The Cities You Don’t See: Singapore

The Singapore Skyline
Image Source: Ruth Png

Say you’re walking down the street. It’s a street in a strange world. Maybe it’s the third world. Maybe it’s your first time around. So where do you go? Every traveller to a new place has experienced it before, the crippling indecision that makes one reach for, shudder, a tourist brochure. That’s where we come in. We’ve gone to the locals on the ground to get the skinny on the places they think is worth visiting.

Singapore is small, tropical island nation that has a rep for being strict. It’s also known for being efficient and humourless, so basically any stereotype that Germans have also applies here (besides the whole annexing Poland thing). In reality this city state is a place with plenty of charm and fun. And it’s a comfortable place to travel to because most of the population speaks English, of sorts, and its small size and extensive public transport system make getting around easy.

The Chinatown street market.
Image Source: Samuel Tan

Shop houses in Chinatown still retain their old character.
Image Source: Ruth Png

One place that is its own treasure hoard is Chinatown. Literally around the corner from the Chinatown MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, the ultra efficient public train system) this is one of the oldest parts of the city and has a lot to offer in terms of cuisine, culture and architecture. You’ll find a slew of Chinese restaurants and grocery stores nestled within shop houses dating back to the days of the country’s history as a jewel of the British Empire. Besides Chinese goods, you can also find an eclectic selection of shops that offer anything from designer clothes to Tintin merchandise.

Just to the right, eclectic shops and stylish watering holes.
Image Source: Samuel Tan

Head south east along Temple Street and you’ll hit Ann Siang Hill. The hill is a quirky grab bag of drinking holes and cafes, fashion boutiques and bookstores. It might be on the higher end of the price scale compared to the rest of the city, but in Australian terms it’s a bargain and the finds are worth the cash.

Boutiques in Haji Lane.
Image Source: Samuel Tan

But the real place to satisfy your sartorial desires is definitely Haji Lane, in the heart of Arab Street. The street is narrow and very easy to miss, but it attracts a host of artist types and hipsters (you have been warned). Haji Lane still breathes with the history of the former life as the center of Singapore’s muslim quarter but has taken on a new mantle as ground zero for the city and the region’s modern ideas of cool. Side by side with Egyptian shisha cafes and Indian curry shops are stores offering gorgeously tailored dresses and styles on the cutting edge of fashion, that may or may not all wearable in the humid climate. You may also stumble upon vinyl record stores and vintage toys.

The Tiong Bahru hawker centre, just one of the many throughout the city.
Image Source: Gary Hendricks

All of that exploring has probably got you hankering for something to chow down on. You’re in luck, because there’s nothing Singaporeans take more pride in than food. Now, if you want to try good food in Singappore and decide to try one of its world class fine dining restaurants like Iggy’s or Les Amis, you’re missing the goddamn point.

Typical hawker fare: Chicken rice, Hainanese pork chops and wonton noodles.
Image Source: Ruth Png

The real hero of Singaporean cuisine is the humble hawker centre. Each of these open air cafes boast a variety of stalls offering Indian, Malay, Chinese and variety of other cuisines that reflect the city’s multi-cultural identity and you can get a incredible meal for less than five dollars. For newbies, just go to the stall with the longest queue and ask for the whatever is the most popular. Some hawker centres are more popular than others, but really it makes no difference; with so many dotted around the city you cannot go wrong with picking one at random.

Sentosa Island has more to offer besides its beaches.
Image Source: Samuel Tan

Once you’re ready to wind down your day you could take a dip at the beach. Sentosa Island in the south is the last real refuge for the beach lover, but also has the Universal Studios Theme Park, a Casino, and pubs where you’d be happy to call the last spot of your day.

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