One of the first ‘tourist’ activities we undertook upon arriving in Singapore was a visit to the Botanic Gardens with Mark on a hot Saturday afternoon. The 158 year old tropical gardens cover an area of 82 hectares and is honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated just five minutes from Orchard Road, the gardens are a lush sanctuary from the bustling city and it’s traffic. We felt immediately transported into a green haven as soon as the garden’s gates engulfed us. We ambled along the pathways, trying to stay in the shade of the foliage as much as possible. We read about the roots/leaves/flowers that could cure a variety of ailments from high blood pressure to low blood pressure, diarrhea to constipation, fevers to hypothermia, and so on. We had lunch in one of the garden’s restaurants to allow our t-shirts to dry off from our sweaty walk and admired the leafy greenery from behind air-conditioned walls. The gardens were free to walk around but we did purchase a ticket to enter the National Orchid Garden after lunch. We were blown away by the sheer variety on display and impressed by the meticulously well pruned beds. Although we never expect anything less than perfection and extreme organisation from Singapore. Singapore Botanic Gardens are at the forefront of orchid studies and have cultivated a variety of hybrids as well as breeds we recognised, know and love. It was well worth the $5 entrance fee to witness the elaborate and quite elegant spectacle within.
During our first couple of weeks we did some walking around in the local area, including stumbling down Haji Lane for some juice. The shop houses along this lane are lined with independent fashion boutiques and Middle Eastern cafes. It was clear why this area had been dubbed ‘Singapore’s original hipster neighbourhood’ and it wouldn’t look out of place in the streets of Hackney. This buzzing enclave of quaint cafes, graffiti covered walls and traditional architecture felt a million miles from Singapore’s CBD, high rises and swanky offices. However, in reality, the likes of the contemporary DUO building (AKA the beehive) and The Gateway building loomed over us while we sipped our juices. It was quite striking observing the stark contrast between old and new in Singapore, but somehow it works.
Haji Lane is situated in the Arab Quarter so we spent some time browsing the stores and outlets selling Persian rugs, baskets and jewellery. The area was originally designated as a Muslim area attracting Malays, Sumatrans, Javanese and traders from eastern Yemen, hence the name ‘Arab Quarter’. At the end of Muscat Street sits the Sultan Mosque, considered one of the most important in Singapore. It dwarfs the rest of the buildings in the Arab Quarter, proudly dominating the area as a focal point for Singapore’s Muslim community.
Not far from Haji Lane and the Arab Quarter is Atlas bar, located in the lobby of Parkview Square building, enjoying an iconic presence since 2002. The grand, Art Deco inspired lobby bar has been on Mark and Silvia’s ‘bars to visit’ list since they arrived, and when Friday night rolled around we couldn’t come up with any excuses not to go. The bar boasts a massive alcohol tower and legend has it that a ‘wine fairy’ flew through the tiers to select bottles too high for the bartenders to reach for the guests below to enjoy. Unfortunately there is no longer a wine fairy to entertain those sipping cocktails in the bar, but the interior itself was enough to impress for the duration of the evening. Atlas certainly has the wow-factor when you walk into the grandiose speak-easy inspired chambers. The gold, opulent, domed ceiling oozes glamour and unabashed Jazz age elegance. We felt like Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan as we sipped our drinks and nibbled on a charcuterie board. We were just missing the all white suit and flapper girl dress but Atlas bar’s decadent atmosphere made it easy to fantasise.
Our evenings in Singapore have been much more eventful than those spent travelling, particularly during the weekends when the four of us have that Friday feeling. We’ve enjoyed some delicious meals out in the city including dining at the ex Catholic Convent called the CHIJMES, having dinner with Mark and Silvia’s new friends ‘the Busby’s’ at Fat Lulu’s, and eating riverside along the Quays.
We’ve also managed a couple of cinema trips, but a particular highlight was ‘Baby Driver’ at The Projector. Tucked away in Golden Mile Tower the average tourist would never stumble upon this cinema by chance. The Projector is a fully refurbished, hipster certified hangout and hidden gem, showing indie, foreign, cult favourites, classics, arthouse, horror and local movies. As well as enjoying the creative space, Baby Driver was a great movie.