31 March 2021

See a Different Side of Singapore Through These 3 Neighbourhoods

You need only take a stroll along some of Singapore’s diverse neighbourhoods to get a whole new perspective on the city.

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by Patrick Chew Patrick talks a lot more than he should. Ironically, there's nothing he enjoys more than reading a book in a quiet corner.

First impressions last. We may not always like to think they do, but we know it’s true. We do judge a book by its cover. We do take into account a person’s dressing and hairstyle when we first meet them. And we do start to form an impression on a city the minute we arrive, an impression largely influenced by the neighbourhoods we choose to explore.

As Singapore evolved and urbanised over a short span of a few generations, it has built just about everything imaginable – from city hubs that have rail networks linking its sprawling universities to the doorstep of downtown centres to massive shopping malls and food centres, albeit with brand new, unopened packets of tissue artfully disarranged on tabletops. 

Singapore has certainly earned the title “urban jungle”. On closer inspection, however, Singapore unravels and reveals itself to be so much more than just spotless marble tiles, high ceilings and beautiful green spaces. 

To see the other side of Singapore, you need only take a stroll along these neighbourhoods and heartlands and observe their raft of diverse cultures, people, and businesses. Give it a shot – you never know what’s around the corner that might just give you an entirely new take on this city.

Katong-Joo Chiat


Katong has plenty of old-world charm. There are heaps of gems to discover in this colourful neighbourhood in eastern Singapore, from delicious local cuisine to quaint pre-war architecture and hip cafes. Just a short walk away is Joo Chiat, another heritage town known for its pastel-coloured shophouses and glorious assortment of food choices.

The term ‘Peranakan’ means ‘locally born’ in Malay, and refers to the descendants of foreign traders who married local women in Southeast Asia centuries ago.

Katong was once a popular seaside retreat for wealthy city dwellers. But the early 20th century saw a boom of English-educated middle-class Peranakans and Eurasians developing Katong into a residential suburb.

Famed for pre-war shophouses embellished with floral motifs and intricate ceramic tiles, the neighbouring Joo Chiat was named after Chew Joo Chiat – a wealthy Chinese landowner in the early 20th century.

These two towns are vibrant enclaves of heritage and culture, with old-school coffee shops and chic cafes co-existing side by side, and beautifully preserved Peranakan buildings at every corner.

Pulau Ubin


Scenic and unspoilt, and a short ferry ride away from the mainland, Pulau Ubin is Singapore’s most popular island. Home to a rustic kampong (“village” in Malay), Pulau Ubin is bristling with all sorts of flora and fauna, with camping, biking, and trekking available for adventure heads.

Pulau Ubin is a far cry from mainland Singapore. Things are a lot more laidback on this boomerang-shaped island. There are hardly any crowds here except for visitors that throng the island on weekends. Ubin also houses an authentic kampong, where locals lead a slow and simple life.

And there’s plenty of biodiversity here too. One good example is Chek Jawa Wetlands, an ecological jewel made up of coastal forests, rocky beaches, and a mangrove swamp. The Ubin Fruit Orchard is also where you can find durian trees and breadfruit.

Besides activities like biking, trekking, kayaking, and camping, the island has plenty of wildlife to discover, such as fiddler crabs, monitor lizards, mudskippers, and the oriental small-clawed otter. Pekan Quarry is also a great place for birdwatchers to spot hornbills, herons, egrets, and sunbirds.

Chinatown

 

Modern yet historic, Chinatown is Singapore’s largest ethnic quarter. It’s also a true foodie paradise, with busy hawker centres and world-renowned restaurants. Buddhist and Hindu temples as well as Muslim mosques can be found next to pre-war shophouses, while the bustling Central Business District (CBD) lies only a few streets away.

Chinatown consists of four sub-districts – Bukit Pasoh, Kreta Ayer, Telok Ayer, and Tanjong Pagar, all of which were given conservation status in the 1980s. There’s been quite a bit of modernisation and even gentrification since those early days, but the colourful flavours of Chinatown’s past are ever-present, with old traditions blending nicely with modern trends.

For all you culture vultures, there’s Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a Tang-style temple that contains a sacred Buddha tooth. Sri Mariamman Temple offers a fascinating insight into Hindu culture with daily rituals, while Thian Hock Keng Temple is one of the oldest Chinese temples in Singapore. You can also revisit the past at Chinatown Heritage Centre and learn the stories of Singapore’s early Chinese immigrants.

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