With new openings and refurbishments, the Orchard district continues to be relevant to the discerning shopper. Those searching for the highest bang-to-buck ratio should take a day or two to explore the road’s entire stretch, for its malls run the gamut of sizes and specialities. Ngee Ann City, ION Orchard and Paragon carve up a large swathe of the designer-label fashion and accessory market. The smaller Scotts Square, Wisma Atria and Mandarin Gallery also feature many top brands; Forum The Shopping Mall has lots of children’s stores; Tangs, Singapore’s first luxury department store, is a hub for beauty as well as fashion; while Plaza Singapura and The Cathay are home to many arts-related businesses, from cineplexes to craft stores and whimsical homeware boutiques.
Should malls begin to pall, head out of the city centre for a more colourful shopping and sightseeing experience. Chinatown has treasures aplenty, if you know where to look. Start along the side streets branching between South Bridge Road, New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street. Duck down Temple Street, along the side wall of the multi-hued Sri Mariamman Temple, and you’ll find kitchen supply store Sia Huat, where Vitamixes and sous-vide machines (water ovens) are found next to carbon-steel woks and carved wooden mooncake moulds, which are as beautiful as they are functional.
A stone’s throw away on Smith Street is Chinatown Complex, where you can get a taste of the real Singapore. Wake up early and explore the wet market in the basement while people haggle over flapping fish and verdant herbs. Head up to the huge second-floor hawker centre for a dizzying array of food stalls, from heavenly Cantonese roast meats to noodle dishes. There’s even an artisan beer vendor, The Good Beer Company (unit 02-58), who will happily recommend a cold microbrew to match your sizzling-hot claypot rice.
On the other side of the hill lies the historic Tanjong Pagar district. Here, peruse the charmingly crowded shelves at Littered With Books, savour innovative cuisine at modern gastronomy dining den Tippling Club and, finally, rest your feet at Drury Lane with their selection of specialty coffee..
The culture of the Straits Chinese, or Peranakan people, is an intricate intertwining of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian and Indian influences, passed on through cuisine, art and language. Singapore’s Peranakan Museum brilliantly showcases this fascinating community in a historic building with an airy atrium. Take an afternoon to wander around the three floors of interactive exhibits, and see how Peranakans revel in the complex – marvel at the stunningly detailed silk and glass-bead embroidery, colourful porcelainware for serving exuberant but labour-intensive cuisine, and opulently glittering jewellery. Want to find out more? Wander a few doors down to Select Books, which specialises in tomes on Asian cultures and societies, making for illuminating browsing.
On the doorstep of Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, the Marina Bay area has undergone massive changes ever since it was reclaimed from the sea. One of the newest creations is Gardens By The Bay, a 100-hectare park boasting two huge conservatories and a grove of soaring ‘supertrees’ – vertical garden structures festooned with more than 200 species of tropical plants, linked with a tree-top walkway. It’s a welcome respite from the concrete jungle for avid gardeners and nature lovers alike.
Tiong Bahru, an old suburb of art deco apartment blocks, leafy garden areas and conservation-status shophouses, is well into its second life. Hipster hangouts sit next to
old-school provisions shops, and French bakeries can be found amid the fish congee specialists. Foodies will revel in the juxtapositions:
a day’s food crawl might begin
with generously stuffed, traditional dumplings from Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh at Tiong Bahru Market (stall 02-02), before proceeding to 40 Hands for a cup of bespoke Java, followed by a slice of curry-scented baguette by Parisian baker Gontran Cherrier at Tiong Bahru Bakery. Finally, succumb to a gravy-doused dish at local landmark Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice (diagonally opposite Tiong Bahru Market’s entrance). And spend the evening at one of Books Actually's fortnightly dinner-cum-talks, showcasing local authors. For a more formal setting,
in an interior inspired by feng shui, look no further than Cherry Garden at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore. It serves classic Cantonese cuisine with elegant dishes featuring signature items such as broad beans crisply crusted with salted egg yolks, and baby abalone baked with fresh mushrooms and chestnuts.
As a postscript to exploring the city – or as a prelude to travels elsewhere – The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore is hard to beat. The dreamy glow of the warm-wood interiors instantly envelops you with a sense of calm. Indulge in a sensory Fragrant Pearl treatment, which features a luxurious pearl body wrap to smooth and nourish the skin, or linger longer with a therapeutic massage and treatment package. Revitalisation needs its own sweet time – as the city itself could tell you.