Sandy Goh explores streets once lined with opium dens, spots freaky architecture, and samples tongue-tingling food on a tour of the city-state
1. Peranakan Museum
Singapore is home to a wide cross-section of cultures, one of which is the Peranakan community – descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled in the Malay archipelago in the 15th and 16th centuries. Open since April last year, the Peranakan Museum’s ten permanent galleries house artefacts from Peranakan culture and give a peek into this group’s way of life.
If you visit this year, take a look at the “Baba Bling” exhibition (on until December 13), which showcases some of the finest jewellery from Peranakan families and private collectors. Get the most out of your visit by taking one of the guided tours, which take place throughout the day – check the website for timings. The museum is at 39 Armenian Street, about ten minutes’ walk from City Hall MRT. Open daily 9.30am-7pm (from 1pm Mon, until 9pm Fri). Entry S$6 (£2.50). Tel +65 6332 7591; peranakanmuseum.sg
2. Raffles Hotel
Walk back in the direction of the City Hall MRT and you’ll come to Beach Road, the location of one of Singapore’s most iconic hotels. Named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, who founded Singapore in 1819, the property dates back to 1887, when it was only a ten-room colonial bungalow. Having survived the Second World War, even towards the end when it was used as a transit camp for prisoners, Raffles’ growth has mirrored that of the city-state through the years – visit the hotel’s museum to learn more about its history.
For a meal or a tipple, pay a visit to one of Raffles’ 14 restaurants and bars, including the two-storey Long bar, where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented in the 1910s, and the Tiffin room, which serves a delicious curry buffet of hot Indian and Asian specialities. (Lunch 12pm-2pm, dinner 7pm-10pm.) 1 Beach Road; tel +65 6337 1886; raffles.com
The Esplanade is ten minutes’ walk from City Hall MRT through an underpass that has links to four shopping centres – Raffles City, Marina Square, Suntec City and Millenia Walk. The Esplanade on Marina Bay is the centrepiece of Singapore’s art and culture scene, and is often referred to locally as the durian, an exotic tropical fruit with a spiky husk that bears a striking resemblance to the roof of the building. Open since the early nineties, it has played host to shows including Phantom of the Opera and Cats, as well as the Mosaic Music Festival. The centre comprises several theatre and concert halls, a library, an 8,000 sqm shopping mall, restaurants and bars, and a roof terrace. Visit esplanade.com
4. Lau Pa Sat
Singapore is well known as a foodie’s paradise, home to local delicacies such as laksa (Peranakan spicy noodle soup), rojak (fruit and vegetable salad) and chilli crab – and Lau Pa Sat (meaning “old market” in the Hokkien dialect), the city-state’s covered wet market turned gourmet heaven, has them all. A 15-minute walk from Raffles Place MRT station, it boasts cuisines of all kinds, from Japanese and Korean to Chinese and Western. Dishes such as ayam penyet (Malay crushed then fried chicken), roti prata (similar to Indian pancake), barbecued stingray topped with belacan (Malay-Indonesian shrimp paste and chilli sauce) and ice kachang, a local dessert made with shaved ice, will definitely tingle your taste buds. Another highlight at Lau Pa Sat is Satay Street, where ten stalls sell mouth-watering barbecued chicken, mutton, pork and beef dipped in peanut sauce. Tel +65 6220 2138; laupasat.biz
5. Pagoda Street
From Lau Pa Sat, take Cross Street towards South Bridge Road and then on to Pagoda Street. (You could also take the train from Raffles Place MRT to Chinatown MRT.) One of the main streets in Chinatown, it has gone through numerous transformations, from a centre for slavery and opium dens to one for textiles and tailoring. Nowadays, it is the place to visit for gadgets and exotic furniture.
Also on Padoga Street is the Chinese Heritage Centre (chineseheritagecentre.org), housed in a trio of three-storey shop-houses and depicting 19th- and early 20th-century scenes such as roadside stalls, lion and dragon dances, clog-making and fortune telling.
Two national monuments – the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple and Masjid Jamae (or Chulia) Mosque – are located where Pagoda Street meets South Bridge Road. If you’d like to visit these, remember to take off your footwear and cover up.
6. Clarke Quay
Jump back on the MRT and take it to Clarke Quay, where you’ll find Central mall (thecentral.com.sg) and its 280 wide and varied retail outlets. If you’re not in a shopping mood, opposite is a long stretch featuring a jetty with numerous bars and restaurants, including Zirca (the-cannery.com.sg/zirca), offering cabaret shows and dance nights, and Bellini Grande (bellinigrande.sg), a supper club. Other attractions at Clarke Quay are the G-Max Ultimate Bungee, and a rather more sedate cruise along the Singapore River. Clarke Quay is best visited at night for both the nightlife and the view. Visit clarkequay.com.sg
Go to visitsingapore.com for more details.