ORIENTATION AND LAY OUT OF SINGAPORE
Most of Singapore is on a single island connected by a causeway and bridge to southern Malaysia. The port and the downtown area are on the southern side of the island. The airport is on the eastern side of the island. And, the causeway that connects Singapore to Malaysia is on the northern side. The heart of the downtown and historical area is around the Raffles Hotel not far from where the Singapore River empties into Marina Bay.
The Singapore River divides Singapore city in two. Chinatown is south of the river and Little India is north of it. The main shopping areas are around Orchard Road. Clarke Quay and Boat Quay are on the Singapore River near Marina Bay. Little India is around Serangoon Rd. Telok Ayer Street connects Chinatown with downtown. Sentosa Island is south of downtown Singapore. The zoo is in the north. In addition to Google maps, Street Directory Singapore is good map, direction and MRT stop map site: streetdirectory.com
Public transportation and taxis are abundant, inexpensive, and reliable. The main subway-metro system — the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) — is excellent and reaches most destinations sought out by tourists. The MRT network encompasses 200 kilometers (126 miles) of track, with nine lines and 122 stations in operation. SMRT Trains (SMRT Corporation) operate the North-South Line, East-West Line, and Circle Line, while SBS Transit runs the North-East Line and Downtown Line.
Singapore River, Clark Quay and Downtown Area of Singapore
Singapore River lies at the heart of the city. It was cleaned up in the early 1990s and now is probably cleaner than it has been anytime in the last 100 years. Several esplanades and new developments have been built along its banks. They and high-rise condominiums run all the way to Kim Seng Road, where the river narrows to a canal. The esplanades feature numerous eating, drinking and establishments. Forty-five minute river cruises depart from Clarke Quay.
Clark Quay (on the Singapore River) is a bustling area of riverside shops, bars, souvenir stalls, amusements and restaurants. Reminiscent of Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, it is pleasantly located on the water and attracts Singaporeans as well as tourists. Live music is performed every night in the central band shell. There is free Chinese opera on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, beginning around 7:45:00pm.
Boat Quay (near the Financial District, across and down the river from Clarke Quay) is one of the main nightlife areas in Singapore. The bars stay open late into the night. Boat Quay has traditionally been a watering hole for yuppie futures traders and hedge fund managers.Harry's Bar, a former hang out of the rouge security trader "Lucky" Nick Leeson, serves a cocktail called the "Bank Breaker," which is sweet, green and has an aftershock like the Kobe earthquake. The Crazy Elephant Pub has good live blues music.
Golden Shoe is the name of Singapore's waterfront financial district. It features modern skyscrapers and office complexes. There is used to be a Guinness World of Records in the HarbourFront Centre (formally the World Trade Centre) but that is gone. Nearby is the Swissôtel The Stamford, formerly known as the Westin Stamford, was designed by architect I.M. Pei, and for a while was the world's tallest hotel, at a height of 226 meters (741 feet). Completed in March 1985, it is still one of Southeast Asia's tallest hotels. Between September 11th, 2001 and 2006, 86 buildings 30 stories or more were completed, under construction or proposed. Many of them were built in this area.
Historical Buildings in the Downtown Area of Singapore
Historical Buildings (near the Singapore River) include the Parliament House (North Boat Quay), one of Singapore's most beautiful buildings; Fort Canning (Fort Canning Road), a beautiful restored fort with an interesting history and a lovely gardens; and City Hall and the Supreme Court, two classical buildings on St. Andrews Road. A lot of history has taken place at City Hall. The Japanese surrendered to the British, for example, there on September 1945. Nearest MRT Station: City Hall.
On Club and Amoy Street are well-preserved shophouses with elaborate facades In the old days their owners lived in the upper floors and kept shops and businesses in the lower floors. These days the former shops are filled with bars, restaurants and trendy shops. There are some attractive shophouses on Perkin Street, a pleasant pedestrian promenade that runs from Telok Ayer Street to Far east Square.
Two places recommended by Time Out Singapore are St Andrew's Cathedral and Old Hill Street Police Station (formerly MICA Building). The latter was built in 1934 to provide barracks for police. According to Time Out: Formerly named MICA, as it houses the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, this building was renamed as the Old Hill Street Police Station in 2012, after MICA became the Ministry of Communication and Information. It also houses the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. Before all this, the building used to be one of the finest police barracks in the world, vacating the premises only in 1980. Now, its main courtyard, previously used as a police parade ground, has been transformed into an air-conditioned atrium for art activities. Called The ARTrium, it usually houses large scale visual art exhibitions and performing arts events. Don’t miss the 927 rainbow-coloured windows. Address:1F MICA Building. Nearest MRT Station: Clarke Quay MRT (NE5), four minute walk from Exit F,
St Andrew's Cathedral: Time Out says: “This impressive Gothic edifice was built by Indian convict labourers and consecrated in 1862. The original church (another of George Drumgoole Coleman’s creations) was replaced by a neo-classical building that was pulled down in 1855. In 1870, St Andrew’s became a cathedral, and has played a central role in Anglican mission work in the region ever since. Despite the flashy new glass Welcome Centre, it’s not really a showpiece. The transepts are more redolent of small-town English church halls than a grandiose cathedral, while the nave, with its ceiling fans and scattered supplicants, gives the sense that this is a working church. Brass wall plaques tell tales of personal suffering and professional sacrifice (it is striking how many of those commemorated died young), and guided tours highlight distinctive features, such as the Coventry Cross behind the pulpit (made from nails from the bombed ruins of Coventry Cathedral in 1940). Nearest MRT Station: City Hall MRT Interchange
Raffles Hotel (Beach Road) is Singapore's "Grand Old Lady of the East. and described by Somerset Maugham as representing “all the fables of the exotic East.” Over the years its guest have included Alfred Hitchcock, Elizabeth Taylor, Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, Ava Gardner, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Hesse and Rudyard Kipling as well as sultans, prices, princesses and kings. In the 19th century it was a center of British colonialism. In the 1920s it was famous for its tea dances, dress balls and an “all pervading air of wicked gaiety.” .
Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop wrote in the New York Times: “Legend has it that Somerset Maugham would work all morning under a frangipani tree in the Palm Court of the famed Raffles Hotel here, turning the bits of gossip and scandal overheard at dinner parties into famous stories. Ernest Hemingway is said to have patronized the hotel's Long Bar and its celebrated Singapore Sling, while a young Rudyard Kipling once had this simple advice: "Feed at Raffles." With its elegant colonial architecture, grand staircase and breezy arcades,” the hotel “has long epitomized a bygone era of elegance and old world opulence, an iconic cornerstone of Singapore's hospitality industry. [Source: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, New York Times, July 19, 2005]
Established by the Armenian Sarkies brothers in 1887, the Raffles Hotel features elegant courtyards with fountains and gardens, restaurants serving tea and tiffin curry. It has a museum with mementoes and photographs from its glorious past. The famous Long Bar is where the first Singapore Sling was concocted with sweet gin, liqueurs and fruit juice. Customers have traditionally consumed these cocktails with peanuts whose shells they dropped on the floor, a custom that endures to today. A multi-million dollar restoration of the hotel was completed in the mid 1990s.
Easily the most famous hotel in Singapore if not Asia, the Raffles Hotel practically sums up Singapore’s vibrant colonial history. Named after Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, and originally the residence of an Arab trader, Mohammed Alsagoff, the building later became part of an enterprise of colonial lodgings belonging to the well-known Sarkies Brothers.
Designed by R. A. J. Bidwell of Swan and MacLaren, the hotel opened in December 1887 with 10 rooms spread across two wings. With its garden setting and classical architecture, the hotel has morphed over the years into its present form. Many rooms back then came with public verandas. Today, Raffles Hotel continues to attract guests willing to shell out big money for its majestic suites and enjoy a choice restaurants and bars, fashion boutiques, arts space Jubilee Hall, and lifestyle picks like spas. Address; 1 Beach Road, Tel: (65) 6337 1886; Nearest MRT Station: Esplanade MRT (CC3). Three minute walk from Exit F.
Singapore Sling and the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel
Raffles Hotel’s The Long Bar is also home to the legendary Singapore Sling, originally concocted by Ngiam Tong Boon, one of its bartenders, using sweet gin, liqueurs and fruit juices. The Singapore Sling is regarded as one of the hardest cocktails to make. Customers traditionally drank these cocktails with peanuts whose shells they dropped on the floor, a custom that endures to today.
The Singapore Sling was initially called the Straits Sling, and was created as a lady’s cocktail, hence its pinkish tone. Recipes vary, but according to the Raffles Hotel, the original consists of gin, cherry liqueur, Benedictine, pomegranate juice and pineapple juice from Sarawak pineapples, to create the foamy top. However, many recent recipes use bottled juice, while adding club soda for the foam. A handwritten bar-chit by Ngiam, dated 1936, still hangs in the Raffles Hotel Museum. The “Million Dollar Cocktail” was also created by Ngiam, where it gained similar recognition after Somerset Maugham featured it in his short story, “The Letter”.
Describing her experience having a Singapore Sling at the Raffles’ Lomg Bar, Rosemary McClure wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Yes, it's a tourist trap. Yes, I had to queue up in a long, steamy line to reach the bar. And yes, I paid $50 for a couple of drinks. But I'm a traditionalist. And skipping a Singapore Sling here would be akin to snubbing scotch in Scotland, Cognac in France or vodka in Russia. So I waited my turn, took a seat in the storied Long Bar at Raffles Hotel and ordered the pretty pink drink that bartender Ngiam Tong Boon concoted 101 years ago. As the tale is told, the Raffles' mixologist created the fruit-juicy cocktail for ladies, mixing gin with pineapple and lime juices, grenadine, Benedictine, cherry brandy and Cointreau. It still looks — and tastes — like spiked fruit juice, and the Long Bar, a clubby-looking dark mahogany space, adds just the right amount of colonial-cool atmosphere to complete the illusion. I was transported to another place and time. Surprisingly, it was well worth the wait and hassle.[Source: Rosemary McClure, Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2016]
Selling the Raffles Hotel
In July 2005, the Raffles Hotel and its adjoining shopping arcade was sold for about S$200 million to the U.S. real estate investment fund, Colony Capital LLC as part of a bigger S$1.7 billion acquisition of the Raffles Holdings hotel chain, which owns 40 hotels and resorts around the world, including the Swissotel chain. Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop of the New York Times wrote: “The deal, valued at $1.02 billion, including debt, will further expand the hotel portfolio of Colony Capital, which has invested more than $15 billion in over 8,000 assets since 1991. These include the Costa Smeralda resort in Sardinia; Hotel Guanahani in St. Barts in the Caribbean, the Amanresorts hotel chain, London's Savoy Group, the Stanhope Hotel in New York, the Atlantic City Hilton and the Las Vegas Hilton. Colony Capital has more than 19,000 rooms in its portfolio in addition to the 12,000 rooms in the Raffles chain.[Source: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, New York Times, July 19, 2005]
“Jennie Chua, president and chief executive of Raffles, said in an interview that her company lacked the resources to "play with the big boys" on a global stage. "To return money to shareholders you need scale and that would have required a couple of billion dollars in investment, not something easily achieved by our own resources," she said. While Raffles Holdings, which is 60 percent owned by CapitaLand, the Singapore property developer, is ranked 18th in the world in terms of hotel rooms, its numbers pale in comparison with market leaders like Hilton Hotel Group with 358,408 rooms and Best Western with 310,000 rooms. The market capitalization of Raffles Holdings is $500 million, said Chua, who will remain chairman of Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The industry's top players combined have a market capitalization of about $25 billion, she said. Chua said the timing of the sale was good because after losing money for years, the Raffles Holdings' hotel business had finally started making money in 2003.
In 2008, the Raffles Hotel was jointly owned by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's Kingdom Hotels International and Colony Capital. At that time the hotel and Colony Capital’s holding were sold to Fairmont Raffles, a Toronto-based luxury hotel chain, which after the acquisition had about 100 hotels under the three brands of Raffles, Fairmont and Swissotel in 24 countries. At that time a Singapore newspaper reported that the Raffles hotel was sold for about S$650 million ($476 million).
In April 2010, the Raffles Hotel was bought by a Qatar sovereign wealth fund for US$275 million. Esther Teo wrote in The Straits Times, “Qatari Diar - the principal real estate entity of the Qatar Investment Authority - has purchased the historic property from Fairmont Raffles, according to an Abu Dhabi newspaper. [Source: Esther Teo, The Straits Times, Reuters, April 8, 2010 |::|]
“Canada's hotel chain Fairmont Raffles said it would sell new shares equivalent to 40 percent of its capital to affiliates of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund as part of a $847 million deal to fund the firm's global expansion. Fairmont Raffles' biggest shareholder, private Saudi investment firm Kingdom Holding, had announced earlier on Monday that the hotel chain had agreed to sell the stake to Cayman Islands-based Voyager Partners Ltd and Qatari Diar, which is owned by the Qatar Investment Authority. |::|
“The deal will mean Kingdom Holding, a main shareholder in Citigroup Inc , will see its stake in the unlisted hotelier diluted to 35 percent from 58 percent, the hotel chain's chief executive, William Fatt, said on Monday. Fairmont will get US$467 million in the stake sale, another US$275 million from the sale of Raffles Hotel which the Qatari investors have agreed to buy by early 2011 and US$105 million in promised management contracts, Fatt said. |::|
Merlion and Other Statues in Singapore
Statues in Singapore include the Dalhousie Obelisk at Empress Place; the Elephant Statue at Parliament House; the Merlion, a fountain statue mythical beast the head of a lion and the tail of a fish, in Merlion Park; and the two statues of Sir Stamford Raffles. One is in front of the Victoria Theater on Empress Place and the other is one North Boat Quat where Sir Stamford supposedly first set foot in Singapore.
The Merlion is the official mascot of Singapore. First used in Singapore as the logo for the tourism board, it’s name combines "mer", meaning the sea, and "lion". The fish body represents Singapore's origin as a fishing village when it was called Temasek, ("sea town") in Javanese. The lion head represents Singapore's original name—Singapura—meaning "lion city" or "kota singa". The symbol was designed by Alec Fraser-Brunner, a member of the Souvenir Committee and curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium in the early 1960s and has been a trademarked symbol since 1966. Although the STB changed their logo in 1997, the STB Act continues to protect the Merlion symbol. Approval must be received from STB before it can be used. The Merlion appears frequently on STB-approved souvenirs.
There five Merlions in Singapore but only ones recognised by the STB: The 8.6-metre-tall original statue at Merlion Park. Along with the Little Mermaid of Denmark and Manneken Pis of Belgium, the Singapore Merlion is ranked in Japan as the 'Three Major Disappointments of the World'. In February 2009, the Merlion in the Merlion Park was struck by lightning. A breaking news from 938NOW local radio showed an image with fragments from the Merlion's head on the ground.
On one of the Raffles statues outside the Victoria Theatre, David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “A towering bronze statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, the British naturalist and statesman officially recognized as the founder of modern-day Singapore—surely makes him the only non-royal European so honored by the country he helped colonize. He stands with his feet firmly planted and his arms folded across his chest, not far from the banks of the Singapore River, from which he first stepped onto the island of Singapore on January 28, 1819, ushering in 140 years of British rule. "Our objective," he said, "is not territory, but trade, a great commercial emporium." [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, September 2007]
Singapore contains three major war memorials: Kranji War Memorial in Woodlands; Singapore War Memorial in Memorial Park on Beach Road; and the Bukit Batok Memorial Site on Lorong Sesuai
Orchard Road is a mile-long shopping district with hotels, restaurants, department stores, up-scale designer shops and glittery shopping malls filled wit flashing lights and mirrors selling everything from the latest fashions and ethnic accessories to furniture and virtual reality glasses. Around Emerald Hill Road there is a conservation area of historic homes. At the base of the hill is Peranakan Place which contains six well-restored shophouses with craft shops, restaurants and a museum.
Once an area filled with nutmeg, pepper and fruit orchards, Orchard Road has certainly come a long way. In the early 19th century, the orchards and plantations began to make way for houses, wet markets and outdoor hawker centres. In the 1830s, Orchard Road was just an unnamed country road lined with fruit orchards, nutmeg plantations, and pepper farms. It wasn’t long before that the plantations made way for residential development, and the street filled up with homes, outdoor hawker centres and wet markets.
In 1958, Orchard Road’s first department store was opened by a local merchant, C.K. Tang. By the 1970s, high-rise buildings such as Tang Plaza, Plaza Singapura and the Mandarin Hotel had taken root and paved the way for more entertainment and retail complexes. Brick by brick and block by block, towers of steel and glass started to line what used to be mud tracks, making Orchard Road the famous shopping belt it has become today.
Shopping malls and centers found on Orchard Road today include: ION Orchard, 313@somerset, Ngee Ann City, Wisma Atria Shopping Centre, Orchard Central, Tanglin Shopping Centre, Orchard Gateway, The Centrepoint, Mandarin Gallery, Wheelock Place, Shaw Centre, Scotts Square, Forum The Shopping Mall and Delfi Orchard
Geylang: Singapore’s Red Light District?
Geylang (two kilometers northeast of downtown Singapore) of is a planning area and township located on the eastern fringe of the Central Region of Singapore, bordering Hougang and Toa Payoh in the north, Marine Parade in the south, Bedok in the east, and Kallang in the west. Geylang is known perhaps most infamously as a red-light district, particularly the areas along Geylang Road. Geylang is also where one of Singapore's oldest Malay settlements, Geylang Serai, is.
In his 2008 book “Pirates, Prostitutes & Pullers,” James Francis Warren describes the eastward shift of Singapore's red-light district from Chinatown that was east of the Singapore river, toward the Hylam Street–Beach Road locality where many Chinese, Japanese and European girls were pimped, and finally across the Kallang river to its present location. Warren's research describes the ethno-social background of prostitutes: young men and women who came to Singapore a hundred years ago, having little or no education, who could not converse, read or write in English and resorted to any and all means to survive the ravages of war, hunger and privation back in the country of origin. After the war, the heart of the city centre expanded rapidly outward with residential shophouses, hotels and restaurants making their mark on the history of this area including the Gay World amusement park situated just outside the main gate of the old Kallang airport. Remnants of this pre-war history survive to this day that can be seen in the stereotypical Singapore shophouses along and just off the main Geylang thoroughfare.
Today Geylang is known for good food as much sex. Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan wrote in the Washington Post: “When people think of Singapore, a few things tend to come to mind: squeaky-clean malls, an iron-fisted government, a ban on chewing gum. There is a seamier side to the country, however, and the pockets where this underbelly flourishes are increasingly where you'll find some of the best meals. [Source: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Washington Post, September 27, 2009]
“Along Keong Saik Road, in a neighborhood that has housed brothels for more than a century, narrow lanes are dotted with old Chinese coffee shops known as "tze char" places, which are basic stalls that offer a variety of stir-fried dishes such as crab noodles and har jeong gai, a dish of chicken coated with prawn paste and then deep-fried. Near the east coast, Joo Chiat Road is a growing hub of cheap Vietnamese eateries selling pho and shredded duck soup that have popped up to cater to the Vietnamese prostitutes who walk the streets after dark. And in downtown Singapore's Orchard Towers, a shopping center filled with seedy bars and massage parlors whose dank corridors are heavy even at noon with the scent of furtively smoked cigarettes, there is standout Thai food to be had at places that increasingly cater both to food lovers who can afford to order a lemon grass whole fish for $10 and to the young Thai girls in fishnets looking for cheaper sustenance.
“Singapore has had red-light districts since its birth: The British established them in the early 19th century to cater to the waves of young businessmen and laborers who came to the country from China, Malaysia, India and Europe, leaving their families behind, according to Mark Emmanuel, an associate professor of history at the National University of Singapore. He notes that prostitution became such a thriving industry that in the 1930s, Singapore earned the nickname "Sin galore" in the region.
In Geylang, a neighborhood that has been a well-known red-light district for decades, Singaporeans have always known that the even-numbered lorongs (which means "small roads" in Malay) are where you'll find the red-lanterned houses, while the odd-numbered ones are for unrelated enterprises...It can be hard not to be affected by the plight of your fellow customers. On a recent trip to Cafe Supunsa in Orchard Towers, my friends Jeanette and Eudon and I ravenously attacked garlicky chicken wings, basil chicken, a massive hotpot of deliciously sour tom yum soup and a spicy salad of julienned papaya topped with crackling dried shrimp and roasted peanuts. As the hunger subsided, we suddenly became aware of our surroundings. The waves of weary young girls wearing too little clothing and too much makeup were ceaseless. Purposefully, they would stop in for a quick meal, a respite in their nightly onslaught. Suddenly we felt a bit guilty about our relative good fortune, and our food euphoria began to wear off.” Nearest MRT Station: Geylang Bahru MRT Station (DT24) on the Downtown Line (DTL).
Waterfront Area of Singapore
Singapore's Waterfront Area was significantly redeveloped a couple decades ago to make it more appealing to visitors and locals. In the 1990s, the Boat Quay was the linchpin of a development plan that turned dilapidated shophouses into a trendy waterfront area. In the early 2000s, the area around the mouth of the Singapore River was revitalized with the building of Esplanade Park on one side and the neo-colonial Fullerton Hotel on the other side.
The waterfront is the centerpiece of Singapore's imaginative rethinking of historic buildings. Next door to Empress Place, is the Old Parliament House, built in 1827. After parliament relocated to a newer building in 1999, the building was renovated as part of a general makeover that installed the Fullerton Hotel in an old post office, and the distinctive Esplanade-Theaters on the Bay, a collection of performing-arts spaces farther downstream.
Singapore’s new international cruise terminal located at Marina South. It has a prominent waterfront location with the downtown Singapore skyline as its backdrop, and serves as a key maritime gateway to Singapore. The Singapore Cruise Centre at Harbour Front currently serves more than 25 cruise lines. It is located within an integrated waterfront development right across Sentosa Island—home to Resorts World Integrated Resort, a theme park, wildlife reserves, gardens and adventure rides. With myriad tourist destinations at its doorstep, Singapore Cruise Centre is also in close proximity to the city centre and airport.
Describing the scene in the late 2000s, David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “Glass-fronted tourist boats were moored at the docks, but there was not a sampan in sight. Boat Quay, renovated, ablaze in lights, startled me. Outdoor restaurants with tables under colorful umbrellas stretched along the waterfront. Across the river, floodlights illuminated the old colonial British post office that has been transformed into the Fullerton Hotel and voted the best hotel in Asia in a recent international survey. The shoulder-to-shoulder bars in the quay were packed with hip young Singaporeans and European expatriates, drinking Guinness and Old Speckled Hen on draft and cheering a replay of the Liverpool-Reading soccer game on flat-screen TVs. [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, September 2007]
Seated on Marina Bay's prime waterfront location, the five-star Fullerton Bay Hotel offers magnificent views of the bay. Designed by the famous architect Andre Fu and LCL Architects, the hotel features three signature dining destinations, luxurious rooms and an inspiring glass facade. Entering through a 17-meter wide lobby at the historic Clifford Pier, visitors will be amazed by the glamorous and exquisite interior designs that are richly steeped in Singapore’s vibrant history. Andre Fu has made use of vintage nautical maps and commissioned contemporary art within the hotel space, reflecting the celebration of heritage and modernity of the city.
Utilizing materials such as polished rosewood and latticed screens, as well as leather and chrome, LCL Architects has created an elegant and refined atmosphere in the rooms, with a predominantly natural palette throughout. Be captivated by this architectural wonder overlooking the waters of the bay, perfect for breathtaking views of Singapore’s famed skyline. Address: 80 Collyer Quay, Tel: (65) 6333 8388 Nearest MRT Station: Raffles Place MRT (NS26/EW14) three minute walk from Exit C.
Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay
The Esplanade (next to Marina Bay, the east of the Padang) is a US$350 million project that occupies six hectares of waterfront land and boasts a concert hall, theatre, recital and theatre studios, a wide gallery space and an auditorium. The Esplanade Mall that around it includes also the library@esplanade on the third floor, making Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, a gigantic cultural landmark.
Esplanade—Theaters on the Bay opened in October 2002. Comprised of a pair of pimpled domes, it is an architectural marvel described as two halves of a pineapple, a pair armadillos and the compound eyes of a fly. Local call it the durian. The distinctive aluminum shades that give the center its unique appearance were an afterthought placed around the original glass domes when it was realized that center would become a greenhouse in the hot equatorial sun. The aluminum skin reflects heat away from the glass domes.
Singapore’s skyline has taken on various changes over the decades, but none has been as dramatic or controversial as the Esplanade Complex. The idea for an integrated arts centre in Singapore was proposed way back in the 1970s, but the project’s radical architecture was only unveiled in 1994, with work beginning in 1996. With such unique architecture, discussion is still rife with regard to the two spiked ‘shells’ of the Esplanade building that you can see from afar.
The Singapore government hopes the Esplanade will turn Singapore into a major cultural hub. The theater has 2000 seats. The 1,899-seat concert hall was designed by the American acoustical architect Russell Johnson. The complex includes shops and restaurants. There were originally plan to build three additional halls, including a 700-seat theater and 200-seat studio but the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and 1998 forced a scaling back of these plans.
Hours and Days Open: Box office timings: Monday to Friday: 10:00am - 8:00pm; Saturday: 11:00am - 8:00pm; Website: http://www.esplanade.com; Admission fee: Free admission, except for ticketed events. Tickets for high profile events run between $30 and $150. Tel: +65 6828 8377 (8.30am – 6:00pm daily) or check: www.esplanade.com Nearest MRT Station: Esplanade MRT station
Chinatown (south of the Singapore River) covers a two square kilometer area. Here visitors will find calligraphers, paper effigy makers, jade shops, traditional Chinese medicine, antiques, tinsmithing, clog making, paper effigy making, live animal markets, temple idol carvers and, of course, lots of Chinese restaurants. Street vendors and hawkers give this part of town a charged atmosphere. It also a good place to buy bootleg and pirated CDs and DVDs.
Chinatown fairy recently underwent a $100 million renovation, which include the construction of a village theater, a cultural center and themed streets based on trades, festivals, and traditions. Unfortunately, large chunks of Chinatown have lost their charm. The redeveloped area around Neil and Tanjong Pagar Roads have many good Chinese restaurants as well as English-style pubs country and western bars and night spots with Elvis impersonators in traditional Chinese-style buildings.
Some areas have been left in their original state in accordance with an Urban Redevelopment Authority plan. Most of the undisturbed neighborhoods are on the northern side of Chinatown. Many if the residents are old. The younger people have all moved to modern apartments. If you look hard enough you can find the old Chinese way of life. A good place to start is the local coffeehouse where old men gather around marble tables and chat and play cards and mah jongg and antique shops that sell spittoons, tiffin carriers, opium pipes and porcelain. In some places you can find old men enjoying the songs of their caged birds.
Chinatown lies in and around New Bridge Road and, although many of the old shop houses are being demolished, visitors can still see medicine men and fortune tellers on the sidewalk. There are more than 500 Chinese and Indian temples in Singapore, and many of them are in Chinatown. Nearest MRT Station: Chinatown MRT station
Interesting Spots in Chinatown
Tanjong Pagar Conservation Area (Tanjong Road in Chinatown) is a restored Disney-like Chinese quarter with tea houses, calligraphers, fortuneteller and medicine shops. The Tanjong Pagar Heritage Exhibition (51 Neil Road) has a display of photographs of Chinatown in the old days.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum is a living cultural monument in the heart of Chinatown featuring exhibitions relating to various facets of religious arts and culture of Singapore. It also houses what Buddhist leaders regard as the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic in a stupa composed of 320kg of gold donated by devotees. See Temples
Sago Lane (near Chinatown) is home to several funeral shops where paper yachts, Mercedes and mansions are purchased to be burned later in afterlife ceremonies for the dead. Funerals are held here in "death houses," where mourners stand around half-open coffins praying and chanting, and flower-decked funeral trucks with musicians take the dead to crematoria.
Bukit Brown Cemetery is one of the largest Chinese cemeteries outside of China. Estimated to house 100,000 tombs and covering an 0.86 square kilometers of very valuable land, it opened in 1922 and has been abandoned since its closure in 1973 and has largely been overgrown and forgotten. However, when Singapore's government said it would exhume about 4,000 graves in the Bukit Brown cemetery for an eight-lane highway, there was an unusually vocal outcry on the issue
Little India (around Serangoon Road) has shops that sell Tibetan snuff bottles, colorful saris, Bollywood DVDSs and music CDs, curries to papier-mache boxes, Kashmiri silk and jasmine garlands. You can also visit a fortuneteller here and have good Indian food. On Sunday night it fills with laborers from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Some go to Veerama Kliamman Temple to offer a tribute to Kali. Its main shopping areas the Tekka Centre and the 24-hour Mustafa Centre.
Little India is a cacophony of car horns, bicycle bells and the vibrant chatter of its residents. This explosion of sights, smells and sounds that you’ll find in Tekka Market is only a short walk from Little India MRT Station. Tekka, as it’s popularly known, boasts a plethora of stalls selling Indian, Malay and Chinese food that regularly draws crowds from all over Singapore. There’s also a wet market stocked with the freshest vegetables, meat, fish, spices and flowers. Stock up on souvenirs such as brass oil lamps and pots, or buy curry spices and a fresh garland of jasmine, whose scent is signature aroma of Little India.
Amid the pungent fragrances of spices and blooms is Serangoon Road and its inner lanes like Campbell Lane, Dunlop Street and Hindon Road. Here, look out for stalls selling Ayurvedic massage oils, gold, incense and fabrics in a variety of textures.
No trip to Little India is complete without an all-night shopping spree at the 24-hour emporium, Mustafa Centre, located at the corner of Serangoon and Syed Alwi Roads. Don’t be fooled by its inconspicuous exterior because this giant department store is a veritable treasure trove of household knick-knacks, decorative items, foods both packaged and fresh, Indian spices, a great range of apparel and textiles, electronic items and other ubiquitous buys, all at some of the lowest fixed prices in Singapore. Get your gold jewellery, spices, electronics and more, all at the bustling Little India. Nearest MRT Station: Stops: The North-East MRT line's Little India (NE7) and Farrer Park (NE8) stations exit near Serangoon Road. The East-West line's Bugis station (EW12) is within walking distance of Little India.
Kampong Glam (around Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque), Bugis MRT Station) is a quaint and historical district whose name originates from the Gelam Tree, which once grew abundantly in the area. In 1822, the land in Kampong Glam was officially allocated to the Malays and others in the Muslim community, including a small but successful community of Arab traders. In 1989, the Urban Development Authority gazetted Kampong Glam as a conservation area, and most of the original architecture has now been restored.
Shopping here is focused on Bugis Junction, the bustling Bugis Street Market, and of course Kampong Glam. Rows of conserved shophouses, painted in vibrant colours, line Bussorah, Baghdad and Kandahar Streets, and many of them are occupied by trendy design and IT firms, restaurants, caterers, art galleries, and craft and curios shops. In the shop houses around the Sultan Mosque you will find things like rattan cradles, prayer mats, jewelry, and camel-skin bags. The area is also a good place to sample Malay food.
After a visit to the historical Sultan Mosque, step out to Bussorah Street which has been turned into a pedestrian thoroughfare. During colonial times, this was the heart of the Arab kampong and catered to the Muslim community’s religious needs. Nowadays, you’ll find an eclectic mix of old haberdasheries and new shops selling local wares, such as versions of the famed Singapore Airlines kebaya dress, decorative trinkets and accessories, and books relating to Arabic and Muslim culture and religion.
At one end of Bussorah Street you'll find the venerable Sultan Mosque. At the other, is Jamal Kazura Aromatics (21 Bussorah Street, +65 6293 3320), one of the oldest perfumeries in Singapore. Founded in 1933 by an Indonesian entrepreneur, Jamal Kazura, it respects Islamic prohibition on alcohol and sells oil-based (attar) fragrances. From Bussorah Street, continue your idyllic walk down Muscat Street, which turns into Arab Street. Nearest MRT Station: Bugis MRT Station,
Arab Street (near Kampong Glam) starts where Muscat Street turns into Arab Street, which was well known as a textile haven in the 1950s and 1960s. You’ll find bales of silk, batik, lace, organza and other materials here, where customisation and tailoring services are also available. Bring home a ready-made traditional or modern Malay costume or browse through the endless variety of traditional games such as the Congkak (a game involving marbles and a wooden board), carpets, antiques and rattan handicrafts such as wicker baskets to spruce up your home. Stroll to the end of Arab Street and you’ll reach North Bridge Road. In the abundant shops, you’ll find sandalwood, prayer beads, book stands used specifically for the Quran known as ‘rehal’, wooden toothbrushes and other unique wares that cater to the Muslim community.
Michael Aquino wrote in Tripsavvy: “Arab Street is full of textile shops stocking exquisite batiks and luxurious silks in every hue, including a few previously unknown to your nervous system. You can buy them by the meter, or ready-made as clothes and table linens. If you can only visit one, go to Toko Aljunied (95 Arab Street, +65 6294 6897), a clothing store that sells traditional Malay kebaya and batik fabrics. The textile shops see the most business before Ramadan when Malay families have their baju kurungs made. [Source: Michael Aquino Tripsavvy, July 23, 2019]
“Haji Lane, parallel to Arab Street, caters to a younger crowd looking for the latest in street fashion and "pre-loved" second-hand clothes. Some of the best stores along Haji Lane tap into a retro pop vibe, like Dulcet Fig (41 Haji Lane, +65 6396 5648, dulcetfig.com). The owner drew inspiration from her mother and grandmother's collective wardrobes, curating a quirky collection of vintage clothes and throwback bags, leavened by new collections from indie designers.” Nearest MRT Station: Stops: The East-West Line's Bugis Station (EW12) links directly to Parco Bugis Junction, and is a few minutes away from Arab Street
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Singapore tourism websites, Singapore government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020