — This kids’ store is full of beautiful playthings destined to be passed down to future generations. Look out for traditional European puppets, hand-carved wooden toys and a huge range of Flensted mobiles.
Prologue — A boutique bookstore with an interesting author mix, Prologue’s most charming feature is the vast but somewhat hidden stationery department, a certain delight for the organized-yet-crafty.
Birds and Co. — Displayed simply, the handmade notebooks and vintage-esque stationery on sale here are elevated to the status of art pieces.
Rockstar by Soon Lee — Classic Penguin novels share tablespace with an eclectic mix of simple but stylish clothing and accessories at this quaint store.
A Curious Teepee — A carefully merchandised lifestyle store that stocks lovely homewares, clothing, books and gifts, this cache of quirk has an on-site crepe café, too.
Woodwould — If you’re a lover of pretty paper goods (or are shopping for one), this treasure trove of paper products and beautiful stationery-related trinkets is a must-visit.
Toast — You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at this tiny, hidden-away deli, but make a point to order their iced lemon tea, particularly if you’re there on a hot day.
Wild Honey — The dim, cozy ambiance of this all-day breakfast café is so relaxing, it’s hard to will yourself back to the hustle and bustle of the city after a meal here.
KPO — Post office on one side, hip watering hole on the other. Once you’re done eyeing the sleek architecture over a mojito at the bar, you can literally write home about it next door.
Barstop — Tucked away on a quiet street, this chic-yet-homey bar is worth the effort you may have to make to find it. Best enjoyed in the evenings, especially on weekends when there’s live jazz.
Emerald Hill — Lined with watering holes tucked into beautiful old shophouses, this buzzing street is perfect for a relaxed night out. Check out Alley Bar for its sleek décor, sexy vibe and extensive late-night menu.
Cuppage Terrace — The star of this strip of converted shophouses has to be Santouka, a Japanese export that serves the best ramen in town. Put up with the queue and order the Shio Choice Pork Ramen made with meltingly tender pork cheeks.
Kazu Sumiyaki Restaurant — The authentic Japanese yakitori is what most people come for, but ask the knowledgeable waitresses about seasonal delicacies and nightly specials. Make reservations.
Raffles City/Marina Bay
Raffles Hotel Museum — If you go see Singapore’s Grand Dame (and you will), make a point to stop in at the hotel’s little-known museum to glimpse the Colonial era through its collection of photographs, letters and other period treasures.
Yet Con — Hainanese Chicken Rice, Singapore’s unofficial national dish, is best sampled at this restaurant, where both its décor and stellar reputation have remained unchanged by time.
Art Friend — This art-supply store is a favourite with local creative types for its wide selection of art and crafting supplies.
Cat Socrates — Vintage toys, beautiful notebooks, unusual books and magazines and other lovely and irresistible trinkets abound in this store and café.
Actually and Actually Actually — Both home to international fashion and accessories labels that are hard to find elsewhere on the island.
Mint Museum of Toys — This five-story museum houses Asia’s largest collection of vintage toys and other childhood wonders, dating back as far as the mid-19th century.
Marina Barrage — The manicured grass roof of this designer water-treatment plant is a park with million-dollar views of the Singapore skyline. Kite-flying is big here: go on weekend afternoons to see the sky fill with colour, or at night to watch brilliant LED kites take flight.
Central — Tanglin/Holland/Bukit Timah
Spruce — Think family-friendly, mod-treehouse with great comfort food. The weekend brunch crowd is serious, so make reservations. Their Taco Shack out back is open on weekdays.
White Rabbit — Go for the architecture of this church-turned-restaurant/bar, but stay for the drinks. Sit outdoors in the charming, slightly unkempt garden.
Island Creamery — Despite solid classics, the standout offerings here are the ones that feature beloved local flavours, like Tiger Beer Sorbet or Pulot Hitam.
Evan’s Lodge — A hostel with surprisingly good food offerings. Hatched, an all-day breakfast restaurant; The Wine Company, a cozy neighborhood bistro with a quaint back patio; Mr Prata, a 24-hour Indian canteen frequented by night owls. If you walk past the hostel’s washroom, look out for the quirky vending machine that sells loaves of bread.
Holland Village — An enclave of buzzing bars, restaurants and shops. While the Asian-influenced clothing and décor stores in the old Holland Village Shopping Centre (above Cold Storage) are worth a look, your best bet for an unusual souvenir will be the kitschy Khiam Teck (a few doors down from Starbucks), which sells lanterns, toys and other childhood paraphernalia. For food and drinks, go in the evening when it’s cool and the inner streets are closed to traffic. Head upstairs at Wala’s for live music by local bands, or chill out over a daiquiri at Tango’s next door. Depending on your budget, the Holland Market has good cheap eats, but Sabroso’s tapas buffet is a good value, as well. Save space for the elegant sweets at 2am:dessertbar.
Rochor — Bugis/Little India/Arab Street
Old School — The retro architecture of the old Methodist girls’ school has been converted into a hub of galleries, exhibition spaces and creative offices. Enjoy the ambiance with a sundowner and live music at Timbre, or catch an indie film at Sinema.
Emily Hill — An immaculately restored colonial manse, Emily Hill’s creative co-op is one of the most beautiful but secluded art spaces on the island. Check Monsoon Gallery for ongoing exhibitions, and stop in at Wild Oats Bar to refuel.
Bugis Street — The Bugis area is best known for its colourful past as a hangout for bawdy sailors and beautiful transvestites, but it’s now a cleaned-up pasar malam, or bazaar, best suited to bargain hunters who don’t mind a crowd.
Liang Seah Street — Popular with locals, this food street has all kinds of restaurants lining it on either side. Pick any cuisine you like, but gauge the quality by the crowd — good places will be packed with hopefuls waiting outside for a spot. Whatever you decide to eat, finish off at Ji De Chi, a traditional Chinese dessert café with excellent shaved flavoured ices.
Children’s Little Museum — Packed with vintage toys and other retro paraphernalia, this small but unusual museum is a glimpse into Singapore’s past. Not just for kids!
Haji Lane — Known primarily for its indie stores, expect to find vintage clothing shops and small local boutiques on this colourful little street.
Fika — Modern and minimal, this Swedish restaurant is a good place to stop for afternoon tea if you’re in the area and prefer somewhere less ethnic than a hookah café.
Tekka Market — Recently refurbished, this building has it all: a wet (fresh produce) market, a food court and colourful bazaar-style shops, as well.
Komala Vilas — Singapore’s oldest vegetarian-Indian restaurant. Order a rice meal and eat like a king for $7, as everything is refillable upon request.
Khulfi — An Indian ice-cream parlor fronted by a small boutique. Sit on the front courtyard if it’s not too hot, and ask the charming owner for recommendations. (No website. 15 Upper Dickson Rd, Tel: 6294 2334. Daily 11am–10pm)
Mustafa Center — You’ll literally find anything you’ll ever need at this 24-hour department store, as well as things you never knew you needed (but suddenly do). Brave the crowd and be amazed at what can be crammed into this maze of connected buildings.
Kashmir — Quiet, clean and air-conditioned, this North Indian restaurant is a good place to unwind after a long day of shopping in the area.
Thieves Market — Though the wares are no longer stolen goods, this flea market can still yield good finds if you’re willing to dig around . . . and bargain.
Wanderlust — This boutique hotel features four levels, each made over by a local design firm. Creative types with bold tastes will get a kick out of the Pantone rooms.
Chinatown/Central Business District
Lau Pa Sat — The clock tower and decorative ironwork of Singapore’s first market (now a hawker food haven) dates back to the Victorian era.
Linda’s Home Kitchen — Try traditional Hakka dishes at this cozy, family-style restaurant. The Abacus Yam Balls are a must.
Strangelets — Everything in this décor and furnishing store is a work of carefully-sourced art.
Woods in the Books — You’ll find picture books for kids and kids-at-heart alike, at this truly charming indie bookstore.
P.S. Café Ann Siang Hill — This restaurant has all the famed P.S. Café signatures: super-chic interiors, dramatic florals, excellent menu and irresistible truffle fries.
Flor Patisserie — Experience the Japanese take on European desserts at this adorable sweet shop.
PeraMakan — This is arguably the best place to go if you want to sample the local Peranakan (Malay-Chinese) cuisine.
Books Actually — Small but enchantingly homey, this bookstore specializes in literature but peppers its displays with whimsical gift items, as well.
Tian Jin Fong Kee — The handmade pork and chive dumplings steal the show at this family-run hawker stall. Get them fried with vinegar and fresh ginger to dip in.
Tong Ah Eating House — Eat breakfast like a local here: order your kaya (coconut jam) toast extra crispy to dip in soft-boiled eggs, and wash it down with kopi (coffee).
New Majestic Hotel — With each room designed by a local artist, this hotel is equally funky and chic. Linger for a drink at the equally artistic bar if you aren’t staying.
The Club — No art for art’s sake at this boutique hotel; every aspect of the modern, Asian-minimalist décor cheekily hints at either the building, location or country’s past.
On the Beaten Path
The Singapore Zoo & Night Safari — This multiple award-winning zoo is the pride of Singapore and for good reason. Make a point to walk through the Fragile Forest, where the playful, free-roaming lemurs will come right up to you.
Singapore Botanic Gardens — Best explored in the early morning or evening. One of the most popular attractions here is the Orchid Garden, which showcases a few thousand varieties of the plant, including Singapore’s national flower itself, the Vanda Miss Joaquim.
Museums — Aside from hosting traveling collections, The National Museum of Singapore has fascinating regular displays, the best of which preserve disappearing elements of the local culture. Just behind it, the Singapore Philatelic Museum is an interesting stop whether or not you are a stamp collector. Across the street from CHIJMES, an old girls’ school restored to house lively restaurants and bars, the Singapore Art Museum hosts regular exhibits primarily by Asian and Southeast Asian artists. For another view of Singapore’s past, do as Martha Stewart did and visit the immaculately preserved Baba House to see how wealthy Peranakan families lived in 19th-century Singapore. Pair this with a trip to the Peranakan Museum, and/or the Asian Civilizations Museum, which illuminates the histories of other races in Singapore, as well.