Wander off the beaten path and discover four of Singapore’s lesser-known neighbourhoods and their hidden gems.
Budget Brews Downtown
Don’t believe everything they tell you, boys and girls. Visitors to Singapore aren’t always too familiar with the ins and outs of this beautiful island, and in the past couple of years my first-timer friends usually land at Changi Airport with a worried frown. “You guys were just voted the most expensive country in the world again, right? How am I going to afford my stay?”
Easy, tiger. While the big purchases (cars, condos, country clubs) remain wallet-wallopingly high, a visitor to Singapore can still find dozens of ways to while away the days without breaking the bank.
Speaking of tigers — I’ve got a list of things as long as my arm that I love about Singapore but, sacrilegiously, Tiger beer is not one of them. It may often be the cheapest beer on the menu, but it’s a little sharp for my taste. Yet craft or foreign beers can be eye-wateringly expensive.
Not so at The Good Beer Company, a stall positively frothing over with choice (and atmosphere). You can drink your way around Asia-Pacific, from fun fruity beers to deliciously tart ciders and murderously strong dark ales, with bottles costing as little as S$6 (about A$5.90). All in the homey atmosphere of the Chinatown Complex hawker centre. Feel free here to stroll down in flip-flops and a singlet before settling down at a plastic table. And if hunger should strike in between pints, you have a choice of dozens of cheap food stalls selling succulent fare.
Zen Meals, Fancy Tours
Having had your fill of food and beer, it’s time to ramp up your energy for more physical pursuits. Many locals and visitors head to the MacRitchie Nature Trail for a picturesque and pleasingly sweaty walk among jungle greenery. Not many know that this route can be trekked all the way from MacRitchie to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the island’s north-west.
You could also prep yourself beforehand with a calm and free meal nearby. Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery isn’t just one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples on the island, with its manicured gardens and dragon-strewn roof, it’s also incredibly welcoming, offering visitors of any faith a free vegetarian meal on certain days. Donations are appreciated and dress modestly for this one.
Having trekked into nature and strolled into a Zen oasis of peace, step back in time at Baba House, the lovingly restored residence of a local merchant family from the 1920s. From its family photos to make-up tables, the house is so brimming with artefacts it feels like the family left yesterday.
Helping you bring the house to life are the tour guides. As friendly as they are knowledgeable, they will pepper your tour with stories of what it was like to live in the Singapore of a century ago. Take the distinctly rigid-looking marble chairs. While it may wreak havoc on your posture, it was a fantastically cooling surface in pre-air-conditioning times.
Best of all, the hour-long tours are free — just make sure to book beforehand.