First published on 21 Jul 2009. Updated on 22 Jun 2012.
Head to Kampong Glam (aka Arab Quarter) in the morning. Time it right, and you’ll hear the muezzin call coming from Sultan Mosque – the gold-domed heart of the neighbourhood – for Muslims to worship. (Note that visitors can wander freely, but are not allowed into the prayer halls.) This area is great for a quiet morning walk, especially along Bussorah Street, which has been pedestrianised and boasts gift shops on either side. Walk south-east to Arab Street, where you’ll find a thorough selection of textiles. Just behind Arab Street is a tiny street – it’s more of an alley, really – called Haji Lane. Trendy, homegrown boutiques crowd this hyped-up stretch; but don’t show up before 2pm, because most shops open only in the afternoon.
From here, either take a cab or walk east to Little India and make a stop inside the Mustafa Centre, a daunting, 24-hour megamart that sells everything from bedsheets to Ray-Bans. Have lunch at Jaggi’s; the Indian spot is no looker, but the dishes are spot-on. That evening, try to catch a musical or theatrical show at the Esplande-Theatres on the Bay. (Just tell the taxi driver to take you to the ‘big durians’ by the Padang – they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.)
If you’ve still got energy, take a taxi to the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo. The winding tram takes you through natural habitats (many of them out in the open) in near-pitch darkness, so you can get a taste of the nocturnal lives of animals. It may sound like kids’ play, but it’s really a well-put-together exhibit that’s constantly lauded for its ingenuity and originality.
Afterward, check out Clarke Quay for another type of nocturnal wildlife. Here, bars, clubs and restaurants flash bright for your attention. (We particularly like China One and Attica.) Those itching to hit the dance floor would do well to head instead to Zouk, the island’s undisputed king of clubland. The mega-club houses three venues in one: Velvet Underground, a paradise for music tastemakers; hip-hop-dominated Phuture; and Zouk’s massive main room.
Just because you have the itinerary now doesn’t mean you’re free to explore yet. Here are tips for surviving a walking tour of S’pore:
1. Pack light. There’s nothing worst than traipsing around a city carrying a small village on your back. If you can help it, leave the backpack in the hotel and bring only what you need.
2. What you need is an umbrella. Singapore’s tropical climate is known to unleash torrential downpours at any given time, so make sure you bring a travel brolly, just in case.
3. Stay hydrated. It’s almost a given that there’ll be water, water everywhere, but it’s not the kind you can drink. Buy a small bottle of water and make sure to drink lots of it as you go – Singapore sits nearly on the equator, and the mercury rarely dips below 20˚C.
4. Bring a sweater. That said, while the temps outside are hot, any indoor space will likely be over-air-conditioned. (Energy conservation is actually an ongoing concern for Singapore, which is relatively slow to get on the green bandwagon.) The coldest of all are typically movie theatres, followed closely by malls and office buildings. A sweater or shawl is also a good idea if you’re visiting Buddhist temples or Muslim mosques.