Start in spick-and-span Singapore, a city known as much for its designer shops and scintillating street food as its superlative airport (yes, Changi really does have a rooftop pool, giant slide and butterfly garden). Hop across the Straits to Malacca, a little gem of shaded alleys, Portuguese ruins and inspired Nonya cuisine. The Petronas Towers dominate Kuala Lumpur (or KL as it’s affectionately known), a pulsing but laid-back metropolis with a pleasing café culture and serious shopping habit. Stock up on tea stops and cool air in the undulating Cameron Highlands, lose yourself in foodie-heaven Penang or relax in sultry Sabah, where you can climb majestic mountains, dive Sipadan’s turtle-rich waters or play with orang-utans.
Discover Chinatown’s five districts: the mosques and temples of Telok Ayer; the elegant restaurants and hotels in Bukit Pasoh; the bars and bridal shops of Tanjong Pagar; the hawker food at Kreta Ayer; Ann Siang Hill’s arty cafés, bars and boutiques.
Fusion cuisine is the headline act at some of the most fashionable eateries, all housed within the glittering Marina Bay Sands resort (+65 6688 8857) at Sands SkyPark, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue. Sky on 57 is Singaporean celeb chef Justin Quek’s glassy, classy Asian restaurant, perched loftily atop Marina Bay Sands, with a sublime view of the skyline and a gorgeous space that’s ideal for a power lunch or romantic tryst. The menu champions local ingredients and traditional dishes: try king prawn laksa, chicken rice and fried lobster hokkien mee (noodles). You won’t find renditions quite as luxe in such a prime locale anywhere else.
Definitely hit charming Haji Lane in the Arab Quarter! Better known as Kampong Glam, this pedestrianised lane cuts through the Malay-Muslim enclave near the Sultan Mosque. Lined with former 19th-century shophouses transformed into trendy little boutiques, it’s a mix of heritage architecture, modern boutiques and hip hangouts. Browse open-fronted shops selling textiles, rugs, wicker baskets, perfumes and spices and trendy boutiques. Don’t miss the Blog Shop at 35 Haji Lane, which champions cutting-edge creations from local fashion designers.
Don’t miss… Spa time in award-winning Auriga, where signature treatments match the moon’s phases. Linger in the wet area, with its herbal steam room, ice fountains and vitality pools in a garden setting.
Don’t miss…Modern Cantonese cuisine at the award-winning, apple-green Majestic Restaurant. Chef Yong Bing Ngen’s rack of lamb served with carrot cake has set many taste buds a-tingle.
Tucked away in an upscale corner of Kuala Lumpur, Villa Samadhi’s Thai-styled rooms are set around an inviting lagoon-shaped pool; ladders from ground-floor terraces allow guests to swim out from their rooms.
Tiny Tioman Island can only be reached by boat. Perched over the South China Sea, Japamala Resort’s luxury tree houses and cliff-clinging chalets are the ultimate back-to-nature retreat, with courtyard Jacuzzis, secluded sun decks and overwater day-beds.
Set on a peaceful lagoon, romantic Gayana Eco Resort in Sabah even has its own marine research centre. It’s just the place for overwater plunge-pool petal-strewn baths à deux, if you’re into that sort of thing. And, let’s face it, who isn’t?
Weird and whimsical, Wanderlust is a vivid dreamscape of a boutique hotel set in the heart of Singapore’s Little India. No two rooms are the same – expect 29 flights of fancy inspired by pop art, origami and childhood fantasies.
In 2015, the National Gallery Singapore – once the Old Supreme Court and City Hall – will open having been transformed into a brand new visual arts institution (after having had half a billion dollars lavished on it, no less). The gallery will showcase art from Southeast Asia and Singapore, alongside big-name international exhibitions. It's not just what will be on the inside that's exciting us: Paris-based studioMilou's modernarchitecture has worked wonders with this heritage building.
A must for seafood lovers – the humble mud crab gets its star turn in this famous Singaporean dish, in which stir-fried crab is slathered in spicy tomato sauce and teamed with steamed (or deep-fried) buns. Your dietitian may not approve, but your taste buds certainly will. A reliably good place to start is No Signboard Seafood (+65 6842 3415) at 414 Geyland Road; don’t scrimp on the mantou (buns), as you’ll need them for sauce-soaking purposes. Pepper-crab fans head to Long Beach Seafood Restaurant (+65 6445 8833) at 1018 East Coast Parkway (you can opt for white or black pepper), but the restaurant’s take on chilli crab is lip-lickingly good, too.
Don’t miss… Sunday brunch at Clifford – a decadent buffet spread that includes oysters, prawns, lobster, foie gras terrine, eggs, pasta, cheese and puddings. You’ll never look at cereal in the same way.