Singapore’s Swing! Asia’s Lion City awakens with a ROAR

No matter how well you think you know Singapore, unless you’ve traveled there recently you won’t recognize it. No longer just a stopover on the way to somewhere else, this tiny island nation (247 square miles; 5 million residents) in the South China Sea has emerged as one of Asia’s most vibrant destinations. And it’s not just the skyline that’s evolved. The very heartbeat of the city has changed—her pulse is racing. Literally. Two years ago, Formula 1 Grand Prix launched the circuit’s only night race on the downtown streets.

The city/state’s new attitude is perhaps best captured by Marina Bay Sands, a 57-story skyscraper whose massive triple towers share a single, spectacular rooftop Sky Park. The complex includes a 2,500-room hotel (rates from $310), a 600-table casino and a palm tree-lined rooftop infinity pool that is a non-negotiable must-see. If the world weren’t round, this is what the edge of civilization might look like. The guest rooms are surprisingly swank for a hotel of such gargantuan proportions—on par with Wynn and Aria in Las Vegas. Just make sure to ask for a room with a city view; the other side (sea view) is currently dominated by a colossal Central Park-like sanctuary being built atop reclaimed land that’s still cluttered with dump trucks and cranes.

World-renowned chefs Guy Savoy of Paris, Tetsuya Wakuda of Sydney and Santi Santamaria of Barcelona have already opened ritzy restaurants in Marina Bay Sands. The cheapest meal at Wakuda’s Waku Ghin starts at $350; Guy Savoy is slightly less. Still to come are waterfront outposts by Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali and Daniel Boulud.

Meanwhile, across town at Resorts World Sentosa (39 Artillery Ave., +65.6577.8888), even more famous chefs including Joël Robuchon, Scott Webster (Australia) and Kunio Tokuoka (Osaka) have been brought in to lure the high rollers. But for all the hoopla surrounding this Vegas-busting, heavyweight lineup, the most exciting cooking in town is quietly being conducted by André Chiang and Michael Han, two local culinary heroes who are on track to becoming just as famous as Puck, Batali, Robuchon or Savoy (see The Five Must-Visit Restaurants).

In the vast shadow of Marina Bay Sands sits the almost boutique-ish, 100-room Fullerton Bay Hotel (rates from $350; 80 Collyer Quay, +65.6333.8388). Rising-star designer Andre Fu, who made a name for himself last year with his sleek interiors at Hong Kong’s The Upper House, has created another masterpiece—more lavish, less minimal this time around. The hotel sits on stilts above water in what used to be the old immigration checkpoint on Clifford Pier, the place where weary travelers once came ashore seeking safe harbor. The rooftop bar here offers a right-back-at-you view of Marina Bay Sands and the ever-climbing skyline, but from a much lower perch only seven stories high.

A tectonic shift in the island’s luxury hotel scene actually began two years ago with the debut of the glitzy, butler-serviced St. Regis (rates from $365; 29 Tanglin Rd., +65.6506.6888). Of course, even before that, all the top brands were already competing here: Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont, Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La… and all have been fiercely scrambling to upgrade. Mandarin Oriental just debuted a splashy new rooftop pool lined with VIP cabanas. Fairmont has installed redwood dry saunas in its penthouse suites. And Shangri-La just closed its Rasa Sentosa beach resort for a sweeping, top-to-bottom rehab, and is due to re-open in January with a monster destination spa.

As for truly sublime luxury in a tropical resort setting—just 10 minutes from downtown—nobody does it better than Capella (rates from $580; 1 The Knolls, +65.6591.5000), which debuted last year on the site of the nation’s old military base, where colonial-era barracks and officers’ quarters have been converted into an impressive hilltop reception, romantic library and gorgeous Chinese restaurant. Architect Norman Foster has surrounded these grand old buildings with fluid modern structures that accommodate the resort’s 112 guest rooms and stand-alone villas, whose chic interiors were fashioned by legendary Indonesian designer Jaya Ibrahim (acclaimed for The Legian in Bali and The Nam Hai in Vietnam). A series of pools spills across three levels overlooking the South China Sea, where, in the distance, the lights of slow-moving container ships twinkle throughout the night. Capella’s intimate Auriga spa is the poshest in the region, so it would be wise to book treatments well in advance.

Just a quick resting point on the way to Bali? That’s so last year. Singapore—as a destination itself—has arrived.

Article by: Brad A. Johnson
Renowned food and travel journalist Brad A. Johnson is the only critic in America to win both the James Beard Award and the Cordon Bleu World Food Media Award for restaurant criticism.

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