So, off to Singapore we head again – Jo, Erin and I. We meet at the airport, me grumpy and tired after a long day at work, a longer flight than I’m used to for a trip to Singapore and a never-ending queue at immigration, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. The girls have arrived before me and all grumpiness is left behind when I see their smiles and we head out into the warm Singapore after-midnight air.
A different hotel will play host to us this time as we wanted to be nice and close to shopping and dining and on as good a budget as we could get in Singapore. And with those guidelines in place, we find ourselves at the Hotel Jen Orchard Gateway, conveniently located at the back of the 313 Somerset shopping mall. There isn’t much time for exploring given the time of night (or should I say morning), but there’ll be plenty of time for that tomorrow – I mean later today.
Priorities are an important thing, and we made sure we were on top of ours by spending our first day in Singapore (after a couple hours sleep of course) at the OPI Salon at The Forum. I love this shop and visit every time I’m in town because they do such a thorough job and I always feel so refreshed when I walk out the door. So for the next few hours we sit and have our hands a feet buffed, filed, dipped in wax, lotioned up and painted to perfection. The hardest thing about this morning, is choosing what nail polish colour to pick!
Relaxation is hungry work though, which means that next up on the list, its dumpling time!
Small pieces of dough, boiled, steamed or fried to perfection hiding an array of fillings such as vegetables, mutton, prawns and chicken – these little parcels are heaven on a plate and usually appear on our Singapore itinerary somewhere. History tells us that the story of the dumpling began when a man nicknamed “the Medical Saint”, better known as Zhang Zhongjing, returned to his hometown during winter to find the villagers suffering from frostbite. He wrapped mutton and medicinal herbs in dough skin and fed them to the sick in the hope of curing the frostbite. The dumplings were considered a way of warming the skin and promoting blood flow. But they were also incredibly tasty!
Today we are loading up on them at the world famous Din Tai Fung. Started by Bingyi Yang in Taiwan, DTF was originally a shop that sold oil. When tinned oil went on sale in 1972, his sales plummeted and searching for a new direction, Bingyi and his wife started making dumplings. This new direction paid off and the dumpling store became a word of mouth success story. DTF is Michelin star rated and ranked one of the world’s Top 10 Best Restaurants by the New York Times. The word dumplings also includes har gow, siew mai, cha siu bao, lo mai gai, crystal dumplings and wontons.
Of course the best way to eat off dumplings is to shop and being on Orchard Road there is not shortage of places to do that! From Sephora to Zara, Mango to Royce and my favourites – Charles and Keith and Kinokuniya. Kinokinuya has the most incredible range of books as I’ve mentioned before, but Charles and Keith is incredible. Charles and Keith is a Singapore shoe company founded by brothers – you guessed it – Charles and Keith (Wong) and there’s hardly a mall in Singapore where you won’t find one of their stores. The first store was located in the Amara Shopping Centre in Tanjong Pagar in 1996 and today you can find them throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia and the Middle East. They stock some incredible shoes, or as Erin once called them “art for your feet”. And the most incredible thing about them is the price. I have to pop into at least two stores on each visit.
Despite plans for a big night, after a few glasses of sparkling wine and with our 2am arrival and long day of pampering starting to hit hard, we end up deciding on a nice dinner at Chijmes. Pronounced “chimes”, this history building complex began life as Caldwell House in 1840, having been built for Magistrate Clerk, H C Caldwell. From 1852 through to 1892, Father Jean-Marie Beurel bought the parcels of land surrounding Caldwell House and created a Convent, Orphanage, Charitable Institution, Chapel, primary and secondary schools and a boarding house. The boarding house was close din 1963 due to dwindling demand created by the changing times. The primary and secondary schools were demolished to make way for the MRT headquarters, but the remaining buildings were given back to the government in 1989, before being renamed Chijmes in 1990. For the next six years, Chijmes underwent extensive renovation works to convert it into a major commercial complex. Further works to turn the space into a ‘unique lifestyle venue’ commenced in 2011 and were only recently completed.
It’s a beautiful space – stunning buildings filled with restaurants and bars with swathes of green grass – a calming atmosphere hidden within the walls of the complex. You’d almost be forgiven for not going inside to explore the hidden gem. But once you do, you’ll keep coming back.