Streetlife

The world’s most iconic streets are more than just famous landmarks. Every issue we delve a little deeper into one of the globe’s most well-trodden by-ways.

This month:

Orchard Road – Singapore,

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Orchard Road – Singapore

Ion Orchard

Orchard Road, Singapore

Singapore’s main entertainment and shopping street is lined with shopping malls, hotels, clubs and restaurants. Part of the central business district, it underwent a $40 million facelift in 2009 that added more pedestrian-friendly features such as planters, green spaces and even encouraged buskers.

However, the island state’s humidity (and seasonal pollution problems with smog from burning forests in Sumatra) means most people spend their time during the day in the air-conditioned malls. Indeed, the four Mass Transit Railway (MTR – Singapore’s metro line) stations are the centre of a complex of subterranean and elevated links between malls and department stores than mean you could spend all day in Orchard Road without going outside.

That is not stopping the government trying, with plans for outdoor exhibitions, street carnivals and an ongoing programme of street sculpture, although it has to be said little of artistic merit yet (although Kurt Metzler’s bold new Urban People 2009 shows there is some promise for the future). The real enthusiasm seems to be reserved for building, with a trio of inter-linked mega-malls nearing completion: ION Orchard (see below), Orchard Central and 313@Somerset. Their arrival has prompted facelifts in most of the existing shopping centres.

In the evenings, food and entertainment join the shopping as attractions with – whisper it – even the hint of some naughty goings-on in some clubs. Who says you can’t have fun in Singapore?

Shopping

Although several significant museums are within walking distance – the National Museum of Singapore is well worth a visit – shopping is what Orchard Road is all about, whether it’s for the latest in fashion or technology. Hong Kong is its biggest rival in the region – and perhaps still the place for bargains – but Singapore’s weapons are the efficiency and language skills of its service sector and the space and modernity of areas such as Orchard Road. Typical of the ambition is the new ION Orchard (www.ionorchard.com ) – ‘Singapore’s first multi-sensory experiential shopping and lifestyle mall’ – which sits aside the Orchard Road MTR. Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, and Cartier are among the tenants in the 300 stores, while an art gallery takes over one floor of the 54-storey building, the outside of which is designed as a multimedia canvas.

Eating

Singapore’s reputation for lack of passion certainly doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when you hit its restaurants and food stalls. Chinese, Malay, Japanese and Western influences combine to produce a bewildering choice of cuisine, while its entrepreneurs vie with each other in style, presentation and service. You can eat Chinese for breakfast, Indian for dinner and enjoy English afternoon cream tea for lunch. The marriage of Chinese and Malay cuisines has toned down the Malay taste for hot and spicy flavours and also produced Nyonya, often called Straits Chinese foods. The food courts at the malls will offer all these choices and more, while many top quality restaurants lie nearby.

History

It is hard to believe now, but this was an area of nutmeg orchards in the 1830s. Although a few trees still shade the road, and the Botanic Gardens are to its northern side, the best remnants of its colonial history are a few mansions which still huddle among the towering blocks towards the eastern end. A quiet suburb in the late 1800s, its first major commercial development was a cold storage depot in 1917, which was followed by a series of restaurants and shops in the 1950s. The 60s and 70s saw the arrival of cinemas, bowling alleys and other entertainment complexes with a number of large hotels then opening to serve the booming tourism sector. With the building of two MTR stations in the 1980s, the transformation was complete. The speed of growth can perhaps best be seen in the history of Tangs: now Singapore’s leading department store, CK Tang started as a street hawker in the 1920s and opened the first major store on Orchard Road in the 1950s.

Read All About It

You might imagine Orchard Road has become so crowded with business and hotels that it cannot possibly get any bigger. You won’t be the first person to say that:

“I think the trade of Singapore has reached its maximum; and that the town has attained to its highest point of importance and prosperity. Indeed, it is at this moment rather over-built. A beautiful and healthy town, however, it is; and that it may not suffer materially or permanently but continue to prosper as formerly, is a wish that comes from the very bottom of my heart.”

From ‘Recollections of 21 years passed in Java, Singapore, Australia and China’ by GF Davidson (1846).

Best Boutique Stay:

Quincy, 22 Mount Elizabeth. A hitech hotel with a pool half-suspended from the 12th floor and free meals and drinks. www.quincy.com.sg

Best Budget Bed:

Habitat Hostels, 133 Devonshire Road. Pod-like beds in a colonial-style mansion offer luxury at a backpacker price. www.habitat-hostels.com.sg

For Sale:

Pied a Terre: One bed apartment, £750,000

Moving In: Spacious four bed apartment with four bathrooms, £3m

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