My City: Singapore

Eating out is one of the delights of the city-state, but there is also plenty to see out of town and on the water.

by Patrick Turner, World Business
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Since the split from Malaysia in 1965 when Singapore became a sovereign state, the country's economic and social development has been prodigious. The annual number of overseas visitors now stands at about 9 million, well over twice the country's population.

These visitors will mostly have arrived at Changi, often considered the world's best airport, some of them on Singapore Airlines, often considered the world's best airline. However, these are not Singapore's only superlatives: the Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City is the world's largest, the Jurong Bird Park boasts the world's highest man-made waterfall and the Port of Singapore is the world's busiest.

Eating out is one of the delights of Singapore: the choice is wide and varied, encompassing cuisines from all over the world and ranging from expensive fine dining options such as Equinox on the 69th floor of Swissotel The Stamford, where the view is stunning, to the cheap and cheerful, and often surprisingly good, hawker centres, of which my favourite is still the converted market at Lau Pa Sat, built in 1894.

Here are a handful of my other favourites, chosen because they are a direct reflection of the scene here. For example, who would think to go looking for a down-to-earth, great value French bistrot run by a real Frenchman in the middle of Little India?

And yet that is where the French Stall is to be found, along Serangoon Road. Fascinating fusions of various Asian cuisines are the speciality of the Coriander Leaf on Clarke Quay. IndoChine on the waterfront groups together dishes from Cambodia, Vietnam and neighbouring countries. A newcomer is the Song of India along Scotts Road, where you can find first-class Indian cuisine.

Getting around the island is a breeze: taxis are cheap and plentiful and can be hailed at the kerbside, while the MRT train system is clean and efficient. The network is currently being enlarged by the construction of the new 33.3km Circle Line, which, when finished in 2010, will be the world's longest fully automatic heavy rail metro.

One of the advantages of a small city such as Singapore is that you don't have to travel far to get out of town. A good base for your stay could be the Scarlet Hotel, housed in a row of conservation houses just on the edge of Chinatown.

If you have the chance to take an hour or so off, take a taxi to Upper Peirce Reservoir. The ride goes through some of the tropical rain forest that still thrives on the island, and you will certainly see some of the monkeys that roam free there. Another forest expedition is the night safari up at the Singapore Zoo, itself worth a visit if you have time. Close by is the Mandai Orchid Garden, a delightfully peaceful haven.

A boat ride from Clifford Pier around the southern islands is another pleasant and instructive way of discovering Singapore. The boat heads out of Marina Bay, past the site of the future 'integrated resorts' and into the Straits of Singapore, which link the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea, where you are brought very close to the holding area for ships waiting to enter Singapore's docks. A little later, as you pass some of the smaller islands, you can see the land reclamation going on. Since independence, Singapore has increased its land surface through reclamation by 20%.

Back on dry land, if you are in town on a weekend evening, try and get to the Esplanade concert hall to hear a concert by the world-class Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Finish your evening across the road in one of my favourite places in the whole world, the Town Restaurant in the Fullerton Hotel, out on the riverside terrace watching the boats go by under the tropical night sky.

Patrick Turner is an affiliate professor of entrepreneurship and family enterprise at INSEAD.

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