This city or country never ceases to amaze me. If you think you have seen Singapore having experienced its world class safaris and amusement parks, then you have only touched its surface. It has a lot to offer which sadly gets shrouded by tall skyscrapers and gleaming city lights. I have rarely seen people travelling to Singapore taking unusual routes and so, here is the lowdown on travel suggestions from a local in my Singapore Travel Guide series.
I have immense respect for this country for what it is today. After Japanese and the British left, Singapore joined Malaysia to become one of its federal state. The partnership didn’t last for too long. Irreconcilable differences led the Federation of Malaysia to expel Singapore. Without much land area and natural resources, Singapore had struggled hard to become today’s one of the most prosperous nations of the world.
Do not underestimate the diminutive size of this country. If you are willing to go an extra mile, here are some alternative travel routes to get an insight into the local side of Singapore.
1. Connect to its Heritage
Singapore was a major trading point in Asia when Chinese from South China and Indians from South India flocked and settled here for good. They married natives, adapted local ways and gave birth to a new culture – future generations of Chinese here came to be known as Peranakans and that of Tamil Indians as Chitty.
To get a taste of history, just walk down the old iconic locations, and you will be overwhelmed by its past. For instance, the trendy Bars & Restaurants in Clark Quay today used to be the repositories for the merchants. Re-live its past through the old pictures on the walls in the alleys.
Similarly, Kampong Glam better known as the Arab Street is where a small community of Arab merchants settled down. The area today has an array of Middle Eastern restaurants giving it a look and feel of Gulf. You can not miss the magnificent golden dome of Sultan mosque built by the Sultan of Johor in the 19th century.
I am fortunate to live close to the delightful Peranakan heritage area. Every single time I see the colourful two-storeys and terraced shophouses with ornate facades, intricate motifs and ceramic tiles, it uplifts my spirit in an unexplainable way. Today, hipster cafes have burgeoned in these shophouses keeping the original designs intact.
Likewise, there are several lanes which tells the stories of different communities of the bygone era.
2. Try Local Eateries at the Hawker Centers
Despite being one of the most expensive nations in the world, a local here eats out at least two meals a day, if not less. Thankfully, eating out here is not just for rich people, but only if it is at the local hawker centres.
If in Singapore, you must check out this local way of eating out. Prepared to be bewildered by the several food choices available under one roof at nominal prices. Nearly all localities have the hawker centres – some are big, some are small, but they all are cheap. After a year of living here, I have my favourite stall for chicken rice, chicken satay and popiah.
The nearest hawker centre has become my go-to place when I need a time-out. I take my book, grab a kopi and sit until the birds chase me away – just saying if you think they are places not right to hang out.
3. Go Hiking in Nature
Singapore may be a tiny dot on the map, but it sure has room for the green open spaces. The city gives all the opportunity to the nature lovers to spend time in the woods without having them to leave the country. I have lived in Delhi, which is twice the size of Singapore and I struggled to find one well-kept nature park for a casual stroll. Here in Singapore, I find comfort in the fact that nurturing nature is given equal thoughtfulness as building superstructures.
There are great outdoor options for people who love taking long walks in nature and like to enrich knowledge on flora and fauna. As a bird-lover find pleasure listening to the sounds of Yellow-vented Bulbul, Straw-headed Bulbul, Brown-throated Sunbird and many more. Between September and April, you may spot winter migratory birds such as Brahminy Kite, Raptors and others.
Amazingly, these nature parks are also designed to give a sense of thrill to adventurous people, so they have options of board walking, tree top walks and hill-tops to get the fabulous view of the city.
View all the nature trails in Singapore here. Few trails that I highly recommended are:
– HortPark and Southern Ridges
– McRitchie Reservoir Park
– Bukit Batok Nature Park
4. Escape to Southern Islands
Singapore comprises of 63 islands. Ok, it will be a sin to compare them to the ones in Thailand or Philippines, but if you are on an extended vacation in Singapore, they make a great escape from the city. Out of the 63, Southern Islands which comprise of St. John, Lazarus, Kusu and Seringat are the most well-maintained and frequently visited.
St. John Island: The island used to be the quarantine for the cholera patients in the late 19th century. Later, it became famous for the screening for Asian immigrants and pilgrims returning from Mecca. It also housed immigrants with leprosy at one point. It shouldn’t repel you, all of this was in the past.
The island today has chalets and a holiday bungalow; booking is possible in advance at Sentosa Information Centre. There are no food outlets on the island so if you are planning to stay there for a night carry your food supplies.
Photo Credits: Mark爱生活
Lazarus Island: Away from the city, lies a secret island swathed in white sand and turquoise water. If you are looking for some quality beach time, Lazarus Island should be your destination. Not sure where does it get its name from but the island is reachable through a bridge from St. John.
Photo Credits: Richard Lee
Kusu Island: This island sees more visitors as it has a Chinese temple, Malay shrine, tortoise sanctuary and man-made lagoons.
How to reach: Take a ferry from Marina South Pier to reach Southern Islands. Check the ferry schedule here.
Cost: SG$18 return ticket
5. Experience Kampung Living in Pulau Ubin
Another island which is popular with locals is Pulau Ubin where you can witness Kampung or village living. The island has some 30 odd residents. You can easily rent a bicycle here and go on different routes to explore it. Hire a kayak and head to mangroves with a guide to view bird life.
Take a break from cycling and do board walking and check out Chek Jawa wetland reserve. I think this is the cheapest way to enjoy a weekend in Singapore.
How to reach: Take a boat from Changi Point jetty at Changi Village. A boat will leave when there are 12 persons to fill the bumboat.
6. Visit a Museum of your liking
Singapore has over 30 museums to suit various interests. Apart from the famous National Museum, National Gallery and Asian Civilization Museum, there are few unconventional museums which reflect the long-gone time of Singapore. I am positive that at least one among these will catch your fancy.
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum – this reminds me of Ross from Friends. If dinosaurs fascinate you, this museum is for you. It keeps fossils and comprehensive information on diverse species from South East Asia which once existed in Singapore.
Photo Credits: Jack
Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall – Dr Sun Yat Sen was instrumental in the upheaval of the Qing Dynasty of China. He is also the founder of the Modern China. This Memorial Hall used to be his residence where he strategized his revolution.
Mint Museum of Toys – This place will freshen up your childhood memories. Find yourself surrounded by the impressive collection of Star Wars to Micky Mouse and Superman and Hot Wheels. And no, it is not just for kids.
Red Dot Design Museum – If art and creativity interests you then head to Red Dot. The collection includes the curated designs from the award-winning designers from all around the world. Expect to see anything from kitchen utensils and furniture to daily essentials and technological gadget.
Photo Credits: Shenghung Lin
Peranakan Museum – A perfect place to gain insight into the local Chinese culture of the city. Traditionally, Peranakan women were called Nonya and men were called Baba. See the lifestyle that Baba and Nonya used to maintain with their porcelain wares and elaborate weddings all of which has faded with time.
I hope you know what to do next time you are visiting Singapore. Go for any of these to see the other side of Singapore.