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For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG contributor Jenny Miller takes us to Southeast Asia to the only city-state in the world that is actually an island, and the national pastimes of eating and shopping make for an excellent, exciting vacation spot. We’re heading to Singapore.
WHAT TO DO
It takes less than 45 minutes to drive from one side of this tiny city-state to the other, but what Singapore lacks in size it makes up for with an abundance of things to do, particularly if you like shopping, fine dining, street food, and spectacular views.
The one-time British colony is in the midst of a construction boom, with new attractions opening on a regular basis, such as the one-year-old Gardens By The Bay, an indoor botanical garden and park boasting 18 Seussian-looking “Supertrees” that light up dramatically at night. If this sort of man-made engineering feat is up your alley, there’s also Sentosa, an island resort brimming with beaches, rainforests, hotels, and even Southeast Asia’s first Universal Studios theme park.
To get the lay of the land, don’t miss a trip to the top of the Marina Bay Sands. The three-tower luxury hotel, shopping mall, and casino juts into the harbor and has a ship-shaped deck spanning the top of all three buildings and providing the most spectacular views in town. It’s a worth-it $20 to visit this 57th-story “Skypark,” though only guests of the hotel get access to the heart-stopping infinity pool. If it’s shopping that you’re after, don’t miss the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, a mall whose posh spelling is backed up by a retail lineup that includes pretty much every luxury brand you can mention – from Chanel to Rolex, and Hermes to Tiffany – plus a free-standing glass “ship” of a Louis Vuitton store that appears to float in the harbor.
Amid all this newness, be sure to take some time to explore Singapore’s intriguing history and layered ethnic makeup. The city is a true pluralistic society, with sizable populations from Malay, Chinese, and Indian backgrounds, and its historic neighborhoods reflect this. But don’t plan any super-ambitious walking tours between these areas. Given average year-round temperatures in the 80s or 90s with close to 80 percent humidity, this is not much of a town for hoofing it (unless it’s inside one of the many air-conditioned shopping malls). Luckily, the SMRT subway system is efficient and easy to use.
If you’re the historic walking tour type, Chinatown is the place for architecture lovers, with its rows of pastel-painted restored shophouses. It’s also a great place to get an affordable foot massage if you’re hurting after the long flight here from North America.
Take some time to wander around Little India as well. Singapore’s most colorful, even grungy quarter, is a contrast from the glitzy high-rises that dominate other neighborhoods, and is a great place for delicious, cheap meals and interesting shopping. Another mecca for souvenirs is the brightly painted shops of Arab Street, in the heart of Singapore’s historically Islamic neighborhood, Kampong Glam. The city also boasts some stunning examples of colonial architecture, the jewel of which is the Raffles Hotel, built in 1887. Even if you’re not staying here, it’s worth having a drink in the palm-dotted courtyard or the Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling was invented.
Terrific dining options abound in Singapore on both ends of the price spectrum. For homestyle local dishes like the delicious wok-charred rice-noodle specialty char kway teow, be sure to eat at least one meal at one of the city’s hawker centers, which are open-air food courts (or something similar) offering street food specialties. Maxwell Road Hawker Center is a good bet for a range of mostly Chinese cuisine, but also Indian and Malay specialties. While there, queue for the worth-the-line Tian Tian Chicken Rice, one of the city-state’s most acclaimed hawkers. Unlike some street food scenes that might make you nervous about the state of your stomach after eating, hawker centers are kept spotless and are highly regulated, so the food is safe to eat.
Naturally, upscale options also abound in a wealthy metropolis like Singapore. Sky 57 atop Marina Bay Sands is helmed by much-lauded chef Justin Quek, who serves foie gras soup dumplings and deconstructed Peking duck. The all-you-can-eat dim sum feast at Jiang-Nan Chun in the Four Seasons (at 68 Singapore dollars – or $53 – it is a worth-it experience for dumpling fanatics) is another popular choice.
For something truly local, seek out Peranakan cuisine – which is a blend of Chinese and Malay. Candlenut Kitchen does a refined take on this traditional fare, with dishes such as lion’s-head meatballs in chicken broth and sambal prawns with quail eggs. And at Wild Rocket, chef Willin Low riffs on Singaporean flavors with dishes like a pomelo salad with prawns and coconut ice cream, and an upmarket take on hawker noodle specialty mee siam made with spaghettini and black shrimp.
It’s surprising to find some of the best Middle Eastern food outside of that region here, but Artichoke couldn’t be described any other way. Chef Bjorn Shen lets his imagination roam while keeping (mostly) with traditional flavors and preparations, and he spins out dishes like black fungus loubieh and taramasalata with oysters and grilled broccoli or terrific grilled lamb ribs. Immigrants Gastrobar is doing something a little different as well, offering tapas-style portions of traditional Malay fare like spicy stuffed “squid bombs” and a killer beef rendang, meant to be enjoyed with the imported European and Asian beers.
The cocktail scene is just starting to burgeon in Singapore. Newcomer Jigger & Pony is a good bet for classic, Japanese-mixology-inspired drinks, including house-bottled cocktails. Exciting things are happening at 28 Hong Kong Street, which has received international acclaim and concocts drinks like the Whore’s Bath – a not-too-sweet mash-up of honey vodka, plum wine, fresh lemon, and pear liqueur, garnished with pickled ginger and sea salt, plus baby’s breath garnish. And drinks at the Library (“hidden” next to popular eatery Keong Saik Snacks) seem to be dreamed up by Willy Wonka himself – where else can you get something called the Grand Theft Nacho, made with nacho-infused tequila and served with a side of flaming Doritos? Keep in mind that you’ll need a reservation to drink at these places.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Singapore’s Changi Airport is a model for other cities, with eye-catching architecture, complimentary WiFi, comfortable places to sit, and enough shopping and eating options that some locals actually frequent the place even when they’re not flying! The second busiest airport in Asia, Changi has three passenger terminals and Terminal Four is expected to be completed by 2017.
There are plenty of options on Star Alliance partners flying into Singapore, especially as Singapore Airlines is one of the more comfortable flights out there (even in coach) and goes more or less direct, with brief layovers in cities like Frankfurt, Moscow or Hong Kong, from five U.S. cities: New York, Newark, Houston, San Francisco and L.A. There’s also United from Chicago, Newark, and Washington Dulles; Emirates via Dubai; Lufthansa; Cathay Pacific; Asiana; Air China; EVA Air; THAI Airlines; and Turkish Airlines, among others.
For Oneworld, Japan Airlines connects via Tokyo to Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and San Diego. You also have Cathy Pacific, which connects through Hong Kong. Malaysia Airlines and Qantas are two more options.
In SkyTeam, Delta connects via Tokyo from a number of U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Also, China Airlines, China Eastern, and China Southern, plus Korean Air, Czech Airlines, and KLM have regular flights there.
From the airport, a 24-hour shuttle service goes into the city center for a fare of $9 SGD ($7) for adults and $6 SGD for children. A public bus service also goes to the city and tickets cost $2 for the hour-long journey. If you prefer to travel by rail, you can catch the the westbound train at Tanah Merah train station. Taxis into Singapore cost $18-38 SGD ($14-29) and take approximately 30 minutes, or Avis, Budget and Hetz all rent cars from the airport.
Hilton Singapore Hotel: A great bet for shopping and dining, this 421-room hotel is situated in the Orchard Road area, near the city’s biggest concentration of luxury retail. Guests have access to work desks, office rental, and WiFi for a fee (which is included free with Executive rooms). There’s a 24-hour fitness center and rooftop pool, plus two floors of boutique shopping and four restaurants, including Italian and juice-bar options. Suite and Executive rooms have access to the Executive lounge, which offers free breakfast and refreshments. Room rates start at $282 SGD ($220) per night in September. This is a Category 7 hotel requiring 60,000 HHonors points for a free night.
Conrad Centennial Singapore: Located at Marina Bay Sands, by the harbor, this 507-room high-rise hotel’s rooms offers flatscreen TVs, WiFi for a fee (complimentary for HHonors Gold and Diamond), complimentary coffee and tea and daily fruit, marble bathrooms, and a pillow menu. There’s a spa, outdoor pool, and 24-hour fitness center. Executive level rooms include a Champagne breakfast, evening cocktails and hor d’oeuvres, and all-day snacks and beverages at the club lounge. There is also 2 hours’ meeting room rental, complimentary local calls, late checkout, and butler service available. Dining options include Asian and Western restaurants on-site, and two bars. Room rates start at $260 SGD ($203) per night in September. This is a Category 7 hotel requiring 60,000 HHonors points for a free night.
Grand Hyatt Singapore: Located near the Orchard Road shopping district, accommodations at this 663-room hotel offers flatscreen TVs, big desks, WiFi for a fee, CD and DVD players, plus complimentary coffee and tea. There’s a fitness center with sauna and steam rooms, and cold plunge pool, plus an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, and a spa. Restaurants serve everything from Italian to Singaporean to barbecue, and the hotel has several bars on site. Guests staying on Grand Club levels have access to the Grand Club lounge and its complimentary breakfast and evening cocktails. Room rates start at $390 SGD ($305) in September. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 18,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for a free night.
Singapore Marriott: This hotel near the Orchard Road shopping district has 372 rooms that include WiFi for a fee, rainshowers in some rooms, and complimentary coffee and tea. There’s a fitness center and spa, plus five restaurants on site, including pool-side and Chinese options. Executive rooms offer access to the Executive Lounge, with daily buffet breakfast, snacks, and cocktails. Room rates start at $340 SGD ($266) in September. This is a Category 7 hotel requiring 35,000 Marriott Rewards points for a free night.
Intercontinental Singapore: Located near the river and not far from the Orchard Road’s shopping district, this 403-room hotel decorated in a traditional Singapore “shophouse” style offers complimentary in-room WiFi for all guests, work desks, in-room coffee and tea, turndown and valet services. There’s a 24-hour fitness center, a rooftop garden, and an outdoor pool, plus Chinese and Western restaurants and a cocktail lounge. Those staying in Executive rooms get access to Club InterContinental’s breakfast, afternoon tea, and cocktail services. Room rates start at $310 SGD ($243) per night in September. This is a Category 9 hotel requiring 50,000 IHG Rewards Club points for a free night. Check out TPG’s review from last year.
The St. Regis Singapore: Also located near the Orchard Road and the emerging restaurant and nightlife area of Dempsey Hill, this 299-room hotel has a serious modern art collection featuring works by well-known artists like Joan Miro. All guests receive St. Regis butler service, available for packing and unpacking, wake-up services, and garment pressing. All rooms feature flatscreen TVs, Bose stereos, WiFi for a fee, an iPod docking station, a writing desk, marble bathrooms and complimentary daily wine tasting invitations. There’s a fitness center, indoor tennis court, four restaurants and a bar, an outdoor pool with cabanas and even a fleet of Bentleys to chauffeur guests around the city. Room rates start at $376 SGD ($294) per night in September. This is a Category 6 hotel requiring 20,000-25,000 Starpoints for a free night.
W Singapore Sentosa Cove: Just a short boat ride away from the mainland, this hotel boasts spectacular views of the harbor. All rooms include WiFi access, flatscreen TVs, BOSE iPod docking stations, large desks, and rainforest showers with Bliss amenities – plus free bottled water and French-press coffee. On site, find a 24-hour gym with personal training services, a pool with sea views and a bar, and a spa. Room rates start at $360 SGD ($282) per night in September. This is a Category 6 hotel requiring 20,000 Starpoints for a free night.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Shangri-La Hotel Singapore: This 131-room hotel close to Singapore’s Botanic Gardens is luxuriously outfitted in marble and other rich materials. All rooms offer complimentary WiFi, in-room coffee and tea facilities, and desks. Tower Wing rooms have access to the Horizon Club, with daily breakfast and canapes, and meeting-room facilities; Valley Wing rooms enjoy complimentary breakfast in the Summit Room, complimentary Champagne, cocktails and minibar, with personalized stationery and butler service. Onsite, there’s complimentary shoeshine, a hair salon and florist. There’s also a 24-hour fitness center, outdoor pool, jacuzzi and spa, while the business center offers amenities like laptops and secretarial services. Should you work an appetite, there are five restaurants and one bar the premises. Room rates start at $375 SGD ($293) per night in September or 6,500 Golden Circle points.
Fullerton Hotel Singapore: Built in the 1920s, this historic building was once the city-state’s General Post Office and today it’s a 400-room grand hotel. All rooms feature complimentary WiFi, flatscreen TVs, and separate bath and shower facilities. Onsite there’s a fitness center with sauna, steam room and indoor pool; there’s also an infinity pool overlooking the Singapore River. In the upscale common areas, you’ll find fine dining – Eastern and Western fare – and luxury shopping. Straits Club rooms include access to the Straits Lounge, with complimentary Champagne breakfast and evening cocktails. Room rates start at $408 SGD ($319) per night in September.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a loyalty program for Amex Platinum cardholders who receive special benefits at participating hotels such as early check-in and late check-out, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and other perks.
The Ritz-Carlton Millenia: Pritzker prize-winning architect Kevin Roche designed this 608-room hotel, which is decked out with 4,200 pieces of contemporary art and has views of Marina Bay. There’s complimentary WiFi in every room and in public spaces, flatscreen TVs, large desks with iPod docking stations. The hotel also has a 24-hour business and fitness centers and a luxurious spa, plus four restaurants offering everything from sushi to afternoon tea. Club level guests receive access to the Club Lounge, with Champagne breakfast, afternoon tea, and evening cocktails. Also complimentary are morning limo service, garment pressing, and personalized stationery. Room rates start at $420 SGD ($329) per night in September.
Fullerton Bay: This new arrival to the Marina Bay waterfront is a sister hotel to the historic Fullerton. All rooms feature balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, Nespresso coffee machines, and flatscreen TVs. The hotel offers shuttles to main business and shopping areas. There’s a rooftop pool, a gym with skyline views, and three restaurants. Room rates start at $550 SGD ($430) a night in September.
Mandarin Oriental Singapore: Situated right in the Marina Bay Harbor, this 527-room hotel has great views, among other selling points. All rooms enjoy twice-daily housekeeping, flatscreen TVs, stereo systems with iPod docks, and large desks. Club Rooms get Oriental Club access, with Champagne breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails and hor d’oeuvres, garment pressing, late checkout and complimentary in-room WiFi. Onsite, find seven restaurants including outdoor lounge, Bay 5, offering cocktails and views. There’s a swimming pool with lap lanes, a fitness center, and an acclaimed spa. Room rates start at $449 SGD ($351) per night in September.
Raffles Singapore: The city’s most iconic historic hotel is an imposing colonial affair that retains most of its storied grandeur. There are no rooms, only suites boasting 14-foot-ceilings and outfitted with Oriental rugs, parlors, walk-in wardrobes, large desks and much more. Amenities include WiFi for a fee, DVD players, and daily turndown service. Should you find yourself peckish, there’s in-room dining or a whopping 15 restaurants on site, including the famously posh Palm Court or the Long Bar, original home of the Singapore Sling. The Raffles Spa performs everything from aromatherapy to ayurvedic treatments and has a pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms. Room rates start at $690 SGD ($540) per night in September.
Four Seasons Singapore: Situated 10 minutes outside of the city center, this hotel delivers Four Seasons luxury with a pillow and robe selection in every room, huge flatscreen TVs, WiFi for a fee, a 15-minute room service menu, in-room tea and coffee, and complimentary early morning coffee and pastries for all guests; Executive rooms have a well-lit ergonomically designed desk and a table that can serve as a meeting area. All guests can enjoy meals at four restaurants, including a luxury dim sum option, plus treatments at the world class spa or an in-room massage. There’s also tennis, a fitness center and two swimming pools. Room rates start at $366 SGD ($286) per night in September.