If your idea of heaven is wall-to-wall shops, then a holiday in Singapore will make you think you are in paradise. At the last count there were 138 shopping malls within Singapore’s city boundary and, although I felt my wife made us visit all of them in the month we were there, logic says that is probably an overstatement!
As with all serious expeditions, planning and preparation is everything, so we started by buying a travel ticket on the MTR (Mass Transportation System) underground for S$20 each – and we still had S$5 left at the end of the month of virtually daily use. The MRT is easy to access with tube stations on almost every block and the map will be familiar to anyone who has travelled on the London underground. However, don’t try to match the ‘wiring style’ diagram MTR map with a geographical map of Singapore as I did, only to become hopelessly confused by the water inlets, river and coastline. Eventually I realised it was best to forget about logic and instead concentrating on the start and finishing points of our journey and then following the underground map without question.
The first mall we visited was Suntec City. Still experimenting with the MTR network, we got off one stop early and found ourselves on the edge of the central city area adjacent to a duel carriageway. Puzzled, we stood at a corner poring over a tourist map but within moments a passing businesswoman, to judge by her dress, stopped and enquired if we were visitors and whether she could help – in faultless English by the way. On hearing that we were looking for Sun Tec City, she told us it was a complicated route by foot, so retraced her steps with us for at least half a mile, past her office explaining that she was on her lunch break, and on for a hundred yards or so until we had Suntec in our sights. En route she gave us a running history of Singapore and its buildings – she was obviously very proud of her city – and among other things we learned that the Singapore Flyer, a larger version of the London Eye, was originally built with the wheel turning in an ‘out-to-sea’ direction. However, as it was losing money, the owner realised that under his religion, it signalled that his luck was being directed out to sea and therefore lost, so he had the edifice dismantled and turned around by 180 degrees so that the wheel turned landwards so as to blow his luck in. What an incredible and costly procedure! We asked her if the wheel was now profitable and she laughed and told us no!
Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City
Suntec City has over 240 different shops spread over four ‘wings’ and four levels plus over 100 food and drink outlets of varying sizes and types. Being an average male, I hate shopping, but even I was transfixed by the sheer magnitude, the sense of spaciousness and the ‘added extras’ such as the fountains and decor, the range of banks, doctors, opticians and even a dental practice with a tongue twister name to remember – Toofdoctor! It really is more of a town within a city than a mere shopping mall.
Another day we took the MTR to the famous Orchard Road – which is the Singapore equivalent of our Oxford Street but where Oxford Street is bisected by a road, Orchard Street in divided by a duel carriageway, so underpasses and bridges are used to cross sides. I have to confess that a combination of the heat, humidity and the overwhelming number of stores disappearing down both sides of the carriageway, was too much and after a cold drink and a sandwich from a street stall, we got back on the MRT and went home. Orchard Road is for the dedicated shopper and my advice is to travel there by air-conditioned cab, so you are fresh and ready to tackle the shops!
Our personal favourite mall was Bugis Junction in Victoria Street – slightly smaller than the norm and so more intimate and less intimidating. We also liked the ‘market stalls’ down the centre of the walkways that brought a feeling of life and bustle to what sometimes can be a somewhat sterile atmosphere of the giant malls. It also features an outdoor area flanked by cafes where, while my wife continued to shop, I was content to drop and watch the World walk by over a coffee.
On one memorable evening, we visited the Vivo City Mall to see the (then) new Bond film, Skyfall in a giant multiplex where, if you choose, you can watch the film in reclining armchairs and have food served to you during the film. Luxury indeed, but be warned, the air conditioning is set to ‘ice’ so pack a woolly jumper!
Vivo City Mall is located in the harbour front precinct of Bukit Merah and even when we arrived at 7.00pm it was packed with shoppers on every one of its many floors. Our party decided to eat before the film and found a Thai restaurant. The waiters apologised that there were no seats left inside and showed us to their outside balcony area. Once seated we realized we were looking straight across the water to Sentosa Island – the sun was dipping and all the lights were on – I would happily have paid the price of the meal just for the iconic view. It was sensational – and the food was excellent as well!
But no tour of Singapore’s shopping malls would be complete without a mention of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands – one of the most amazing and exclusive shopping malls in the World. Visually arresting – it sits underneath a triple towered hotel that has a ‘boat restaurant on the top’.
Its higher floors have the usual top name brands and shops plus an ice rink on the lower floor. But, as we discovered on our second visit, the best way is to arrive on the MTR, which decants you at the entrance to the lowest level. As you walk down the stairs you encounter a Venice style canal stretching in front of you with Gondolas’ ready to row you the few hundred yards to where a large water feature pool sits surrounded by restaurants.
We chose to walk alongside the canal and ogle the shops, most of whom took the word exclusive to new levels. The Ferrari store, which exists to sell memorabilia and branded goods to racing fans, has a real Ferrari racing car in its window as a prop! That must be the most costly piece of point-of-sale merchandise anywhere! A little further along is the entrance to one of Singapore’s licenced casino’s. Entry is free to non-Singaporeans, but you have to present your passport.
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands is where the real money is and where it shops – but there’s nothing to stop you window shopping and dreaming!