At Go Away, we believe that if anyone found Singapore “boring” or ” soulless”, it’s because they haven’t actually done it right. Below we share how a visitor to Singapore can get off the beaten track and have an awesome and fun time here.
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Clean, efficient, everything works … words commonly used by visitors to describe Singapore. The first time I heard that, I was a kid and a visiting celeb was asked by the TV host about his first impression of the city-state. I remember beaming with pride when he said how enamoured he was of chicken rice, pandan chiffon cake and bak kwa (barbecued pork slices).
Then, more and more, it became obvious it is the textbook-answer. There is just no other way to describe Singapore, is there? Soon, I began wondering if I should learn to read between the lines.
Does “clean” really mean “sterile”? Is “efficient” just a nice way of saying “boring”? What would they say if no one was looking?
When I started asking visiting friends about what they really thought of Singapore, the answers ranged from the politically-correct to the “Do you really want to know?”
Regardless of your thoughts of Singapore, as a local, here are 10 things I want you to know about this country:
1. It’s more than just Orchard Road
Lots of tourists bemoan the fact that Singapore is filled with malls. But seriously, if you were here for just a day or two, your host, or a friendly guide, is more likely to just point you there because it’s where you’ll be able to find stuff to buy and decent enough food to eat. But if you really want to check out areas with more personality, ask to be taken (or directed) to places like Tiong Bahru, Joo Chiat, Jalan Besar or Bukit Pasoh.
2. Skip the chicken rice, barbecue seafood, and chilli crab
They are not the only awesome things to eat in Singapore and, honestly, the alternatives more than make up for giving them a miss.
Mee pok tah (Ah Hor Mee Pok Tah, 12 Verdun Road) This is Hokkien for “dry noodles”. It’s not like most of the bak chor mee (minced pork noodles) sold in Singapore because it’s got stuff like fish dumpling, fried fish, ikan bilis as well. The chilli is made from pork lard, buah keluak (a nut used in Peranakan cooking), dried shrimps and dried chilli. If you are the sort who takes chances with your coronary health, the pork lard is free-flow so you can help yourself to a mighty heap.
Bak kut teh (Founder Bak Kut Teh, 347 Balestier Road) [pictured above] When it comes to Singaporeans’ beloved pork rib soup, everyone has their personal favourites. We feel you won’t go wrong with the one at Founder Bak Kut Teh because it’s a peppery broth with the robust flavour of pork bones and garlic. Best eaten with a steaming hot bowl of white rice or mee sua (thin rice noodles) and with salted vegetables at the side. It’s comfort food on rainy days but locals love it just as much on scorching hot nights.
Indian curry (Samy’s Curry, 25 Dempsey Road) Although it’s located at “touristy” Dempsey, Samy’s Curry began in a non-touristy coffeeshop at Tank Road. Today, it still serves up a mean fish-head curry that hooks your appetite from the first spoonful of gravy. Besides fish-head curry, you’ll also find stuff like begedil (fried spiced potato cakes), masala chicken, curry mutton, and my favourite, black squid.
Mee soto (Amirah & Nur Aniqah Mee Soto and Mee Rebus at Adam Road Hawker Centre, 2 Adam Road) Skip Newton Hawker Centre’s barbecue seafood and head over to Adam Road Hawker Centre instead. There, you’ll find an assortment of Indian-Muslim and Muslim food that are well-loved by locals for their taste and price. The mee soto here is full of rich chicken flavour. The chilli has loads of kick too! If you’re feeling adventurous, ask to add some chicken gizzards into your order.
Filipino-Chinese cuisine (Venus Cafe, UE Square #01-14, 81 Clemenceau Ave) The menu changes every day but, eat there often enough, and you’ll be able to spot a pattern. For instance, on Monday, the cafe serves up a generous slab of grilled pork belly with rice at $6.90, and on Tuesday, you’ll find chicken sisiq (a Filipino dish of stir-fried chicken and chicken liver). It gets crowded at lunch time and most of the dishes sell out by late afternoon, so I recommend you go just before 12pm to beat the crowd.
3. Don’t try Singlish just to test our reaction [pictured above]
I appreciate the effort to gel with the locals but you really don’t need to add a “lah” at the end of every sentence. Also, we won’t hate you if you don’t understand what “wah lau” means or, if you don’t quite get how to use “kiasu!”
4. Get active!
There are a lot of places in Singapore for you to break out a sweat! Doing something active is truly one of the best ways to enjoy a country. Head out to Pulau Ubin [pictured below] and spent the day cycling. If you are going to Sentosa, eschew the well-visited Siloso Beach and go instead to Tanjong Beach for a spot of stand-up paddling. Not a beach enthusiast? Go for a walk along The Green Corridor or take a hike through MacRitchie Reservoir. There is really a lot of do – you just have to look.
5. Trust our food bloggers and Instagrammers
When it comes to recommending what and where to eat, Singapore’s food bloggers and Instagrammers are people you can count upon. Some of our favourites are: ieatishootipost; Miss Tam Chiak; RubbishEatRubbishGrow; and SgFoodOnFoot.
6. Cabs are relatively inexpensive but watch out for the peak hours
We know a lot of travel blogs and writers tend to say that the best way to experience a city is to take the subway or the bus. But honestly, I don’t think you need to test your mettle. Why let the heat and travelling time stand in the way of you and the next food-stop? Cabs are relatively inexpensive here. There are surcharges for peak hours, for booking a cab and for when it goes through an ERP gantry (our version of a toll booth). If you can’t flag one down or if the cab queue is simply too long, my advice is you use an app to book one. My favourite? Uber – you can use it book either a car or a cab.
7. Go out of your way for beer
There are lots of interesting places in Singapore where you can enjoy a beer. You don’t have to stick to the party strips of Boat Quay or Clark Quay. These places not only let you check out the more “out of the way” parts of Singapore but they are also places frequented by both the local and expat communities:
Bar Bar Black Sheep at 879 Cherry Ave
The first Bar Bar Black Sheep outlet and it only accepts cash. There is a dive-bar feel to it, no thanks to grotty lawn furniture, and the Western and Indian stalls serve impeccable food – something I really can’t say for the other Bar Bar Black Sheep outlets.
The Good Beer Company at Chinatown Complex, 335 Smith Street
Craft beer in a hawker centre AND in a major tourist area. The Chinatown Complex Hawker Centre has some of the best hawker fare too. A winner in terms of taste, budget, ambience, and variety.
The Cider Pit at 328 Joo Chiat Road
A bar known for its wide variety of craft beers, The Cider Pit is a well-known institution in the East. The pub grub is also quite excellent.
Kombi Rocks Diner at 66 Yio Chu Kang Road [pictured above]
From the American Abita Restoration Pale Ale to the Asahi Super Dry from Japan, the beer selection at this diner-style eatery is truly superb. Petrolheads who love vintage wheels will adore its display of groovy VW vans here.
8. Have cash on you
Although credit cards are widely accepted at most restaurants, malls, and shops, it’s best you still carry some cash with you. Some eateries do not accept credit card payments if your total spend falls under SGD$20. As for cabs, the red ones are notorious for only wanting cash payments. Hawker centres and food courts are cash only.
9. Book a yacht
It sounds like an expensive outing BUT trust me, it’s the best way to check out Singapore’s southern islands like St John and Kusu [pictured above]. Gather a couple of friends for a day out on a chartered yacht. If you have a friend in Singapore, ask him/her to check Groupon where there are good deals to be enjoyed if your outing is for a weekday.
10. Have supper!
A favourite way to end the night in Singapore, there are no lack of great supper places. Want to eat like the locals? Go to Swee Choon for dim sum at 191 Jalan Besar or have Teochew porridge at Lim Joo Hin at 715 Havelock Road. If you fancy something greasy and spicy, then something like roti prata will definitely hit the spot. A crowd favourite is Casuarina Curry Restaurant at 138 Casuarina Road.