Singaporeans often joke that shopping is their national sport. With more malls and stalls than pitches and courts and with shops and stores a popular playground for Singaporeans during every tiny window of leisure time, this is easy to believe.
But joking aside, and Singaporeans aside too, the tiny island state is the serious international shoppers’ paradise. Millions of tourists pour through every year, stopping over for a couple of days, or shuttling in from Changi Airport for a few brief hours of retail therapy in Singapore’s 150 fabulous international shopping malls and in its scores of ethnic markets and bazaars.
Probably the best known and the busiest of Singapore’s shopping streets is Orchard Road It also has the highest concentration of international super-centres, among them Wisma Atria, home to the Japanese department sensation Isetan; Centre Point, boasting “sophisticated buys to sporty buys, all time favourites, to the hottest trends off the cat-walks”; time-swallowing Indochine with its convenient bored-man-sitting bar, The Sanctuary; Palais Renaissance, palace of grand marques like DKNY, Etro and Gianni Versace; exotic Far East Plaza; Ngee Ann City with a host of big brand boutiques as well as the brilliant Kinokuniya Bookstore. Last but certainly not least among Orchard Road’s top shops is the wonderful old Singapore institution, Tang’s, in business here since 1932.
Not to be overlooked either are the further-flung centres (or closer in centres, depending on where you’re lodged) Riverside Point, overlooking the river is home to high-fashion and the world’s great names sit side by side. Raffles City, on North Beach Road, Asia’s own British India sells cool confections in soft cottons and colours which smack of Somerset Maugham, the Raj and the Empire, while Debenham’s and Marks and Spencer fly a valiant flag for old mother England. The Peninsula Plaza is the home of the bargain in absolutely everything from jeans to hand-held electric fans. On ill Street, Funan Digital Life Mall’s title speaks for its cybertronic self. At Bugis Junction, between Victoria Street and North Bridge Road, alongside the 3-for-one bins of internationals like Giordano and Dorothy Perkins, refreshingly different local boutiques such as Lver sell beautiful stand-out dresses in fabulous fabrics
For the Marketeer, the bargain hunter, the shopper who has seen the $1000 European designer bag of his/her dreams and seeks its $10 Asian clone, or for those in quest of authentic local treasures, Singapore has a wealth of fascinating bazaars and markets. Bugis Street Bazaar is one of the best. Once the haunt of flamboyant transvestites and famed for its vibrant night scene, it still pulses with life and colour, day and night. Side by side with hawker food stalls, tiny boutiques sell souvenirs of every kind, from incense to indigenous art, designer knock-off bags, shoes and clothes, ethnic Indian, Chinese and Malay outfits as well truly extraordinary creations from bold young local designers. Tucked away in corners are little shrines with fresh offerings of incense, oranges, sweets and garlands of flowers.
Chinatown, south of the river, Little India, beyond Bukit Timah Road in the North West and Kampong Glam in the North east are also rich in bargains, souvenirs of every kind, along with the latest in electronic and digital wizardry. But their real shopping prizes are in their ethnic treasures. In Chinatown you’ll find cheong sams, embroidered slippers and bags, tea sets and tableware. In Little India there are exquisite hand-woven Saris, beautiful brassware, carved wooden furniture, embroidered bed-covers and tablecloths. Kampong Glam has basketry from Borneo, Indonesian wall-hangings, Middle Eastern carpets and silks, exquisite traditional Malay and Peranakan garments as well as antiques from all over the Malay Archepelago. Then, last but not least Kamping Glam’s Arab Street is one of the last of the world’s great fabric centres.
Shopping is not just plentiful it’s painless in Singapore too – no racing to meet closing-time curfews, no parcel-laden, cross-city steeple-chases, there’s always somewhere open to trade, just nearby, or ridiculously easily accessible by MRT. From some hotels, like those down in Marina Bay which connect to the fabulous Suntec City Mall, City Link Mall and Marina Square by skywalk, there’s no need even to tread Singaporean soil to shop. In others, like Raffles, with its own exclusive cluster of exquisite boutiques, selling Jim Thompson Silks, designer jewellery, teas and accoutrements, accessories and designer threads, high-class collectibles and souvenirs of the house, there’s really no need to step outside at all.