What does a shopper want? A new set of expensive China, a business suit made in a day, the latest in fashion or the cheapest copy watch available, a personal computer or mini-digital camera, Sting Ray, Dimsum or Steak. It is all in Singapore, all readily available, easy to find and depending on which country a traveler comes from not that expensive or prohibitive.
Singapore is a shopping paradise and if prior knowledge is obtained it becomes even better. By asking friends and relatives, by extracting nuggets from those who have been before, by reading guidebooks and searching the web a good stack of ideas and "wants" can be stored for the actual trip. A shopping trip to Singapore will be a nightmare, expensive and fruitless if no research is done and no details are sought prior to going - although this article should help.
To shop and to explore Singapore three days is ideal. Any more and it becomes repetitive and any less will cause certain shopping areas to be bypassed. Arrive in the evening if possible and get a good night sleep before heading off in exploration. That evening go out of the hotel and invariably a cheap food court will be in view: sit down (don't be shy) and order anything (chili crab is good for chili addicts or just sweet and sour pork/fish with rice). Get a long sleep and rest the legs because tomorrow they will be worn thin. Oh and don't plan to be in town by 8 O'clock or even by 9 O'clock because nothing gears up until ten at the very earliest.
In the heat of the day take it slow and easy. Get up and shower. Have a lovely breakfast in the Hotel Restaurant (as this would have been included in the package) and read the newspaper or your guidebook, for the tenth time. Relax and enjoy because the rest of the day will exhaust and punish - walking will be non-stop.
The first stop is a trip to Orchard Road: the touristic shopping street where one dazzling mall follows the next. Clothes, books, cameras, electrical goods, carpets from Turkey and paintings from another corner of the globe, all is available to look at. NB: Don't buy on this first of the three days. Why rush in and spend money when around the corner may be the same item or a better one for half the price. The famous malls in Orchard Road are known for their higher prices so .... relax .... another two days to explore and find the cheaper deals.
Walk along orchard road and visit the various shopping centers. The typical one of Center Point that has six floors of everything and including a Marks and Spencer if so inclined. Then walk along to Ngee Ann City (on the other side of the road) and visit some of the even more expensive shops and including the Japanese Department store of Takashimaya. The only good thing about Ngee Ann City is its architectural beauty and the fact that once you enter you can continue underground in the air conditioning to the next couple of shopping malls. Anyway, walk through and get cool and then go up and out and along the road to more: the gold shops at Orchard Towers (where men meet woman and buy expensive jewelry for them) and the extremely expensive tourist shops. These are in one large mall and shop after shop sell anything from carved wooden elephants the size of a sitting room, to Ming Vases that are comparable in cost to the house back home.
Yes, that is Orchard Road. A tourist shopping experience. Some bargains may be had if "John Little" the famous Department Store is having a Sale or the Condomeria is having a promotion day (there are two Condomeria in Lucky Plaza if one is so inclined), just enjoy the afternoon for the interest and activity that is all around.
Well, enough window-shopping and let's get serious. Jump on the MRT at Orchard and get off to City Hall. Here it is time to walk around Raffles City and window-shop again, but in reality this is just more of Orchard Road - more glitter and fanfare at great cost. No, go out of the MRT station and up and walk along to the Funan Center. Six floors of Electronic Goods and Computers everywhere one can look. Browse around and find the deals, don't be afraid to barter a bit and if things look a bit expensive then get along to the next Electronics Mall called Sim Lim Square - another four floors of the same but where bargaining is more accepted. NB: There is an excellent shoe shop just next door to the Funan Center - great bargains to be had there.
Okay, getting back on the MRT, remembering not to be eating food as they might fine any miscreant 500SGD for that, and go back to the hotel. The Hotel? Yes, enough for one day and enough walking - rest those weary and shocked feet.
Get back to the hotel and put the feet up, have a catnap or a full-blown sleep but make sure that the alarm is set for 5pm. Get up, get dressed, get those walking shoes on and get out and on the way. Get yourself to Boat Quay a dazzling street of bars and restaurants along the river - excellent party atmosphere every day of every week. Eat some food at any of the food parlors and expect to pay a bit above the normal but excellent and the atmosphere party like. After that? Well the choices are many, maybe Bugis Junction by MRT. Bugis is one area filled with shopping malls and things to buy and many a stall outside selling pirated CD's, cheaper clothing and trinkets for presents. Then sit outside the temple, relax beside the fountain and rest or something along those lines - plenty more walking tomorrow.
Drag that weary body out of that comfortable bed and admit to complete and utter exhaustion and agonizingly tender feet. Don't panic, it is late but remember that life in Singapore does not get going until after 10 O'clock. Have breakfast and then get across to China Town and browse through all of the little shops and stalls with an authentic Chinese atmosphere: buy a few things that appeal to the eye and then leave before the heat of the day really kicks in. How about Suntec City for the afternoon and something to eat? Just go to Raffles City MRT and the entrance to the massive complex will be easily found. Miles of shops and malls underground and above to browse through and to gain increasingly sore feet - but it is air-conditioned. Plenty to do and see for the whole afternoon and a whole array of vendors and food halls to choose a nice lunch from. If any energy is left go to Little India and browse through India away from home, but don't push it. Plenty of other things to do anyway.
The evening comes, the choice is again open and probably depends on how exhausted you are. Maybe it is time to go and see Changi Village. Get the MRT to Tampines and browse the Malls, as they tend to be cheaper than those in town. Then get a taxi to Changi village and wander along the beachfront for the late afternoon to work up an appetite. Changi Village is in the countryside (as far as Singapore goes) and is quieter than Downtown and the places visited so far. The shopping arena is not that broad or varied but if a larger suitcase is required to cart all of those fine purchases back home, then here is the place to get one. CD's, fishing tackle and working gear are also cheap and available if so inclined. But once hungry and ready: go to the main street though Changi and to a choice of western food at one of the smaller café's or Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, etc. at the larger foods halls outside. These Hawkers I would recommend and the food is of excellent quality when soaked up with a couple of Tiger Beers.
But if that does not sound too appealing then a couple of other places exist closer to home. Holland Village is one of them - a place little known by tourists as it is kept secret by expatriate workers living in Singapore (their place). Many restaurants are here, the best steak house in town and anything from Japanese to French cuisine is readily available. Again a few good shops can be found close by, most with house furnishings and ornaments rather than clothes or shoes. The other choice would be Chjimes, a converted Monastery and now a large gathering of pubs and eateries within the grounds. Again a massive choice exists to fill your stomach and plenty to drink afterwards but then the shopping experience is non-existent unless a return to the fray of Orchard Road or Marine Bay is in the cards!
Once again wipe that sleep from the eyes, grab that breakfast and be on the road. Today is to the cheaper Paragon Shopping Mall and all the malls around it. Floors upon floors of shops and department stores vying for customers' attention. Material to make curtains out of, shoes galore or a handbag or two of unverified manufacture - even though it says "Gucci" on it. Browse around and then for lunch go outside once again to the street vendors or Hawker Center's, as they are known. Have anything that looks appealing and believe me the quality is good and far cheaper than that of an indoor restaurant. Outside and along the road a little bit is the seven-dollar shop. Everything inside is sold for seven dollars from T-shirts to mustard pots. The quality here is dubitable but for the price who cares - makes for good presents!
Dinner in the evening and the stomach may require something known. Maybe enough of chili and strangeness so an indoor eatery will be the name of the game. Hundreds exist in Singapore if not thousands so naming one is not worth my time. But for areas: to Ngee Ann City where upstairs they have numerous Chinese and European Places to choose from. Most Hotels have an excellent restaurant. Clarke Quay (similar to Boat Quay) or anywhere along the river where every building and vacant space has a restaurant to choose from. And when shopping many restaurants will have been spotted and one might require further investigation. But if local food and Hawker Centers are still the way forwards then Newton Circus (by MRT) is the place to go. This is one of the most famous Hawker Centers in Singapore and the place that many bar-goers eat at after hours and when their brains are sozzled. A great choice of food hits you there and cheap at double the price.
After dinner it suddenly dawns that this is the last evening and that tomorrow morning it is time to leave the shopping paradise that has been found. But before this happens, it is time to go back to all of those places that have been noted for a certain product or item that caught the eye. Now is the time to go shopping having assimilated all of the information received over the last three days - get to it. Go and buy those shoes from near to the Funan Center, that duvet cover and the brass door handles from Paragon. Splash out and get that expensive oil painting from Holland Village, go and get a copy watch from Lucky Plaza and some Gold from Orchard Towers. Visit John Little's or Center Park and buy some clothes and browse around the bookshops for something to remember the place by. Now is the time to do it because there is no more time after this!
It is too late to go back to Changi Village to get the much needed suitcase but just in case there is quite a reasonable shop in Orchard Road where one can be had - just don't be afraid to barter for it.
Well, sadly it is now that time: to go back and get some sleep before catching the plane home tomorrow. Buy some plasters before entering the hotel and once in the room soak those feet in warm water as they will be in a complete mess by now.
And on the final day hobble to the plane slowly. Make sure to arrive at the airport in sufficient time as to browse through the Duty Free Shops. Singapore Airport is one of the best in the world for Duty Free Shopping and although a mite expensive (as all are) there may be a few things that you want and can spend those last remaining Singapore Dollars on.
And go home!
You will be back!
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Ieuan Dolby Author and Webmaster of http://www.seadolby.com February 2003
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Published on 2/19/03