06 Aug 2017 16:10 IST

Singapore, six ways

Forays beyond the obvious tourist circuit

Singapore is a vibrant cosmopolis that has it all — a stunning skyline, the world’s best airport, and a Unesco World Heritage Site (Singapore Botanic Gardens). But if you are a visitor, you might wonder what is left to do after you’ve covered the usual tourist spots. After all, at 719.1 sq km, Singapore is only one-fifth the size of Goa, India’s smallest State.

What other treasures does this “little red dot” hold?

Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa

Off the eastern coast of Singapore lies the island of Ubin, a haven for nature lovers. The island attracts local wildlife enthusiasts as it is home to several rare species such as the mangrove blue flycatcher and the elusive mouse deer.

Chek Jawa, the wetlands at Pulau Ubin’s southeastern tip, is another big draw courtesy its mangrove forests. Chek Jawa is easily explored by walking along its boardwalks. The National Parks Board also organises guided tours of the intertidal flat. You can book yourself on one through www.nparks.gov.sg

Pulau Ubin is also beloved to Singaporeans as the last kampung (“village”) in Singapore. This is where one can catch a glimpse of what life was like in the city-state before urbanisation. The best way to get around the island is by renting a bicycle from the stores near the Ubin jetty.

The village also has a couple of small cafés and restaurants serving fresh seafood.

Henderson Waves

Just a few hundred metres off the cable car stop at Faber Peak is the iconic Henderson Waves Bridge. At 36m above ground, it is the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore. Wrought from balau wood and inspired by the undulating form of sea waves, the bridge is truly magnificent. It is a popular sunset spot due to the giant alcoves with seating areas that are hewn into the “waves”. Its strategic location between the lush greenery of two nature parks serves up breathtaking views of Singapore city to one side and the harbour and Southern Islands to the other.

Pasar malam

Singapore is a city that is so at ease with modernity that living here can feel a bit like living in the future. This is perhaps why traditions from the past like pasar malams (“night markets” in Malay) are cherished by the locals. These temporary markets are usually found in residential areas. They are a cornucopia of culinary delights as well as goods ranging from household essentials to intricate works of art. There are numerous groups on Facebook dedicated to announcing, organising and tracking these night bazaars. The largest and longest pasar malam is held annually at Geylang Serai during Ramadan and attracts vendors from all over Southeast Asia.

Tiong Bahru

The oldest housing estate in Singapore, Tiong Bahru is an intriguing neighbourhood. Here, a popular and trendy café sits serenely atop a World War II air raid shelter. To learn the history of Tiong Bahru is to learn the history of modern Singapore. Tiong Bahru Heritage Volunteers, a group of history buffs, offers monthly tours of the area through their Facebook group. This tour is the best way to learn about this quaint district. After the tour, drop by Galicier Pastry for traditional kueh (bite-sized snacks). Tiong Bahru is also home to three gorgeous wall murals by local artist Yip Yew Chong. Walking around the neighbourhood, trying to spot all three, is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Mint Museum of Toys

A stone’s throw from the Central Public Library at Bugis is the Mint Museum of Toys. Spanning six levels, each dedicated to a theme, it has more than 8,000 toys and artefacts from all over the world. The oldest among these dates back to the 1840s. The accompanying footnotes offer fascinating insights into the history of beloved characters such as Popeye the Sailor and Mickey Mouse. Well-curated and beautifully preserved, this museum is bound to charm both the young and the young at heart.

Old Airport Road

Strike up a conversation with any Singaporean and they will tell you that eating is the favourite national pastime. Even though Singapore boasts Michelin-starred restaurants, locals will affirm that there is nothing quite like the nasi goreng or the laksa from the local hawker centre. These are open-air food courts that serve cheap, delicious and authentic fare. They are also the rendezvous points where neighbours and friends catch up over kopi and kaya toast. The hawker centre at Old Airport Road is one of the oldest and largest, with stalls for Chinese, Indian and Malay dishes. There are many blog posts to help you negotiate this bewildering array of choices; but Mattar Road Seafood and Lao Ban Soya Beancurd are my picks.

(Amrita V Nair is a researcher and freelance writer based in Singapore. The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine's BLInk.)

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