Whenever one speaks of Singapore, images of Marina Bay Sands, the Merlion, and the Singapore Sling comes to mind. The city is a futuristic one, with some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. Reading from guidebooks or a site’s “Top 10 things to do in Singapore” list can get a little too predictable, though. Besides the popular tourist attractions, there is more to Singapore than meets the eye.
We caught up with Singapore’s top concierges from The Ritz-Carlton Millenia, W Singapore, The St. Regis Singapore, Mandarin Oriental, Intercontinental Singapore, and The Fullerton Hotel Singapore for their personal recommendations in Singapore, and the hidden treasures you never even knew existed. From last surviving villages to roadside stalls, these recommendations let you experience the Lion City like never before.
From left to right: Syed Musaddiq (Chef Concierge of Intercontinental Singapore), Bernard Theseira (Chief Concierge of The St. Regis Singapore), Murphy Loh (Assistant Chef Concierge of The Ritz-Carlton Millenia); Not pictured: Tono Cahyadi (Concierge Manager of W Singapore), Terence Evitt (Concierge Manager of Mandarin Oriental Singapore) & Roszel Marop (Director of Guest Services of The Fullerton Hotel Singapore)
Lifestyle Asia (LSA): Singapore is a food paradise. Where should a tourist go to enjoy its local dishes?
The Ritz-Carlton Millenia: Laksa is a local dish that is a must try! One would assume that the best laksa can only be found in Katong, but my personal favourite can be found at 363 Katong Laksa along Lorong Liput in Holland Village. The coconut-based soup of the laksa is rich, thick and creamy. Each serving comes with the perfect balance of noodles, prawns fishcakes, cockles and bean sprouts – at only S$5 per bowl. Don’t forget to sprinkle some laksa leaves as a finishing touch before you dig in, and enhance your own with extra noodles, cockles and prawns.
W Singapore: Visit National Kitchen by Violet Oon at National Gallery Singapore for a taste of authentic Peranakan cuisine – the result of blending Chinese ingredients with spices and cooking techniques used by the Malay and Indonesian community. Peranakan signatures that are a must try include buak keluak ayam, a classic Nyonya chicken stew with buah keluak nut, and the tender beef rendang.
The St. Regis Singapore: Gastronomes can indulge in Mod-Sin (Modern Singaporean) cuisine at restaurants like Restaurant Labyrinth – which has surprising spins of deconstructed local delights. A recommended dish would be the soft shell crab dish, which is a fried soft shell crab served with chilli ice cream. Another restaurant I love is Wild Rocket, which reassembled traditional dishes using different ingredients whilst still retaining the spirit and essence of the dish. I recommend guests to sit at the chef counter for the omakase tasting menu for an amazing gastronomic journey. With the menu changing regularly, each visit will be different from the last.
Intercontinental Singapore: A must-have local dish that visitors should try is chicken rice. A delectable meal of chicken rice would comprise a plate of fragrant rice flavoured with chicken stock – paired with tender steamed chicken and served with dark soya sauce, garlic chilli and pounded ginger, as well as a bowl of chicken broth. Everyone has their favourite stall for the popular dish, but my favourite spots to enjoy good chicken rice would be Zheng Swee Kwee Chicken Rice, located at Seah Street, as well as Wee Nam Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice.
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore: Bincho at Hwa Bee has been around for more than 70 years, only accessible via the rear exit leading to the back alley. It has an interesting concept where during the day, the place is a coffee shop selling local favourites such as kaya toast, coffee, and mee pok. In the evening, however, the place transforms into a Japanese-inspired Yakitori Bistro.
LSA: Where should one go for shopping?
The Ritz-Carlton Millenia: If you have visited Orchard Road, Bugis Street or Marina Bay Sands one too many times, I would recommend Mustafa Centre in Little India. The 24-hour shopping centre offers everything you need – and is perfect for night owls or tourists who do not have the time to go shopping during the day.
W Singapore: You can buy a t-shirt printed with Singlish (colloquial Singaporean English) phrases from Naiise, a one-stop destination for original and well-designed Singaporean products. You can find them, along with other unique Singaporean merchandise at any of their five outlets around Singapore.
The St. Regis Singapore: I like shopping at Books Actually, one of Singapore’s independent bookstores that specialises in Singaporean literature, as well as vintage handmade stationery perfect for gifting as souvenirs. A recommended book is Building Memories by Lai Chee Kien, Koh Hong Teng and Chuan Yeo. It takes one through memory lane with iconic buildings from the early days of Singapore, bringing back fond memories for the older generation. The multi-dimensional feature with pop-ups of buildings and replicated items adds a unique touch to the book.
Intercontinental Singapore: Haji Lane is an alley tucked away in the Kampong Glam precinct. The street is lined with colourful shophouses that have since been converted into a series trendy shops housing fashion boutiques run by local independent designers, as well as Middle Eastern cafes. Personally, I love indulging in I Am Cafe‘s popular rainbow cake.
LSA: How should one experience the culture?
W Singapore: Check out Kampong Lorong Buangkok, which was built in 1956 and is the last surviving kampong (village) located in mainland Singapore in the 21st century. There are currently 30 Chinese and Malay families living there. Visitors can get a first-hand experience of how the Chinese and Malay families used to live in the past. If you are lucky, you may even meet a friendly resident who is happy to share a myriad of stories of the olden days.
Intercontinental Singapore: For visitors who seek something off the beaten track, Pulau Ubin would make the perfect place. An island just 15-minutes off eastern Singapore, Pulau Ubin is known to showcase the simpler pleasures of life. A day spent at Pulau Ubin will take visitors through rustic roads, secluded beaches, a stunning quarry, and flourishing mangroves. What’s more, the seafood is said to taste better there, too.
The St. Regis Singapore: Art aficionados will take delight in a visit to The Intan, a by-appointment-only private museum which showcases the history, traditions and lifestyle of Peranakans in Singapore. Guests can immerse themselves into the unique culture as they embark on an insightful guided tour by Baba Alvin Yapp.
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore: I’d encourage anyone to experience the walking tours in Singapore as it gives an in-depth knowledge of Singapore culture. Journey Singapore offers the Sultan of Spice walking tour, which takes place every Thursday from 9.30 am till 12pm. You get to explore the historic Sultan Mosque, walk along some of the oldest and narrowest streets in Singapore, and visit the Old Istana Kampong Glam – the former Malay Palace which is home to the royal graveyard.
Intercontinental Singapore: Located at the fringe of Singapore’s main shopping belt is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, an age-old tropical garden. It is one of three gardens, and the only tropical garden, to be honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The garden showcases some of the most spectacular of tropical flora set in a stunningly lush, green landscape. Amidst the serene atmosphere of the garden, I would also recommend this venue for a family picnic in the weekends. On some days, visitors may even catch band performances at the bandstand while they’re there.
Mandarin Oriental: Tea Bone Zen Mind sits on Emerald Hill in two three-storey conserved shophouses built at the turn of the 20th Century – reflecting Art-Deco and Chinese Baroque architecture. Relax and experience the fine art of tea sampling from their extensive collection which you can also take home as a great souvenir or gift for loved ones. Prior bookings are highly recommended.
LSA: What is Singapore’s best-kept secret?
The Ritz-Carlton Millenia: Locals like to end a week with a sumptuous meal, live music and great company at Timbre @ The Art House. Tucked in between the Parliament House and Asian Civilisation Museum along the Singapore River, it truly is a hidden gem in the heart of the vibrant Lion City. Before you know it, a couple of hours would have passed as you savour slices of thin-crusted pizza and a couple of glasses of beer, wine or mocktails.
The St. Regis Singapore: Architecture enthusiasts will enjoy a walk through the neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru. Take delight in the sights of the oldest public estate in Singapore with ornate architectural details, featuring a combination of rich heritage and charming lifestyle options of stylish cafes and boutiques. Guests can swing by the quaint Plain Vanilla Bakery for tea and cupcakes amidst their stroll. The café also conducts workshops for children, such as flowers decorating and chocolate making. Hop over to Books Actually thereafter, which is just next door!
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore: I believe Gillman Barracks make a fascinating and unconventional stop for art lovers, collectors, and those who are looking for a unique, lush and wooded precinct slightly away from the urban, concrete jungle of downtown Singapore.
Mandarin Oriental: Haw Par Villa at Pasir Panjang dates back to 1937. This attraction is famous for its depictions of the Chinese folklore’s 10 courts of hell – with 1000 other colourful statues and tableaux on display. Young visitors or the weak at heart are advised to enter with caution.
W Singapore: One of Singapore’s best kept secrets is Lazarus Island, an uninhabited Southern Island off the Straits of Singapore. Just a 30-minute yacht cruise away from Singapore, the island is accessible by chartering a boat or a ferry from Marina South Pier. There, you can enjoy the turquoise waters against the white sandy beaches or trek to the reclaimed Pulau Seringat. I like ending the day on a sunset cruise back to the main island while sipping a glass of champagne.
Main image credit: Curly Traveller