Luxury Shopping and Malay Cuisine: A Local’s Guide to Singapore

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Welcome to Locals Only. In this series, we’re tapping notable locals in the style space to share a tight list of their top recommendations of what to see, eat, and shop in their home city. They’ll share off-the-radar recs that you won’t find in your average guidebook, resulting in digestible mini guides revealing where the city’s most fashionable residents are actually hanging out.

If you’ve ever considered a trip to Southeast Asia, you’ve probably typed “Singapore travel guide” into your Google search bar and been met with a series of articles extolling the city as its seen in the 2018 blockbuster film Crazy Rich Asians. While the city is certainly the backdrop that highlights the lifestyle of Singapore’s über-wealthy, chatting with a local about where to actually go when you visit reveals a different side of things.

We’ve tapped one of its most stylish and in-the-know natives for all the best that the city has to offer. Stacey Chia is a Singapore-born, New York–based journalist turned publicist who’s currently at the helm of the Parisian luxury secondhand platform Vestiaire Collective. Here, Chia is curating a Singapore travel guide exclusively for Who What Wear. She shared her favorite spots in the Southeast Asian capital, including the ultimate luxury shopping destination, where to find the best Malaysian cuisine, her favorite museum, and more. 

Where are you originally from, and how long have you lived in this city?

I was born and raised in Singapore and lived there until I was 27, when I moved to NYC for a new adventure. In my former career as a journalist, I covered fashion and retail for The Straits Times in Singapore.

What would you say defines Singapore from a tourist point of view. What do most foreigners travel here for?

My friends in New York often tell me that they’ve been to Singapore for work because we’re the Asian headquarters of many global companies and a popular destination for conferences, and it might surprise many that it’s a great urban wellness destination. There are many beautiful world-class spas in this bustling city. My favorite is the JW Marriott spa. Ask for their treatment created in partnership with the local skincare brand Skin Inc, which utilizes an LED device for an instant glow. You’ll appreciate it if you’ve just gotten to Singapore from New York on the world’s longest flight (18 hours)!

Which fashion items are key to pack and wear on a trip here? Which items are your “Singaporean staples”?

Singapore is a small and heavily built-up city, but don’t forget it’s an island, and I love embracing that island feel. If you bump into me in Singapore, you’ll see me in denim cutoffs and my favorite Tombolo shirts. I’ll also pack my breezy dresses from Ulla Johnson and Tanya Taylor, which can be styled in many ways and go from day to night. Strappy Ancient Greek Sandals pair with almost anything and are dressy enough for most spots in Singapore. While it’s hot and humid outside, it can be freezing indoors with the AC blasting, so be sure to bring a linen blazer or cardigan if your day includes indoor activities.

What to Pack

Reformation

Moya Linen Two Piece

Dear Frances

Balla Mesh Ballet Flat

DRAGON DIFFUSION

Santa Croce Tote Bag

MIU MIU

Glimpse Oval-Frame Tortoiseshell Acetate Sunglasses

FAITHFULL THE BRAND

+ Net Sustain Dominquez Smocked Organic Cotton-Poplin Midi Dress

Love, Bonito

Anh Pleated Straight Leg Pants

Ancient Greek Sandals

Celia Leather Sandals

J.Crew

Helena Blazer in Stretch Linen Blend

Coconut Club serves nasi lemak, a Malay dish where coconut rice is served alongside a variety of dishes like spiced fried chicken, beef rendang, stir-fried squid, and more. But also visit any of the local hawker centers. If you watched Crazy Rich Asians, you would have seen Newton Hawker Center, but there are many other hawker centers across the city. It’s where you’ll find all the local Singapore dishes in one spot, where everything is delicious and inexpensive. While they may be unassuming, culinary stars like the late Anthony Bourdain have raved about these legendary food markets, and many hawker stands have Michelin stars. Classic hawker dishes include chicken rice, laksa, char kway teow, prawn noodles, rojak, and more. Singapore is for the food-obsessed and why I couldn’t just list one place. Everyone has an opinion on where and what to eat, so you expect a culinary adventure.”

(Image credit: Ann Siang House)

“Shophouses are quintessential architectural icons in Singapore, and you can stay in one by booking a room at Ann Siang House. The restored building defines Asian heritage and culture; it’s modern yet still gives you a taste of what it might have been like to live in Singapore in the early days. It’s conveniently located in the historic Telok Ayer subdistrict of Chinatown and within minutes of major attractions. It’s perfect for the stylish traveler who cares about luxurious design features and wants access to apartment-like amenities from a hotel, all at an affordable price.”

“We have one of the most vibrant cocktail scenes in the world, so it’s hard to pick just one. But if I had to choose, I’d say head to Native to experience cocktails crafted with spirits, liqueurs, and ingredients unique to Asia. Pandan is a plant native to Southeast Asia, and I’ve increasingly seen it incorporated in cocktails across the world, but it never tastes as good as the pandan cocktail at Native.”

“We have plenty of cafés offering craft coffee, but nothing hits the spot the way coffee is brewed at the traditional coffee shops, such as Killiney Kopitiam (founded in 1919). Ordering is also an art form that even I have yet to master, but I do know I like a kopi siew dai (coffee with less condensed milk), and there are at least 20 options. The ultimate Singapore breakfast is to have a side of kaya (a jam spread made with pandan) toast and soft-boiled eggs.”

(Image credit: Tanjong Beach Club)

Tanjong Beach Club. I think it’s our top beach club where everyone gets dressed for the beach.”

“You’ll find luxury boutiques, international chains, and local favorites, including skincare brand Skin Inc; womenswear brand Love, Bonito; jewelry label By Invite Only; and lifestyle brand Beyond the Vines at ION Orchard. And save time for the food hall on the basement floor; you’ll find everything from local finger food to artisanal Japanese snacks.”

The National Gallery is home to the world’s largest public collection of Singaporen and Southeast Asian art, housed in two iconic national monuments and examples of colonial architecture in Singapore: the City Hall and the former Supreme Court. It always reminds me how much there is about the region to appreciate that I may have taken for granted before.”

Supermama is the best design store with porcelain and lifestyle products that blend Singapore culture with Japanese design sensibilities.”

“The light show at Gardens by the Bay—it’s really something when the Supertrees light up in the evening, and it costs nothing to watch them dazzle.”

“Whenever I travel, I love visiting local bookstores to pick up a book that will remind me of the country long after the trip is over. Book Bar in Duxton carries titles mostly set locally and by authors from Singapore and the region.”

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