Every time I happen to be in Singapore it’s for work… but on my last visit, I decided to take a few days to explore the island from a shopper perspective.
The country boasts of the highest proportion of retail space as part of its total landmass. It has shopping experience in all formats – very large malls, specialist malls, stand-alone retail stores, discount stores, street markets, hawkers, duty-free shopping areas, etc.
The biggest shopping area is of course the Orchard Road in the heart of the city. Stretched over nearly 2.5km, the green and vibrant Orchard Road is lined with shopping malls, boutique stores, discount stores, hotels, spas and salons. One can buy a whole range of goods here – local brands, global brands, luxury brands, accessories, apparel, electronic items, consumer goods and household items. We can easily spend an entire day here, mixing shopping with meals at any of the large variety of restaurants, bars and cafes that line it, or sit in the hotels or the malls. The malls and hotels lining this road are constantly renovated and refurbished, giving the street a sparkling look all year round. The buildings here have all adopted a green canopy, with rooftop gardens and some have gone so far as to build fish ponds on their roof tops!
NOTE : The best time to shop here is during the sales : “The Great Singapore Sale” takes place in June-August every year. “This annual sale season is a true highlight for any shopaholic worth their salt” writes Singapore Tourism in its website, with up to 70% discount on luxury brands.
Another area that is a must for tourists is once again a street – Bugis Street Market. This is one of the biggest and most competitively priced shopping areas in the city and is popular with locals as much as the tourists. You can buy almost everything here. From trinkets and souvenirs at SGD 1 (INR 48) to jeans at SGD 10, shoes at SGD 15 and sunglasses at SGD 2! You can also buy consumer electronics, smartphones, household goods, etc., here. In order to enhance the shopping experience, especially during the hot and humid summers, the market, with nearly 900 shops, is covered and air-conditioned and has numerous food courts, restaurants, cafes and bars to keep your hunger satiated, while you hop between shops.
Chinatown & Little India
For those, looking for better bargains or something local, there are two traditional areas – the China Town and Little India. As the name suggests, China Town is the old Chinese district, with its temples, monasteries and buildings built in the typical Chinese style. As ethnic Chinese account for nearly 75 pc of the local population, the China Town here is a prominent landmark and one that has kept pace with the evolution of rest of the city over the decades. It is a protected heritage area today with the old-world charm very much intact. A stroll through China Town brings you to shops, temples, Chinese tea shops and pharmacies. The best period to visit here is, of course, the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year, which takes place around the end of January or in February. The entire area is lit up with bright lights and decorated with paper lanterns and numerous Chinese dragons and ornaments. The locals throng the markets for their traditional festive purchases, as do the tourists. You can notably find some Asian antiques (for the connoisseur only!).
Another area to visit for shopping like a local is the Indian area, the Little India. As you walk down the Serangoon Road, the principal street here, the sights, sounds and the scents make you believe that you are in Chennai or in Madurai, rather than Singapore. You will have a large variety of shops selling saris and other apparel, decorative and household items, DVDs of Indian films, flowers, silverware, brassware and of course the Indian restaurants that serve you everything you can get in India – from a dosa or idli to a chicken tikka masala. Diwali is a special time to be in Little India and a great time to snap up bargains. One of the biggest attractions here is of course the traditional gold jewellery and you would do well to remember that gold is cheaper in Singapore and hence worth a look or two, though be prepared to pay a hefty import duty the moment you step off the plane in India! It’s in Little India that you will find the Mustafa Centre, a famous market that is filled with small stalls that sells everything from clothing and electronics to jewellery and home wares. Dont hesitate to bargain here !
You would be well advised not to spend your entire shopping budget in the city, despite the numerous temptations, as the Changi Airport has a huge duty free shopping area and you could snap up a few things there as well!
Stuff I bought on my visit : warms branded jackets at a discounted price, make up from MAC, L’Oréal, Sephora that often run out of stock in India…, tiger balm (of course!), ready made face masks (for the on the go traveller!), korean skin products (you rarely find them in India), a few pullovers and tops at the Bugis market after a good bargain, ginger sweets from China Town…
NOTE : GST REFUND ! Singaporeans pay a 7% GST on most of the goods and services they purchase. But the Tourist Refund Scheme allows you to claim this surcharge (with a minimum of SGD$100 spent at shops with Tax Refund). Dont forget to ask for the refund receipt when you pay and get reimbursed at the airport!