Veteran shoppers will delight in the diverse and voluminous collection of Singapore’s malls, boutiques and bargain-hunting bazaars.
In Singapore, shopping is a national pastime—second only to eating and discussing food—and for good reason. With temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit daily, it’s enough to drive anyone into the sub-arctic of air-conditioned malls.
And oh, are there malls. On a little more than a mile of the main shopping drag, Orchard Road, there are 35 alone—and that’s just the beginning. There seems to be a shop for every taste, need and wallet size in Singapore. Looking for souvenirs? Designer sunglasses? Cheap shoes? This shopping guide will help you find it all as you plan your Singapore vacation.
Orchard Road is a concrete-and-glass wonderland where you can walk from mall to mall without seeing the light of day. You either love it or hate it. If you’re brave enough to face the crowds, start at the top of the fashion food chain: Paragon, a high-end home to designer labels Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Versace, Prada … you get the idea.
But wait! There’s no Louis Vuitton! Don’t worry—there’s one across the street in Ngee Ann City, known to locals as “the shiny temple.” Aside from the Japanese department store behemoth Takashimaya, Ngee Ann City delivers a wide variety of upmarket and mid-range lines, from Juicy Couture and Chanel to Spain’s Zara and Pull and Bear. Find new releases at affordable prices at bookstore Kinokuniya, or browse diamonds at Cartier.
On the flip side, bargain shoppers should head to Far East Plaza for cheap shoes and hipster attire—just beware the tween crowd that comes here to buy T-shirts in bulk. Sample perfumes and makeup at Tangs, a Singapore retail institution akin to Macy’s, and have suits tailored at Tanglin Shopping Centre.
Local 20-somethings migrate to lifestyle mall The Heeren, which boasts “cutting-edge stores” such as home-grown Punkstar and the not-so-subtly-named menswear shop Character.Attitude.Personality. Wonder what’s sold in Fourskinstore? “Clothes. Like a second skin.” Ahh, we get it now.
If you crave U.S. brands and don’t mind paying inflated prices, go to Wisma Atria for Gap, Forever 21, Nine West and a new Nike flagship store. Or if you want to get off Orchard Road, flee to VivoCity at HarbourFront. It’s the largest mall in Singapore (for now), covering nearly 60 acres and offering countless ways to wear out your credit card.
The antithesis of all that mall shopping is bargain hunting in the Singapore bazaars of the Arab Quarter, Bugis Village and Little India.
This neighborhood, known as Kampong Glam, is the epicenter of Singapore’s Muslim community, with shops crammed down narrow alleys selling textiles, hand-woven baskets, traditional clothing and jewelry. It’s the best place in town to buy a carpet (or prayer mat)—just turn down Arab Street to find sellers offering deals better than Ikea. The area is also a known hub for Indonesian and Malay batik—dyed wax-resistant fabric that can be fashioned as a sarong, tablecloth or window hanging (the colors truly pop when the sun filters through). [Read more in our Arab Quarter feature.]
Think it’s impossible to air-condition the Great Outdoors? Just check out Bugis Street at Bugis Junction, which features a glass-covered pedestrian walkway with more than 600 open-air stalls, chilled to perfection, selling everything ranging from streetwear to noodles. Nowadays, local teenagers flock here for the fast food, but from the 1950s to ‘80s, expatriate soldiers and seafaring Bugis from Indonesia came here for the fast women and transvestites.
Your nose doesn’t stand a chance in Little India—sensory overload is guaranteed with all the curries, colognes and jasmine garlands for sale. Aside from being fragrant and vibrant, Little India is also one of the best places to buy gifts in Singapore. Trawl the stalls on Serangoon Road for silver amulets, silk saris, packets of spices and discounted perfume, or venture into Mustafa Centre, a 24-hour department store that sells everything, from Rolexes to toilet paper, for ridiculously discounted prices. Just beware the crowds on Sundays, when migrant workers have their day off and come out to play.
Haji Lane is a nondescript alley in the Arab Quarter. You’d think you were in Brooklyn if it weren’t for the charming shophouses. On Haji Lane, find skinny jeans and tapered button-downs at 2, or vintage dresses at House of Japan. At Know It Nothing, browse art-fashion labels Surface 2 Air and Still Life NYC, designer eyeglasses by Cutler and Gross, and a “gallery” of sneakers by New Balance, Reebok and Nike. After dropping all that cash, calm your nerves with a Moroccan mint tea at Mosi Café.
Souvenir shopping in Singapore poses a bit of a problem—it’s hard to define what’s “uniquely Singaporean,” no matter how hard the local tourism board tries otherwise. With such a mix of ethnicities making up this tiny island, your best bet is to find trinkets that make you think of Singapore, whether it’s an anklet from Little India, a bag of ground kopi (local coffee) or a stuffed Merlion—a mythical half-lion, half-fish creature and a Singapore icon.
For the widest range of options, go to Pagoda Street in Chinatown, a knick-knack haven packed with stalls selling T-shirts, merlion key chains, three scarves for $10, cloth slippers, waxed paper umbrellas, traditional Chinese robes and brocade cheongsams (hip-hugging dresses). If you’re in Singapore in late January to early February, consider bringing home Chinese New Year decorations to remind you of the city-state’s biggest holiday.
Every summer, the two-month-long Great Singapore Sale takes place across the entire island, with shops offering up to 70 percent off and malls staying open until 11 p.m. It draws tourists from around the region, with special privileges for those who show their passport and airplane ticket stub. This year’s event takes place May 26 to July 26, 2009. www.greatsingaporesale.sg
Though the event isn’t confirmed for 2010, this year’s Fashion Festival, held in May, featured designs by local icon Ashley Isham, Vivienne Westwood, Marc Jacobs, Christian Lacroix and Gareth Pugh.