x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Take in the energy and tastes of modern Asia in Singapore

My Kind of Place With world-class museums, hotels and dining, this island nation merits your full attention.

The Helix Bridge, Marina Bay Sands and the ArtScience Museum are some of Singapore's best-known landmarks. Suhaimi Abdullah / Getty Images
The Helix Bridge, Marina Bay Sands and the ArtScience Museum are some of Singapore's best-known landmarks. Suhaimi Abdullah / Getty Images

Why Singapore?

In less than a century, Singapore has grown from an unwanted, swampy corner of Malaysia to a clean, safe ultra-modern republic, lauded as an international shopping and dining hub. Singapore is known to many as a stopover destination but those staying for more than a day will definitely not be bored.

Singapore's colonial past - it was a British trading post until 1959 - has rendered it one of the most western of the Asian countries. It is a banking and finance centre, and having the most million-dollar households per capita in the world has made it a shopper's haven. The huge mix of cultures on the small island means dining is a national pastime - even the least adventurous eater will have plenty of options in the Lion City.

A comfortable bed

Being an oft-used stopover destination means Singapore is not short of excellent hotels. Those looking for gasp-inducing views should book a night at Marina Bay Sands (www.marinabaysands.com; 00 65 6688 8897). The hotel's three towers are topped by the Sands Skypark, a 380-metre rooftop deck, complete with trees, restaurants and a 150-metre infinity pool. It is quite something to glide through the water, 57 floors up, with the city stretching out in all directions below. A double room costs from S$429 (Dh1,267) a night, including taxes but excluding breakfast.

Those wanting to experience a little history should stay at the Raffles Hotel, (www.raffles.com; 00 65 6337 1886) a national monument built in 1887 and named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, modern Singapore's founder. It is built around a breezy courtyard and oozes colonial charm. A double room costs from $690 (Dh2,037) a night, including taxes but excluding breakfast.

Find your feet

Despite the gleaming office towers and malls, there is plenty of culture to be found. Kampong Glam, the city's Arab quarter, is a thriving meeting place for locals, expats and tourists. Try Haji Lane for hip design stores and cafes. A short walk away is Little India, a fairly spot-on replica of the real thing. The street culture really buzzes in this part of town, and during Diwali festival the already colourful, sweet-smelling streets burst with sights and scents.

Those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle can take a long walk at the MacRitchie Reservoir Park, (Lornie Rd) Singapore's largest. It boasts a number of different walking trails and a 250-metre suspension walk bridge that raises walkers 25m from the ground. MacRitchie also reminds visitors that Singapore used to be covered in tropical jungle, and there are plenty of monkeys, snakes and monitor lizards to keep an eye out for.

Meet the locals

Even more prevalent than the malls are Singapore's hawker centres. These gastronomic hubs consist of a collection of stalls offering every type of local food and drink imaginable, and range in size from a couple of stalls to huge expanses catering for hundreds at a time. This is where the residents meet and pass the time. Tables are generally shared, providing the opportunity to mix and mingle with the locals.

Uniquely Singaporean terms for older men and women are "uncle" and "auntie", so addressing the elders in that manner is sure to earn the hawker first-timer some brownie points.

Book a table

One must-try Singaporean dish is chilli crab, a whole Alaskan King or paddle crab swimming in a thick, spicy tomato sauce. Diners share the crab and mop up the sauce with small bread rolls. Plenty of eateries, from hawker centres to high-end restaurants, offer the dish, but Red House Seafood Restaurant (1204 East Coast Seafood Centre, East Coast Parkway) makes a particularly good chilli crab ($58 [Dh172] per kg), and the open-air seaside East Coast location is a bonus.

Singapore is awash with celebrity chef restaurants. The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (Bayfront Ave, Marina Bay Sands) alone offers six such establishments. Chef Tetsuya Wakuda fuses European and Japanese cuisine at Waku Ghin (Casino Level 2, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands), where the 10-course degustation menu costs $468 (Dh1,378) per person.

Shopper's paradise

Singapore is definitely a shopper's paradise, and the epicentre of high-end retail in the city state is Orchard Road. Several supermalls such as Ion Orchard (2 Orchard Turn) and Paragon (290 Orchard Road) sport floors and floors of Gucci, Louis Vuitton and practically every other high-fashion label available. Those wanting to get out of the heat and with a few hours to spare can browse for hours in Kinokuniya, Singapore's largest bookstore, home to plenty of titles on local history.

What to avoid

You'll find lots of T-shirts in Chinatown proudly proclaiming "Singapore is a FINE city", and with good reason. Littering carries with it a hefty penalty, and those caught eating on the train are in for a $500 (Dh1,476) fine. Durian, a large, spiky fruit that is a hit with the locals and pretty much no one else, is also to be avoided by all but the most intrepid taste adventurer - the flavour has been likened to old socks. There's also a fine for taking durian on the train network - its sour aroma is so pungent that it disturbs the other passengers.

Don't miss

A sunset tour on a traditional "bumboat". An hour-long tour with Singapore River Cruise (www.rivercruise.com.sg; 00 65 6336 6111) takes passengers around the city's three quays: the neon-lit former trading post of Boat Quay; night-time hot spot Clarke Quay; and alfresco dining centre Robertson Quay. The cruise also shows tourists the Marina Bay and local landmarks such as the Merlion, an iconic lion-headed fish that has been adopted as Singapore's national symbol.

Go there

A return direct flight with Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) to Singapore from Abu Dhabi costs from Dh3,660, including taxes.