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A melting pot of cultures, cosmopolitan Singapore is not merely one of the top economies of the world, it is also one of the most culturally diverse. This modern city rises to the backdrop of traditions and cultural practices handed down through generations of the largely Chinese, Malay and Indian populations. Activities are therefore a diverse and harmonious mix of the new and old. Check out these top things to see and do in the Southeast Asian capital:
1. Explore the cuisine. Singapore has one of the most diverse cuisine offerings among the Southeast Asian countries. Eat like a local at one of the 107 open-air hawker centers that sell street food all over the city or go formal at celebrity-chef spots, such as Wolfgang Puck’s Cut and Guy Savoy at Marina Bay Sands, and Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Joël Robuchon Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa. You won’t stop eating in Singapore. It’s so ingrained in the culture that to greet someone in the local Hokkien dialect is to, literally, ask if he’s eaten.
2. Shop the area. No trip to Singapore is complete without bagging a couple of finds at Orchard Road, limited-edition luxury goods at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and local up-and-comer labels on Haji Lane. While shopping isn’t tax-free, any purchase over S$100 (about US$79) in a single receipt entitles you to refunds on the 7 percent goods and services levy that’s been automatically incorporated into prices.
3. Check out the nightlife. This is a city that never sleeps, and why should she? Nightlife in Singapore is too vibrant to catch some Z’s. There’s the Will Alsop-designed Clarke Quay, where pubs, live music venues and DJ-fronted clubs such as the quirky Dim Sum Dolly reside; standalone powerhouse Zouk of the famed annual ZoukOut parties on the beach; and international nightlife brands Pangaea and Avalon at Marina Bay Sands — the choice of decks will have you spinning all night long.
4. Singapore Grand Prix. The only night race in the Grand Prix circuit takes place in the Marina Bay area. Central roads are cordoned off, grills are put up and 3,000 lux of light glow every September for the 3.152-mile circuit. Dust is blown off the seats, containers transform into swish VIP lounges and seven stages get erected for the Formula 1-loving city to get revved up for a nationwide party. Beyoncé, Mariah and Shakira have all been here to join in the racing festivities.
5. Take a tour. To really get a feel for the city, take a cultural walking or bus tour with knowledgeable guide Geraldene Lowe. The Singapore native has been conducting tours even before the country gained independence in 1965. Lowe plans out the most detailed and historically researched itineraries, tapping into the unknown and lost parts of the city. Her tour through Emerald Hill, for example, leads you into private shophouse residences. She explains everything, from the bat motif on the windows to the well in the middle of the house and the origins of the peephole above the five-foot walkway.
1. Haw Par Villa. It’s weird, wonderful and a little macabre. It’s this really old park that’s free in entry and built by the Aw Brothers [Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par]. They used all these plaster of Paris sculptures to depict Chinese folklore. There are really weird things like women that are half-crab, half-woman, or people that have a head of a cow and the body of a human being — it’s kind of weird. The statues always tell some moralistic story. There’s the Ten Courts of Hell [exhibit], which all Singaporean kids get dragged through to scar them for life; maybe that’s how Singapore stays crime-free.
2. The Southern Ridges. It is a great [6.2-mile] walk. It takes you maybe an hour or two. It guides you through lots of lush greenery and great views. I like to go walking a lot.
3. Tiong Bahru. The old Tiong Bahru neighborhood is very popular. It’s an old housing estate built in the 1930s, so it’s all low-rise Art Deco buildings. Now, it’s got more restaurants and is becoming quite a popular place to visit. I enjoy the food at modern restaurants such as Open Door Policy, and at the same time, I also like to visit the Tiong Bahru Food Market & Hawker Centre — my personal sinful favorite is the roasted pork.