Asian Civilization Museum (ACM), Singapore.
Text & Photo © CM Cordeiro & JE Nilsson 2024

The Easter weekend provided the perfect opportunity to take a few days off from Sweden and land in Singapore to spend time with my parents and catch up with good friends. All days in Singapore over the week of the Easter weekend were memorable, but the visits to the Asian Civilization Museum (ACM) and the Peranakan Museum stood out as highlights of our visit back to Singapore.

Singapore is known as the city that never sleeps. Yet, some of the more serene hours of the day can be found right at the heart of the central business district of Singapore, just before dawn when the sun begins to peek from the horizon.

In Singapore, visitors are genuinely spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation, with options to suit varying preferences for location and proximity to popular spots. If you prefer the heart of the business district, then The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia, situated in the bustling Marina Bay area, is one of many accommodations around the area. It’s conveniently close to major attractions like the Singapore Flyer and Marina Square Shopping Mall, both within a 5-minute stroll. The hotel is also just a short walk from iconic locations such as Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay. With the Promenade MRT station nearby, exploring the city is a breeze. The hotel’s location combines convenience with the luxury of being in one of the city’s most dynamic neighborhoods. And the morning quiet even on a busy Easter weekend at the Ritz Carlton? Absolutely perfect for this introvert.

The Breakfast Buffet at The Colony

The plan was to meet at The Colony for breakfast. The buffet there is known to be an indulgence for the senses. There are several sections at this breakfast, from Japanese, French / Italian, Continental, and Singapore Heritage foods. The Japanese section caught my eye with its range of seasonings and condiments, and the sushi was beautifully presented, making it hard to resist even if sushi has not been a traditional breakfast item on my plate.

A Culinary Journey
I was particularly intrigued by the dim sum and rice dumplings, offering a taste of Asian flavors. The bread section was equally impressive, with a variety of options to choose from. My first and only plate was a classic – bacon and eggs – laid on a blue and white porcelain plate. The bacon was perfectly cooked and delectable. Complementing my breakfast plate was an order for a tall caffe latte on ice. The heat and humidity in Singapore had gone up several degrees since I had left in the early 2000s, so iced drinks are often on my list of orders when back in Singapore.

The Colony Bakery
After a hearty breakfast, I decided to explore the Colony Bakery right beside the buffet area. It was a visual feast, with an array of Easter pastries, chocolate confections, and sweets that were as beautiful as they were tempting. A special order Easter egg for your family? There were several works of art on display just as you enter The Colony. Careful not to tip over any pastry or chocolate bunny, it was time to move to our next place of interest of the day, the Asian Civilization Museum (ACM) located at one end of Boat Quay, Singapore.

ACM A Journey into Asian Heritage

The Enchanting Venue
Nestled by the tranquil Singapore River, the Asian Civilizations Museum (ACM) serves as a grand window to the diverse cultures of Asia, especially those that have intertwined with Singapore’s own heritage. The museum, set in a historical building, has been sharing these stories since its inception in 1993 and its relocation to the present site in 2003.

“People of The River” and “A Great Emporium”
Even before entering, visitors are greeted with poignant sculptures that depict life in 19th-century Singapore. “People of The River” vividly portrays locals under colonial rule, while “A Great Emporium” pays homage to the coolies instrumental in building the nation. As you wander by the Singapore River, you’ll encounter sculptures reflecting the traditional kampong lifestyle. These evoke a sense of nostalgia for me, reminding me of my childhood in Singapore, where the landscape was covered with more grass and sand, in stark contrast to today’s prevalence of glass and concrete.

A Cultural Melting Pot

The Diverse Exhibits
The ACM in Singapore distinctively showcases the artistic and cultural heritage of Asia, with a special emphasis on the ancestral backgrounds of Singaporeans. Introduced in late 2015, its two new sections feature a diverse array of galleries, including those dedicated to trade, ancient religions, and Chinese scholarly traditions, narrating Asia’s rich cultural tapestry. Unlike the National Museum of Singapore, ACM provides a broader panorama of Southeast Asian cultures, encapsulating their varied religions, arts, and traditions, mirroring Singapore’s contemporary multicultural essence.

The Tang Shipwreck Collection
At the Khoo Teck Puat gallery, the spotlight shines on the famed Tang Shipwreck collection, a portal to 9th-century China’s trade and culture. Its standout feature, the artfully displayed Tang Shipwreck bowls, captivates visitors. The museum’s design facilitates an immersive yet accessible journey through Southeast Asian history. A key element is the innovative showcasing of jewelry against photographic backdrops, offering a fresh angle on these historical pieces.

More Than History

Engaging Programs and Dining Options
The ACM transcends traditional museum offerings with engaging programs like the annual River Nights. The gift shop also provides perfect mementos of this cultural journey. My favourite nook of the museum would be the café that openes out to a view of the Sinagpore River.
Between gallery viewings, I had time to sit at Privé Café that offered a serene retreat with its all-day dining options. The café’s strategic position by the Singapore River allows for an idyllic dining experience, complemented by stunning views of the river and the city’s central business district (CBD) skyline. This architectural contrast between old and new Singapore is something I would never tire of. It’s a scene that I often find myself looking forward to revisit whenever I’m back in this city nation.

Design and Ambiance
The interior of Privé Café is a harmonious blend of contemporary and local design elements, featuring white-washed walls, timber ceilings, and pastel turquoise trimmings. Outdoors, the terrace seating provides a laid-back atmosphere perfect for soaking in the scenic riverfront views, albeit, better in late evening or very early mornings to keep out of the sweltering heat.

Gastronomic Delights

Diverse Menu Offerings
The menu at Privé Café is a delightful mix of local and Western favorites. The dishes, prepared with fresh ingredients and served in generous portions, range from salads and sandwiches to pasta, local noodle dishes, and hearty main courses. For local dishes, the Laksa, with its perfectly balanced broth and noodles, and the peeled, juicy prawns, seemed to have been a choice standout with visitors. I observed it to be a most popular dish at several tables during my visit. For dessert lovers, the indulgent cakes and pastries are a must-try, particularly their layered chocoalte cake drizzled over with chocolate sauce.

A Beverage for Every Palate
The café’s drinks selection is impressive, with a concise list of wines, local beers, and healthy choices like milkshakes, smoothies, and fresh juices. Coffee enthusiasts will appreciate the specialty house-blend sourced from Common Man Coffee Roasters.

Vibe and Service
Privé Café at ACM is more than just a dining option; it’s an integral part of the museum experience, offering a perfect blend of culinary delights, beautiful surroundings, and warm hospitality. Whether it’s for a quick breakfast, a leisurely lunch, or post-work drinks, this café is a gem worth exploring during your visit to the Asian Civilizations Museum. With its quiet environment, attentive waiters, and unique personal touches like name plates at tables, Privé Café offers an atmosphere that is both relaxing and engaging. The excellent service, combined with the delicious food, makes it a recommended spot for both locals and tourists.

Practicalities for Visitors

With an entrance fee discount available after dining at Privé restaurant and free entry for locals, the museum is accessible and inviting. It’s perfect for a half-day visit, providing a rich yet digestible insight into Asia’s vast cultural heritage.

In conclusion, the Asian Civilizations Museum stands as a testament to the rich and diverse tapestry of Asian cultures. Its collections, programs, and unique presentation styles not only educate but also inspire awe, making it a key destination for anyone visiting Singapore.