The Filthy Narcissist Guide to Singapore
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
Hi everyone! I've just returned back to Tokyo after a lovely break which I spent in Singapore. As many of my friends know, I grew up in Singapore, living there for 15 years. Visiting it again after being away for so long was such a treat, and I'm so excited to share my recommendations and the outfits I wore in the tiny island I call home. Since Singapore's popularity as a vacation destination has really blown up since "Crazy Rich Asians" came out, I hope this guide is helpful to you if you choose to visit!
Instead of my regular format where I take you through what I did day by day, I've decided to split this guide into neighbourhoods and overall tips. I think this will make it easier for you to find what you'd like to do, and give you an idea of the vibe of each of these areas in Singapore. I also think the overall tips section will make it easy for you to plan your trip and gives you options that you can find in any area of Singapore. I also added sort of a miscellaneous category at the end, for places that maybe aren't located in a lively neighbourhood but definitely worth visiting if you have extra time. Please let me know what you think of the new format, as I'd love to hear any feedback!
Overall Tips and Recommendations
To start off, Singapore is consistently hot and humid. There aren't really seasons, just a rainy season during the winter months in which thunderstorms happen more often. Dressing for this heat can be difficult I hope my outfits give you some inspiration as to how to stay cool and look cute even when its 90 degrees with 90% humidity! As for things to do, Singapore is quite a small island but has lots of really cool neighbourhoods which are pretty well connected. The MRT system makes it easy to get around and gives you access to basically any place you'd like to go on the island. It's super clean, safe and easy to use so I'd highly recommend it if you're visiting. Cabs are also really easy to get, and pretty cheap compared to most cities. If you're there for a while and know you'll be using plenty of cabs, whether it be for clubbing or just convince, I recommend you download the Comfort DelGro app from the Apple App store in order to easily book cabs.
As for food, I'll go through my favourite restaurants in each area but there are definitely some foods in Singapore that you absolutely must try. My personal favourites are laksa, hokkien mee, calamansi lime juice, milo dinosaurs, chicken rice, and kaya toast. All of these are classic Singaporean foods that are hard to find elsewhere. I personally think Singaporean food is some of the best in the world and highly recommend you try at least one local dish on your trip.
Orchard Road is the most iconic shopping district in Singapore, and my old neighbourhood! Maybe being constantly surrounded by all those shops influenced my love of fashion. Anyway, Orchard Road is Singapore's equivalent of New York City's Fifth Avenue: there's tons of glitzy shops, amazing restaurants, and beautiful buildings. Since this was where I grew up, I definitely know this neighbourhood the best.
Orchard Road is known for its shopping and whatever you'd like to buy, you'll be able to find it here. They've got everything from high end shops like Gucci, Prada and Vivienne Westwood to small boutiques. As a rule of thumb, the more expensive shops in the malls on this strip are located on the ground floor and above, while the cheaper stores are located in the basements. While this isn't the case for every single location, its pretty accurate and I hope this tip allows you to find whatever suits your budget more easily. My favourite malls in the area are Ngee Ann City, which holds Takashimaya, and the ION. These two malls have everything you could want and more and have an amazing array of shops and restaurants. Takashimaya is where I spent most of my time growing up, especially the Kinokuniya Bookstore. I highly recommend this book store as it has tons of different books in various languages, including Japanese. The selection here is amazing and they have lots of books from smaller presses, making it easy to find a unique book to read during your trip. I also would recommend checking out their books from local Singaporean authors, as many of these books are not available elsewhere. PS: There's also a secret garden at the top of one of the malls here in Orchard. It's a pain to get to, and technically trespassing, but the views of Orchard Road are unmatched. If you ever stumble upon it, do be sure to be respectful and not leave anything behind.
Food & Drink
There's about as many food options in Orchard as there are shops, so you're spoiled for choice here! The following are a few of my recommendations, but honestly, you can't go wrong with most of the mall food courts.
P.S Cafe: Expect a long wait, but the food is totally worth it. They oftentimes do a Singaporean spin on Western food, which is always delicious. They have tons of fresh salads, tasty sandwiches (my favourite is the turkey, which taste just like Thanksgiving) and a to-die-for spaghetti bolognese.
Takashimaya Food Court: This has to be my favourite food court out of all the malls. The shrimp noodles here are so good, and I especially love the taiyaki booth here that has chocolate taiyaki-one of my favourite treats growing up!
Que Pasa: Literally down the street from where I used to live is this fabulous tapas restaurant that has possibly my favourite pizza in the world. It's their Number 5 pizza that has a super thin crunchy crust, sausages, fresh tomatoes and basil. It's so, so delicious and pairs perfectly with any of their wines. I recommend asking for it with less cheese to really let the other flavours shine. They also have delicious, juicy chicken wings which are served with a sweet and sour sauce.
Crystal Jade: One of the best Chinese restaurants around, with fresh dumplings and homemade noodles. Seriously, these noodles are made right in the back and if you're lucky you can watch them smacking the fresh noodle dough while they stretch it out. It's an absolutely mesmerising process and I love watching my food being prepared. I usually prefer it to Din Tai Fung, although both are really good!
Newton Hawker Village: Newton was mentioned in Crazy Rich Asians, and for good reasons: it is one of the best hawker stalls on the island. Absolutely filled to the brim with delicious and cheap food, you're spoiled for choice here. Don't let the B ratings scare you either, all of the food is clean and well made. I highly recommend the Hokkien Mee here, washed down with a delicious pint of tiger beer.
I visited Orchard a few times during my visit, and each time wore something vibrant and pink. The first outfit is a white lace dress from Zara, which photographed beautifully with the old Peranakan houses that line my neighbourhood on Emerald Hill. The second outfit is my Juicy Couture x V-Files T-Shirt paired with my Alice and Olivia x Basquiat skirt. I think these two very graphic patterns paired well together and made for a fun, unique summer outfit.
Tiong Bahru and Haji Lane
While not being in the same location, I decided to link both Hajji Lane and Tiong Bahru together for their similar vibes. Both are some of the hippest neighbourhoods in Singapore, with independent bookstores, thrift shops, and more. These are two places that definitely won't be filled with tourists and can give you a side to Singapore you're unlikely to see anywhere else. Think of it like Williamsburg in Brooklyn, before Williamsburg became...well, Williamsburg.
Tiong Bahru: Food & Shops
Bincho: This old local-style coffee shop, also known as a kopitiam, serves up classic Singaporean food during the day and Japanese-style yakitori at night. The delicious food, day-to-night cuisine switch, and local vintage decor combine all the best Tiong Bahru has to offer!
Books Actually: This adorable little bookstore has been a staple of mine ever since I used to live here nearly 6 years ago. It's packed with works from local Singaporean and South East Asian writers, poets, artists, etc. You're sure to find interesting books here that are uniquely Singaporean and hard to find anywhere else. They also sell cool vintage household items in the back, like classic Americana mugs and occasionally, if you're lucky, some vintage Singaporean goods. One of the best things I've gotten here is a map printed of old Singapore-I highly recommend getting one, they're beautifully made, inexpensive, and a great souvenir.
P.S Cafe Petit: This version of P.S Cafe features mainly pizzas, unlike the other cafes on the island. The pizza here is amazing, made Neapolitan style in a wood-brick oven. The best part is the Chinese chilli oil they give you on the side with each pizza instead of the traditional chilli flakes. This unexpected combination works perfectly and is something I've copied when I order pizza in. Try it with the pepperoni pizza-nothing pairs better with Chinese chilli oil than pork.
Haji Lane: Food & Drinks
Good Luck Beerhouse: This may be one of my new favourite places in Singapore. This adorable little dim sum parlour serves up craft beers and some of the best har gow I've ever had. The combination is a cool twist on the traditional breakfast food, and the atmosphere is far different than your traditional tea house. Instead of lazy susans and heavy drapery, you have neon signs and bar stool seats. This was such a great place to have a drink, eat some dim sum, and catch up with friends. We even both got one of their T-shirts that has "Beer is the Enemy" printed on the back-stay tuned for it in an upcoming post!
Bar Stories: Bar stories is one of the best bars I've ever been to. They don't have a drink menu, rather you tell the bartender what kind of flavours you enjoy and they'll make up a drink for you. This place has introduced me to some of my favourite flavours, including gooseberry-something I would've never picked for myself. The bartender will help you craft a drink if you're nervous or not sure what to mention, but I find that listing just a ton of flavours you like in drinks really helps them sort out one for you! Don't be afraid to mention anything you might prefer, like a stronger liquor or more sweet base. They'll surprise you with fun ingredients and really can make you the perfect drink if you let them know what flavours you like. Just make sure you mention any allergies!
In Tiong Bahru, I wore a lovely Shanghai Tang scarf as a top and a simple denim skirt. This is similar to an outfit I wore into the Hamptons this summer, as I think scarfs as tops are both very chic and keep you cool in the summer heat. I kept the rest of the look simple, accessorising with just a Vivienne Westwood necklace which I wrapped around my neck twice to make it shorter and bring more focus to my collar bones. I think simple looks like this are necessary when it's that hot-you don't want to be feeling like a bunch of accessories are sticking to you!
Chinatown is one of my favourite areas in Singapore. It's bustling with food, history, bars, culture and there's never a chance you run out of things to do. Even after 15 years in Singapore, I still find new stuff popping up in Chinatown! Here are a few recommendations to get you started, but honestly, just walking around here you're bound to find something you like. It's also a pretty touristy spot, so if you're keen on learning about Singapore's really unique history I recommend visiting one of the museums or looking up a guided tour for the area. Also, since this is one of the most vibrant areas of Singapore, my recommendations are a little different.
Food, Drinks & Other Things to Do
A Note on Food: In general, you can't go wrong eating virtually anywhere in Chinatown. The food is pretty much amazing no matter where you go, although a little over priced because of the touristy nature of the area (and Singapore in general). Don't worry though-I'll still give you a few specific recommendations!
The Coconut Club: My best friend Riza is a fiend for Nasi Lemak, a rice and chicken dish that is absolutely delicious. He says the best is found here at Coconut Club, and although I'm not a connoisseur myself (I prefer noodles over rice any day), I have to say I agree. The chicken is so crispy, the rice is really flavourful, and the peanuts on the side are positively addictive. Mix it all up with some of the chilli sauce on the side and it's really such a balanced, flavourful meal. It's also not too expensive, with great service and cheap drinks (Get the shots! They're not as strong as you think and surprisingly tasty). It also doesn't hurt that the waitress told me I look like Gigi Hadid (a complete lie but I am a sucker for compliments).
Operation Dagger: Riza also kindly showed me this impossibly cool underground speakeasy style bar. The entrance is hidden so although it looks like you're going to an abandoned murder site at first, you open the doors to one of the sleekest bars around. The drinks here are expensive but so worth it. I'd even recommend picking up a bottle while you're here. The liquors are all crafted in house and come in very cool and surprising mixes, like honey, chocolate, rosemary, dragonfruit and more. None of these drinks are too sweet, despite a lot of them having very candy-like flavours. They all taste so unique and well-made: truly a handcrafted drink. The menu changes here so although I'd love to make some recommendations, best to just try ones that seem best to you. Just be careful-they're woefully addictive despite the high price tag, and you may end up like me, counting pennies on the bar hoping to have enough to just try one more cool flavour.
Potato Head: Not only is Potato Head home to the best burger in Chinatown, their sick store front also makes for one of the best picture spots. Check out their location tag on Instagram to see the inspiration, or check out my outfit pics down below. Definitely a cool spot for some pre-drinks, or if you're just keen on something a bit more American for lunch. They also have a rooftop bar which is an absolute must in the summer weather.
People's Park Complex Roof: Okay, so not necessarily food or drink but definitely something fun to do! Head up to the rooftop parking lot at People's Park Complex to get one of the most coveted picture spots in Singapore. It overlooks all of Chinatown, and also has a cool, old-style HDB as the backdrop, so you're spoiled for picture choice there. Everyone I've taken up here always enjoys it, whether it be for the mysterious trek up, the lovely views, or even just the nice breeze that runs up there.
Chinese Opera Teahouse: This next recommendation is a little nerdy and historical but fun nonetheless. I really love Chinese Opera theatre and there's a cute little educational tea-time and show that happens at the Chinese Theatre Circle in Chinatown. It's small, quiet, and hosted by very experienced actors. They explain the costumes, the music, the actions and history of Chinese Opera and put on a little performance at the end. Since the actors are so excited about their job, the experience is never dull and instead a fun little lesson on a very cool tradition. Maybe this is one to bring your parents to rather than your friends, but I'd still recommend checking it out.
My outfit was heavily inspired by Chinese Kung-Fu movies, thanks to my new Kenzo T-Shirt. The stylised fake movie poster on the front is absolute amazing-I was drawn to it as soon as I saw it in the store. The whole look was inspired by the headline, The All New Queen of Kung-Fu. I played that idea up with my Bruce Lee/Kill Bill yellow Onitsuka Tiger sneakers (the exact ones Uma Thurman wears!) and my Chinese jewellery from Hong Kong and The Met. These pictures were taken at the People's Park Complex Roof, just to give you an idea of what it looks like!
Marina Bay Sands
Marina Bay Sands is the Singaporean equivalent of Times Square: overpriced, crowded with tourists, and generally a place to avoid. I don't really recommend wasting your time eating or shopping here: if you want high-end shops, Orchard Road has much more atmosphere to offer. However, like Times Square, there are some perks, no matter how touristy it may be. The Gardens at Marina Bay Sands are truly worth the visit, they are absolutely breathtaking-you really feel like you're on a sci-fi set. There are two main Gardens to go to: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. They're both definitely worth seeing, but the Cloud Forest is an absolute must if you're pressed for time. I would also recommend trying to come back here at night to see the Sky Trees. Unlike the Gardens, which are housed in a greenhouse-like air conditioned room, the Sky Trees are outside and are best experienced when they light up during a cooler night. The Gardens, however, are still the main draw of Marina Bay Sands for me. The Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest are both set up like terrariums, encompassed by glass that allows for natural sunlight to come in. The Flower Dome contains an array of flowers from around the world, all in different mini-habitats. There are even playful details scattered throughout the garden, such as the Alice in Wonderland scene in the cacti or the wooden animals strewn about. The Cloud Forest is set up differently, as instead of walking through a regular garden, you explore the layers of the rainforest. This means you take an elevator up to the top and work your way down through the various layers. This allows you to see the various plants inhabit each layer, so it showcases a huge array of beautiful flowers and plants that are usually too high up for us to see. It is absolutely as cool as it sounds, and I think it makes the whole trip to MBS completely worthwhile.
For exploring the jungle, I went for a kind of Lara Croft meets early-2000s safari explorer look. I wore my I.AM.GIA shorts which have become such a favourite of mine (and are still on sale at time of writing! So get them ASAP for your spring and summer wardrobe), and paired it with my black Juicy Couture tube top. I wore my favourite yellow Onitsuka sneakers and braided my hair to keep myself cool while also adding to that early 2000s look.
Miscellaneous: Gardens, Museums and Food Recs
Clarke Quay: While I don't have any specific recommendations here except for Chilli Crab at JUMBO Seafood, Clarke Quay is great for clubbing and bars. There's tons of deals on drinks at local restaurants as it gets late as well, so I'd recommend coming in for a late dinner and pre-drinks with a big group, and then head out to the surrounding bars before hitting the local clubs. It makes for a fun and very easy evening as there's no travelling around. Also, you're absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurant, bar, and club options so just walk around and see what catches your fancy.
Holland Village: Holland Village has a ton of great little restaurants and bars, and is a nice place to stop by if you're looking for a low-key, casual dinner and drinks night. There's plenty of options here, but I recommend Cha Cha Chas, a Mexican restaurant with killer margaritas.
National History Museum: Singapore is a small little island that usually doesn't get much attention, so I absolutely love this museum which really does an amazing job at laying out Singapore's important, complex, and oftentimes forgotten history. There are tons of great exhibits, and they break down into a general overview gallery on the first floor and more specific and special galleries on the second floor. Check out the general overview one if you're short on time or just not that interested in history. The second floor is definitely worth a look if you're interested though: the collection of photographs, garments, and more on hand is truly lovely. This is the perfect place to wait out one of Singapore's characteristic flash storms, or to take a break from the heat. Head to nearby Chijmes, a historical church surrounded by restaurants, for a fun meal before or after. It's only a 10 min walk away, and puts you right across from the historic and beautiful Raffles Hotel which was unfortunately closed while I was home.
The Botanical Gardens: The Botanical Gardens here are absolutely charming and very reminiscent of Singapore's history as it was started in 1859. The gardens have won many awards and showcase Singapore's diverse and stunning wildlife. The Orchid garden is especially beautiful, as its Singapore's national flower. The gardens themselves are perfect for enjoying a sunny day out. As a kid, I used to bring a picnic here sometimes with friends and enjoy the warm weather. It does get really sunny here though, with few places to stop and get refreshments, so I'd recommend bringing sunscreen and a water bottle.
Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed this VERY long guide on what I humbly believe to be the best city in the world. I hope you enjoyed and definitely send me any pictures or let me know if you go to any of these places-I love seeing pictures of home!!