When friends used to ask me about what they should do when visiting Singapore, I would draw a complete blank. After all, growing up in a country doesn’t necessarily enable you to look at it through tourists eyes. To me, eating has always been the only thing worth doing, and I would always make my recommendations accordingly.
Well, I’m glad to report that I’ve since worked out a few more interesting experiences that are oh-so uniquely Singapore, and that you should try, on your next trip there!
Queue for something
I think it’s part of our national identity to queue. For something. Anything! Some Singaporeans have been known to join a queue even before they know what the queue is for. From collectible Hello Kitty Dolls from McDonalds’ (not to mention minions), to lunch, Singaporeans all love good value and we’re willing to make a gargantuan effort to get what we think is a good deal. You should try it sometime! For a tourist taste of queues, simply visit a famous hawker stall for your meal, all of the experience, with a tasty reward at the end!
Singaporeans generally are night creatures I think. While ‘nightlife’ in other countries may refer to activities brimming with alcohol and that dreaded walk of shame in the morning, Singapore’s nightlife is more…delicious. With whole districts that specialise in supper – that elusively satisfying meal after dinner – what better way to kick off your Singaporean experience by going for some late night eats. Popular districts and hawker centres include Chomp Chomp, the home of barbecued seafood in banana leaves (pictured above), Jalan Kayu, a street full of roti prata stalls, each with their own specialties (try some paper prata and teh-cino while you’re there!), and River Valley Road, where there are a few late night eateries lined up next to each other.
20 Kensington Park Rd
There’s a stereotype that you should buy electronics in Asia, and it’s there for a reason. I don’t know why – maybe it’s import taxes or manufacturing costs? – but I find that on most products, it’s quite a bit more worthwhile waiting to buy it when I’m in Singapore. Not to mention that you can find new products often released in the region before Australia. For the compact electronic experience, I would recommend a visit to Funan DigitaLife Mall, located a short walk from City Hall Station. Stories of electronic stalls selling everything from camera paraphernalia, computer parts, stereos and everything else electronic you can think of is crammed into the one shopping centre, for your convenience. Store owners are also mostly open to haggling – so don’t accept the first quote, and other stalls might have it for a better deal – and have packages that include gifts with purchase. Not gift. Gifts. Plural.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, pop by Sim Lim Square, which is much like Funan, but seedier, dodgier, denser, and more dimly lit. It can be argued that you can get better deals at Sim Lim Square, but you’re also more likely to get fleeced if you don’t know what you’re doing, and what the market rates for things are. What makes things even more precarious is that stores often shift as well, so you might not find the same stall where you left it if you have an issue with your product.
I probably should also add some sort of disclaimer about being careful about warranties and the regions that they’re valid in, but you know that already don’t you?
Funan DigitaLife Mall
109 N Bridge Rd, Singapore 179097
Sim Lim Square
1 Rochor Canal Rd, Singapore 188504
Visit one of the other Islands
While most people usually find plenty to do in the main island, I would strongly urge you to visit one of the neighbouring islands to round out your Singapore experience. From Sentosa, to Pulau Ubin, to Chek Jawa, Singapore has plenty of natural wonders, preserved outside of our comfortable concrete jungle on the mainland. We are the Garden City, after all.
Eat Seasonal Fruits
Durian, Cempedak, Mangosteen…our little tropical country boasts a huge array of delicious fruit, from the mild to the deliciously pungent. All good things, of course, have seasons, so I would recommend travelling in the May-July time of year. Pro-tip: everything in Singapore has condiments, and fruits are no different! Enjoy fresh pieces of guava with plum powder, green mango with a chilli/sugar mixture, pineapple with cut chilli and soy sauce, or Jambu (water apple) with fermented shrimp paste (hei goh). This list is non-exhaustive, of course, but have a chat with the fruit seller to see if there’s anything in particular you can get with your fruit!
It must be in the culture, but every one I know who has grown up in the region has quite the thing for stationery. Or maybe it’s because we grew up first without computers and iPhones. Either way, Singapore is where I go to fulfil all my stationery dreams. The variety is just so huge – Officeworks has nothing on us! – and cheap. If you don’t know where to start, might I suggest one of our largest chain bookstores – Popular is located at most major shopping centres and in just about every suburb.
In various locations
Watch a Chinese Opera
As an art form, Chinese opera is so traditional that even I struggle to understand what’s going on. Everything from the specific make up looks, to the costumes, to the dance-like actions have a meaning, and the operas are often sung in one of the Chinese dialects. These operas are usually performed in some heartland areas on the streets, and are free for the public to enjoy. The performances are more commonly found during the 7th month of the lunar calendar – a month long festival where it is believed that our dead ancestors get to be released from the confinement of afterlife and visit the living. Just be careful not to sit in the empty front few rows if you do happen to catch one – those seats are symbolically reserved for those visiting from the afterlife.
Have a massive drink
Go big or go home, I say! And in Singapore – where it is not only hot but also awfully humid – you can cool off in style with massive mugs of sugarcane juice, bandung – a rose syrup and evaporated milk drink – fresh soy milk, or a variety of other local drinks. Worried that it’ll break the bank? Well a cup like this only set me back $1.50 SGD. $1.50! Try getting anything for $1.50 in this day and age. Refreshing and oh-so-satisfying, I would suggest ordering your sugarcane with extra lemon!
Go To A Night Market
Locally known as pasar malams, Singapore night markets are the home of many popular food trends, like the Ramli Burger, for example. These markets are nomadic in nature, and are often set up for a week at on some street in the heartlands. With stalls selling everything from food, to gadgets to cheap underwear, these markets are a crowded force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a centralised way of predicting where the next one is going to be, but keep an eye out whenever you’re in the heartlands.
Go to a Food Fair
Food fairs are my absolute favourite kind of exhibition, and Singapore is home to a lot. I particularly enjoy the annual Takashimaya Food Fair, usually held sometime in the middle of the year, where you can sample all sorts of (mostly Japanese!) delights handed out by eager vendors. It does tend to get a little crowded during peak periods, but I think it all contributes to the experience!
Takashimaya Shopping Centre
391 Orchard Rd, Singapore 238873
+65 6738 1111