The Search for Singapore’s Very Own Grand Budapest Hotel

The Search for Singapore’s Very Own Grand Budapest Hotel

I’ve watched the Grand Budapest Hotel twice. On the surface, you might think this is yet another witty comedy; however, it is more than that, in all Wes Anderson’s films, there is always a melancholic undertone buried effortlessly beneath all the meticulous artistry and scenery. The Grand Budapest Hotel was inspired by the work of Austrian memoirist and fiction writer, Stefan Zweig. It is about the loss of a world, the end of an era caused by the First World War.

And this is why I am intrigued by Wes Anderson’s work, his whimsical world, his tales within a tale and a sense of escapism.
I thought he should make a film in Singapore too, based on his idea of Singapore, wildly different from what you might have seen in Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians.

For those wondering what makes Wes Anderson’s films, Wes Anderson? Here’s a list of his visual style:

1. Patterns
2. Symmetry
3. Futura Font
4. Art Nouveau and Art Deco Colour Palette
5. Worlds within a world

So, this turns into a quest: to find a Wes Anderson-inspired film set on this little red dot, which leads to the discovery of The Great Madras. It is one of the last few remaining pre-war residential buildings in Singapore developed by the now-defunct Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in the 1950s.

I always thought that most of the pre-war apartments sit in Tiong Bahru, a.k.a. the hipster neighbourhood of Singapore, so when I chanced upon this hotel in Little India, it was a delightful surprise!

The building has been carefully restored by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore and is given a new lease of life as a 34-room boutique hotel, owned by the same group behind The Daulat, which is just a few units walk away.

Located on Madras Street, The Great Madras is both a hostel and a small boutique hotel that is big on personality and comfort. Whether you’re a local yearning to escape the city buzz or a traveller on a voyage of discovery, this place is like the whimsical world in Wes Anderson’s films.

The Great Madras

Image courtesy of The Great Madras

There is a café, barbershop, laundromat, and a rooftop pool. What piques my interest the most are the little details they have injected into the space, such as the quirky neon-lit signage, vintage furniture and tropical inspired wallpapers. They are artfully done while paying homage to the long-forgotten Art Deco era that is the heritage of this building.

Image of the Hotel Lobby, courtesy of The Great Madras

Image of the Hotel Reception, courtesy of The Great Madras

Formerly a low-rise block of 3-and-2 room apartment developed by the now-defunct SIT in the 1950s, which feature high ceilings, large windows and open balconies for tropical living. 

Image of the rooftop pool, courtesy of The Great Madras

While the Grand Budapest Hotel calls to mind the period of decadence in Europe set against stunning Alpine scenery, The Great Madras is located on a secluded corner in Little India, and the atmosphere here befits a city retreat. I think most would agree that luxury in our circumstances today is not about having marble bathrooms; it’s much more about having time and tranquility, the chance to enjoy a delicious brew, put your feet up and chill by the pool.

And better still, The Great Madras comes with an insta-worthy rooftop pool.

The hotel lobby is also part of the dining space. The cafe serves Catalonian-inspired dishes. 

Even the tropical wallpaper seems to have a life of its own, featuring the people behind The Great Madras, iconic landmarks of Singapore and local delicacies.

Well, just to be clear, The Great Madras does not have an international breakfast spread nor offers a panoramic view of the city, but it does have cosy bedrooms, retro-chic bathrooms and old school amenities.

I guess the dilemma of a city dweller is never fully resolved – sometimes we like the city only when we are far from it, for instance, when we are looking from above with alcoholic drink in hand, maybe because everything looks the same on the ground level, of steel and glass. Then again, with buildings like The Great Madras, it inspires nostalgia and curiosity, which leads us to imagine what Singapore used to be like back then.

It is an inconvertible truth that there is no perfect hotel, despite the regularity with which “perfection” is proffered.  We all have different expectations, and I consider ‘perfection’- as a state of mind and doesn’t necessarily mean you need to bust your budget to achieve it. Perhaps, you just need to make sure it looks perfect for the ‘gram.

In need of a whimsical escape from the city? Check in here:

The Great Madras hotel at 23/32 Madras Street

Nearest MRT Station: Jalan Besar

 

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Fun Places in Singapore to Discover with Your Kids

Fun Places in Singapore to Discover with Your Kids

No experience in life can ever be as meaningful as that of spending quality time with your children. Watching that angelic smile bloom shyly on their face before erupting into an exuberant grin, the bubbling of laughter so pure no mineral water harvested from pristine icebergs in the alp can match—parenthood is its own reward.

Until you realise that you’re going to be spending the next decade or so together. Before you start panicking, here are three child-friendly—and parent-accommodating—activities to do in Singapore that will simultaneously preserve your sanity, keep your children entertained, and forge that quality bond together.

For the Hyperactive Child: Climb Central

Climb Central is an indoor rock-climbing gym that caters to climbers of all experience. As long as your children are at least 5 years-old, heavier than 20kg, and above 1.1 metres tall, they can scale up the walls like the twitchy spiders they are. (It’s a great way to exhaust them so both you and your children can have a peaceful night at home.)

Climb Central conducts a compulsory safety briefing for all first-timers, so rest assured that safety is their top priority. With their range of traditional top-rope walls and auto-belay systems, you can be the literally supportive parent and belay your children, or race them up to the wall as both of you are hoisted up by the auto-belays. Your children will probably be much faster than you, though.

Climb Central Locations

Kallang Wave Mall, 1 Stadium Place,  #B1-01, Singapore 397628;

Nearest station: Stadium

Novena Velocity, 238 Thomson Road, #03-23/25, Singapore 307683

Nearest station: Novena

 

Opening Hours

Mon to Fri: 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Weekend and Public Holiday: 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM

For the Fearless Child: Airzone

If your children have ever wanted to walk on air, Airzone is the perfect place to bring them. The facility comprises several nets spanning across multiple levels and suspended over the atrium of City Square Mall. Even though the nets are engineered to be super strong structurally (each net can hold two fully packed buses), they also allow anyone on them to look all the way down to the ground level. Once your children get over their initial fear (if they have any at all), it is pure exhilaration to feel like walking on air. Now everyone can be Elphaba, as long as you are below 120kg. Children who are below 7 years old must be accompanied by a supervising adult.

Airzone comprises several activity zones, such as a 3-dimensional maze, the world’s only suspended ball pit, and a suspended slide. In fact, you are free to join your children within the Airzone facility as it is open to people of all ages. But if heights are not your friend, there is always Don Don Donki at the basement of the mall.

Airzone

City Square Mall, 180 Kitchener Road, Singapore 208539

Nearest station: Farrer Park

Opening Hours

Daily from 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM (Last admission at 9PM)

For the Child of Nature: Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden

Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden, located in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, is the first garden in Asia built with children in mind, and it certainly shows. Unlike most other areas of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the space in Jacob Ballas is highly interactive. Alongside the myriad of plants, there is a suspension bridge, tree houses, a farm, a forest with a stream and ponds, all features that are guaranteed to attract your children like honey to a Pooh bear. Moreover, children are encouraged to touch, jump, climb, play with everything in the garden, and in so doing, learn about the ecological environment.

What is a parent to do at a children’s garden, you ask? Well, after your children have played horticulturalist for a day, usher them to the main area of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Take it from us: they’d be happy just running around the lawns while you lounge on a mat, a glass of ice-cold rosé in one hand and a bar of dark chocolate in the other.

Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden

481 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259769

Nearest station: Botanic Gardens

Opening Hours

Daily from 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM (Last admission at 6:30PM) Closed on Mondays except on public holidays.

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5 Things to do in Singapore After Dark

5 Things to do in Singapore After Dark

“Singapore is so hot.”

Yes, we can’t help it. How do our bodies cope with the heat? We perspire and then we whine about our sweat drenched outfits and ruined makeup in the day. So how? Stay indoors, or simply go out at night!

When it is perpetually summer in Singapore, there is no way to escape the heat, but we think we can alleviate your heat stress a little. At the same time, you can still look good and pose for your #ootd or #wiwt, with these 5 cool recommendations.

1. JEWEL @ Changi Airport

The highly anticipated man-made marvel has finally opened its doors on 17 April 2019 to the public after 5 years in the making! Home to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, tens of thousands of trees, plants and shrubs, an indoor mirror maze and playground, a movie theatre and over 250 retail outlets, you can easily spend a day exploring this one-of-a-kind lifestyle hub. Think the airport is only a point of transit? You might want to think again. 

JEWEL is even more spectacular at night when the waterfall transforms into a light-and-sound show. Go up to level 5 and take in the sights of the urban indoor forest from on high, or even better, choose to dine underneath the stars.

Where: Jewel Changi Airport, 78 Airport Boulevard, Singapore 819666

2. MARQUEE Singapore

If getting high on music is what you’re after, then you have to check out the newest and biggest entertainment night club, MARQUEE Singapore at Marina Bay Sands! Take your partying to new heights, and we mean it literally, where else could you dance away on a Ferris wheel or go on a mega slide just for funall in one location?

Wait, is this a carnival or a nightclub? Glad you asked– MARQUEE hails from Las Vegas and aims to redefine your clubbing experience: it is not a night spent jostling for floorspace in a crowd bigger than the venue. Branded as a multi-concept dining and entertainment destination, this mega-club promises to take your regular clubbing experience to the next level.  

Where: Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue, B1-67, Singapore 018956

3. Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

If you’re still not over your recent Europe trip, head over to Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall (VTCH). Its neoclassical architecture is just what you need to feel like you’re on the other side of the world again.

VTCH comprises two blocks of buildings which were constructed more than 43 years apart, in 1862 and 1905, and joined by a clock tower. As the oldest performing arts venue in Singapore and a national monument gazetted since 1992, it is worth paying a visit to bask in its elegant atmosphere.

Where:  9 Empress Pl, Singapore 179556

4. Marina Barrage 

Enjoy a breezy, unobstructed view of the city skyline from Marina Barrage an engineering marvel designed to boost Singapore’s water supply as well as double up as a recreational site. If the sweltering heat is stopping you from checking out this place, head over after dusk and that’s when you’ll see fanciful, neon-lit kites dominate the cloudless skies. 

Where: 8 Marina Gardens Dr, Singapore 018951

5. Immersive Theatre and Dining Experience 

If all the above options do not pique your interest, and you’re looking for something out of the ordinary and a delicious good time, book an immersive dining experience with ANDSOFORTH!

According to their website, ANDSOFORTH is a pop up restaurant specialising in fusing art & dining in non-linear experiences. 

So, if you have an appetite for surprises and the unexpected, go ahead book a seat with ANDSOFORTH. The theme and venue are kept secret and will only be revealed to registered guests on the day itself.

Where:  A mystery to be savoured

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Weekender’s Guide: Kampong Glam, Singapore

Weekender’s Guide: Kampong Glam, Singapore

For such a small country, there are surprisingly many locales of interest in Singapore. 

Yes, we may never have the majesty of Mt Fuji in our backyard, nor be able to hop on a train (the real type, complete with bentos and whistles) to find a village taken over by cats, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have adventures to call our own on this tiny island.

All it takes is a little willingness to explore.

Photograph by____.lam via Instagram.

In spite of our rapid pace of urbanisation (or perhaps because of it), we decided that it was important to acknowledge and preserve our history. Our colonial past – with its multi-faceted character – became a focusing lens through which we view our future.

Singapore is a melting pot not only in name, but in heart and spirit. Alongside the Malay natives, Chinese and Indian migrants settled and grew roots into the land.

Work, trade and a brief wartime occupation provided further opportunities for the races to grow together, culminating in the easy interaction and co-mingling enjoyed by all Singaporeans today. 

For the restless among us, all these leaves plenty to explore – from different cuisines, each delicious in their own way, to colourful festivals and celebrations that happen year round, to distinctive architecture styles that provide glimpses into hopes and dreams.

Kampong Glam/Beach Road

Photo source: Visit Singapore

Kampong Glam was set aside for Sultan Hussein Mohamed Shah and his, I kid you not, 600 families. There were also a host of Bugis, Arabs, Javanese, and Boyanese who took up residence in the area.

Today, it’s still a hub for the Muslim community, but there have been significant infusions of Turkish and Mediterranean influences in the area.

As a result, the downtown enclave – conveniently located next to the Arts District – has taken on a sort of Far Eastern bohemian vibe, with the colourful threads of Islam-infused cultures coming together to weave an enchanting tapestry.

Where to Stay

Photograph by thepodcapsulehotel via Instagram

The POD @ Beach Road is perhaps the most unique hotel experience out of all.

The rooms adopt a capsule-like structure, with minimalistic designs, providing fuss-free living. There are mixed rooms, male-only, and female-only rooms so you can pick whichever makes you more comfortable. They even have a Ladies-only floor to ensure your stay is worry-free.

It’s one thing to stay in a hotel room with different designs and inflexions, it’s another to sleep in a pod. Just the experience of sleeping in a capsule-like environment is worth a try.

Eat and Drink

Photograph by _vphang via Instagram

Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle is located in a rather nondescript coffee shop, and if you weren’t specifically finding it, you probably would just dismiss it as just another typical coffee shop. Alas, the snaking, hour-long queue gives it away.

Yes, the queue can stretch to an hour long, but I suppose that’s only natural for the only other 1-Michelin-star hawker in Singapore.

With springy, al dente noodles, well-marinated minced meat, and tender liver slices, this is one heck of a noodle bowl. Oh, not forgetting the fried sole fish which takes the flavour profile to a whole new level. But be warned, the vinegar is overpoweringly strong in this one.

So if you don’t like vinegar, this bowl isn’t for you, Michelin starred or not.

See and Do

Photograph by mattwildmedia via Instagram

Ah Haji Lane, the hipster enclave of Singapore.

Littered all over the area are cafes, boutique shops, bars and restaurants that scream hip and indie. The art murals you see just add to the hip factor of the neighbourhood.

It’s easy to see why droves of people spend their entire day in Haji Lane – if it’s not having a photoshoot with the murals, it’s sipping a cuppa joe in one of the many cafes.

Just a stone’s throw away, The Bencoolen provides a shopping experience you won’t readily find in glitzier spots like Orchard Road or Marina Square. 

Watch collectors will be delighted by the impressive range on display at the various independently run shops, whose languid atmosphere hide a spirited bargain waiting to be struck.

If you’re looking for the latest Casios and G-Shocks, head for the basement for some of the best prices on the island.

Top image by____.lam via Instagram.

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Weekender’s Guide: Clarke Quay, Singapore

Weekender’s Guide: Clarke Quay, Singapore

At it’s most basic, taking a vacation simply means taking a break from routine, swapping out the same-ole for something new or rarely indulged in. Luckily for us here in Singapore, it’s easy to do just that.

Photograph by zellevia via Instagram.

Sure, we could insist that a real vacation starts with checking ourselves in at the airport, but to do so would be to miss out on the gems that are waiting in our very own backyard. 

That’s why staycations are the ideal recreational activity to complement our busy lives. They allow us a much needed escape, but doesn’t demand as much planning as a full-fledged overseas holiday.

At their best, staycations reward with unexpected surprises – such as a rooftop pool just cosy and high up enough to make you feel like the king of your little world; or the bakery at the end of the alley with the lightest, most delicate sponge cake you have ever tasted. 

So the next time the travel bug bites, stay home for a staycation instead. 

Clarke Quay

Photo by Marcin Kaliński on Unsplash

Situated along the Singapore River, its history is tied inextricably to its water companion.

Once being a conduit for trade as well as a major zone for transshipment, there were numerous godowns, commercial houses, shophouses and even a dock located along the river in the Clarke Quay area in the early years of Singapore’s history.

Today, these godowns and houses have been retrofitted and remolded to become bars, restaurants and clubs. Known for its buzzing night scene, Clarke Quay is no stranger to droves of people partying into the wee hours of the morning.

Where to Stay

Hotel Clover The Arts may not have much lore and history, but dang if it isn’t the prettiest.

From the exterior to the individual rooms, the hotel walls are decked in colourful and vibrant art murals that will be sure to mesmerise you at every corner.

With a mission to promote creativity in Singapore, Hotel Clover The Arts reached out to different arts and design schools for students to compete in a mural competition for 19 out of their 44 rooms. Combined with artists, every room features diverse styles, ranging from street art, line art and manga.

Trust me, you’ve never seen hotel rooms like these before.

Photograph by hotelclover on Instagram

Eat and Drink

It’s past midnight and your stomach is growling after a few drinks and partying, dining establishments are closed and food is hard to come by.

Enter Ramen Keisuke Lobster King, your saving grace, opening till 5am in the morning.

Helmed by Ramen King Keisuke Takeda, Ramen Keisuke Lobster King is one of the many successful concepts under the Ramen Keisuke banner. Drawing techniques from French culinary styles as well as flavours from the famous French lobster bisque, the ramen broth here takes anywhere from 6-12 hours to simmer and brew.

Another great soup-based option is Song Fa Bak Kut Teh which serves up a delicious pork bone broth famed as a comfort food throughout the region. Given that you’re chillaxing on your staycation, this is the perfect time to wait patiently in line for a lip-smacking bowl of heaven.

See and Do

Photograph by pamgoestravelling via Instagram

These statues seek to commemorate other notable figures in the early years of Singapore’s history, looking to add diversity and complexity to our already rich history.

So you know what that do. Grab your portable charger and head for a walk, and get ready to flood your Instagram feed with selfies!

And when you’ve had your fill of history-drenched selfies, take a seat by the river to cool off before heading off to investigate the various museums, sculptures and historical artifacts that dot the stretch. 

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Weekender’s Guide: Chinatown, Singapore

Weekender’s Guide: Chinatown, Singapore

With a total landmass of less than 750 sq km, you could say Singapore is a small country. Tiny, even.

In between work that never seems to end (Singaporeans work among the longest hours on the planet) and the four-walls of my HDB flat, Singapore just feels… monotonous and stuffy. It feels like there’s no escape, which in turn, makes me think of fleeing to an idyllic place outside of Singapore (and no, Sentosa does not count).

Photograph by cegoh via Pixabay
Yes, it’s easy to fall into such a trap, because we’re hardwired to associate travel with exotic locales and new experiences. But as I recently discovered, with Singapore’s unique blend of cultures and heritage, there’s more than enough here for a staycation that’s as refreshing as any overseas trip.

 

Would you be surprised to learn that our island possesses some of the most culturally enriching experiences you can find in the region? Don’t be; we are, afterall, sitting at the crossroads between East and West,

With 2019 being the bicentennial anniversary of the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, there’s perhaps no better time to have a staycation in Singapore. You’ll get a much needed break, while having fun learning about the rich cultural history that has formed the bedrock of our communities.

Chinatown

Photograph by alex_alderuccio via Instagram
Chinatown began life as the Chinese enclave designated by Sir Stamford Raffles in his Town Plan in 1822. Raffles derived the concept from his earlier travels in colonial towns like Georgetown in Penang. And thus, the area west of the Singapore River became Chinatown, becoming the homes of many Chinese immigrants, as well as a transit point for coolies (unskilled workers) heading to Malaya.

The long and narrow streets, lined with the now iconic shophouses, were designed to evoke the layout of the towns back in China, offering some degree of familiarity. Much of that has been retained today, with no small effort going into remodelling and preservation works over the years. Nearly 200 years later, Chinatown has grown to become the foremost historic district in Singapore, attracting no shortage of visitors all year round. If you want to steep yourself in Singapore’s Chinese culture or immerse yourself in one of the most bustling areas in Singapore, look no further than Chinatown.

Where to Stay

Mirroring a larger design trend seen in Singapore, Hotel 1929 is a marriage between its old colonial façade and its modern chic interior. Situated in the heart of Chinatown along Keong Saik Road, the hotel is one of the many shophouses that dot the Chinatown enclave.

True to its name, Hotel 1929 is made up of 5 conserved shophouses that were built in 1929. If you’re worried that the hotel feels or looks “old”, know that the 33 rooms they offer are fully refurbished, featuring clean and sleek designs.

Move a little towards the periphery of Chinatown and you’ll reach Ann Siang Hill. Here, you have a new boutique hotel quietly making waves in the staycation scene in Singapore. The newest conservation effort by property mogul Ashish Manchharam, Ann Siang House used to be a clan house for Chinese immigrants to socialise over mahjong and opera performances.

 

Today, it is a homely 20-suite boutique hotel that will meet your every need. It is built with long term residential stay in mind, anywhere from single night to a whole month. With suites featuring kitchenettes, it can truly be a home away from away. Sounds like a staycation if you ask me, fit for the whole family too.

Between Hotel 1929 and Ann Siang House, there’s no shortage of options to enjoy the comforts of modern living while steeped in Singapore’s rich history.

Eat and Drink

When you’re in Chinatown, the last thing you have to worry about is food.

If you want something rooted in cultural heritage, you have to go to Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Built in 1983, Chinatown Complex boasts a whopping 700 stalls selling food, produce, and many other goods. A majority of the stalls you can find here lay claim to some sort of heritage, with ownership being passed down from generation to generation.

 

The Complex wasn’t particularly popular outside of the district, for years faithfully serving its clientele of the area’s residents, office workers and the occasional family seeking a quick bite in between bouts of shopping. However, it quickly gained popularity when one of its stalls earned the coveted Michelin star. Dubbed the cheapest Michelin star meal you can get in the world, Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles has shot to fame since winning the star back in 2016.

After queuing for 30-45 minutes, you’ll be greeted with a plethora of options from Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, Soya Sauce Chicken Noodle, Roasted Pork Rice, Char Siew Rice, and Char Siew Noodles – all of which mind you, range from $2-$3. Talk about value-for-money, nay, this is a steal ladies and gentlemen. The star of the show is the incredibly tender chicken, but the rest of the meats on offer can easily hold their own in a buffet line.

So prolific is the effort and skill of Hawker Chan and his peers that locals have recently raised a clamour, culminating in a movement to nominate Singapore’s hawker culture into the Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Not too bad for a country known for its modernity eh?

Photograph by kazuokoguchi via Instagram
When discussing food in Chinatown, it would be remiss of us not to mention Mei Heong Yuen Dessert. Tucked amongst the myriad of shops along Temple Street, this Chinese dessert establishment has received no shortage of accolades and coverage over the years.

In a world of artisanal ice creams and complex Korean Bingsu, Mei Heong Yuen is the gateway to the past. They have been making some waves with their own contemporary twist on Bingsu with their Snow Ice series, but for us, nothing beats the nostalgia and warmth of a bowl of Almond or Black Sesame paste. The desserts here leans towards the healthier side (well, as healthy as a bowl of dessert can get), so all you health-conscious folks out there, here’s a treat for you.

It’s a place frozen in time, and one that we hope will continue to exist far into the future.

Sadly, the Chinatown Complex Food Centre will be closed from 1 March to 31 May for some much needed renovations. But don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of other options to chow down on while immersing yourself in the sights and sounds. 

 

See and Do

Photograph by Philippe Dehaye via Unsplash

A little history lesson here: the oldest temple in Singapore is actually located in Chinatown, and it’s not even remotely Chinese.

Touting a 192 years of history, the Sri Mariamman Temple was a beacon for early Indian immigrants and settlers. Nestled along South Bridge Road, in the middle of the Buddha Relic Tooth Temple and the Jamae Mosque, Sri Mariamman Temple forms a trio of religious institutions that serves to represent the culturally diverse society that is Singapore.

Being a historic landmark, and attracting close to a 500-strong crowd of tourists on a good day, Sri Mariamman Temple is a window into Indian culture, religion, and heritage set against the backdrop of an ever happening Chinese enclave.

 

If worshipping at the alter of commercialism is more your speed (hey, everyone indulges once in a while…!), head for the sinuous paths of Ann Siang Hill.

The quaint little shophouses there hide anything from bookstores to bakeries to cafes, pubs and restaurants, and there’re even lifestyle boutiques trading in Tibetan singing bowls and yogawear. 

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