There was a time in its rush to development when Singapore indulged in a spree of demolition. Down came the traditional and picturesque shop-houses and colonial buildings and up went the ubiquitous non-descript skyscrapers – temples to mammon and globalisation. Then one morning someone realised that with every scoop of the dumper truck, Singapore’s history and heritage were being discarded.
Who, this person must have reasoned, wants to travel to a small island to look at the same slabs of glass and concrete that can be seen more conveniently at home? For Clarke Quay this was fortunate indeed.
From Singapore’s early days Clarke Quay was a transit hub, connecting the interior with Stamford Raffles original trading post, at the mouth of the Singapore River. For well over a century, until the early 1960’s, it continued in this role, until congestion, pollution and the development of Kepple Harbour sounded its death knell. Inevitably the Quay fell into disuse and dereliction.
Its salvation came in 1977 when the Quay was cleaned up, rebuilt and declared a conservation area: its revitalization began. The shop houses and go-downs along this palm lined river walkway were painted in pastel tints of blues, pinks, and greens, and their window shutters having a striking contrast of bright primary colours. The day I spent at the Quay was perfect; a tropical blue sky was dappled with high fluffy clouds.
Named after Singapore’s second Governor, Clarke Quay attracts a cosmopolitan crowd, from young and trendy to mature and sophisticated, who come to appreciate a lively shopping, and entertainment experience, that also boasts a Saturday flea market.
The bumboats that take tourists along the River revel in unlikely names such as Singapore Explorer and Quay Challenger, taking one of these boats along the River is to travel into Singapore’s past. Then with appetite roaring there is no better way to enjoy a meal than at one of the Quay’s many restaurants and cafes. Of course you will find ‘fusion’ food, but also a range of international cuisine; you can eat your way from Italian pastas and pizzas, through the whole gamut of South East Asian food: Indian, Thai, Malay, Vietnamese. The food hall serves value-for-money-grub and gives an authentic taste of Asian fare that makes little concession to the western palate it is definitely worth a visit.
Al fresco eating stimulates the appetite it rouses the thirst too. No worry, Clarke Quay has a number of pubs that provide something for everyone. Fancy some hip hop while you sip? Try Coco Carib, a pub where you can relax by the river and listen to the sounds of hip hop, reggae and salsa. They also have a limited menu but their mutton or chicken curry is a delicious steal at only eight dollars.
Hooters a little way down the Quay has live music every night, Wednesday is given over to a girls night of Ab Fab proportions; a great watering hole for the young and the young at heart. On the other hand, if it’s a quiet moment that you want as you dream by the gently flowing waters there are a number of other bars that will cater to the more reflective you.
The Cannery is a Victorian warehouse that now houses restaurants, entertainment and shopping malls. The Cannery and the attractive side streets are a bargain hunters playground. Hawaiian shirts, sarongs, ties, shirts and shorts, fancy goods and bric-a-brac all at knock down prices.
Clarke Quay offers the foot weary tourist a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of modern Singapore that is just on its doorstep. Its many bars and restaurants provide a link to the past while viewing the future.
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