[…] It gave her shivers even thinking about it, but she loved the rainforest in the daytime, she loved the wildness it spoke of; she felt at home there, way more at home than she felt in the structure of a city, there was something untamed and much more primal within her that she had always known, that she connected to. It made sense to her when she first saw Malaysia—its capital, where her mother grew up— was gritty, it wasn’t beautiful, it was living. It was a vast landscape, her motherland: of beaches, crystal clear water, jungle, mountains, tropical climate, sweet fruit, coconuts, humidity and chaos. It was her, it was within her. She never knew to fit in with the pale whiteness that had taken over London of late, the city she knew was eclectic, it made her sad but resigned to see it lose its colour, to see it stream from its face. Rather than reviving it she knew her energy was better off spent activating in areas that were excited to be alive, living and active. She would use her sword there.
— Jennifer Weng Han
A little something in honour of Malaysia’s historic election last week. A lot more where this came from. This isn’t autobiography, c’est tout. Xo —JM
Feature image: Jimmy Choos and seriously good views, snapped by me at a press presentation at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Singapore.
I lived and worked in Singapore for a year and half, during which time I explored many a kopitiam (Malay/Hokkien and Hakka words melded to mean coffee shop/hawker centre, kopi = coffee which will help you order!), cafe and bar. Living in a city definitely gives you more intimate knowledge than being a tourist and so in the spirit of sharing here are the places I always recommend to friends and family who ask me for any tips of where to go when they’re in town! I also figured it would be much easier to direct any enquiries to one space rather than writing out a new recommendations list each time! This list will focus on the more bougie spots (I’ll do Part 2 with less-bougie haunts at another point).
Here is the Little Black Book of some of my favourite spots in SG, by no means complete, but these are the enquiries I get the most/where I would take you if I could be your personal tour guide:
Where to drink
Let’s start with where to drink if you find yourself in the Lion City, one of the best ways to enjoy that much-photographed CBD skyline (Central Business District).
Ce La Vi on Marina Bay Sands (1 Bayfront Avenue, MBS Tower 3)
Yes yes clichéd but for good reason, Ce La Vi (previously known as Ku De Ta) is the perfect place to go for a drink with a beautiful view of the famous Singapore skyline. On weekday evenings you can take the lift up from Marina Bay Sands Hotel Tower 3 for free but an entry charge applies on weekends. So worth going up to take in the view, sneak a peak at the famous infinity pool and enjoy balmy evenings with a good cocktail. Dress smart, meaning proper shoes and trousers for men, though shorts and slippers (Singlish for flip flops) are the non-official national uniform, this isn’t somewhere you can get away with it. I much prefer the view from Ce La Vi to 1 Altitude (though the latter boasts being the highest bar in Singapore). 1 Altitude view is high up to the point of not being able to see everything in all its glory and the music is way too loud (note to management), you can’t have a proper conversation, so it’s not the place to go if you’re wanting to catch up over drinks.
28 Hong Kong Street
Love this speak-easy bar (which has no signage, so just look for the blank, nondescript shop house with a number 28) for seriously good cocktails and a really good vibe. Much recommended to book a table in advance, which can be a little tricky, but I’ve also walked in before, it’s just a bit of a struggle to find a seat sometimes. Brownie points for being a little different from your average bar and not as bait as some of bars in the vicinity, I think I’m a sucker for a little secrecy. The bartenders are incredibly knowledgeable and lovely, it kind of reminds me of le Sherry Butt in Paris where they recommend you cocktails according to your mood (in the Marais neighbourhood).
Atlas, Parkview Square (600 North Bridge Road)
I’ve actually never drunk at this bar as for some reason I’ve always been there during the daytime, but it’s crazy beautiful so would definitely recommend paying a visit for the interiors alone. The decor is Art Deco-inspired though I was told by the barman that it was built in 2002. Dreamy, it feels like you’ve stepped back in time to 1920s New York and Jay Gatsby might come down in the gilded lift.
Definitely the best bar to go to if you’re looking for a low rooftop from which you can take in Marina Bay Sands in all its glory. I prefer the Fullerton Bay to its older nearby counterpart, The Fullerton in terms of vibe and views.
The Fullerton Bay, 80 Collyer Quay
Other great spots with beautiful views: Esplanade roof top. A top tip if you’re not looking to spend money, take the escalators up and out to the rooftop of the Esplanade theatres, it’s a seriously beautiful view of the iconic Marina Bay Sands and has a really nice ambiance. If you want something a little more luxe, walk a little bit to the left and you’ll see the bar/restaurant Orgo, the same view plus dinner and drinks if that’s what you’re looking for.
Where to brunch
There are a lot of brunch spots in Singapore as the American past time has gone global. Most cafes will have a similar price range but the quality of food and service can vastly differ, so the places best worth your time and money investment are below:
Chye Seng Huat Hardware store: This is literally a converted former hardware store so it is incredibly trendy/hipster etc. But the coffee lives up to the hype! And the interiors are nice to while away an afternoon in. The banana bread with coffee butter and in-house cold brew are much recommended.
150 Tyrwhitt Rd, Singapore 207563, closed on Mondays
Open Farm Community
I love this place as it’s the kind of cafe which only works in a tropical climate. They have gardens where ingredients are grown right outside the indoor seating and the interiors are light and airy. Singapore is a tiny tiny country with little farmland but this restaurant makes the most inventive dishes out of predominantly local produce, so it’s one of the only farm-to-table places in the city. The outdoor seating is lush and they also hold monthly farmer’s markets which are well worth a visit.
I love this chilled spot in the CBD for their AMAZING coconut latte (super rich and creamy coffee blended with coconut oil) and fluffy pancakes. This branch is convenient as it’s in the heart of Tanjong Pagar, but the original flagship is in Katong.
49 Duxton Rd, #02-01, Singapore 089513
I am going to do a whole other post on local food and drink (as in the best places to go for certain delicacies) but for now I will pass on my favourite local chain for local-style coffee, Ya Kun, they’re all over the island. My order is ‘kopi C peng siu dai’ (pronounced ko-pee see ping soo tai) which essentially translates to iced coffee with evaporated milk (local coffee is never made with fresh milk it’s either evap or condensed!) and less sweet (meaning less spoonfuls of sugar). They also do amazing Singaporean breakfast which consists of kaya toast (kind of like coconut jam), runny eggs and a sinful French toast version of their kaya toast too. Wow I miss this.
If you’re looking for dessert, specifically waffles with homemade ice cream, look no further, Sunday Folks is the OG. Found in the Holland Village neighbourhood, the founders are also behind Creamier in Toa Payoh (my old hood).
44 Jalan Merah Saga, #01-52 Chip Bee Gardens, Singapore 278116
Where to feast
As I said above, if people are interested, I’m going to do a separate post for the best places to go for local delicacies, but for now I’ll just put down two firm favourites.
East Coast Food Centre is famous for its seafood. There a hundreds of stalls to choose from, so bagsy a table and then order from nearby stalls. Must tries: chilli crab with mantou (fried bread), cereal prawns, otak otak, black pepper crab and fish head curry. Also whilst you’re in Southeast Asia, you should consume as much fresh coconut water as humanly possible, order the Thai ones (white in colour) as they are sweeter than the local/Malaysian ones (green in colour).
Ah Chew Desserts is the BOMB for local desserts. There are a couple of branches, my most-frequented was in Novena neighbourhood but they also have ones in Bugis and Chinatown. I guess Chinese desserts can be an acquired taste (I kind of forget after growing up with them) but those who like mango should try the mango sago pudding, or mango sago pomelo. Another fave of mine is yam in coconut milk, Ah Chew is so good as it opens till late and is super affordable – the best place to go after a long day of exploring.
Bar eating and drinking, there are actually fun things to do in Singapore (though some will have you believe otherwise). I love walking in cities but the humidity can prevent that from being a fun activity in SG, if you’re smart just dress in athleisure as trust you will SWEATING within 10 minutes and do a walking tour of Chinatown area. Keong Saik Road is really beautiful if you want to see another architectural side of the city beyond glass and steel modernity (which is seriously stunning and can be appreciated for what it is). If you are organised enough one of my favourite things I did whilst living there was tour Baba House, an original Peranakan home with the furnishings and architecture intact. It is so incredibly beautiful and they only take booked tours of 13 people at a time so you need to email and reserve your space in advance.
I’ll be real and say that clubbing is not Singapore’s forte, I am the kind of person who goes out to dance, not drink and dally, so the only places which really passed that litmus test for me were Refuge (now moved to Chjmes complex) for good old-school R&B and hip hop, as well as Bang Bang in the Pan Pacific hotel for more commercial music and a good layout. Zouk is a Singapore institution (with another outpost in Kuala Lumpur) so worth going if you’re more into house and techno, but the crowd tends to be more teenage! Wednesday nights are Ladies Night so if you’re female and don’t need to be up early on a Thursday morning, you will basically have a free night of drinks and dancing, head out to Clarke Quay (an area with lots of bars/clubs/good vibes).
Where to keep fit
If you’re in town for a longer period of time e.g secondment, life move etc. Some of my favourite places to work out were WeBarre (for, obvs, a really good Barre class); Wings to Wings (the founders here are SO lovely, incredible teachers and all round boss babes) for seriously good dance classes ranging from ballet, lyrical, contemporary and more; Physical Abuse (which from what I can see has changed its name to BIG Fitness) for a fun hip hop/commercial class if you’re in the mood to get your inner diva on, it’s also a gym but I can’t vouch for that side (I’m not a gym kinda gal). GuavaPass is the Asian equivalent of ClassPass if you’re looking for something like that (you can use it in other Asian and UAE countries too).
The weather can be schizophrenic (insanely sunny one minute, torrential rain and lightning like you’ve never seen it before the next) but the one constant is humidity. When it’s super sunny out, I would take advantage of the weather with a good bike ride in East Coast or Punggol Waterway park (you can hire them most parks) or a walk. A few of my favourite places to walk below:
Famous for its treetop walk, I would start on the Venus Road drive entrance and take a 2 hour walk from there. It’s a really nice spot to get out of the urbanity of Singapore and be surrounded by vegetation for a while.
This is a fun walk that takes you through about five different parks and along the Southern coastline of Singapore. It’s super organised and you get to walk through what would have been rainforest (albeit now tamed) and along the trippy Henderson waves bridge.
Kallang Stadium walk
This is lesser known apart from those who live in the vicinity, but it’s an incredibly beautiful and romantic spot to go for a sunset stroll. You can cross the bridge to the stadium side of the river and they have a boardwalk which is really chill and well-designed.
Some of the most beautiful gardens in Singapore and an absolute must for flower-lovers, the Orchid Gardens are actually a UNESCO World Heritage site and boast the largest variety of orchids in the world.
Last but by no means least, for those who have never seen, Gardens by the Bay near MBS is a must to experience the Super Trees. OCBC Sky Walk is fun, as well as the various Cloud domes, but even just a walk around the gardens themselves will allow you to understand the city which Singapore is now and the rapid growth of this 51 year old country.
Hope you enjoy these faves of mine, please do let me know if you pay any of them a visit! I would love to hear your experiences, and if you want any specific recommendations or suggestions for Part 2, let me know!