The locals’ secret guide to Singapore
On the surface, Singapore appears as any modern, heaving Asian city: all heat and humidity. A place where the best way to beat the heat is to laze by stunning hotel pools, with cocktail in hand.
But Singapore is more than meets the eye. It has a rich history, diverse architecture, pockets of green space and, at just roughly two-thirds the size of New York City, it punches well above its weight.
With the super-efficient MRT transport system, almost non-existent traffic, and cheap airconditioned cabs, it’s well worth scratching the surface, and discovering the Singapore that locals love.
Shophouses in Joo Chiat, Singapore Picture: iStock
1. JALAN BESAR
Once far removed from the tourist trail and known for its abundance of hardware shops, Jalan Besar is now a must-see foodie hot spot and home to cool and quirky bars, hipster cafes and a safe, interesting place for young locals and tourists to cafe-hop the afternoon away.
119 TYRWHITT RD, JALAN BESAR
One of the best new places in Singapore for craft beer with 23 beers on tap, Druggists is also home to a vibrant and tasty menu (designed to be paired with the beer if you so desire) including won tons, sliders and quirky takes on the traditional with their delicious Marmite cheese sticks.
Sliders at Druggist. Picture: DruggistsSG/Facebook
88 HORNE RD, JALAN BESAR
Specialising in sweet and savoury treats, you can’t go past their speciality coffee and range of French and fusion-inspired pastries. Try the crispy duck mille-feuille with mandarin orange cream, crepe and green apples or the blueberry ricotta cheesecake with berry compote and almond crumble. Or better still, come for high tea (3pm to 5pm on weekdays) and try everything – but make sure you book first.
The Two Bakers. Picture: two-bakers.com
A vast, green residential area dotted with black and white bungalows and throwbacks to yesteryear, this is a must-see area for history buffs.
Take a free walking tour with My Queenstown (three hours, every second and fourth Sunday, starting at Queenstown MRT Station at 8.15am).
BLACK AND WHITE BUNGALOWS
The stunning colonial bungalows are tucked away in the south/central areas of the island and are reminders of lavish residential villas of British rule. Today, they are mostly owned by the state and rented to wealthy expats.
9A WHITCHURCH RD, PORTSDOWN
At this colonial influenced cafe in Portsdown, set in an oasis of greenery and tall trees, it’s easy to forget you are in one of the most progressive and modern cities in Asia. The menu is a mix of Hainanese-influenced cuisine and British fare (ox liver, chicken maryland, fish and chips) with a large selection of beer and ciders. Try the chop suey with chicken and prawn or fried bee hoon (thin rice stick noodles) and an ice cold Tiger Beer for less than $25.
3. KAMPONG GLAM
Singapore’s Malay-Arab quarter, it was once an ethnic enclave for the Muslim community and Arab and Bugis traders that passed through. It’s now a thriving neighbourhood weaving its history through vintage traders and small boutiques, interesting street art and graffiti. Visit the exquisite Sultan Mosque, quaint restaurants, cool bars and busy Fairtrade cafes – don’t forget your camera for countless Instagram-worthy photo opportunities.
The Sultan Mosque in Kampong Glam. Picture: iStock
This tiny laneway is a fashionista’s paradise, with a collection of narrow shophouses and diverse offerings including from high-end to casual fashion, handmade jewellery, tattoo parlours, bamboo and sustainable designs, sunglasses and records. With some shops carrying just one dress in each style, you’re sure to find a unique gift or something for yourself.
55/57A HAJI LANE, KAMPONG GLAM
Among the shopping and the artwork are tiny bars and cafes. Bar Stories is unique and not-to-be-missed. Sans menu, the barmen take your taste and flavour preferences to create imaginative cocktails based on your personal favourites, and indeed name one after yourself.
699 NORTH BRIDGE RD, KAMPONG GLAM
A nondescript Malay restaurant serving traditional Malay food since 1908, Zam Zam is an authentic and lively experience not to be missed. It’s famous for its murtabak – try it in beef, mutton, venison, chicken or the delicious deer roti, but you can’t go wrong with any of their traditional offerings.
4. JOO CHIAT/KATONG
This traditional preserve of Peranakan culture is a fascinating neighbourhood to explore at your own pace, and by foot, wandering through the local shops, a myriad of eating houses, and taking in the Straits Eclectic architecture.
The area is dotted with unique and colourful two-storey shophouses and terrace homes adorned with sculpted animal reliefs, handcrafted ceramic tiles and vintage signs, and mailboxes still in use today.
Row of conservation shophouses along Koon Seng Road near Joo Chiat. Picture: iStock
191 E COAST RD, KATONG
A bold claim given the vast number of options for chicken rice in the area, but the traditional Hainanese dish is their speciality and with the steamed chicken tender, the rice fragrant and the beer cold, it’s a great respite from the heat and the outside world.
5-Star Hainanese Chicken Rice. Picture: fivestarchickenrice.com
5. AMOY ST/BOAT QUAY
Amoy St, one of Singapore’s most popular and busy destinations, is home to the city’s ever-growing number of hole-in-the-wall bars and speak-easies, making for an interesting mix of old gangster culture and modern Singapore.
32 SOUTH BRIDGE RD, BOAT QUAY
A buzzing food court, BK Eating house is unbelievable value for money and great for people watching. Order your food from Yan Kee Noodles, find a table if you can and sip on a Tiger Beer as you watch the world pass by. Located in Boat Quay, it’s a great late-night venue to or from Amoy St or Clarke Quay.
The writer was a guest of Tiger Beer and the Singapore Tourism Board.
Originally published as The locals’ secret guide to Singapore