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Anh-Minh Le | Photo: iStock | February 24, 2017
With new nonstop flights from SFO and food worth traveling 8,500 miles for, the allure of this Southeast Asian island nation is stronger than ever.
There are two things I always try to avoid when travel-planning: stops and checked luggage. The former, however, isn’t entirely within my control—and there are many destinations well-worth a stop or a connection. Thankfully for Bay Area globe-trotters, Singapore is now among the locales that can be reached sans layover or hindrance. On the heels of United Airlines offering nonstop flights between San Francisco International Airport and Changi International Airport, Singapore Airlines reintroduced nonstop service between the two cities. Last fall, I had the pleasure of traveling on the latter’s inaugural flight from SFO. While my lie-flat seat in the Airbus A350 XWB’s business-class cabin made the 16 hours in transit comfortable, innovations such as improved air pressure, flow and filtration helped alleviate jet lag. And the airline’s renowned attention to detail—flight attendants undergo a rigorous 15 weeks of training—certainly lived up to the hype.
It had been five years since my previous trip to Singapore. Although there’s a lot of construction and development happening, a visit continues to guarantee: hot and humid weather, thanks to its proximity to the equator; excellent eating, spanning its famous street, or hawker, food to fine dining; and no shortage of shopping—again, ranging from the inexpensive (Bugis Street) to the high-end (Orchard Road). The former British colony, which has been independent for 52 years, is steeped in history, yet embraces the cutting-edge, as evident in architectural gems such as the Helix Bridge, Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands. Singapore has plenty of attractions, including the 82-hectare Botanic Gardens and newer Gardens by the Bay, Night Safari, National Museum of Singapore, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and National Design Centre. And the list is ever-growing; for example, the Mandai nature reserve project is three years from completion. Still, for many, the culinary scene is the main draw here.
The city-state’s cuisine is so exceptional, even the hawker stalls have earned a prestigious Michelin star. Last summer, when the honor was bestowed on Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at Crawford Lane and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle in Chinatown, Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guides, noted, “these hawkers have managed to hit the ball out of the park.” But you needn’t limit yourselves to these two stalls to indulge in some seriously delicious—and affordable—dishes. Maxwell Road Food Centre is especially popular, and offering a more current atmosphere is Timbre+. Working out of repurposed shipping containers, its roughly three dozen purveyors serve up local as well as international grub. To sample Peranakan cooking, book a table at Candlenut, where chef Malcolm Lee earned a Michelin star for his take on fare that blends Chinese, Malay and other regional influences. In the mood for more fusion food? An East-West menu—combining Asian, French and Italian flavors (like in its Laksa pasta)—can be found at the quaint Eight Café & Bar, situated in an old shophouse.
Of course, there are ample opportunities to splurge and dine in more refined settings. At Joël Robuchon’s eponymous contemporary French restaurant, the sole recipient of three Michelin stars in Singapore, a 16-course menu priced at 498 Singapore dollars is an option. Six establishments were awarded two stars: Restaurant André, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Les Amis, Odette, Shoukouwa and Shisen Hanten. If you want your friends to ooh and aah on Instagram, try The White Rabbit, a favorite with locals and visitors alike that specializes in European classics and is housed in a restored 1930s Ebenezer chapel. The interior’s timber structure, tiled floors and iron windows have been preserved to charming effect.
Just as Singapore is a combination of East and West, as well as heritage and modern, it also has an urban and a more leisurely side. To enjoy both, I split my time between a pair of Shangri-La properties: Hotel Jen Tanglin (1A Cuscaden Road, +65.6738.2222), located near the Orchard Road shopping district, and Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa (101 Siloso Road, +65.6275.0100), the only beachfront game in town. Sentosa—which translates to “peace and tranquility” in Malay—is a 30-acre island off the southern coast of Singapore that boasts golf courses, myriad other recreational pursuits and even a Universal Studios theme park.
Hotel Jen Tanglin was formerly Traders Hotel Singapore. Following a 45 million Singapore dollar renovation, the hotel reopened a year ago with a decidedly hip look. Case in point: The cafe, Jen’s Kitchen On-the-Go, is outfitted with a table whose base is a tandem bicycle, and the restaurant, J65, features a mural by Hong Kong-based street art collective Parents Parents. My top-floor Club Room (from 280 Singapore dollars per night) was appointed with goldfish-themed wallpaper and a king-size floating bed dressed in 300-thread-count linens. The accommodations included access to the Club Lounge, one level below on the 17th floor; it’s a great spot to grab a bite or just hang out. The spa and outdoor pool make the Hotel Jen feel like a bit of an urban oasis, and the complimentary Tokyo Bike rentals make cruising over to the Botanic Garden or Orchard Road a cinch.
Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa was also the beneficiary of a multimillion-dollar makeover, about six years ago. Not surprisingly, though, its aesthetic veers toward the leafy and tropical. The balcony of my Panoramic Sea View Room (starting at 455 Singapore dollars per night) allowed for the perfect vantage point to survey the grounds. The resort is designed to keep all ages blissfully entertained and active—with kids’ clubs, a freeform pool, water slides and trapeze facilities. There’s also a spa for those seeking to further decompress, and the expansive daily breakfast buffet is sure to satisfy all palates. I must’ve gone back to the various stations at least half a dozen times! (On a related note, the gym is open 24 hours.) This is the kind of place where once you check in, you won’t feel the need to leave the premises until it’s time to head to the airport. (But you could take a complimentary shuttle to VivoCity, Singapore’s largest mall, for a shopping fix.)
Although the humidity can be a source of complaints in Singapore, the year-round heat means that it’s easy to pack light. I never needed a second layer of clothing during my trip, and I wore sandals every day. So it wasn’t difficult to fulfill my perpetual travel goal of only bringing carry-on luggage. That—along with the amazing food and cultural attractions, not to mention the new nonstop flights—essentially ensures that I’ll be back, Singapore.
Originally published in the January issue of Silicon Valley