The first image that usually comes to mind when someone mentions Singapore is probably the impressive Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, or various scenes from Crazy Rich Asians the recent Hollywood movie hit that made Singapore even more prominent on the global map. This little island city-state has all that and more, making it an iconic travel destination filled with heritage treasures, cultural flavours, modern art and entertainment, and exhilarating outdoor experiences. For first-time visitors, it is almost like an introduction to Southeast Asia, albeit the more glamorous side. Yet, there is always something new and exciting even for regular travellers to look forward to on every trip - and it doesn’t need fancy packaging.
Image by weekender.com
Locations around Singapore are organised according to precincts or districts. Some of which are well known for tourism, others for life among the locals. It is in the in-between that you find charming alleys with little surprises and tasty treats, making Singapore worth exploring over and over again. Here are our favourite neighborhoods for off the beaten track experiences that you can explore on your next trip to Singapore.
Located about 20 minutes west from Singapore’s famous Orchard Road by MRT train, Tiong Bahru at Tiong Bahru MRT Station is a quaint little neighborhood that exudes the charm of old Singapore with a pinch of the new. We say “taste” because a highlight in this location is the Tiong Bahru Market. It has stood within a retro-style building at the intersection of Seng Poh Road and Lim Liak Street since 1955. You can buy fresh meats and vegetables in a clean setting at this wet market or fill your tummy with local food from the hawker stalls that share the same roof. Some notable stalls are Jian Bo Shui Kueh, Roast Meat from Lee Hong Kee, and Ice Kacang dessert from Liang Liang Garden.
Source: Yip Yew Chong
Once you’re done at the market, take a stroll around the area and see if you can find all of the heritage murals painted by local artist Yip Yew Chong, depicting the nostalgia of Singaporean life back in the day. Start at Block 73 Eng Watt Street and wander till you get to Tiong Bahru Bakery. It’s a French bakery known for their delicious freshly-made croissants.
There are many other little curious shops and cafes around the area to discover as well. One of our favourites is Books Actually - a bookshop of curated books from Singapore and other international publishers that also sells quirky little things. When you feel tired, drop by Grey Projects to rest your feet. It’s a simple art gallery and library on the second floor - with Wifi!
Recommended hotels in Tiong Bahru: Nostalgia Hotel, Link Hotel, Wangz Hotel
Image by Straits Times
It’s possible to have a great time without getting wild and breaking the bank in Chinatown. Start your evening at Singapore City Gallery before it closes at 5pm. Enter for free and be awed by its massive miniature model of the city and media-driven documentation of Singapore’s rapid development. Then take a step back in time and visit Chinatown Heritage Centre, an award-winning museum that sits within three restored shophouses on Pagoda Street. The six galleries of this museum tells you everything you need to know about the life that traders, labourers and immigrants had. The interactive experiences that you can participate in bringing the stories of this museum to life.
Source: The Screening Room Facebook Page
Then it is time to catch a movie or watch the sunset over pre-dinner drinks just three minutes away at The Screening Room on Ann Siang Road. This boutique film theatre and rooftop bar often screens independent and classic films and sometimes also hosts cultural events bringing together film lovers from around the globe. The best place for dinner would be Chinatown Food Street. Stretching across 100-metres and housing 24 local food stalls, it’s got everything in one place! Satay, char kway teow, dried chilli frog porridge from Geylang Lorong 9, fried oyster omelette, and more.
Source: Neon Pigeon
For a meat-heavy meal in Chinatown, make a reservation at Burnt Ends, an Australian-style restaurant that’s set up to let you to watch the chefs prepare your barbequed meat, charred to perfection in ovens that go up to 700 degrees! Finally, finish your night with a handcrafted smoky Teared Negroni at one of Chinatown’s most unique izakaya cocktail bars, Neon Pigeon.
Recommended hotels in Chinatown: The Scarlet Singapore, Furama City Centre, Dorsett Singapore
Image by Travel Singapore
Located further west of Central Singapore, no one really talks about Jurong except for the Jurong Bird Park that has been around since 1971. With its 5,000 beautiful birds of all colours and sizes, it continues to hit ratings at 4.5 out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor even till today. While that’s definitely an attraction on this side of the island, perhaps it is time people knew there was another good reason to make the trip. We’re talking about the incredible shopping deals at IMM Mall, Jurong East.
Image by CapitaLand
This 5-storey mall is the largest outlet mall in Singapore offering discounts of up to 80% all year round. Shopaholics can skip Orchard Road shopping and bring their wallets straight to IMM Mall’s 90 outlet stalls covering leading fashion brands such as Michael Kors, Furla, Nike, Adidas, Timberland, Kate Spade, and more.
Image by Tatyana-K on Flickr
Jurong is also home to Singapore’s oldest surviving dragon klin, the Thow Kwang Dragon Klin owned by the Tan family since 1965. A dragon klin is unlike any other klin. It is long and thin, stretching up to 60 meters long, allowing very large batches of Chinese porcelain and ceramic pieces to be fired at one go - kinda like the long neck of a fire-breathing dragon. This one in particular has remained in its original brick-built form and is fired up by wood instead of gas or electric. Ashes from the woodfire have a unique effect on the glaze of each pot, creating a beautiful blush of flame that cannot be naturally achieved by any other technique. Try your hand at the art of pottery by registering for a Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle workshop that is also held onsite and take home a piece of history to remember and appreciate.
Recommended hotels in Jurong: Genting Hotel Jurong
Image by sifa.sg
We’ve only covered three locations in Singapore and there is already a ton of things to do! In addition, if you’re a fan of the arts, the Singapore International Festival of Arts is just around the corner. It presents diverse art experiences over two and a half weeks with activities spread across different locations. Delight all your senses with music, film, dance, and the visual arts during this annual affair. This year’s festival even includes a storytelling event to be held at a secret location! If all these still aren’t good enough reasons to book a flight to Singapore pronto (and land in the newly opened Jewel Changi Airport), keep following our Mayflower Travel Blog for Part 2 of this list!