SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Singapore has grown from a trading port founded in the 19th century to a cosmopolitan hub for financial services, and which will host the world’s first Formula One street night race this weekend.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors make the most of the country, a group of islands about eight times the size of Manhattan.
6 p.m. - A visit to Singapore is not complete without a Singapore Sling cocktail at the landmark colonial hotel Raffles, where Somerset Maugham wrote novels. The gin, Benedictine and pineapple juice drink is served by the thousands to wash down mounds of peanuts at the Long Bar, but those looking to follow the locals could instead cross the street for lychee martinis on the 72th floor bar of the Swissotel Stamford hotel.
7 p.m. - Head down the road to Chijmes, once a convent school, for dinner at Lei Gardens, one of Singapore’s best Cantonese restaurants. It offers dishes from seasonal produce, facing cobbled courtyards and a cathedral. (www.chijmes.com.sg)
9 p.m. - Walk past the Padang field and City Hall, the seat of colonial government where the British surrendered to the Japanese in 1942, to Clarke Quay where former merchant shophouses line the river. Now it’s a hubbub of colorful themed bars and clubs, from Highlander to Bollywood and Angkor. Perhaps end up in a wheelchair at the Clinic for a cocktail from intravenous drips.
11 p.m. - For those with energy, stroll upriver to the more laid-back Robertson Quay and clubbing mecca Zouk. Rated in the world’s top ten by DJ Magazine, it brings in international DJs to spin R&B, hip hop and dance. (wwww.zoukclub.com.sg)
9 a.m. - Start your day at the Killiney Kopitiam coffee shop on the main shopping belt Orchard Road. Favorites are soft-boiled eggs and toast with kaya, green-colored coconut jam, and coffee with condensed milk. Or soak up the previous night's excesses with laksa, noodles in a spicy coconut broth. (www.killiney-kopitiam.com/)
10 a.m. - Head west to the Botanic Gardens, a tropical park where parrots and sunbirds flit between rainforest trees and new orchids are named after world leaders. The birthplace of Southeast Asia’s rubber industry, an “eco-garden” houses crops such as coffee and cacao, and the Orchid Garden shows off 20,000 varieties of never-ending colors. (www.sbg.org.sg)
12 p.m. - Lunch at Halia, a restaurant amidst the foliage of the Botanic’s Ginger Garden. Western cuisine is given a regional twist, such as roast lamb with Javanese spices or spicy crab spaghetti, and washed down with infusions of wild ginger or wine.
3 p.m. - Head back past the designer facades of wide thoroughfare Orchard Road to Little India, a scruffier enclave of shops selling flower garlands, dosa pancakes and gold jewelry. Observe worshippers at the Sri Veerama Kaliamman Temple, devoted to the Hindu god Kali, or at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, the starting point for the body-piercing Thaipusam annual festival.
6.30 p.m. - Catch the equatorial sunset on the world's largest Ferris wheel, the Singapore Flyer. Its commanding position overlooks the financial district, Chinatown and the port, the world's busiest. (www.singaporeflyer.com/)
7.30 p.m. - Stroll to Gluttons Bay next to Singapore’s main concert hall the Esplanade, facing the harbor, to pick from open air stalls selling barbecued stingray in spicy sambal, oyster omelet, satay skewers and claypots cooking at your table.
Or for something more upmarket, try the Regent Hotel’s Iggy‘s, voted Singapore’s best and the world’s 60th best by Restaurant magazine. Its eight-course tasting menu includes sea urchin, wagyu carpaccio and foie gras tempura. (www.iggys.com.sg)
9 p.m. - Head north to the central reservoirs of Singapore and the Night Safari zoo, for a walk on dark forested paths past nocturnal animals such as hunting fishing cats and fruit bats, or sit back on a guided tram through Asia and Africa’s big game.
11 p.m. - Check out the laid-back Arab Street area, home to fabric merchants, the imposing gold domed Sultan Mosque and cafes with water pipes and milky drinks made with roses or almonds.
2 a.m. - If peckish go to Geylang, a spot known for street food and brothels. Love hotels sit on even-numbered streets, while cafes line the odd-numbered streets. Famous dishes include smoky beef noodles on Lorong 9, frogs leg porridge and durians -- a spiky fruit notorious for its pungent smell.
10 a.m. - Brunch at PS Cafe for bacon, egg and asparagus sandwiches and the best cakes in town, in an airy restaurant overlooking the greenery of Dempsey Rd, an area of former British army barracks converted into eateries, bars and furniture shops.
11 a.m. - As the day heats up, head inside to the Asian Civilizations Museum, to see its collections of cultural relics and the histories of Singapore and the region. Highlights include artifacts from Java’s early Hindu kingdoms, the Islamic art of West Asia and Chinese porcelain. (www.acm.org.sg)
1 p.m. - Have lunch next door at the elegant Indochine on the Singapore River, for Southeast Asian fusion such as shrimp and pomelo salad, mussels with lemongrass, French beef stew or “drunken” venison with rice wine. Or cross the river to the House of Sundanese Food on the docks of Boat Quay, for Indonesian grilled fish, spicy beef rendang and vegetables in coconut gravy.
2 p.m. - Walk around nearby Chinatown, where you can have your fortune told, feet massaged and wallet lightened by Chinese artifacts. Hindu, Chinese and Muslim places of worship all lie on South Bridge Road, while Club Street hides bijou bars and spas under colorful archways. The Chinatown Heritage Center on Pagoda Street gives an idea of the tough life in shophouses and opium dens for 19th century immigrants. (www.chinatownheritage.com.sg)
4 p.m. - Head up Mount Faber for a cable car ride to Sentosa Island -- a view over a sea dotted with ships toward Indonesia, and inland to the tower block estates where most Singaporeans live. On Sentosa, play golf if you can get access to an exclusive club, head to Spa Botanica (voted one of the world’s best by Conde Nast Traveler), or chill out at Km8 bar on Tanjong beach.
7 p.m. - Food-obsessed Singaporeans will ask if you’ve had chilli or black pepper crab at the East Coast’s outdoor seafood restaurants -- and it happens to be on the way to the airport. Try Jumbo’s for crab with doughnuts or prawns and dried chillis.
Reporting by Neil Chatterjee, Koh Gui Qing and Melanie Lee; Editing by Miral Fahmy