A 5-minute walk north of Orchard Road is the mellow Tanglin Shopping Centre (Tanglin Rd.), whose quiet halls are just packed with little antiques boutiques. Tanglin is a quiet place, which adds to the museum feel as you stroll past window displays of paintings, tapestries, and curios made of jade or brass -- all kinds of quality collectibles and gifts. A couple of good shops to visit are Antiques of the Orient, #02-40 Tanglin Shopping Centre (tel. 65/6734-9351), selling old prints and maps; and Aspara, #02-30 Tanglin Shopping Centre (tel. 65/6735-5018), with an interesting collection of Chinese and Burmese antiques. There are many more -- this is a place to really explore.
If you continue along Tanglin Road, you'll find Tudor Court, with a few more interesting shops inside, including Antiquity Hands of the Hills (tel. 65/6735-5332), with textiles, jewelry, and curio items from Tibet.
To get an eyeful of some local furnishings in antique Indonesian, Chinese, and Peranakan styles, take a taxi out to Dempsey Road and stroll amid the many warehouses. Inside each are dealers like the Shang Antique, full of Chinese antiques and Burmese teak, at Blk. 16, #01-04/05 Dempsey Rd. (tel. 65/6388-8838); and the Renaissance Art Gallery, with displays of Chinese figurines, Southeast Asian Buddha images, and chests, at Blk. 15, #01-06 Dempsey Rd. (tel. 65/6474-0338). There are more than a dozen places here, each specializing in different wares. Some have large furniture pieces, from carved teak Indonesian-style reproduction furniture to authentic pieces from mainland China. Some have smaller collectible items, like carved scale weights from the old opium trade or collections of Buddha images. Oriental carpet shops are also mixed in. The stores on Dempsey Road are all open daily from around 11am to 6:30pm, though they close for a short lunch break at midday. As with all of the antiques shops in Singapore, they'll help you locate a reliable shipper to send your purchases home.
You can find cheongsam, those cute little sleeveless shifts with the Mandarin collars and frog closures, in ready-made polyester styles at souvenir shops all over Chinatown. When you're ready to get serious, go to Yue Hwa, 70 Eu Tong Sen St. (tel. 65/6538-4222), where they hire expert cheongsam tailors from Hong Kong who fit the dress perfectly to your body, help you select your fabric from a wide range of pure Chinese silks, and choose your own preferred style. Expect to drop about S$450 for a full-length cheongsam, a small price to pay for a drop-dead sexy, one-of-a-kind formal dress.
If Bollywood blockbusters make you drool, you'll die for Stylemart, 149-151 Selegie Rd. (tel. 65/6338-2073). Specializing in tailored Indian formalwear, they have rows of Indian-style brocade silks that are simply edible and an enormous collection of breathtakingly exotic beaded silks to make your eyes twinkle. They will fashion anything you want -- traditional or modern dresses, gowns, and pantsuits. A simple formal gown with shawl in silk brocade will start at S$500. Pay more for beaded styles. It's worth it.
A couple of boutiques are making modern fashions with quirky traditional twists. Shanghai Tang, at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Ngee Ann City, 391 Orchard Rd., #02-12G (tel. 65/6737-3537); and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Ave. (tel. 65/6688-7180), sells whimsical interpretations of traditional Chinese clothing, in campy colored luxurious silk.
The true authentic Singaporean style is that of the Nonyas, Peranakan ladies who wear the traditional sarong kebaya. These ladies pair fine sarongs with delicate lace blouses (kebaya) closed with silver or gold brooches and accessorized with beaded slippers and a bag. Still today you will see Singaporean ladies don sarong kebaya for weddings and special parties. If you'd like to outfit yourself in one, the place to go is Rumah Bebe (113 East Coast Rd.; tel. 65/6247-8781), located in Katong, the heart of Peranakan culture. Proprietress Bebe Seet is a local sarong kebaya expert. Her shop sells fine batiks (much nicer than the ordinary ones on Arab St.) and matching blouses. She also specializes in beaded slippers, teaching classes out of the back of her shop.
At Funan Digitalife Mall, 109 North Bridge Rd. (tel. 65/6336-8327), you can find computers and accessories -- there are many, many shops, each with special offers and deals, so compare when you shop. At Sim Lim Square, 1 Rochor Canal Rd. (tel. 65/6338-3859), you can find not only computers, but office and home electronics as well. Bargain hard here -- prices are not marked.
If you're in the market for photographic equipment, the best place to go is Cathay Photo, #01-05, #01-07/08, #01-11/14 Peninsula Plaza, 111 North Bridge Rd. (tel. 65/6337-4274).
Exquisite fabrics like Chinese silk, Thai silk, batiks, and inexpensive gingham are very affordable, and the selections are extensive. Most fabrics are sold by the meter and there is no standard width, so make sure you inquire when you're purchasing off the bolt. Be sure to check out Arab Street. I adore the selection of silks from India, Thailand, Japan, and Europe at Poppy Fabric, 111 Arab St. (tel. 65/6296-6352). Buy modern batik fabrics at Basharahil Bros., 101 Arab St. (tel. 65/6296-0432), and be sure to take a peek at their batik silks in the back -- just gorgeous!
For other finds, a few shops along Serangoon Road in Little India have some fine Indian silks. The largest selection is at Mustafa Centre, 320 Serangoon Rd. (tel. 65/6295-5855).
Singaporean interest in art has created a market far beyond its shores. The island is now a center for trading fine pieces between East and West, so you'll find quality contemporary works from the most celebrated new artists from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Asia.
Six galleries are packed into the Artrium@MICA (The Ministry of Information, Communications, and The Arts), 140 Hill St., including Gajah Gallery, with regional fine arts (tel. 65/6737-4202), and Soobin Gallery (tel. 65/6837-2777).
Artfolio's exhibits at #02-12 Raffles Hotel Arcade, 328 North Bridge Rd. (tel. 65/6334-4677), always make me wish I were rich enough to collect. If you're in the market for fine arts from the mainland (China, that is), this is the place to look.
Tanglin Shopping Centre also has a ton of art galleries. For contemporary Southeast Asian art, visit Hakaren Art Gallery, #02-43 Tanglin Shopping Centre (tel. 65/6733-3382). Kwan Hua Art Gallery, #02-65 Tanglin Shopping Centre (tel. 65/6735-5663), carries a collection of Chinese brush paintings and oils.
Jewelry can be a bargain. Gold, which is sold at the day's rate, is fashioned into modern Western styles and into styles that suit Chinese and Indian tastes. Note: Chinese and Indian jewelers work with only 18-karat quality and above, usually 22- and 24-karat designs -- Chinese gold tends to be bright yellow, while Indian gold has a reddish hue to it. Loose stones, either precious or semiprecious, are abundant in many reputable shops and can be set for you.
For contemporary upmarket jewels and settings, the most trusted dealer in Singapore is Larry Jewelry, #01-12 Paragon Shopping Centre, 290 Orchard Rd. (tel. 65/6732-3222), but be prepared to drop some serious coin.
Peek in the window displays of the gold shops along Serangoon Road, and you'll see all kinds of Indian-style gold necklaces and bangles. Each Indian ethnic group has its own traditional patterns, all of them featuring intricate filigree. The selection at Mustafa Centre, 320 Serangoon Rd. (tel. 65/6295-5855), is absolutely mind-blowing. I can't imagine the staggering value of all their merchandise. Don't forget there are two levels here; the best stuff is downstairs.
For Chinese jade, try Yue Hwa, 70 Eu Tong Sen St. (tel. 65/6538-4222). Jade is tough for Westerners to buy because it's hard to discern a good piece from a bad one. Yue Hwa has fixed prices, but the quality is always dependable.
A unique gift or souvenir, a gold-plated orchid is something you don't find every day. The process was developed in the 1970s and is exclusive to Singapore. Different orchid species make up brooches, earrings, and pendants at local jewelry designer RISIS, Singapore Botanic Gardens, 1 Cluny Rd. (tel. 65/6475-5014), with additional outlets at #01-064 Suntec City Mall, 3 Temasek Blvd. (tel. 65/6338-8250), and #01-40 Centrepoint Shopping Centre, Orchard Road (tel. 65/6235-0988).
There are some fine men's tailors for suits and slacks made to fit, but beware touts along Orchard Road. If you can get a cheap price, chances are, you're getting a cheap suit. Justmen's, 19 Tanglin Rd., #01-36/39 Tanglin Shopping Centre (tel. 65/6737-4800), is an institution within the expatriate community here. They are well versed in current fashions, carry the best selection of fine fabrics, and can fit your measurements perfectly -- this will probably be one of the best suits you've ever had. The prices are a steal, starting from S$800 for a two-piece suit.
Once you've walked on a hand-knotted Nain in your bare feet, trailed your fingers along the pile of an antique Heriz, or admired the sensuous colors of a Tabriz, you'll never look at broadloom again with the same forbearance. If luxury oriental carpets seem too expensive for your pocketbook, Singapore prices will surprise you.
Hassan's Carpets, #03-01/06 Tanglin Shopping Centre (tel. 65/6737-5626), has been a fixture in Singapore for generations. Proprietor Suliman Hamid is the local authority on carpets, having advised on and supplied the carpets for the restoration of Raffles Hotel. He and his staff know the background of every rug and have wonderful stories to tell. They forego the hard sales pitch for more civilized discourse on carpet appreciation. It's an afternoon well spent. Carpets can be shipped home for you, with smaller rugs wrapped small enough to hand-carry onboard a plane.
If you still want to see more carpets, you can take a taxi out to Dempsey Road, where you'll find a few warehouses filled with stock.
Royal Selangor, the famous Malaysian pewter manufacturer since 1885, rode high on the Malaysian tin business at the turn of the 20th century, pewter being a tin alloy. This firm is based in Kuala Lumpur and has eight showrooms in Singapore. If you're really into pewter, you can visit the Royal Selangor Pewter Centre, 3A River Valley Rd., 01-01 Clarke Quay (tel. 65/6268-9600; www.royalselangor.com.sg), where they have an exhibit of the history of pewter works in the region, with pewtersmith demonstrations daily from 9am to 9pm for S$2 entry. For S$30, you can sign up for a half-hour hands-on pewtersmith workshop. If you just want to shop, you can also stop in at their showrooms at #03-24 Raffles City Shopping Centre (tel. 65/6339-3958); #02-40 Paragon, 290 Orchard Rd. (tel. 65/6235-6633).
Antique porcelain items can be found in the many small shops along Pagoda and Trenagganu streets in Chinatown. But the ultimate in pottery shopping is a place the locals refer to as the "pottery jungle." Thow Kwang Industry Pte. Ltd. is a taxi ride away at 85 Lorong Tawas off Jalan Bahar (tel. 65/6265-5808). This backwoods place has row after row of pots, lamps, umbrella stands -- you name it. There's even a room with antique pieces.
You can seriously go nuts over cheap shoes here. We're talking prices from S$9.90 to S$39 for cute little sandals, dressy shoes, and work pumps. Granted, they're not Ferragamo, but at these prices, you can literally buy a pair of shoes to match every outfit in your closet. Unfortunately, if you're bigger than a U.S. size 8, finding your size will be tough. Otherwise, my two favorite places for shoes on the cheap-cheap are the shoe departments at BHG, Bugis Junction (tel. 65/6563-1106), and OG, Orchard Point (tel. 65/6317-2222).
Southeast Asian Handicrafts
At Lim's, 211 Holland Ave., #02-01 Holland Road Shopping Centre (tel. 65/6467-1300), you'll find items for the home from all over Southeast Asia; think Pier One Imports, only cheaper. Vietnamese lacquerware and handbags, Indonesian teakwood carvings and batik linens, Thai silk pillow covers and tableware, Chinese pottery and arts, the list goes on and on. Prices are very reasonable, and the merchandise is all of good quality.
I'm a big fan of local clothing designer Peter Hoe's boutique, Olathe, at 30 Victoria St., #01-05 CHIJMES (tel. 65/6339-6880). This Malaysian fabric and clothing designer fashions very handsome individual fabric patterns pieced together in styles to suit Western wardrobes.
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.