It’s a well-beaten pathway to Europe with long haul passengers taking a breather at Singapore Changi Airport, and often never leaving its considerable confines.
But you need only a few days or so to break up your trip to soak up Singaporean culture and some hidden gems if you want to stay off the tourist track.
Adam Liaw, whose mother’s side of the family hails from Singapore, casts a local’s eye in his latest series Destination Flavour Singapore. In that spirit, here are five things (apart from shopping) that you’re missing out on if you don’t stay there.
Don’t just settle for a bland in-flight meal or a touristy airport snack, get out and taste traditional Singaporean cuisine.
Singapore is known for its melting pot of international cuisuine but for something authentic, seek out Singapore’s oldest fusion cuisine, Peranakan or Nyonya. A blend of Malay and regional Chinese cooking, it packs a flavor punch with rich ingredients like galangal, tamarind, coconut milk and lemongrass.
Adam has a cooking class with Violet Oon, described as a “legend” of Peranakan cooking, to learn how to make the traditional meat dish Daging Lemak.
But if you don’t have access to a prized chef, head to the colourful and historic Joo Chiat/Katong region where you can soak up Peranakan culture and visit favourite local haunt Kim Choo Kueh Chang. It’s famous for traditional dishes like Bak Chang (rice dumpling with meat fillings) and sweet treats like pineapple tarts and nine-layer kueh (bite size desserts).
The Library! (Only cool)
For a unique bar experience, check out this prohibition-era inspired speakeasy at 47 Keong Saik Rd in Chinatown. The Library, named for its false façade, which operates as a alternating popup shop, requires a password that changes regularly.
You’re led through a secret door to a mirrored holding room that in turn opens up to the atmospheric dimly lit bar.
At this 50-plus-seater you’ll be served pricey but just as creative cocktails such as the Shrub-A-Dub-Dub (Ford’s gin, Amaro Montenegro, peach puree, lemon, ginger shrub, Moroccan bitters and Moscato D’Asti served in a little bath tub).
The Library isn’t as a much of a secret than it once was but it’s a fun and clandestine way to have a drink with atmosphere.
The Wilderness. Yes, Wilderness!
Singapore is not a place you’d associate with the great outdoors but it’s there when you look for it, off the beaten track on its easily accessible surrounding islands.
One highlight is Sisters’ Islands Marine Park, home to some of Singapore’s 250-plus species of hard coral (32% of the worldwide population), over 100 species of reef fish and about 200 species of sponges. It’s also home to Nudibranchs (chuckle), vibrantly patterned soft sea slugs. You can see the marine life up close on two dive trails.
Or if that’s a bit too wild for you, take it back a notch and visit a farm in the Kranji countryside. Yes, they have those in Singapore too.
Haw Par Villa is where kitsch meets religion and culture.
The “Chinese mythology theme park” features more than 1,000 colourful statues and 150 dioramas depicting Chinese folk tales, myths and Confucian beliefs. Tiger Balm inventors Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par unveiled Haw Par Villa in 1937 with the aim of “instilling traditional Chinese values” according to Slate.com.
Be prepared for a quirky, gruesome representation. Apparently the diorama of a woman breastfeeding a granny is one of a kind and then there’s the infamous ‘Ten Courts of Hell’ said to be loosely based on Bhuddist mythologies of hell. Here you’ll find depictions of punishments including decapitations, disemboweling, and drownings. Cheery! It’s a sufficiently graphic experience that it comes with an official parental discretion warning.
It’s free admission to the park, though don’t expect the locals to recommend this looked-down-upon offering.
The Free Stuff!
Yes, that’s right. At the Singapore Really, Really Free Market, you won’t find anything for sale. In the tradition of the global RRFM movement, mutual sharing of items and skills is encouraged anchored by the philosophy of sustainable living at this temporary market.
Organised by local social enterprise Post-Museum, apart from picking up the usual and unusual nick nacks and clothing you can enjoy free services like tarot readings, hoola-hoop lessons or have someone tell you a story.
Destination Flavour Singapore airs every Thursday night from 8pm. Catch up on the series from the first episode on SBS On Demand: