Want to discover Singapore beyond the touristy clichés and contrived photo-ops? Here are six offbeat things to do!
For any tourist visiting Singapore, the itinerary is usually a blend of shopping, the Merlion, the night safari, washed down by the Singapore Sling. Few venture beyond the Singapore outlined in guidebooks and guided tours, missing out on a taste of the city. In stark contrast to its carefully manicured ‘tourist-friendly’ image, the real Singapore is chaotic, colourful and heady. Maze-like markets trump glitzy malls and multicultural identities surface. Hop on for a tour, as we scratch beneath the surface for some real history and culture!
1.Experience the ‘Singaporean’ way of life
There’s more to Singapore than Sentosa and Orchard Road. A lot more. Singaporeans are crazy about their iced Milo, preferring it even over cola. Hot pants are the national attire, paired with killer heels of course. One dollar ice cream, eaten in bread, is a favourite street side snack. Ladies’ night at Clark Quay (Wednesday) and warehouse sales are dates to watch. The Singaporean rains are brief yet vicious, beating down with all their might. Singaporeans habitually end their sentences with “lah” and the queues outside Louis Vuitton showrooms tell you how brand obsessed they are. And if you ride the MRT at peak time, you’ve probably seen Singapore at its manic best.
Take a stroll amidst Chinatown’s colourful shop houses to get a feel of the original Singapore, long before the island suddenly exploded with high-rises. Chinatown is a traveller’s dream—tacky yet traditional, with unbelievable prices. Several of the establishments have been around for decades, and are local heritage brands so to speak. Pop in for an authentic Chinese meal or stock up on herbal medicines. Liven up your home with Chinese New Year decorations (to be bought at a steal once the New Year passes) or simply stand aside and watch the action around! Temple Street offers an array of food choices. Don’t miss the Singaporean special, chicken satee with peanut sauce. Visit the “last sausage stall before the equator,” run by a friendly Austrian, if you fancy a different palette.
The Thekchen Choling Temple, located at Beatty Lane, is Singapore’s only traditional Tibetan Buddhist temple. It is an outstanding example of how culture and religion have melded with the cosmopolitan cityscape. The temple is interesting, with numerous sacred relics and devotional objects on display. Offer prayers with the incense sticks, admire the minute wall carvings, and be drawn in by the chanting. Visitors of all faiths are welcome.
If you’re looking for a breathtaking view of Singapore, the Esplanade harbour front is the place. Step back and admire the city’s skyline and blinding lights—framed by the distinctive Marina Bay Sands building. Stargaze. For the artistically inclined, Esplanade’s Theatres on the Bay (Yes, it’s the building that closely resembles a durian) offer a range of theatrical, musical and cultural performances.
The bargain shopper’s dream come true, Bugis. It’s crowded and interconnected alleys are filled with all sorts of deals. Bargain hard, and don’t hesitate to move on! Bugis is also home to the National Library and several national museums. In its glory days, Bugis was home to a nightly gathering of gorgeous 'transwomen'. Today’s Bugis is a tamer version of its predecessor, but a trip to it can be most rewarding for tourist who like to explore around, wondering, “What lies beyond that corner?”
Dempsey Hill was originally home to the British Army barracks. However, this is now one of Singapore’s most elegant and upmarket dining destinations. A handful of exclusive restaurants dot Dempsey Hill, snuggled amidst its graceful old-world ambience. Tuck in for a fine meal with a historic context to match!
Article and pictures by - Mithila Mehta