Singapore is frequently written off as a stopover to break up a long-haul flight but I recently discovered it's a huge dis-service to this tiny country to give it only one day of your time. Especially at a certain time of year, and especially if you're female.
Each year from May to July The Great Singapore Sale is when Singapore's off-the-chart shopping gets heavily discounted. For some that might be enough incentive for a girls' trip in itself. But if shopping's not your thing, the food, drink and pampering will seduce you.
In the name of research a friend and I did a thorough investigation this year of Singapore's girliness. There were no art, culture or historical excursions, just pure materialistic indulgence. It was the perfect break for busy working mums.
We tried two options for accommodation. One was small and boutique and in a quieter but central area; and the other was grand, huge and smack-in-the-middle of the shopping district. Both had distinct, very different advantages.
The Naumi is a 40-room boutique hotel. All rooms are perfectly appointed with lots of little girly touches such as Nespresso machines, hair straighteners and gorgeous floral wall decor and crockery. There is a beautiful infinity pool and you can order picnic baskets or platters to be delivered to you.
Naumi exudes quirky femininity, especially at breakfast where there are healthy, light options such as fresh carrot juice, smoked salmon, salad, beautiful tropical fruit and even vitamin and mineral supplements. If you want indulgence there is sparkling wine and the usual cooked and continental choices.
Things such as the mini-sized pastries showed an understanding of women and how they eat and everything had cute signs giving you the nutritional benefits of your choices.
The Marriot, on the other hand, is right in the middle of Orchard Rd, putting you at the ready for shopping action as soon as you wake up. It has beautiful big fountains, a grand reception, multiple stylish dining options, and a gorgeous pool in a resort-style setting.
The rooms were luxurious with huge showers and the street-side bar provided great people-watching over a lychee mojito. A two-minute walk through the underpass took you straight to ION Orchard, one of the newest malls on Orchard Rd.
And the shopping! From Gucci and Prada to H&M and Top Shop, there really was every option. We soon learned that as soon as we entered any mall it was smart to find the information desk. On top of existing discounts there were also extra specials for tourists.
There are several malls along Orchard Rd, all with multiple-storeys, as well as more Westfield-style malls out in the suburbs, although even out there they were like Westfield on steroids - huge!
We went to the biggest in Singapore, VivoCity on the harbour, and it was mind-boggling. The mall at Marina Bay Sands (site of the famous hotel) has a canal inside it along which you can be paddled in a Sampan, similar to a Venetian gondola.
If glitzy chains and big fashion houses aren't your thing, there are more indie-type areas such as Ann Siang Hill and Haji Lane in the Arab quarter. The Arab quarter also has a plethora of fabric shops selling beautiful material.
What we also loved about the malls were the great food courts. Instead of sterile, fluorescent-lit spaces, many were done up exquisitely in dark wood and you could watch everything being made behind glass. They cleverly capture the excitement of street food in an air-conditioned, clean environment.
And the choice of food is amazing. You could get pretty much every cuisine you could imagine, and some you couldn't. Our favourites were the food halls in ION Orchard, Marina Bay Sands and Food Republic in VivoCity.
If you'd rather visit real hawker stalls, there's no shortage. Tiong Bahru and Maxwell were two we visited but there are more dotted all over town. These are all outdoor covered areas where you can get local delights such as chicken rice, sweet potato doughnuts, noodles, seafood soups, curries, duck, chilli crab and much more. Everything is cheap and we never had a bad meal.
If you do happen to be in the Tiong Bahru area, check out the recently opened Tiong Bahru Bakery. It is headed up by Parisian chef Gontran Cherrier and the pastries are a must try.
For a treat, there are some gorgeous high-end eating options. We went to Ryan Clift's Tippling Club and it was outstanding. The 10-course degustation is unique and spectacularly creative. Our favourite course was a white truffle mousse topped with dark truffle "soil" served in a little pot with a nasturtium growing out the top.
The atmosphere, open kitchen, and fun fit-out makes it the total package. Its area, Dempsey Hill, is a great place to spend an evening, with a wealth of restaurants and bars.
And what would a girly trip be without some pampering? Singapore has every level of indulgent therapy imaginable. There are places like Banyan Tree and Spa Botanica if you want the whole day spa experience but there are also smaller spas everywhere.
We went to one hidden away in a very uninspired-looking mall and were surprised to find the lovely interior behind. Spayuri is part of the Kenko group (famous for their fish spas) and we were in heaven after their one-hour facial and reflexology massage. The real drawcard about this place is the fact that it's open until 2am on the weekend. Since most shops are open until 10pm, it's perfect for a post-shopping treat.
Cocktails are essential on a girls' holiday, and Singapore is full of great places to find them. We watched the sun set over a drink from Ku De Ta at Marina Bay Sands; and played ladies at City Space on the 71st floor of the Equinox building, but by far our best experience was a little bar called No Five on Orchard Rd in a side street called Emerald Hill.
Far less glitzy than most, this was a small, low-lit, but charming bar which had the most fabulous martini menu and a two-for-one happy hour that seemed to last forever. In fact all the bars in the area were lovely, many set in restored early-1900s shophouses. You will also find similar places in Ann Siang Hill.
Singapore is a girls' trip paradise. You can get everywhere easily by taxi, the shopping is great, the weather is balmy, the pampering plentiful and the food fabulous at all levels. Pack your sundresses and your credit card and escape the cold next winter for some Great Singapore Sale retail therapy.
Naumi Hotel: 41 Seah Street, +65 6403 6000
Marriott Hotel: 320 Orchard Road, +65 6735 5800
ION Orchard: 2 Orchard Turn
VivoCity: 1 Harbourfront Walk
Marina Bay Sands Mall: 2 Bayfront Ave
Tippling Club: 8D Dempsey Rd
Spayuri: Liang Court, 177 River Valley Rd, +65 6333 0003
No 5 Emerald Hill: 5 Emerald Hill Rd, +65 6732 0818
Alexia Santamaria received a media rate to fly to Singapore with Singapore Airlines, which heads to the destination 12 times a week from Auckland.