It is not uncommon to hear people lament about how ‘sterile’ Singapore is – they say we’re all about gaudy architecture, concrete structures, and fake trees. But the truth is, beneath its veneer of polished metal and clean roads, there is a quirky, organic and absolutely eclectic side to Singapore that is not too hard to find, and absolutely worth the effort. If you are planning to travel to Singapore soon, read on to find out what our five recommended off-the-beaten-path destinations are, for an authentic experience in Singapore!
Skip Chinatown and Little India, go to Outram instead
Mention Outram and most people would immediately think of the Singapore General Hospital, the Cantonment Police Complex, and the slew of overpriced bridal studios that line Tanjong Pagar Road. However, gentrification in the recent years has transformed this once sleazy district to one of the city’s hippest enclaves that is increasingly irresistible to some of the city’s best chefs. Keong Saik Road deserves special mention for successfully negotiating the marriage between old and new with its quirky boutique hotels, speakeasy bars and snazzy restaurants housed in refurbished shophouses-definitely worth traveling to! Wander around in the day and surprise yourself with street art hidden in unassuming corners or escape from the heat at the little cafes hidden in quaint bookstores. At night, look for the hidden bar that serves bespoke cocktails after you enjoy an excellent dinner at Lollapalooza. For a great view of the city, pop over to the rooftop of Potato Head Folk or challenge yourself to find Charcoal Pit – a hidden gem with melt-in-your-mouth pork cheeks and delicious burgers!
(For another quaint enclave with excellent food, check out Jalan Riang!)
Getting There: Take Exit H at Outram MRT and turn onto Keong Saik Road. There are also bus options which will take you along Outram Rd. SBS Transit: 33,63,121
Skip Lau Pa Sat, go to Simpang Bedok
To become like a Singaporean, you need to partake in our national past-time: eating! For a true taste of Singapore’s heartlands, travel to Simpang Bedok, where you can enjoy all sorts of local fare at extremely affordable prices. While Singapore has tons of awesome hawker centres, it’s hard to find a location that combines the best of all the different cuisines, but Simpang Bedok manages to do that – and more! In the past, it would have sufficed to sink your teeth into ridiculously crispy Roti Prata at New Mahamoodiya and experience true gastrorgasms with the Maggi Goreng Pattaya from Spize. However, what makes this destination even more enticing now is the recently opened Bedok Marketplace – a refurbished upscale hawker centre where you will be spoilt for choice by the mind-boggling selection of international and local cuisines. Don’t miss out on the yakitori from Burning Oak and the amazeballs Ballistic Meatballs! When traveling there, we would recommend you go in a large group, because it’s going to be hard choosing from all the shiokness* available! The best part is – Simpang Bedok is open till the wee hours of the morning to satisfy all late-night cravings!
*Shiok: a Singaporean & Malaysian expression denoting sheer pleasure and enjoyment
Getting there: Take Bus #2 or #48 for 2 stops from Tanah Merah MRT Station.
Skip the Zoo, go to Kranji Farmway
Let there be no mistake: the schlep to Kranji Farmway Countryside takes effort, but it is well worth it if you’re looking for a Singapore drastically different from the one featured in your typical guidebook. One might think that this is Singapore abandoned, but the farms here have been deliberately preserved to retain the rusticity of Singapore’s early days. Get your pick of fresh local produce from Farmart, drink fresh goat milk from Hay Dairies, or be dazzled by the array of fish at Qian Hu Corporation! If you enjoy farm to table cuisine, head to Bollywood Veggies, which is possibly as hippie as it can get, but very inspiring at the same time. You can tour the farm to better understand the local produce, and sample tasty fare fresh at their restaurant, Poison Ivy. Every quarterly, look out for the Farmers’ Market – an authentic and vibrant affair that brings fresh local produce and artisanal food to the community. Apart from visiting the different farms, there is also a fascinating heritage trail around Kranji that traces its role in World War II. Find out where the Japanese troops first landed in Singapore, take photos along the railway lines that used to ply Singapore and Malaysia and enjoy a quiet moment at the Kranji War Memorial.
Nature-lovers would be happy to know that the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is right in the vicinity and offers opportunities aplenty to get to know the native inhabitants of the mangroves through its many trails. This is a great getaway from the urban sprawl of Singapore. If you’re looking for other outdoor experiences, you can also check out Chesnut Nature Park.
Getting There: Take the Kranji Countryside Express Bus from Kranji MRT Station. The bus runs daily and visits the following stops: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Nyee Phoe (Gardenasia), D’Kranji Farm Resort, Bollywood Veggies, Hay Dairies Goat Farm and Jurong Frog Farm.
Accommodation: To really enjoy the area, you might even want to consider staying a night at the D’ Kranji Farm Resort, which has its own spa, barbeque and prawning facilities.
10 Neo Tiew Lane 2, Singapore 718813
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Skip the Botanic Gardens, go to Punggol Waterway & Settlement
Once upon not so long ago, Punggol used to be filled with marshes and forests. Today, however, it is a neighbourhood filled with new homes and this youthful vibrancy is reflected in its green spaces. For an inexpensive jaunt around the neighbourhood, rent a bike from Punggol Waterway and carve your way through beautiful bridges, graffitied underpasses and the gorgeous waterway before you reach Punggol Settlement, a hip waterfront enclave that is arguably the neighbourhood’s best kept secret (for now). This is definitely a great getaway when in Singapore. Despite it being off the beaten path, there is an impressive variety of dining options here featuring seafood restaurants, local fare and international cuisine. We would highly recommend Horizon Bistronomy for its amazing fusion French fare in an unpretentious, cosy setting. Enjoy the cool breeze as you watch the fishermen compare their catch of the day, mingle with families playing at the beach or take a stroll along the boardwalk. Next to Punggol Settlement, you will also find the Punggol Ranch, where you can horse around and fulfill your equestrian tendencies. It is also here that you will find one of Singapore’s quirkiest accommodation options – the Punggol Ranch Resort, which has chalets designed to look like cosy wagons.
Getting There Punggol Waterway: Take the MRT to Punggol Station then switch to the Punggol LRT and alight at Damai Station. Walk towards Punggol Road and follow the path to the Waterway. Punggol Settlement: Take Bus 84 from Punggol Bus Interchange and alight at Bus Stop No. 65139 (Punggol Road End) where the bus makes a U-Turn. The bus journey should be only about 5 mins. Alternatively, cycle over from Punggol Waterway!
Skip Sentosa, go to Pulau Ubin
This is so off the beaten track that it is its own island. Located just 10 minutes away from Singapore by bumboat, Pulau Ubin is a throwback to the quaint yesteryears of Singapore with its nature trails, kampung houses, and winding roads that make it popular among cycling enthusiasts. The best way to explore the island is on two wheels, where you will enjoy getting lost as you weave through forested trails and come across the occasional lookout point of the gorgeous quarries. Nature lovers will find respite at Chek Jawa, the largest intertidal flat in Singapore, which plays host to several ecosystems such as the mangrove, sandy beach, coastal forest, sand flats, mud flats and coral rubble, and is understandably overflowing with wildlife. Sacrifice your sleep to go at low tide to catch most of the marine life in action! To get the full experience of the island, you can even considering staying the night in the Celestial Ubin Beach Resort. Homely restaurants by the jetty dole out fresh and delicious seafood. With minimal cars and virtually no buildings on the islands, it’s quite literally a breath of fresh air from the concrete jungle.
Getting There: Take a bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal. One way will cost you $3 per person, and an additional $2 if you’re bringing your own bicycle.
Trust us when we say Singapore is full of fascinating finds if you make the effort to go off the beaten path! A lot of people who travel here limit themselves to the usual activities around the main city. Experience the surprise of chancing upon lush greenery and diverse wildlife that you would never have thought existed in our urban jungle and give your taste buds a treat with the authentic local food that can be found in the hidden gems of our heartlands.