15 October 2009
With a population of more than four million people of different ethnicity, race and religion, Singapore is the embodiment of modern cultural diversity; a synergy of East and West, past and present, traditional and modern. It’s both a stopover city en route to Australasia and the perfect extension to an Asian beach holiday. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, still casts a lofty shadow, and no more so than at the Raffles Hotel. The tourist tendency, particularly among British visitors, is to saunter in and order a Singapore Sling. Like most of the city’s traditional pleasures, the experience is still highly recommended, thanks in no small part to the exceptional bar staff. Modern Singapore, however, lies beyond these colonial reminders. Delve beneath the surface and you’ll find prospering Asian populations that exist in total harmony. Take Waterloo Street, for example, where a Chinese temple, a synagogue and an Indian temple stand virtually side by side. From there it’s a 20-minute walk to Little India, a mini-Mumbai of temples, restaurants and clairvoyants, where you’re greeted by the heavy scent of spices and can leave carting carvings, silverware and colourful silk saris.
Six minutes by train and you’ll arrive in Chinatown, home to the Chinatown Heritage Centre and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum. From there take the bus to Kampong Glam, the historic seat of Malay royalty in Singapore. Close by are Haji Lane, home to numerous quirky fashion boutiques, and another ethnic quarter, Arab Street. Here, the gilded dome of the Sultan Mosque looks down on the cloth and carpet traders, and businessmen in pavement cafés sip fresh mint tea or take pulls on a hookah. The diversity of culture has given rise to yet another Singaporean sobriquet: The Food Capital of Asia. From a breakfast of Indian pancakes to world renowned Hainanese chicken rice and Singaporean favourites such as chilli crab; rojak – a salad of fruits and vegetables tossed in a prawn paste – and char kway teow – broad white noodles in a dark sweet sauce served with fish cakes, cockles and Chinese sausage – Singapore is guaranteed to get your mouth watering.
The hawker stalls of Lau Pa Sat (Old Market), Blue Ginger on Tanjong Pagar Road and Ponggol Live Seafood Restaurant on Killiney Road are just snippets from a very long list of great restaurants. From the sea, the city’s skyline is the essence of Pacifi c Rim modernity. It’s not hard to see why many are calling it the New York of Asia. The Singapore Flyer, which makes the London Eye look like a fairground attraction, stands out as a beacon for modern design. The city is learning, growing and transforming all the time, drawing from its wide array of cultural influences. It is a little of all of Asia, a bridge between the East and the West and a must-see melting pot of food, festivals, cultures and peoples.