FEW destinations will have seen in the New Year with as much enthusiasm as Singapore. For this forward-thinking island, 2008 is going to be big. And the key to it all is the expansion of Changi International Airport, which has recently doubled its capacity.
The largest observation wheel in the world, the 540ft Singapore Flyer, set off in March and, to top it all, local tycoon Ong Beng Seng secured for the country one of the legs on the lucrative Formula 1 circuit, with the first F1 night race taking place through the streets of Singapore in September.
More than ever, there’s a creative and liberal mood in conservative old Singapore. The city’s hip young crowd are reinventing the Lion City to make it roar.
Former army barracks have become chic restaurants, the shop-fest on Orchard Road has hot new competition from the diverse boutiques in Haji Lane and the bar and club scene swings.
To get you going, there are plenty of new offerings on the cultural front. I began by heading for the refurbished National Museum of Singapore. A high-tech interior lies behind its neo-Palladian façade, within which is a huge variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions on everything from food and fashion to archaeology.
If you work up an appetite, stay on to eat at one of its two superb new dining options. For a snack, try the WA Café-Bar or, for something more substantial, choose the European menu at Novus.
Next grab some bargains in Haji Lane, the latest place to shop. This narrow street of traditional shop-houses off Beach Road is lined with new concept stores where designers and artists showcase their wares and import trendy labels from the US and Australia.
With quirky names such as For Like Ever and Propaganda Machine, the young entrepreneurs are passionate about their products. You can pick up everything from cool T-shirts (I bought two for £16) at Suite Stuff, to Lily Allen-style dresses at Dion de Cruz for around £30. If you have plenty of Sing in your wallet, stop off at fashion guru Christina Ong’s Club 21, which is in the Hilton on Orchard Road. This is designer heaven – but the prices are the same as at home.
At 4pm in Singapore, everything stops for tea. But the hotspot is no longer Raffles Hotel. These days it’s House, a restaurant, café, bar and spa complex which is housed in a former British Army camp.
House opened a couple of months ago as a “one-stop locale for all your sensory needs”. On the ground floor, I join the stylish pretty people wearing groovy local designer gear (layered silky T-shirts, puffball frocks and distressed jeans), lounging and tucking into tasty, brightly-coloured cakes.
This relaxing and peaceful retreat on Dempsey Hill is just moments away from Orchard Road yet its vast floor-to-ceiling windows look out on to tropical jungle.
The Barracks restaurant and Camp café/bar redefine kitchen warfare. The décor mixes long wooden mess tables with Louis XIV-style chairs, concrete floors and pillars; the menus offer bistro fare such as chicken breast roulade and Patagonian beef skewers. On the first floor, the Esprit spa has 20 treatment rooms overlooking the jungle, chill-out areas, a vast dipping pool, and hot room with huge concrete chairs.
It’s soon time for an early evening cocktail. A five-minute taxi ride takes me to the up-and-coming nightlife scene over at Rochester Park. In the Thirties this undulating lush-green compound, with its imposing whitewashed colonial buildings, was home to top British military brass. Today the buildings are being turned into restaurants, bars and art galleries.
After a vodka martini among the tinkling fountains in the gardens at One Rochester, it’s only a short stroll to Graze, which serves modern Australian tucker with panache. My tiger prawns and wild mushroom risotto were a treat. Three courses with wine costs around £25 a head.
Late-night revelry is superb, too. There is the St James Power Station, housed within a behemoth of a building, part of the multi-billion-dollar HarbourFront Centre. This former coal-fired power station offers industrial chic with nine different entertainment venues. Take your pick from enjoying a glass of bubbly at the swish Moët & Chandon champagne bar to dancing to live music in the Boiler Room.
Over at Clarke Quay, where the new nightspots went under cover last year – thus saving you from dodging Singapore’s notorious showers – the best of the new kids include Barfly, Lunar and microbrewery The Pump Room.
Long dismissed as just a business hub or stopover-city, 2008 is the year Singapore becomes a serious destination in its own right.GETTING THERE:
Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380/ www.singaporeair.com) offers return flights from Heathrow to Singapore from £671.
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts (0800 028 3337/www.shangri-la.com) offers doubles in the Valley Wing at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore from £226 per night (two sharing), including breakfast.
National Museum of Singapore: www.nationalmuseum.sg
One Rochester: www.onerochester.com
Graze: (from UK) 0065 6775 9000/ www.graze.sg
Singapore Tourist Board: 020 7484 2710/www.visitsingapore.com