When it gets dark – at 7pm sharp every day – another side of Singapore is revealed.
Bright Lights on the Bay
Twice a night – three times on Fridays and Saturdays – you can enjoy the free Bright Lights on the Bay light show over Marina Bay. There are three ways of doing it: The main one is to go to the plaza in front of the shops and casino; from here you will be able to see the hypnotic images projected onto falling water, while lasers from the hotel roof pepper the water and the nearby ArtScience Museum. Alternatively, you can watch from the other side of the bay near the Merlion, where you still see the lights and have the Marina Bay Sands towers as a backdrop. Or take yourself for cocktails at Lantern on the roof of the Fullerton Bay Hotel.
Safari by Night
Singapore’s exemplary zoo delivers twice a day: in the daytime and once more at night, when the nocturnal animals offer a unique experience. Visitors are taken on a 40-minute guided tram tour through various Himalayan, Indian, Equatorial and Burmese habitats. It’s possible to see an enormous but tranquil elephant just a few metres away, nodding gently in the sparse illumination. Besides the tram there are walking trails, fiery live performances, and the Ulu Ulu Safari restaurant, set up as a traditional village.
Chinatown by night
Colourful and diverting at any time of day, Chinatown comes into its own at night, when the red of the lanterns is vivid in the dark, and the sounds and smells are more intense. The market covers four streets, some of which are filled with pretty ordinary souvenirs, but others have higher quality textiles, and many have Chinese delicacies (a current favourite is crunchy snacks cooled with liquid nitrogen, sold with a page-long disclaimer including the line “close your mouth when chewing the snack to avoid snack fragments from flying into passers-by.”) Smith Street has indoor and outdoor food stalls including the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, and its new restaurant outlet Hawker Chan.
Stylish, dark and packed, Zouk is Singapore’s most revered nightclub. It’s not just a place for dancing but a leader in shaping Asia’s dance-music culture ever since its foundation from a converted warehouse on the Singapore River in 1991. It moved to two floors of Clarke Quay’s Cannery Block last year. Usually the Zouk room places dance music, Phuture plays R&B and Velvet Underground plays house. Once a year, a festival, Zoukout, runs on the beaches of Sentosa.
A view with altitude
Singapore’s skyline can be admired from a host of vantage points, but I reckon the best is 1-Altitude, on top of One Raffles Place. From here you can see the whole of Marina Bay and the Sands towers up the Singapore River, into the sea lanes, and on a clear day over to Malaysia. 1-Altitude covers three floors but the top-floor bar is the draw card at sunset.
Swallow your self-consciousness and take a (licensed) trishaw tour around Bugis and Little India. These run during the day too, but the light-festooned streets must be seen at night. Try to time it for one of Singapore’s festivals when the streets are decorated and bright: a trishaw is a great vantage point from which to absorb it all.
Cruise with a view
Singapore river cruises have been given a new lease of life in recent years with the development of Marina Bay and its adventurous, varied architecture. Singapore River Cruise covers not only the bay but also the Singapore River from the Merlion and the stately stone Fullerton Hotel, past the Boat Quay bars and up to the glass atrium of Riverside Point. It’s all best seen at night from the water.
For a flea market with a difference, try the Market of Artists and Designers, hosted in the Red Dot Building, a funky crimson-walled setting not far from the bars and restaurants of Club Street (where you should go afterwards). Once a month it showcases Singapore’s creative and design industries, against a backdrop of live music. Buy jewellery, paintings, furnishings – even portraits drawn on the spot.
The centerpiece of the Gardens by the Bay development, which can be reached by a footbridge from the Marina Bay mall in the casino building, is Supertree Grove, a series of 18 steel tree structures that went up in 2011 and have gradually been covered with rising plants ever since. The tallest of them is 50 metres high and they make for a dramatic sight, particularly from dusk onwards. Once darkness falls, they are lit up, and a light show takes place at 7.45pm and 8.45pm daily. It’s all free, but you can pay to walk on a skyway 22 metres up or go to Indochine Bar and Restaurant in the tallest of the trees.
Meet a Flying Barman
One of Singapore’s stranger sights can be seen in the lobby-level bar of the Parkview Square tower near the Arab Quarter. The building itself – nicknamed the Batman Building for its Gotham City look – is oddly enough, totally isolated in a field. The Atlas Bar is deepest Art Deco, with every square inch from floor to ceiling covered in motifs that recall New York City’s Empire State or Chrysler buildings. But the strangest thing of all is the three-storey wine fridge that occasionally requires the bar staff (and until recently a Wine Fairy dressed in a winged costume) to be hoisted into the air to retrieve drinks from its upper reaches. A curious spot, but an unforgettable one.