Uniquely Singapore

The island proves to be a diverse mix of cultures and attractions

By: Eleanor M. Wilson

"Uniquely Singapore" is the island’s tagline, and they’ve got that right. Singapore is a country, island and city all in one. Its pulse

is much more relaxed than bustling Bangkok or Hong Kong. Yet that vibrancy is just under the surface of modern high-rises, endless shopping venues and unique cultural pockets.

The Conrad Hotel, with 484 rooms and 25 suites in the Marina district, proved an excellent headquarters for my tour (see sidebar).

More Than Shops

Entertainment is an integral part of the city’s many mammoth malls. Suntec City Mall is the largest and part of a complex of five buildings housing offices, condos, a convention center and nearly 300 shops. On a Sunday afternoon, a full-scale show of African dancers captivated shoppers, while the food court, the size of three football fields, offered every cuisine imaginable.

Outside in the plaza, onlookers gathered at the huge outdoor Fountain of Wealth as believers walked or a short boardwalk under the spray, held a hand over smaller water spouts for energy, and circled them three times to gain wealth.

For family entertainment, golf and beaches, head south to Sentosa Island, easily accessible now by bridge rather than the old ferry. I went by cable car from Mt. Faber, swinging over one of the busiest ports in the world. Since the monorail that winds through Sentosa’s treetops is being replaced, the Carlsberg Sky Tower became a delightful substitute for great views. Passengers sit on a wrap-around bench that slowly rises in a circular motion, up to the top and down again. You can get an eyeful without leaving your seat.

Local Color

Singapore’s diverse culture produces interesting attractions. At the Malay Heritage Centre, a pleasant complex of white colonial buildings on landscaped lawns, I watched a traditional wedding ceremony for today’s Malaysian couples. The bridal party sets the scene with music, dances and audience participation, as the lavishly dressed bride and groom sit on ornately decorated thrones.

Culture comes to life in Chinatown during tea appreciation classes in Mr. Low’s trim little shop. Among lacquered tables and shelves lined with tea sets and accessories, he teaches the fine art of brewing and the curative powers of various blends.

Indigenous to the Straits, the Peranakan people are descendants of early Chinese settlers on the Malay Archipelago. Their clothing, pottery, handicrafts and shop houses prompted further investigation. The row of former shophouse residences on Koon Seng Road is one of the last well-preserved examples of this culture. The buildings have a ground-floor porch entrance with living quarters above. Louvered shutters, intricately carved pillars and roofline fretwork all project subdued colors delicately applied.

Not far from Koon Seng Road, Rumah Bebe’s shop proudly displays intricate beadwork on jewelry and apparel. Around the corner, I learned how to make Ba Chang (mini-dumplings) at Kim Choo Bakery.

The Singapore Tourism Board will recommend local tour operators covering these ethnic areas or arrange for a personal guide and driver.


Conrad Centennial Singapore
2 Temasek Blvd.
Singapore, 038982

Hits: Convenient to shops, restaurants and attractions. Attentive staff, well-equipped rooms with water views. Touches include a pillow menu, teddy bear presiding over the “fruit and sweet” plate and a rubber duck in the tub.
Misses: Business travelers predominate.
Plugging In: Fax/copier with separate line; three direct-dial speakerphones; high-speed Internet access.
Clientele: Business travelers mostly, and facilities draw many conferences. Guests can walk to Esplanade, Millenia Walk and Suntec City Mall.
Rates: Vary by season and depend on options (Double Dip Hilton Honors, etc.). Deluxe double rooms and Executive Suites average from $130 to $198.
Commission: 10 percent, plus Hilton Points

Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific depart from West Coast gateways. Cathay Pacific’s 2005
All-Asia 21-Day Pass starts at $1,099 to visit any or all of 19 cities.