If there is one word that best captures Singapore, it is “unique”. A dynamic city rich in contrast and colour, you’ll find a harmonious blend of culture, cuisine, arts and architecture here. Brimming with unbridled energy, this little dynamo in Southeast Asia embodies the finest of both East and West.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, I had to walk in to this one. After all, it’s a tourist’s “must do” to visit Singapore’s historic Raffles hotel, for a cherry-topped Singapore Sling, sipped beneath its trademark punkahs – rows of horizontal-bladed ceiling fans swaying lazily in the tropical warmth.
Even more tantalising was my stay in a Peranakan suite at Singapore Intercontinental. Normally, hotel rooms are for sleeping, showering and slipping out to taste the exotica of a foreign destination. But this Exquisite hotel opens the door on a unique ethnic history. The Peranakan culture is a hybrid of language, food, fashion, architecture and lifestyle born of the blend of Chinese émigrés and Malays.
The well-known sarong kebaya – long slim skirt and embroidered blouse, is Peranakan. Nonya food – a fusion of Chinese cuisine with south-east Asian spiciness, is Peranakan.
The Intercontinental’s Peranakan suites, reincarnated original Chinese Shophouses – commercial premises at ground level with living quarters attached – are a wonderful accommodation experience. (In Sydney, the Hotel chain blends modern rooms with the preserved façade of the convict-era sandstone treasury).
In Tahiti, it gives upmarket spin to the islands’ traditional thatched fales).
Terrific food, a throbbing upbeat vibe, an outdoors lifestyle and an overwhelming array of architecture and décor styles make today’s Singapore swing.
The city-state’s buildings and recreation precincts offer constant surprises: explosions of colour, and a wealth of gold jewellery, in little India; immaculate satay and noodle stalls at every turn; fascinating temples and mosques. Fashion, from luxury labels to cheap Asian casual, is vibrant and, along with electrical goods, a bargain-buyer’s delight 24/7.
Menus run the gamut from fragrant curries in the Indian quarter, Chinatown specialties, gleaming Japanese Sushi and Peranakan fine dining to delicious laksa for a few dollars from a hawker stand: supremely fresh, remarkably good.
The locals’ genial nature, outdoor dining, a great climate and Singapore’s seductive culture made my visit a pure pleasure trip. Even “Singlish”, a mangled patois that tumbles all over itself, emerges eventually in a modicum of comprehension all round. Every July, the Singapore chilli crab festival is a gourmet extravaganza: endless flows of succulent crustaceans, and tiger beer. There’s a sensational Social-history museum, exotic zoo, fabulous spas, odd discoveries at every turn.
Keep an eye out for future Specials on the world’s best tourism information site at www.visitsingapore.com
Story by Susie Boswell.