The Lion City is in a constant state of reinvention. Diana Plater experiences its ever evolving culture and nightlife with a stay at the newly transformed InterContinental Singapore.
Hotel InterContinental Singapore Room Deluxe Room Date March 2016 Best for A culture-infused retreat in the heart of the city.
The Peranakan people are the descendants of early Straits Chinese traders who settled in and around Singapore, marrying Malay women and adopting the local customs and traditions. They created a unique hybrid culture that has had a huge influence on modern Singapore, with descendants including the country’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and his wife, Kwa Geok Choo.
As well as being highly creative, they are known as hospitable people. So in this spirit, when you arrive at the InterContinental Singapore, you are ushered into the Concierge Lounge, decorated as if it is a living room.
Two large shelves contain a jumble of colourful items, specially selected to represent the city’s mix of culture, particularly around the hotel’s neighbourhood: the bustling shopping streets of Bugis and Bras Basah, close to Arab Street and Kampong Glam.
They include Peranakan – or Nyonya ware – porcelain food containers with bright blue, pink and yellow traditional prints of phoenixes and peonies, used to serve delicious “sweet and sour” dishes. I fall in love with this gorgeous porcelain, which is dotted throughout the hotel, with reproductions used as soap holders in the bathrooms. An elegant transformation The hotel’s façade is based on colourful two- to three-storey “shophouses”, where the shop was downstairs and the family lived upstairs. There are still around 6000 left in a city that values its rich heritage.
The aim of the 1995 hotel’s recent multi-million-dollar refurbishment was to keep the feel of the hotel residential. This includes a stunning makeover of the Lobby Lounge, hotel lobby, tower guest rooms and suites and fitness centre.
With white walls featuring blue and gold trimmings, my Deluxe Room in the main tower is pretty and bright, with motifs on the headboards above the beds, mirrors and air-conditioning vents modern interpretations of Peranakan designs.
Other design elements take from Singapore’s Chinese and British Colonial cultures. For example, the Lobby Lounge, where we sip tea and nibble on tiers of cakes, scones and sandwiches during High Tea, captures old English grandeur with enormous chandeliers and towering colonial pillars.
Heritage and evolution To learn more of Singaporean culture, I visit the Peranakan Museum nearby and speak to one of the guides, who still owns a pair of traditional beaded slippers made by her grandmother. At True Blue Cuisine, waitress Dorothy Tan explains the unusual menu – a blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai, Indonesian and European ingredients and method – while we sip longan and red date tea.
On Saturday afternoons, the hotel offers a free guided heritage tour and we set off to explore the once notorious Bugis Street area. Like the new National Gallery, which focuses on Southeast Asian art, we experience a flavour of Singapore’s transformation.
The city’s nightlife and bar scene is always evolving, so we explore some of the newest places. Dinner is at Bird Bird, a Thai chicken eatery owned by local Bjorn Shen. Just around the corner from lively Club Street, we sample the unusual cocktails at Operation Dagger. You have to be in the know to find the basement bar, which displays no signs. Another nifty nightlife place is The Library in Keong Saik Road, which is hidden behind a mirror and requires a password to get in. Cocktail containers range from bathtubs to rubber ducks! If you prefer rooftop bars with spectacular views, there are many to choose from including 1-Altitude, Kinki, Lantern Bar and Smoke and Mirrors.
I have to say I prefer rooftops for swimming. On a Sunday morning as I do laps in the InterContinental’s rooftop pool, the church bells of St Joseph’s toll, reminding me yet again that Singapore is the epitome of multiculturalism.
Travel file Information www.yoursingapore.com Getting there www.singaporeair.com Accommodation www.intercontinental.com/singapore