Raffles Hotel, Beach Road, May 2015. At around $600 a night for one of its cheaper suites, this legendary Singapore landmark certainly won’t meet everyone’s budgetary requirements. Thankfully, you can still get a taste of its colonial era history with a wander around the hotel’s impressive grounds. Founded in 1887 by the Armenian Sarkie Brothers, Raffles has played host to some hallowed names, such as Charlie Chaplin, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson. Wandering around the complex, I took in the lavish main lobby before popping my head through The Long Bar. They say the Singapore Sling was invented here back in 1915, which might go some way in explaining its $18 price tag. Next door, in the adjoining billiard room, the fussy attendant will happily tell you about an incident in 1902 when a tiger mooched in to rest under the tables, right in the middle of afternoon tea. In the end someone was called to come and shoot it. Further on, I strolled through the delightful courtyard bar and restaurant, before trying and failing to get a decent photograph of the elusive Sikh doorman. A kooky, unique Singapore experience!
Street Party, Haji Lane, May 2015. Partying in Singapore can be hellishly expensive. On my first evening, I paid an eye-watering $15 for a beer. From then on it was mostly supermarket cans for me, though I did treat myself to a proper night out on Haji Lane. With live music, exceptionally friendly locals and a carefree attitude that completely defied the city’s conservative reputation, sometimes you just have to let go, enjoy yourself and worry about the bill later.
Botanical Gardens, May 2015. My favorite thing about Singapore is its magnificent green spaces! Open from 5am to midnight and deliciously free to enter, the city’s Botanical Gardens is a whopping 74 hectares of stunningness that includes a sprawling National Orchid Garden, herbarium, primary rainforest (!) and an oyster-shaped symphony stage situated at the foot of a sloping valley. Swan Lake meanwhile, pictured here, is home to ducks, terrapins, goldfish and yes… a cluster of elegant swans. Not to be missed!
City view from Mount Faber, May 2015. Arguably even more stunning, though infinitely more demanding; is the Southern Ridges hike, a 10km trail that stretches out from Kent Ridge Park and culminates in this beautiful panoramic from the top of Mount Faber. In between, there are lofty views of the city port, a trail through the eco gardens of Hort Park, a leisurely stroll across the eighty-meter Alexandra Arch footbridge and yet more striking views from the curves and twists of Henderson Waves, a 274 meter boardwalk that is particularly popular at sunset. A real Singapore highlight and again, like the Botanical Gardens, it’s free, free free!
Hawker centre dinner, May 2015. Don’t leave Singapore without checking into at least one of its hawker centres, the ultimate two fingers up to the city’s overpriced restaurant scene, where a nibble costs you an arm and a leg and the person serving it can barely hide their contempt for you. So what is a hawker centre? Basically, they are semi-enclosed buildings packed with row after row of food stalls. It’s predominantly Asian fare, with everything from noodles and meat and rice combos, to Chinese dumplings, pancakes, stir-fry dishes, fruit shakes and more. Meals are prepared to order, the sellers ooze a no-nonsense friendliness and, above all else, the food is good and the price is right. This pork rice and egg plate, served with tangy soup and an obligatory beer, set me back around 6 SGD.