The last thing I expected to do on my travels was to go shopping in Singapore. I’m not much of a shopper at the best of times and, in a country with reputably hefty price tags, I thought my wallet could just about handle some street wandering, a museum and perhaps a few of those tourist ultra-destinations Singapore does so well. In a happy turn of events, however, I had a little more to play with than I’d anticipated due to the kindness of the folk at Intercontinental Hotel Group’s IHG Rewards Club. They offered me a few nights in Singapore so, as you can see from my write-up on their content hub Rewarding Experiences, I chose their Holiday Inn Express on Orchard Road – when in doubt, go central.
I look like a derp-y pillock in that photo, but taking selfies is embarrassing enough without doing it in front of a hotel, so it was in and out (actually, out and in) like a ninja.
With infallible service and a pristine suite overlooking Singapore’s skyline, Holiday Inn Express was the perfect respite at the end of a long day walking around this big and beautiful city. You can see more about my thoughts on the room here!
A shopping destination itself, Orchard Road is a mirror image of Oxford Street back home in London. I walked it a few times, stopping for dim sum and an interesting little exhibition on the evolution of Singaporean craft over the past 50 years (the country is celebrating its 50th birthday this year! fanfare), but mainly it was a means to an end. I went to the neighbourhood around Tiong Bahru Market* twice and, when I got lost there, I took a taxi to Arab Street. It was on these trips that I accidentally stumbled across the most perfect boutique shopping destinations.
*where you can eat tip-top lemon chicken with the locals for the princely sum of $2.50, or £1.25. That’s Singapore on a shoestring right there!
Having never heard of Haji Lane before (I should probably start researching my destinations a little more thoroughly; it’s rather well-known), I came by it after walking the perimeter of the Sultan Mosque. I was drawn in by some beautiful murals down a side street and turned onto a strip of boutique shops made for well-monied hipsters in denial. One of the interiors shops looked like the bloggersphere had exploded and fallen into the perfect flat-lay of copper, marble and wire baskets. I’m not going to pretend I’m not a cliche; I would have bought roughly 100% of their stock if they could have shipped it back to London for me. I accidentally walked onto the set of a photoshoot and ended up befriending the lot of them; I sat on a skateboard swing; and I chuckled at the turbo-modern #SelfieCoffee, which prints a picture of your face onto the froth of your coffee (alas, the selfie machine was broken that day; bust in a fit of vanity, I presume).
My point is this: don’t believe the hype. Shopping in Singapore isn’t just Armani Exchange and Paul Smith; there are boutiques aplenty that better reflect the personality of the citizens. Here are a couple of my favourites for your consumption:
Following Singaporean jewellery brand, Fresh From The Kiln, on Instagram has given me an unexpected lust for modern crystals (?! I know), so I 100% picked one up when I saw them displayed in treasure trove Dulcetfig. Expect eclectic, timeless vintage jewellery as well as garments, gifts and cards.
The only cat cafe in London (maybe England?) is, inevitably, in east London and, like most things in east London, there’s a six month waiting list to schedule a visit. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I walked straight into Meomi Cat Cafe and was one of three small groups in there, sipping coffees and playing with the cats. Absolutely pristine, the cafe is genuinely home to the cats (they stay there overnight, which makes for some amusing CCTV recording, according to one of the girls who works there) and they certainly own the place. If ever there was an advert for adopting cats, this would surely be it; all different breeds, each one is as beautiful as the last (though my favourite was Frowny, who took a liking to the inside of my handbag).
Ok, so it’s technically more of a cafe than a shop, but they peddle cat merch in the foyer, so I’m slipping it in here for that. And not just because it’s a reason to show you how beautiful these kitty cats are.
Mondays Off is cute as a button. With a table full of independently published books, rails full of kids’ clothing for the hippest little toddlers and artisanal snacks, I spent a long while snooping and chatting with the sales assistant. The first thing I picked up, and indeed bought, was a book of modern poetry compiled by Pooja Nansi entitled Love Is An Empty Barstool. Sayeth the blurb:
“The poems in this collection are best read with a glass of single malt but they work equally well in a quiet place at twilight. Test on a small area first – especially if you are in possession of a broken (or breaking) heart and see your bartender immediately if side effects persist.”
The sales assistant came over and told me it was brilliant, and the books were the main reason she works there. Well, if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me; though I doubt she was embarrassing enough to get teary eyed while reading it over some dim sum. It’s published by Math Print Press, a small press publisher of poetry, new wave novellas, full-length novels and essays, and is an imprint of BooksActually. Which brings me on to…
In a last-minute snap realisation that I was off to Singapore with no research, I fired off an email to a family friend who relocated to Singapore a few years ago. Although out of the city during my visit, she implored me to visit BooksActually, an independent bookshop that mainly sells literature penned by Singaporeans. On day one, I searched for it to no avail and in the midday heat, hopped in a taxi just for some shade. However, after realising just how good my Love Is An Empty Barstool book was, and that it was connected in some way to BooksActually, I tried again. I’m delighted I did, because it ended up being one of my favourite moments in Singapore. I picked up two more books, Love, Or Something Like Love (Math Paper Press again) and Alain De Botton’s Essays In Love and if I’d had time, I’d have devoured them in the delightful-looking PS Cafe just around the corner.
Incidentally, I’m well aware of the running theme of my book choices…
A short stay shopping in Singapore (and doing some other things, promise) was the perfect way to start my trip. For most of it, I’ll be on my own and although I’ve done short solitary stints abroad a few times, it’s a little more daunting when you’re going to potentially go weeks on end without talking to anyone you know. As an English-speaking city with taxis everywhere, this city was the perfect stepping stone between London and Asia. And coming home to a big room with strong WiFi, a hella view and the comfiest bed eased me into the nomadic lifestyle I’ll be adopting this winter. I’m approaching 26 now, and that’s just far too old for hostels and cockroaches anyway.
Thank you to IHG Rewards Club for their gift of a short stay exploring and shopping in Singapore. I have contributed to their content hub, Rewarding Experiences, which you can see here. This is the first post in a series, as I will be their guest at various locations in Asia this winter! x