Why walking reveals a new side to Singapore

WT Writer
Jan 28, 2021

Full of flavourful districts, Singapore is a city that’s made for enjoying on foot. Since its birth as a trading post two centuries ago, Asia’s ‘clean machine’ – a reputation it’s lived up to by implementing a raft of strict, technology-driven measures to ensure visitors’ safety at this time – has drawn settlers (Indian, Chinese, Arabic, Western) into a cauldron of walkable quarters that major in zingy food and late-night drinks. Bring comfy shoes and an appetite. Singapore is somewhere you’ll savour, says Neil English


On the first morning, hit Chinatown — the escalator from the MRT station spits you right into Pagoda Street. The area is squeaky-clean, with touristy outlets such as Gift Shop and Perfect Shop, but it’s still a stroller’s delight, strung with lanterns. Duck into the Chinatown Heritage Centre, displaying creaky recreated ’50s homes. And inhale incense and mystery in the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, where robed masses chant hypnotically.

Chinatown, Singapore

Make Kampong Glam — Little Middle East — your next goal. It’s a scrum of Malay and Indian-Muslim streets lined with shophouses (ornately painted, with residences above stores). There are Turkish and Lebanese restaurants, piles of fabrics and rugs for sale, and palm trees framing the gold orb-like dome of the Masjid Sultan, or Sultan Mosque 4. On a Makan Makan tour, hoover up potato-and-sardine curry puffs and sip ginger milk tea, then lunch: spicy chicken with rice, perhaps?

Geylang Serai is Singapore’s top fresh-food market. Pucker-lipped bass are arrayed shinily on ice; live molluscs clatter, dragging their shells. Amble in awe with ‘food sorceress’ Ruqxana Vasanwala as you stock up for her Asian-cuisine class. Whether cooking Assam (tamarind) prawns or mango curry, you’ll get chef tricks and passionate foodie tales.

The Geylang district is richly culinary. Cruise parallel streets Sims Avenue and Geylang Road — and be bold! Try frog porridge, a soup of tender frogs’ legs in soy sauce and spring onions with gloopy rice. Try regional fruit, too — mangosteen, dragon fruit, rambutan and durian, which is sewage-pungent on the outside, but sweet as pie within.

Time to burn calories. If footsore, try a 15km Bike & Bites guided meander. Kampong Glam and Chinatown feature, as does Little India, a whirl of shoppers’ psychedelic saris and biryani joints (try the mutton variety at NGTC, on the junction of Syed Alwi and Verdun Roads. Fiery, succulent, moreish).

Ramblers rejoice: Singapore is a green and pleasant land. A 15-minute taxi ride from the centre, MacRitchie Reservoir Park is a leafy Eden for an afternoon. Take a walk in the rainforest — it’s 5C hotter than in town, and the 11km nature trail will make you sweat. But seeing flying lemurs and squirrels in the rainforest is worth the effort, and dodging cheeky macaques with their mobile-grabbing ways is unforgettable.

For a cool-down moment, locate the indoor waterfall in the Cloud Forest, part of Gardens by the Bay. Singapore’s nature park is a head-turner, in a pair of greenhouse domes like dinosaur skeletons. Raining down from 30 metres on high, the cascade emits a chill mist, and the tropical flora come from around the world. As you explore, look for the baobabs in the Flower Dome and the rare yellow Kangaroo’s Paw bloom in the Australian Garden.

Stay on at the Gardens by the Bay for nightfall, and the neck-craning beauty of the Supertrees: a cosmic grove of solar-powered palm-like structures, wrapped in living plants. Twice a night, a light-fantasia erupts to the sounds of poignant childhood-movie songs. Wander until you find a spot to lie down and gaze up, reflecting on your whirlwind Singapore fling.


Because: From 7pm, the road outside this Central Business District hawker centre fills with tables and a party vibe. Barbecues turn out satay (skewered meats with sauce) ’til 1am.
WT’s tip: Bring wet wipes — they don’t supply
napkins here.

Because: Set to reopen next month, historic household recipes — say, stingray grilled in banana leaf with a sambal crust — are the focus.
WT’s tip: Talk to chef Damian D’Silva if you can. The man is fascinating and starred on Masterchef Singapore.

plate of food

Because: This is the only Michelin-star restaurant serving Peranakan, the tasty fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisine. Wagyu-beef rendang is so good it could turn a vegetarian.
WT’s tip: Dishes are rich, so order to share.

Because: Beneath the Parkroyal Hotel’s hanging-garden terraces you can graze to oblivion on top-grade sushi and lobster, proceed to hot wok treats, and end with cheeses and puds.
WT’s tip: The free-flow wine and bubbly deal is too tempting to turn down.

Because: When Heston Blumenthal says, ‘We sorely missed his exciting input when he left the Fat Duck,’ you know you need to try Brazilian chef Ivan Brehm’s food. Pray for Spanish prawn bouillabaisse with prawn-head emulsion, saffron gel, fennel flowers
and pollen.
WT’s tip: Sit close to the open work station to witness the skill and detail of Ivan and team.

Because: A Singapore Sling in Raffles hotel’s iconic bar is a ritual, recalling the days when plantation owners settled in with ladies (for whom the pink drink was created).
WT’s tip: Ask to hand-operate the Singapore Sling multishaker — you’ll get a cheer from the crowd for your efforts.

Because: A glass of Champagne and a dozen chilled oysters are all you need to maximise your enjoyment of the skyline views from this cosy terrace.
WT’s tip: Skip the full food menu, as along the quay you’ll find some fantastic seafood spots.


Because: This is great value for such striking modernity, in swathes of Philippe Starck-designed inlaid flooring and furniture carved from reclaimed wood. Even the lava lamps fit in.
WT’s tip: Order a drink to your room and watch the R2D2-shaped robot sweep up the corridor to deliver it
to you.

Because: With a central (but not too central) river location at Robertson Quay, this spot is all serenity and birdsong. Design is anything but dozy, though: Edison bulbs, brick walls and metal beams in this colonial warehouse are on-trend.
WT’s tip: The glass-walled rooftop infinity pool is perfect for a lazy morning in the sun.

Because: Its infamous past is glossed over, yet stylishly alluded to, with art-lined walls in the bar, lashings of tassels on red-velvet furnishings and ceilings of faux gold leaf.
WT’s tip: Forego lunch in-house for the spicy, cheap, authentic treats of Little India, which is right on your doorstep. Look for Zam Zam, which specialises in murtabak (pan-fried parcels of dough stuffed with minced meats, spices, herbs and eggs).

Because: You’ve seen it in the pictures — a hulking trio of towers supporting a sky-high roof and head-spinning infinity pool, home to 2,500-plus rooms and scores of restaurants. It won’t disappoint.
WT’s tip: For eccentricity, board a pod on the Ferris wheel inside the hotel’s nightclub.

Marina Bay Sands

Because: You’ll feel your heart rate slow on entering this haven of Asian tranquillity, set in conjoined Neo- Classical and Venetian Renaissance buildings (where sailors once stayed for less than $2 a night!). It’s just 15 minutes by taxi from Gardens by the Bay, too.
WT’s tip: If you have one break from Asian food, make it Wiener schnitzel at Frieda in the hotel arcade.

Because: One of Asia’s prime historic hotels re-emerged as a superb slice of mod-colonial luxury. Suites channel the suave spirit of former guest Somerset Maugham, in exquisite espresso-tone woods and louvred shutters, white-marble floors and delicious dinners, particularly in the (north-Indian) Tiffin Room.
WT’s tip: The Long Bar rightly tops tourists’ lists. But far more elegant is the Writers Bar in the lobby.

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