usual tagline on Singapore is that aside from malls and purpose-built
tourist entertainment like Sentosa Island and the Singapore Flyer
Ferris wheel, the city-state is bereft of genuine character. Pure
forgive natives of the city-state for being excessively modest and
defensive. After all, the word of mouth on Singapore is rather
one-dimensional. Affluent global city and economic tiger of Southeast
Asia? Yes. Perpetual business travel hub? Absolutely. But so much
for every prejudicial, hipster backpacker who shuns Singapore for
gritty Malacca and Penang, one intrepid tourist discovers that
outside the high gloss of the Central Business District and upmarket
shops in Orchard lolls a completely different city-state. A side of
Singapore where parks, wildlife, heritage architecture, ethnic
enclaves and a tangle of magnificent alternatives thrive.
spice plantations, Scottish manors and the British military once held
court in Tanglin. The reclamation area in Central Region, Singapore
is now home to a cluster of notable restaurants, cafés and
furniture shops, many of which occupy former legacy landmarks in the
Dempsey area. Indeed, now a veritable “village” with some of the
Tanglin is a prominent and cosy base for entrepreneurial architects,
artists and designers of all disciplines.
Quarter and Haji Lane
Arab Quarter, or Kampong Glam, is a bona fide microcosm of what
Singapore is all about. A fabulous mix of old and new Malay culture,
the heritage ‘hood north of the Singapore River offers up points of
interest like the Malay Heritage Centre, Sultan Mosque and Hajjah
Fatimah Mosque. Nonpareil stars of the quarter include rows of
century shophouses on Arab, Baghdad and Bussorah streets. Meanwhile,
the vivid, ultra-funky boutiques of Haji Lane preside over whatever’s
hot and fashionable in Singapore.
far from the steel and glass jungle of Singapore’s Central Business
District lurks another world. A world where primary tropical
rainforests, brilliant coral reefs and incredible biodiversity
thrive. While rapid urban sprawl and population growth is the
incessant Singapore narrative, the island has actually gone from 35%
green cover to 50% since 1986. With this in mind, Bukit Timah Nature
Reserve, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Labrador Nature Reserve
and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve all rank as supreme. The world class
trio of Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park lure
millions of visitors a year.
diverse culinary landscape of Singapore is a linchpin attraction that
the city-state tourism bureau loves to play up and promote. In order
to get the best street food bang for your buck however, you have to
know where to look. Some hawker food courts have earned a notorious
reputation for perpetrating two unforgivable sins: price-gouging and
watering-down. Thus, beware of what look like manufactured,
shiny-new, not-so spontaneous hawker hubs. Locals in the know (always
the best guides) tend to score lunch at the East Coast Lagoon Food
Village, Golden Mile Food Center or Lau Pa Sat.
lone gentrification holdout is Geylang, a red-light district poster
child east of Central Area. Though far from dangerous, the rough
around the edges ‘hood is a stark and frankly, welcome contrast
from the rest of the spotless city-state. Full of coarse atmosphere
and spunk, the area has some incredible period architecture and
perhaps the best collection of affordable and authentic restaurants
on the island.
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