Come along with Maryam Yusof as she introduces some of her favourite areas and hangouts in the city-state.
As I write this, I’m seated at a cafe in Changi Airport, watching tourists, visitors and locals en-route to their travel destinations. Having just returned from a holiday in London and recently experienced a new city as a tourist myself, I sometimes wonder how visitors view my city: Singapore.
I’ve been told that Singapore is ‘boring’. Critics claim that there isn’t much to see beyond the city and its shopping districts. I disagree. Go beyond the recommended tourist destinations and you’ll find many exciting places to visit and a smorgasbord of activities to partake in…
The Kampong Glam district (often referred to as Arab Street) is one of my favourite places in Singapore. This area is rich with history and is the place to go for fabrics, shisha cafes, crafts, traditional Malay and Arab garments, and a wide array of halal restaurants that include French, Egyptian and even Swedish cuisines.
During the day, the area is a sleepy sight-seeing spot. It truly comes to life at night with plenty of people hanging around the numerous cafes, shisha spots and eateries after work.
Of course, this area is great for shopping as well! Instead of shopping at the numerous chain stores in Singapore, visit the independent retailers along the quaint Haji Lane, where you can find unique clothes, accessories and homeware.
If you’re a sucker for vintage items and memorabilia, visit the Children Little Museum on Bussorah Street where you can find quirky vintage items on the first floor. The second floor is a unique exhibition space dedicated to remembering a forgotten kampung (village) era, with vintage toys and interactive displays that will transport you to Singapore in the 1960s.
Flea Market Fun
This is one of my favourite weekend activities! Various flea markets cater to all sorts of interests and tastes, and you’re sure to get great deals at them. Plus, since they’re informal, temporary and far from world-famous, you don’t have to worry about having to pay ‘tourist prices’, something I’ve experienced at flea markets in other cities.
If you’re looking for ‘pre-loved’ (a euphemism for second-hand) goods straight from the closets of Singaporeans, visit the flea market at *SCAPE just off Orchard Road. Here, you can find ‘gently worn’ clothes from high-street brands at a fraction of their original prices. Enterprising youths who run online stores often set up stalls at this flea market to sell their latest collections.
Other than *SCAPE, similar fleas are often organised throughout the island in clubs and event halls. Be sure to search for flea dates and locations online prior to your trip if you’d like to visit one.
If antiques and old-school memorabilia interest you, head to China Square Central on Sunday from 11am to 6pm. In this air-conditioned space you’ll find some 60 vendors selling antiques, artwork, old luxury watches and collectible toys.
Another unique flea market I recommend is MAAD (Market of Artists and Designers) Pyjamas, held one Friday evening every month at the Red Dot Museum on Maxwell Road. Here you can find handmade crafts, local designer fashion, illustrations, literature and photography, all while enjoying great live music by local bands.
A Muslim enclave in the east of Singapore, it’s about ten minutes from the city centre by train. Almost all the food in the neighbourhood is halal, and you can find affordable ethnic Malay clothes, hijabs and hijab accessories here.
I recommend dining at the Geylang Serai Market and then shopping at Tanjong Katong Complex or Joo Chiat Centre. The area will be buzzing with activity during Ramadan when a large bazaar is set up for the entire month. You’ll find not only mouthwatering food, but also Eid decorations, ethnic clothing, homeware and lots more!
Most major cities have a Chinatown, and Singapore is no different. Although my friends often gripe about how ‘ah pek’ (old man or antiquated) and touristy the area can be, I find it charming. Admire the quaint, preserved shophouses that were built in the 1800s and wander through the alleys.
My suggestion is to veer away from the touristy Pagoda Street and cross the road to the less polished People’s Park Food Centre. On the 2nd and 3rd floors you’ll find cheap fabrics, tailors, craft items, clothes and accessories. My particular favourite is a vintage accessories store on the 3rd floor where you’ll find quirky costume accessories for as little as $2 per item. You should also venture to nearby Ann Siang Hill and Club Street for their quirky independent retailers and cafes. Feeling hungry? Stroll over to the famous Maxwell Food Centre and indulge in some local food!
If you think this is all there is to Singapore’s quirky side, you’re sorely mistaken. Continue to part 2, right this way!