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In Singapore, shopping is a sport, and from the practiced glide through haute couture boutiques to skillful back-alley bargaining, it's always exciting, with something to satiate every pro shopper's appetite.

The focal point of shopping in Singapore is Orchard Road, a very long stretch of glitzy shopping malls packed with Western clothing stores, from designer apparel to cheap chic, and many other mostly imported finds. Singaporeans have a love-hate relationship with Orchard Road. As the shopping malls developed, they brought hip styles into the reach of everyday Singaporeans, adding a cosmopolitan sheen to Singapore style. But Orchard Road also ushered in a new culture of obsessive consumerism. Even to outsiders, Orchard Road is a drug; however, most of the clothing and accessories shops sell Western imports, and the average visitor will find that the prices of Western brand-name fashions are only slightly less expensive than at home, if at all.

Another myth about shopping in Asia is that consumer electronics, cameras, and computer hardware and software are a steal. Although some good bargains can be found if you hunt well, be careful if the offer sounds too good to be true -- it usually is. By and large, prices here are comparable to those of the West.

For shopping with an Asian flavor, there are some exciting shopping areas -- Little India, Arab Street, and Chinatown -- where shopping for unusual handicrafts is as much a main attraction as the sights. Anybody who's been around Singapore long enough will tell you that most of the really juicy bargains went the way of the dodo when the huge shopping malls came to town, but if you know the value of certain items that you'd like, some comparison shopping may save you a little money. In this section, I'll give you some tips on where to find the better merchandise, competitive prices, and memorable shopping experiences.

Take note: I am an expert shopper and have shopped just about everywhere in Singapore. The shops that I have singled out for this section are the best of the best; my family and I have purchased goods and services from virtually every one of them.

Hours

Shopping malls are generally open from 10am to 9pm Monday through Saturday, with some stores keeping shorter Sunday hours. The malls sometimes remain open until 10pm on holidays. Smaller shops are open from around 10am to 5pm Monday through Saturday but are almost always closed on Sunday. Hours will vary from shop to shop. Arab Street is closed on Sunday.

Prices

Almost all of the larger stores in shopping malls have fixed prices. Sometimes these stores will have seasonal sales, especially from June into July, during the month-long Great Singapore Sale, when prices are discounted 50% or 70%. In the smaller shops and at street vendors, prices are sometimes not marked, and vendors will quote you higher prices than the going rate in anticipation of the bargaining ritual. These are the places to find good prices, if you negotiate well.

Bargaining

In Singapore, not all shops fix prices on merchandise, and even many that display price tags are open to negotiation. For outsiders who are unaccustomed to this tradition, bargaining can be embarrassing and frustrating at first -- especially for those who are used to accepting fixed prices without an argument. The most important tip for successful bargaining is to first have an idea of the value of what you're buying -- a little comparison shopping goes a long way.

Global Refund Scheme

When you shop in stores that display the blue "Tax Free Shopping" logo, the government will refund the 7% goods and services tax (GST) you pay on purchases totaling S$100 or more, if you are leaving Singapore via air travel. At the point of purchase, the sales clerk will fill out a Tax Free Shopping Cheque, which you retain with your receipt.

When you leave Singapore, present your checks at Customs along with your passport and let them see the goods you've purchased to show that you're taking them out of the country with you. Customs will stamp the forms, which you then present at any of the Global Refund Counters in the airport for an on-the-spot cash refund (in Singapore dollars), a check, a direct transfer of the amount to your credit card account, or an airport shopping voucher. For complete details, call the Global Refund Scheme hot line at tel. 65/6225-6238 (www.globalrefund.com).

Another company, Premier Tax Free (www.premiertaxfree.com), also offers GST refunds with kiosks at the airport.

Clothing Sizes

Those of you used to shopping in big-and-tall stores will unfortunately find little ready-to-wear clothing in Singapore that'll fit you -- but that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of the many excellent tailors around town. Shopping for ready-made clothing in standard sizes can be confusing, because clothing made in Singapore is generally for export and everything else is imported from outside. This means that clothing in local shops can reflect American, British, or Continental sizes, depending on which country it came from or was intended for. Really the only way to be sure it's your size is to try it on.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.