While small in scale, inventive Singapore has no lack of quirky places to see and things to do, says Pauline Tan.
Get your design fix
Singapore has worked hard in recent years to present itself as an edgy urban metropolis. If one can look beyond the oxymoronic orchestrated hip, there are some true gems. Among them is the red dot design museum, housed in red dot Traffic on Maxwell Road, the former Singapore Traffic Police headquarters.
This old building may no longer be the mecca at which Singapore motorists pray for leniency over driving and parking offences, but it still stops traffic being painted bright red.
The red dot design award is a coveted product design prize handed out by Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen in Essen, Germany, honouring outstanding design quality and trendsetters. While the Singapore premises may not have as extensive a number of displays as the original red dot design museum at the Zollverein World Cultural Heritage site in Essen, it has a good selection of interactive installations to engage and educate visitors on industrial design, as well as exhibits ranging from furniture to computers and power tools.
If you’re in Singapore on the first weekend of the month, a visit to red dot would net the added bonus of the MAAD (Market of Artists and Designers), where you can get your portrait sketched or pick up funky one-of-a-kind jewellery. www.red-dot.sg
Enjoy the great outdoors
If the concrete jungle is making your inner Tarzan yearn for Mother Nature, look no further than HortPark at Southern Ridges – a nine-kilometre chain of green spaces spanning the rolling hills of Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Kent Ridge Park before ending at West Coast Park.
HortPark is set in a landscaped park with more than 800 trees and 40,000 shrubs. It gives the visitor a chance to see gardening-related recreational, educational, research and retail activities under one contemporary-looking roof.
The sleek lines of the structure houses a fascinating “vertical greening system” with a suspended watering system, six prototype glasshouses and 20 theme gardens, such as a herb and spice garden, bamboo labyrinth, water garden, seed garden and recycling garden.
Techies will enjoy the eLearning trail, HortPark Mediascape. During guided walks, visitors can learn more about HortPark through fun quizzes and activities using the HP iPAQ and mediascape technology.
It’s thirsty business exploring the 23-hectare grounds, but Thai restaurant, KHA, also situated in the park, provides a hip grazing hole. And if you must bring home the great outdoors, a HortMart nursery offers plants and flowers for sale. www.nparks.gov.sg/hortpark
Get into the Bohemian vibe
Tourists visiting Singapore are invariably directed to Arab Street as the representative hub of the local Arab/Muslim community. Unfortunately, most of them bypass the parallel little streets of Haji Lane and Bali Lane, but these are the trendiest quarters in the area.
In recent years, a distinct Bohemian vibe has emerged at Haji Lane, led by outlets catering to grungy fashionistas and lovers of esoteric lifestyle knickknacks. At Barong, Billet Doux, Dulce Fig and other exotically named boutiques, sift through fashion that runs the gamut from vintage to Tokyo street. Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare can also be had at cafés such as Café Le Caire @ Al-Majlis and Going Om.
Bali Lane houses Straits Records, a local indie record label and more laid-back bars and cafés. From Bugis MRT station, take a cab to Arab Street, which is a few minutes away.
Dine at the waterfront
Chic marina waterfront dining has come to Singapore with Privé, located on its only private island, Keppel Island. With sparkling water and bright white yachts providing a picture-perfect backdrop, this has become a favourite of Singapore’s beautiful people. At the helm of the waterfront bar, bakery café and New York-style restaurant is Chef Tony Bilson.
Being right next to Sentosa and also close to one of Singapore’s largest malls, VivoCity, it is a natural post-retail therapy choice. Posers prefer the outdoor Gastrobar when sipping their blackberry lychee mojitos, and it has the best ambience. Strangely, the restaurant lacks windows overlooking the wonderful view as it was designed to provide a “private dining” experience, but foodies insist the charcoal-grilled USDA prime Angus double ribeye is among Singapore’s best. www.prive.com.sg
Learn about heritage
Foreign traders to Southeast Asia in centuries past married local women, and their offspring came to be known as Peranakans. The community’s rich hybrid culture is very much part of Singapore’s living heritage. It is seen in the quaint architecture of shophouses around the island, but visitors should make the effort to imbibe a dose of the culture at the Peranakan Museum.
Complex social rituals, delicious cuisine and distinct clothing and other artefacts of daily life make the Peranakans an interesting study. So attractive are these elements that Peranakan restaurants, outfits, furniture, pottery and art are still fashionable today.
At the museum, 10 galleries offer cutting-edge interactive features and illustrate colourful aspects of Peranakan life such as weddings and religion through music, stories and rituals. There is even a shop selling Peranakan items and food for those who want a firsthand taste. www.peranakanmuseum.sg