A local’s guide to Singapore
Singapore has much to offer both the traveler who is looking for a weekend getaway, or a launch point to the rest of South East Asia and Oceania.
While most people think of Singapore as being sterile and expensive, you only need scratch the surface to find a city with many hidden gems. Singaporeans are seriously food obsessed and there will be no lack of options regardless of your dietary restrictions/preferences.
Kampong Glam/Little India/Chinatown
Singapore is a tiny country (50km from east to west and 27km from north to south) and with its’ efficient transportation network, it is easy to cover a lot in one day. Singapore is a multiracial society and while its’ population no longer live in ethnic enclaves, Kampong Glam (Bugis MRT), Little India (Farrer Park or Little India MRT) and Chinatown (Chinatown or Outram MRT) were the original ethnic enclaves in the founding days of Singapore of the Malay, Indian and Chinese community respectively and still retain their unique characteristics.
In Kampong Glam’s Haji and Bali Lane, you can stroll along the conserved shop house housing cafes and cool shops filled with records, clothes and various trinkets. Visit Tekka Market and Mustafa Centre (opened 24 hours!) in Little India to get your fix of electronics, spices, food, groceries and everything you could possibly want or need. Chinatown, with its’ close proximity to the central business district (think high rents), has gentrified in the last few years. It is still worth a visit to check out some of Singapore’s hottest and trendiest restaurants/cafes/bars along Duxton Road, Craig Road, Neil Road and Keong Saik Road. You can still find traces of Chinatown’s past such as goldsmiths and traditional Chinese medicine halls in the area and the interesting mix of new and old is perhaps one of the best places to get a feel of where Singapore was and is heading towards.
The Singapura Club – heritage style vintage bistro with creative interpretation of local favourites. 26 Haji Lane, Singapore 189219.
Muthu’s Curry – Fish head curry, traditional northern and southern Indian food 138 Race Course Rd, #01-01, 218591
The Lokal – Australian Café. Great for brunch, lunch and coffee. 136 Neil Rd, 088865
Burnt Ends – One of Asia’s best restaurants. Modern Australian style barbecue. 20 Teck Lim Road, 088391
Chinatown Complex Food Centre – authentic Singapore hawker food with local delights
335 Smith Street, Chinatown Complex, Singapore 050335
Chinatown Food Street – open air hawker with local favourites 7 Smith Street, Singapore 058921
Tong Heng – Chinese bakery well known for their egg tarts. 285 South Bridge Road
The heart of Peranakan culture (straits-born Chinese, with a mix of Malay and Chinese culture), Katong and Joo Chiat is where some of the best food in Singapore can be found. The area’s identity is especially shaped by its unique pre-war architecture – colourful two-storey shophouses and terrace houses with ornate facades, intricate motifs and ceramic tiles. Come ready with empty bellies, you’ll be stuffed by the time you’re done with this area.
328 Katong Laksa – rice noodles in a spicy, coconut milk soup with beancurd, prawns, cockles and more. 53 East Coast Road, Singapore 428771
Sin Heng Bak Ku Teh – pork ribs stewed with a mixture of fragrant herbs and spices such as garlic, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds and coriander. 439 Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore 427652
Kim Choo Kueh Chang – Peranakan Rice dumplings 60 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore 427784
Surrounded by some of the poshest neighbourhoods in Singapore and only 5-10 minutes away from downtown, the botanical gardens provide a nice respite if you would like to get away from the city (while still being in the city!) Unlike Gardens by the bay, the botanical gardens is an actual garden/park that is an essential part of local life and you will find people working out, families having picnics, school children on excursions and a myriad of cafes/restaurants within and around the gardens.
Corner House – Michelin one star. Singaporean chef serving up innovative global cuisine.
1 Cluny Road, E J H Corner House Singapore Botanic Gardens, 259569
Adam Road Food Centre – hawker centre with exceptionally good halal fare (Nasi Lemak and Mutton Soup) 2 Adam Rd, Singapore 289876
Gardens by the bay
Giant tree like structures that light up, huge towering waterfalls, cloud and flower domes. It is almost like you walked into a science fiction film set. Incredibly landscaped, it is definitely worth a visit as testament to Singapore’s dedication to being a ‘garden city’. It is a huge area and if you have the time, walk over to the Bay East Garden and the Marina Barrage for some of the best views of Singapore’s skyline. Near the Gardens is Marina Bay Sands with its’ iconic pool where you can gamble, shop international luxury brands or just enjoy the air conditioning.
Satay by the bay – local hawker centre, specialities are satays and seafood 18 Marina Gardens Drive, #01-19, 018953
Zoological Gardens/River Safari/Night Safari
While zoos may not really be on the list of MUST visits for many, the Singapore zoological garden is award winning and with ‘open’ exhibits and large landscaped enclosure, emphasis here is placed on animal welfare and conservation vs visitor satisfaction (although that might mean that you do not get to see all the animals on demand). Having a nocturnal zoo (the night safari), also allows visitors to experience the natural sleep wake cycle of these animals. The river safari is the latest addition to the trio of zoos located in the Northern part of Singapore. If you had to pick one, would recommend the river safari as unlike aquariums, with oceanic species, the river safari features creatures found in rivers such as the Ganges, Amazon and Yellow River. Anyone critical of zoos not being able to fulfill their intended goal of raising awareness for conservation only need to visit the River Safari to be convinced otherwise.
Not often found in the list of places to go/see, Pulau Ubin is an island off eastern Singapore and often considered the last ‘kampung’ (village) in Singapore. A stroll through Ubin takes you back to Singapore in the 1960s. Accessible only by bumboat from Changi Pier, Ubin is a great day trip spent walking or pedaling through rustic roads under swaying coconut palms, exploring shady trails in overgrown rubber plantations, checking out secluded beaches and flourishing mangroves. One of the main sites of interest is Chek Jawa, an intertidal flat. Several ecosystems can be seen in this small area and provide refuge for plants and animals that are no longer common elsewhere in the city.
Cheong Lian Yuen – seafood restaurant 20 Pulau Ubin, 508275
There is the National Museum of Singapore, Singapore Art Museum, Art Science Museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, Mint Museum of Toys, National Gallery of Singapore and plenty more. If you only had time for one, would recommend the National Gallery of Singapore. It houses the largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian art in the world and only opened after ten years of curation. The building is absolutely breathtaking and have some amazing restaurants as well. Art has always been a reflection of a society’s political, social and economic climate, and the stories from within are a reflection of Singapore’s past and present.
Odette – French restaurant. Two Michelin stars. One of the best restaurants in Asia helmed by Julien Royer 1 Saint Andrew’s Road, #01-04, National Gallery, 178957
National Kitchen by Violet Onn – Authentic Nyona Cuisine and and local dishes 1 St. Andrew’s Road #02–01, National Gallery, Singapore 178957
Author: Deb Wong