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5 not-your-average-touristy-must-do Things in Singapore

November 27, 2012

“What will you do in Singapore for 8 days??? The city is so tiny, it can be seen in a day. You guys will get so bored!”

So said our friends when we decided to take a Singapore holiday earlier this year. The idea was to get away from the madness. While everyone was pooh-poohing our decision to spend all the 8 days in Singapore, we were pretty sure we wanted this. Like a miner can find the diamond in the dust (Ok ok, too dramatic, I know), we knew we could find an awesome holiday in Singapore and prove everyone wrong!

I love Singapore. Fell in love with its culture when we visited in Christmas 2008. We did everything touristy back then. Visited China Town and Little India, partied at Clark Quay, walked down Orchard Street (twice!), went to Sentosa Island and took the Cable car to Mount Faber. This time around, we wanted to step away from the Tourist trails and do something different.

We were not disappointed. Singapore is a city of contrasting colors. On one hand you have the imposing skyline, the drool-worthy fashionable people, a busy financially strong city boasting of a high cost of living… on the other hand you have the culturally strong pockets, beautiful architecture and ethnic diversity boasting of a tolerant style of living.

This is what we did every morning..

Get ready by 10am, leave the house (stayed with friends!), walk to the nearest bus stop, stare at the map route, pick what appealed and hop on the bus. Get off at places that looked inviting and then start walking. Telling you, THE BEST way to enjoy a place!

So here is my recommended must-do list for Singapore visitors. Not your average tourist guide thing.. somewhat off the beaten path… hope you enjoy it 🙂

1.  Visit the National Museum of Singapore

This is the oldest museum of Singapore and its construction dates back to 1887. With a Renaissance-style construction, the museum is a beautiful blend of modern and eclectic. The Living Galleries and Singapore history are the top 2 must-see sections. Singapore is a new civilization compared to some of the oldest ones like China and India but it is admirable to see the progressive way with which the history has been portrayed. With life-size, multidimensional display.. the museum will awe you. The blend of history with modern display is worth looking at. Even if you are not a museum-lover, you will enjoy the experience.  It is almost like you took the time capsule back in time and saw intricate aspect of Singapore history.

2. Devour Chilli/Black Pepper Crab at Geylang

Geylang neighborhood is known as the ‘red light district‘ of Singapore to many. What you may not know is that Geylang is that part of Singapore that is relatively untouched by urban development. The main street has the old-world charm with decorated green and yellow window panes and beautiful buildings which are surprisingly well-preserved. Bold neon signs lead you to Karaoke bars and lounges. While during the day, the place is a shopper’s paradise, at night, it transforms itself into a new world that lures people, some to experience it and others to just gawk! The highlight of Geylang is the famous Chilli Crab and an assortment of somewhat interesting food. We found a “Live food” place that may need a strong heart to enter. You must go to “Sinma Live Food” for their Crab and Lobster dishes. They are absolute divine. Although Chilli Crab is what everyone recommends, I suggest you try the Black Pepper Crab.. It is yummier because it is not so over rated 🙂 We also had Chilli Lobster and the best, crispest Roasted Chicken I have ever had! I don’t have a picture of the food, as you can see, because by the time we realized we had to click, the food was over! Haa..

3. Take a Walk and experience surreal irony!

This is something we discovered one fine day when we did not know where to go! Many go to the Marina Bay Sands and the Arts & Science Museum, many go to The Merlion and others go to the Raffles Hotel… Well, we went on a path that covered all of that and more.. It was a walk to remember, literally. Because you not only cover the landmarks that make Singapore famous, but you actually breathe in the Life. It makes you feel one with the city. We were on a bus from Mount Faber to Marina Bay Sands, when I read “Beach Road” sign and got off the bus. Something about it interested me. I realized I was right in front of the legendary Raffles Hotel. We took a walk across the hotel, the café and beyond. It was like getting transported to the British times. It was like Time stood still. We then walked down to the War Memorial. From there to Esplanade – Theatres by the bay that had the beautiful view of Singapore skyline. That’s when it hit me – the Irony. On one side I had the heritage and the old-world Raffles hotel and on the other side was this imposing modern skyline. We walked down the Esplanade Drive, lined with beautiful pink flowers in full bloom, up to The Merlion. We crossed the Tan Kim Seng Fountain, a structure so exquisite, stopped and sat at the nearby bench just to take it all in. We then walked to another legend –  The Fullerton Hotel – a structure that will literally take your breath away. We crossed Victoria Concert hall, the Parliament, the City Hall and finally the St. Andrew’s Church, that rises in its grandeur amongst malls and mega malls! We had come back a full circle to the War Memorial and realized it was the best Walk in the city. The experience was so surreal – to see the British architecture of stone and columns and french windows and the modern creations of Glass and steel stand together in all their splendor in a city, without clashing. A contrast worth admiring.

4. Have the local street food experience at Lau Pa Sat

Lau Pa Sat is the Old Market in the heart of the Central Business District. It is a circular wooden building nestled in between large glass and steel structures. It has a very Victorian feel to it. This was Singapore’s first market and is now a very popular Food Center. As much as your eyes can see there are only food stalls selling mouth-watering cuisines from the Far East, local Singaporean specials and Indian. As evening settles in, you will see hoards of professionals loosening their ties and unbuttoning their suits, entering the place with their friends and colleagues, looking to unwind. If you go post 7pm, pray to your lucky stars to find a place. Jam-packed with a drone-like sound and humdrum of vessels, people talking & laughing and that sweet, mouth-watering smell of fabulous food. I promise you, you will be confused! There is just so much to eat that you will spend the first 30 minutes just walking through rows and rows of food stalls before you realize you have crossed this one before! Definitely try the Vietnamese rolls, the prawns/lobster omelets flanked by spicy condiments, Singapore Chicken Rice accompanied by the most amazing red chilli sauce and if your guts allow, Pig guts or such! Wash it all down with Tiger Beer, a hearty laugh with your buddies and just take in the atmosphere filled with happy food and happier people!

5. Have the Arab Street Experience

As the name suggests, this is the Middle-Eastern neighborhood of Singapore. As you walk down from the towering modern structures and turn a corner, you are transported to the middle-eastern style of living and architecture. You are greeted by murals on the walls, Turkish architecture and a wafting aroma of delicacies that await you in the neighborhood’s many by-lanes. You can feel the true vibe of the place post sunset. Chairs are laid out on the sidewalk, rows of hookahs are cleaned and prepped and placed for consumption, kebabs are grilled to perfection. It is as if you are at a Turkish Cafe in Istanbul. Smartly dresses Singaporeans and many affluent people (judging by the large cars parked by the road) make their way into these Hookah bars and Cafeterias to enjoy the warm breeze and Irani Chai. The lanes are lined with vendors selling Middle-eastern knickknacks offering really good bargains. So if you love the cut-work lampshades, decorative knives and brass beauties, this is the place to pick the loot! Take a walk and settle yourself in any of the Hookah Bars and take in the spirit of the place. The food is absolutely divine with a variety of Middle-eastern delicacies. I bet, you will walk out of this place into the modern world, feeling mesmerized!

Take that holiday in Singapore today and don’t be sidelined by the “you can do Singapore in a day” comment! I promise you the city has so much more to offer than the Tourist Trails…..

  1. Jay permalink
    November 27, 2012 9:15 PM

    There are certain places only locals know of. Most online travel sites give you typical tourist spots as far as they think they aren’t.

    To experience true Singaporean living, avoid the town areas. Go to heartlands such as Jurong, Toa Payoh and Tampines. There, you will see the less glorified side of Singapore.

    For sightseeing, you can go to Punggol Beach, it is at the northeastern side of Singapore. It’s hard to find and not many know of the place but the beach is great, water is clean too. Also, I would avoid Lau Pa Sat. Contrary to popular beliefs, it’s actually a tourist trap much like Sim Lim Square and Lucky Plaza. The real food can be found at Maxwell, Chinatown, Simpang Bedok, Changi Foodcourt and many other.

    My source? I’m Singaporean.

    • tanuanand permalink*
      November 27, 2012 11:54 PM

      Thank you Jay for that list. You have just added more to my to-see list for Singapore. My list was merely from a tourist point of view. A tourist who tried to see the non-touristy things in singapore. 🙂

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