Joo Chiat (Katong)
Also known as Katong, Joo Chiat is the heart of Singapore’s Peranakan community. It’s an evocative mix of multicoloured shophouses, tucked-away temples and quaint workshops and studios – plus some of the city’s best eating options. Try to head in during business hours, when locals hop in and out of heirloom shops in search of fabrics, produce and the next tasty snack.
Geylang Serai Market
Geylang Serai Market packs in a lively wet market, hawker food centre and stalls selling everything from Malay CDs to skull-caps. Feeling peckish? Hunt down some pisang goreng (banana fritters) and wash them down with bandung (milk with rose cordial syrup).
Joo Chiat Road
Eclectic Joo Chiat Rd is lined with dusty antiques workshops, Islamic fashion boutiques and low-fuss grocery shops. Detour into Joo Chiat Tce to admire the Peranakan terraces at Nos 89 to 129, adorned with pintu pagar (swinging doors) and colourful ceramic tiles.
Down-to-earth Vietnamese eatery Long Phung, serves up some of Singapore’s best Vietnamese food. The fragrant pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and tangy mango salad are simply gorgeous.
Kuan Im Tng Temple
Located on a quiet side street, Buddhist temple Kuan Im Tng is dedicated to Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy. Temple fans will appreciate the ornate roof ridges adorned with dancing dragons.
Koon Seng Road Terraces
Koon Seng Rd is famous for its two rows of prewar, pastel-coloured Peranakan terrace houses, lavished with stucco dragons, birds, crabs and brilliant glazed tiles imported from Europe.
Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple
One of Singapore’s most beautiful Hindu temples, Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple features a kamalapaatham, a specially sculptured granite foot-stone found in certain ancient Hindu temples. The roof of the inner sanctum is covered in gold.
Kim Choo Kueh Chang
Joo Chiat (Katong) is stuffed with bakeries and dessert shops, but few equal old-school Kim Choo Kueh Chang. Pick up traditional pineapple tarts and other Peranakan kuehs (bite-sized snacks), and pit stop at the adjoining boutique for Peranakan ceramics and clothing.
Katong Antique House
Tiny shop-cum-museum Katong Antique House is the domain of Peter Wee, a noted expert on Peranakan culture, and packed with his collection of books, antiques and cultural artefacts. By appointment only, though it’s sometimes open to the public.
Contradiction thrives in Geylang, a neighbourhood as famous for its shrines, temples and mosques as for its brothels and back-alley gambling dens. Head in for lunch, spend the afternoon wandering quaint lorongs (alleys) and religious buildings, then head back to neon-lit Geylang Rd for a long, lively evening of people-watching and unforgettably good local grub.
Geylang Lor 9 Fresh Frog Porridge
Geylang is famous for its frog porridge and the best place to try it is Geylang Lor 9 Fresh Frog Porridge. Its Cantonese-style version is beautifully smooth and gooey, and only live frogs are used, so the meat is always fresh.
Amitabha Buddhist Centre
Take a class on dharma and meditation at the Amitabha Buddhist Centre; its upstairs meditation hall is open to the public and filled with devotional objects. Check the website for class schedules.
No Signboard Seafood
Get messy over white-pepper crab at No Signboard Seafood. Madam Ong Kim Hoi started out with an unnamed hawker stall (hence ‘No Signboard’), but the popularity of her seafood made her a rich woman, with four restaurants.
One alley worth strolling down is Lorong 24A, lined with renovated shophouses from which the sounds of chanting emerge. Many have been taken over by the numerous small Buddhist associations in the area. Close by, tree-lined Lorong 27 is jammed with colourful shrines and temples.
Geylang Thian Huat Siang Joss Paper
Old-school Geylang Thian Huat Siang Joss Paper sells paper offerings used at funeral wakes. You’ll find everything from giant cash registers to lifelike shoes and piles of cash, all thrown into the fire to ensure a comfortable afterlife.
Sri Sivan Temple
Built on Orchard Rd in the 1850s, the whimsically ornate Sri Sivan Temple was uprooted and moved to Serangoon Rd in the 1980s before moving to its current location in 1993. The Hindu temple is unique for its fusion of North and South Indian architectural influences.
End on a sweet note at tiny Rochor Beancurd. People head here from all over the city for a bowl of silky bean curd (opt for it warm). Order a side of dough sticks and dip to your heart’s content. Oh, and did we mention the egg tarts?
Changi & Pulau Ubin
Singapore’s ‘Far East’ has a slower, nostalgic style of local life. Vests, boardshorts and flip-flops are the look in chilled-out Changi Village, a place where low-rise buildings are the norm and out-of-towners are a less common sight. A short bumboat (motorised sampan) ride away, the rustic island of Pulau Ubin is the Singapore that development has left behind… for now.
Changi Museum & Chapel
The Changi Museum and Chapel is a moving tribute to the Allied POWs captured, imprisoned and subjected to horrific treatment by the invading Japanese forces during WWII. Its centrepiece is a replica of the original Changi Chapel built by inmates. The museum and chapel will be undergoing renovations till 2020, check the website www.changimuseum.sg for updates.
Hugging Singapore’s far northeast coast, Changi Village is well worth a wander to experience a curiously relaxed side of Singapore. The vibe is almost village-like, and a browse around the area will turn up cheap clothes, batik, Indian textiles and electronics. Bumboats to Pulau Ubin depart from Changi Point Ferry Terminal, beside the bus terminal.
Pulau Ubin Village
Your landing spot on Pulau Ubin is Pulau Ubin Village. Although not technically a tourist sight, its ramshackle nature channels a long-lost Singapore. If you’re feeling peckish, turn left for a handful of places to eat, mostly housed in kampong (village) huts.. The village is also the place to rent bikes; day rentals cost around S$6 to S$25.
Chek Jawa Wetlands
If you only have time for one part of Pulau Ubin, make it Chek Jawa Wetlands. Located at the island’s eastern end, its 1km coastal boardwalk juts out into the sea before looping back through protected mangrove swamp to the 20m-high Jejawi Tower, offering a stunning panorama.
German Girl Shrine
The German Girl Shrine is one of the island’s quirkier sights. Legend has it that the young German daughter of a coffee plantation manager was running away from British troops who had come to arrest her parents during WWI and fell fatally into a quarry. Somewhere along the way, this daughter of a Roman Catholic family became a Taoist deity.
Back in Changi, end the day with drinks at Coastal Settlement, an eclectic bar-lounge-restaurant pimped with retro objects and set in a black-and-white colonial bungalow on lush, verdant grounds.