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Sinagpore: 10 Reasons to Visit

For a Westerner, Singapore is both extremely familiar (everyone speaks English, all the signs are in English, their currency is the dollar) and extremely foreign as well (it is still technically illegal to chew gum there). It's a fascinating place, and we were thrilled to have visited this past summer. Here are 10 reasons why you should go there right now -- in addition to the fact that the weather is currently 79 degrees and sunny.


1. Hawker Centers: Yes, I'd eaten at the ball fields in Red Hook, and yes I'd eaten a lobster roll from the Lobster Pound truck and yes, I went to Smorgasburg one time before I got overwhelmed and had to run away, but I don't think I ever really understood what a food stall could be until I visited Singapore. Hawker centers, that is, food courts -- but better, way better -- are peppered throughout the city, and where I had some of the best food experiences of my life thusfar. These hawker centers feature stall after stall after stall, each one specializing in one regional cuisine, and in some cases specific dish -- whether it's Thai, Chinese, Malay, Indian, Middle Eastern.


The prices are insanely cheap compared to everything else in the city, so you can get multiple dishes to try -- like chicken and rise, laksa, chili crab, and our favorite, rendang, a Malay dish of meat stewed with coconut milk and spices -- without feeling bad about yourself. The government oversees all the hawker centers, so those who are squeamish about street food need not be -- everything is very clean and "non-sketchy."  K.F. Seetoh (who I actually met last spring) has even created a Zagats-like guide to the city's various food stands. Calvin Trillin wrote a wonderful article about him in 2007.

2. Shopping: Our tour guide sort of (but not really) jokingly told us that Singaporeans like to do two things: eat and shop. Orchard Road literally has every single store you could ever imagine. For the global traveler, that might not sound that earth-shattering, but have you ever seen a Comme Des Garcons, Takashimaya, Marks & Spencers, Lane Crawford and Lanvin boutique all in one building? Didn't think so.

singaporetopten7.jpg3. Sentosa: There is something both startling and amazing about being able to drive about 20 minutes from a city's skyscraper-peppered center to a true tropical paradise. Sentosa, a manmade island just minutes from downtown Singapore, accessible by bridge, features luxury hotels (like the Rasa Sentosa, where I stayed -- monkeys came to our rooms) as well as a newly-opened Hard Rock Hotel. Sure, it's a little jarring to be drinking a pina colada while looking out at a whole bunch of container ships, but nothing's perfect.

Interior-Design-Classical-Raffles-Hotel-Singapore-Lobby.jpg4. The Raffles Hotel: Though it's recently been taken over by a Qatar-based company, the Raffles Hotel is still one of Singapore's most iconic landmarks. The colonial behemoth opened in 1887, and there's still something slightly creepy about the fact that they didn't let Asians in until 1930. But even though sipping a Singapore Slings in the hotel's lobby costs about 20 bucks, the drink was invented there, so that's pretty neat. There's also a really cool menswear boutique, Surrender, located in the hotel's arcade.

5. Singapore Airlines: From the iconic Balmain-designed flight attendant uniforms, to the insane insane level of service, to the free Kiehl's products, flying to Singapore (especially in business class) is very fun. The SIA 380 (which is basically a flying hotel) leaves from LAX and JFK, and you can kick your feet up, watch Never Say Never -- the Justin Beiber documentary -- twice in a row, while eating lobster thermador without being judged. And really, isn't that what luxury is all about?


7. There is a hotel that looks like this: It's called the Marina Bay Sands, and it cost $8 billion to build. The SkyPark on its roof is home to the world's longest elevated swimming pool. In addition to your run-of-the-mill extremely upscale shops (Gucci, Prada, Chanel, the world's largest Louis Vuitton boutique) there are seven "celebrity chef restaurants" throughout Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy, among others. Wicked, the Broadway musical, is currently playing there. It is truly absurd, but that's Singapore for ya!

8. Along those same lines, Singapore boasts the tallest rooftop bar in the world, 1 Altitude -- it's 925 feet off the ground!

singaporetopten8.jpg9. While the name of the game in Singapore is slick and slightly sterile, there are pockets of cool and cute throughout. Like the eclectic curiosity shop Stevie's General Store;  the gallery/independent bookstore/artist hangout Books Actually; most of the stores on Haji Lane;  the avant-garde clothing boutique Asylum; and the bookstore/gallery/bakery/design store Little Drom Shop.

10. Singapore Botanic Gardens: If you like orchids -- and really, who doesn't -- the city's magnificent Botanic Gardens have got plenty. We were sort of obsessed with the special "VIP Orchid Garden" (it's actually called that) which feature special, unique, cross-bred orchids named after visiting dignitaries -- from Elton John, to Princess Diana, to the controversial Then Sein, who was prime minister of Myanmar's military junta. (Pictured above is the The Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana orchid.)

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