Beyond Orchard Road, The Lion is Beginning to Roar

Attractions | Written By, NOW!Singapore | September 2nd, 2017

Singaporean Anita Othman returns to the city-state after years spent overseas and discovers an impressive evolution. ”Are words such as clean, efficient and safe synonymous with sterile and boring? I don’t think so.”

Returning after nearly a decade overseas, my country of birth had become somewhat of a stranger to me. On hearing I was moving back, many well-meaning friends and acquaintances had said pretty much the same thing, “Ah…Singapore, it’s clean, efficient, but rather dull or predictable wouldn’t you say.”

Now I am not so sure. Having lived in both Europe and Jakarta, I am blessed to have experienced different cultures and environments. To conclude that a well-planned country lacks a vibe and a soul seems a little too simplistic. Should a country be chaotic or unpredictable to be exciting and vibrant? Are words such as clean, efficient and safe synonymous with sterile and boring? I don’t think so.

Orchard Road has been a boon and a bane for Singapore. Too many visitors only stay in its vicinity and conclude that’s all there is to Singapore with its cookie-cutter stores. Yet so many places just a few MRT stops away are well worth a visit if you’re willing to get out and explore.

Tiong Bahru is one of the oldest and best-preserved public housing estates in Singapore. With its signature art-deco architecture, wide streets and laid-back charm, it has recently transformed from a township populated by silver agers (the original owners of these units) to become one of the city’s hippest neighbourhoods. The younger generation, and a growing expatriate population, have moved in bringing creative new businesses to the area. Yong Siak Street, for example, is charming with its eclectic selection of boutiques, restaurants and cafes such as 40 Hands Coffee, known for its sustainably-sourced specialty coffee. The indie bookstore Books Actually here houses a wide selection of books that you cannot find elsewhere. Delightfully disorganised, it is a refreshing change from the systematic and methodical bookstores of bigger chains – if you love books, this is a great hideout.

Arab Street or Kampong Glam, centred around the historical Sultan Mosque, has also developed over the years and features a colourful potpourri of stores, restaurants and boutiques. The textile stores here opened in the 1950s and have a huge

collection of French lace, silk, and organza at varying prices. It is the place to go if you are in search for fabrics for your wedding dresses and kebayas. There is also a wide selection of traditional Malay games, carpets, antiques and rattan handicrafts on offer. Best of all, you can still practice your bargaining skills here, but remember you are up against born-and-bred traders so you’ll need to bring your A game.

A selection of restaurants has sprung up in this area organically and includes local, Middle Eastern, Japanese, French and even Swedish cuisine. Many locals still go there for the famous Murtabak from Zam Zam coffee shop, which dates back to 1908, or the chicken curry or Biryani at Kampong Glam Cafe. It’s hard to ignore the chilled vibe that pervades the area, especially in the evenings and it’s not surprising that it’s a pull for executives who need to unwind. Bars and eateries like Blu Jazz are perfect venues to catch up with old friends, with affordable prices and always a good crowd. Haji Lane here is a must visit, with its atmospheric hookah bars, Middle Eastern cuisine and creative fashion boutiques.

 

collection of French lace, silk, and organza at varying prices. It is the place to go if you are in search for fabrics for your wedding dresses and kebayas. There is also a wide selection of traditional Malay games, carpets, antiques and rattan handicrafts on offer. Best of all, you can still practice your bargaining skills here, but remember you are up against born-and-bred traders so you’ll need to bring your A game.

A selection of restaurants has sprung up in this area organically and includes local, Middle Eastern, Japanese, French and even Swedish cuisine. Many locals still go there for the famous Murtabak from Zam Zam coffee shop, which dates back to 1908, or the chicken curry or Biryani at Kampong Glam Cafe. It’s hard to ignore the chilled vibe that pervades the area, especially in the evenings and it’s not surprising that it’s a pull for executives who need to unwind. Bars and eateries like Blu Jazz are perfect venues to catch up with old friends, with affordable prices and always a good crowd. Haji Lane here is a must visit, with its atmospheric hookah bars, Middle Eastern cuisine and creative fashion boutiques.

There are also a couple of excellent cocktail bars in the area, Bar Stories and Maison Ikkuku, so don’t leave Singapore without at least one visit to this happening neighbourhood.

If you’re like me and enjoy traditional hawker food, take the trouble to go east to discover the joys of Bedok Food Centre, home to the famous Kim’s ‘Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodle.’ There is always a long queue so patience is key but it’s well worth the wait. The boneless chicken rice is another draw here, as well as the salad-style ‘Cuttlefish Kangkong’ and cooling ‘Cheng Tng’ dessert, both of which can trace their origins back to 1939. And don’t miss the organic soya bean desserts stall – absolutely divine after a sweltering hot Singapore day.

The scents and sounds of Little India’s Serangoon Road is another place not to be missed. Its kaleidoscope of colours, from flowers to spices to astonishing displays of fresh vegetables will shock and delight your senses. Vibrant Indian music follows you as you make your way through the endless stores offering gold jewellery, henna, Indian costumes and mouth watering Indian cuisine. Try the heavenly ‘Chicken Biryani’ and ‘Mango Lassi’ at the humdrum-looking Blue Diamond restaurant on Buffalo Street and you may never step into a competing Indian restaurant ever again.

If enjoying all the amazing food Singapore has to offer makes you guilty, work off those calories by hiring a bicycle at the many Park Connectors pit stops dotted around the island. For the more adventurous, try the mountain bike trails available at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Kent Ridge, Ketam and the Tampines – some of these are world class and never overcrowded. You can also water-ski at Cable-Ski Park or take a walk at the sprawling Singapore Botanic Gardens or the Gardens By The Bay. Singapore may not have a huge national park but you are never far away from the many green spaces that dot the island.

If you need a respite from the heat and humidity, enjoy the wide variety of world-class museums in Singapore like the Asian Civilisations Museum, the ArtScience Museum, the Singapore Art Museum, the Peranakan Museum and the National Museum. With ever-changing international exhibits and displays, these museums are some of the finest in Asia and well worth a visit.

When I left Singapore, she was one of the top cities to inhabit in Asia but today, she has transformed into a global city-state with a wealth of diverse attractions and an exciting future. She has come a long way but more importantly, has retained her individuality and spirit. If Singapore is only your go-to city for medical visits and retail therapy, then you haven’t even scratched the surface. It would be unfair to say that she is dull and lacklustre. Just like a woman, you need to get to know her and understand her quirks before you realise what a true gem she is.

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