Photo: An aerial view of the lobby area of Marina Bay Sands Hotel © Imran Ahmed | Dreamstime.com
We all form mental images of places we haven’t visited, especially when those places sit literally on the opposite side of the globe. Before I visited Singapore, I imagined an exotic land, brimming with lush gardens and evidence of the multiple ethnic forces that shaped it, a hint of its colonial heritage, stunning men and women, no gum on the sidewalks — heck, there’s even a drink named after this spot. My vision was a patchwork sewn together from too many vintage movies and the occasional headline.
The reality turned most of those preconceptions on their heads. Singapore is a thoroughly modern, efficient, clean and vibrant destination. From the airport to the towering skyline, the high-tech Gardens by the Bay to the giant malls and modern casinos, the ever-present construction cranes and office workers streaming from the subway to the air-conditioned glass towers, Singapore thrives as an important shipping, manufacturing and financial hub. As those industries expanded, so have leisure businesses, including many options for dining and shopping as well as a growing variety of nightclubs, casinos and other spots where one can blow off steam.
Singaporeans are passionate about food, and they fortunately have at least three distinct cultures — Indian, Chinese and Malaysian — influencing most of the dining choices. If you remain undaunted by language and cultural barriers and you entertain clients who care more about the food than the setting, you can make like a local and sample authentic street foods from the hawker centers that dot the city (ask for recommendations at your hotel). If you seek convenience and a slightly more refined environment for a casual lunch or supper, try one of the modern-day sanitized versions of a hawker center located in mixed-use complexes and malls such as Rasapura Masters at the Marina Bay Sands. These food court kiosks take on local delicacies like spicy chili crab, fish head curry, chicken fried rice and char kway teow, a local dish of fried rice noodles, seafood and bean sprouts.
Often in Singapore, the more serious the cuisine, the more breathtaking the view. A prime example designed to wow even the most jaded client: Sky on 57, atop the towering Marina Bay Sands resort complex. Featuring local celebrity chef Justin Quek, the expansive space offers unparalleled 57th-floor vistas and refined Franco-Asian cuisine. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea are served daily, and the nearby Flight Bar & Lounge offers bottle service and an expansive menu of cocktails and Champagnes.
Important business contacts and fans of Asian food will relish Keyaki, a Japanese oasis on the fourth floor of the Pan Pacific Singapore hotel. Set amid a lushly landscaped garden and koi pond, the tastefully elegant, relaxed eatery specializes in masterfully prepared sashimi, teppanyaki, sukiyaki and more. Keyaki provides superior service as well as private dining rooms for meetings or other important business events.
Traditionalists will appreciate a stop at the iconic Raffles, a lovingly preserved icon that captures the city’s history as a British colony. Service levels (and prices) are high at longtime dining/drinking options such as the Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling was born a century ago.
Another good option for drinks is 28 HongKong Street, named one of the world’s top 50 bars in 2015 by Drinks International. Selections center around American classic cocktails, with some craft beers, Champagnes and U.S. wines in the mix. Groups can book a private room called The Office that seats up to 12 and features its own dedicated sound system and special access to the bar staff.
A more casual atmosphere for laid-back business meals and meetings lies along the busy Singapore River, where a series of restored wharf buildings transformed into a lively shopping, entertainment and dining district. The river, lined with restaurants and lounges, bustles with bumboats, an iconic water taxi system.
Doing business with golf fans? The Marina Bay complex includes a course with expansive city views, Singapore’s only 18-hole course open to the public. Outside the city but within easy reach, the leisure-focused Sentosa Island also supports two golf courses.
A word about the climate: Prepare for oppressive heat and humidity in Singapore. This is the time to break out your lightest wardrobe, but nothing too casual for the office. Singaporeans dress conservatively but comfortably, so men in business settings wear lightweight suits and dress shirts (but not always ties) while women favor suits or conservative dresses in muted hues. You can’t go wrong with a well-cut dark suit and a white shirt.
Singapore has no shortage of world-class hotels that cater to business travelers, but three stand out from the crowd. The Marina Bay Sands, with its unmistakable space-age towers (the most iconic building in a city of iconic architecture) will remind the visitor of a Las Vegas megaresort but with better food and service and to-die-for views. It connects to a casino, large shopping center and convention center. The Westin is a lively and well-located property meticulously updated with all the modern conveniences. For a more intimate experience, the PARKROYAL on Pickering provides an urban oasis near the city’s Central Business District with lush gardens; chic, modern accommodations; and a relaxing spa.
Getting around this destination proves simple: The public Mass Rapid Transit system is clean and efficient, and taxis are safe and reasonable.