When you think of Singapore and shopping, don't think of Orchard Road's swanky mainstream designers, repetitive chain stores and cookie-cutter coffee houses. Nestled between busy North Bridge and Ophir Roads instead you'll find Haji Lane, Singapore's fashionista haven, offering quirky boutiques, vintage and local fashion, unusual homewares, and offbeat little cafes and restaurants.
If you like to shop, pencil in a late afternoon trawl through the offerings here, kicking off with a fortifying plate of hummus, babaganoush and pita bread washed down with iced mint tea at no-fuss Mosi Cafe, on the western end of the lane. There might be rhythmic gymnastics on the flat-screen tele but when the owner himself is sitting down eating a huge plate of his own tagine, you know it's going to be good.
Head east along the lane, which is only a few hundred metres long, and pop into any of the streetfront shops that appeal. But remember too to keep an eye out for wooden staircases heading up to mysterious first-floor shops, such as Wicked Laundry, which might make you a tad nervous but isn't naughty at all: they have some lovely suitcases featured among their retro fashion.
Among Haji Lane's other offerings: sophisticated, bookish Soon Lee, where among the pretty clothes, bags, shoes and handmade leather brooches you can also pick up beautiful Mar Y Sol handbags — this is the only Singaporean stockist.
Living Icon offers great shoes, bags and clothes as well as homewares — look out for the goldfish feature toward the back of the shop. Cafe Tables was shut when we passed, but looked like a great spot for a tea and cake lounge break.
Pluck meanwhile has homewares as well as lots of whimsical jewellery and a small collection of vintage dresses up the back. If you haven't regrouped at Cafe Tables, grab a little table at the yummy in-house ice creamery for a sugary hit to keep you going.
Victoria Jomo is the spot to pick up a pair of muscle-bound men bookends (truly!) or an offbeat laptop cover; oddly-named Blogshop has a range of designers' gear on display across two floors; Ohm Mani has a particularly funky range of sunglasses and shorts among their colourful vintage fashion hidden away behind a plastic door leading upstairs; Dulcetfig a carefully curated collection of clothes, bags, shoes and earrings, and just-opened Greenpoppies sells diaries, cards and other stationery. Double-fronted Salad Shop has plenty of pretty homewares too, with a backdrop of crisp white.
In contrast to Orchard Road, this is definitely hipster land — while all staff will greet you warmly, you won't be hassled or followed around for a moment; they'll be too busy tapping on their Macs behind the registers. About the only conversation was at upstairs Threadbare and Squirrel, where the assistant told me their latest range from Korea was in. Cute signs also invited me to "browse and unfold — secret squirrels come to clean up after you." I wish the squirrels were for sale!
If you manage to find everything you'd like to make yourself over except a fresh tattoo, you're in luck — the last shop on the street is Visual Orgasm, a tattoo parlour.
Need to have a think? Take a right, and another right, and walk a little way to get to student-y feeling Gogo Rama. Upstairs, again, it has a lounge and a couple of tables at which you may sit, sip a glass of wine or iced red tea with gulah merah and have a think. You may decide to pick up something less permanent: they feature an interesting range of original art. (We almost make off with a sketch by UK illustrator Steve May). Or maybe some robot salt and pepper shakers?
But if you'd like to cleanse your visual palette after all the prettily cluttered shops, at the tattoo parlour take a left and head to Arab Street. On the opposite corner is Fika, a Swedish halal cafe. The minimalist, clean lines are quite a break for the eyes after the assault of Haji lane hipness. The Swedish meatballs will fill you up or the lingonberry cheesecake will at least keep you going (and the smoked salmon salad looked HUGE).
If you're after something more locally authentic, plenty of shisha spots dot Arab Street or backtrack to Muzium /BluJaz cafe, running between Ophir Road and Haji Lane. The service between the yawning ochre arches can be slow, but the vast green lawn opposite and lovely old shade trees along the road provide another welcome respite.
Blogshop 35 Haji Lane. T: 6396 6170. Open Mon-Fri 13:00-21:00, Sat & Sun 12:00-22:00. http://www.theblogshop.sg
Dulcetfig 41 Haji Lane. T: 6396 5648. http://www.dulcetfig.com
Fika Cafe 257 Beach Road/Arab Street. T: 6396 9096. Open Mon-Fri 11:00-23:00 Sat & Sun 12:00-23:00. http://www.fikacafe.com
Gogo Rama 20A Bali Lane. T: 6396 8937.
Greenpoppies 11 Haji Lane. T: 6293 3068. Open Sun-Thu 12:00-20:00 Fri & Sat 12:00-21:00. http://www.greenpoppies.com.sg
Living Icon 30 Haji Lane. Open Mon-Sat 11:00-19:00. http://www.livingiconpl.com/
Mosi Cafe 32 Haji Lane. T: 6296 8420. http://mosicafe.blogspot.com/
Muzium/BluJaz Cafe 11 Bali Lane. T: 6292 3800. Open Mon-Thu 12:00-24:00 Fri 12:00-02:00 Sat 16:00-02:00. http://www.blujaz.net
Ohm Mani 29A Haji Lane. T: 9715 7504. http://www.facebook.com/ohm.mani
Pluck 31/33 Haji Lane. T: 6396 4048. http://www.pluck.com.sg
Soon Lee 73 Haji Lane. Open Mon-Sat 12:00-21:00, Sun 13:00-20:00. http://www.ishopsoonlee.blogspot.com/
The Salad Shop 25 Haji Lane. http://the-salad-store.blogspot.com/
Threadbare & Squirrel 43 Haji Lane, 2nd Storey. T: 6396 6738. http://www.threadbareandsquirrel.com/
Visual Orgasm 2 Haji Lane. T: 6336 5884. http://visualorgasmtattoo.blogspot.com/
Wicked Laundry 76 Haji Lane. Open Daily 13:00-21:00. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wicked-Laundry/187619187565