It’s not news that Singaporeans try to flee the country each time they have the chance. We all have that colleague who’s constantly going on weekend trips, even if it means spending $300 on air tickets for what’s essentially a 48-hour holiday, and have no qualms about going to Australia or Japan when they have only four days.
This is all fine and dandy if you have money to burn, but for those of you who haven’t budgeted for such frequent trips, not being able to travel as much as you might like can feel like being imprisoned in a hot and humid inferno.
Here are four ways to enjoy the novelty of travel and enjoy exotic sights without leaving Singapore.
Visit Singapore’s other islands
If you don’t leave Singapore every now and then, you start to get island fever, which manifests in a desire to punch anyone who invades your personal space in this overcrowded little country.
A cheap and easy way to escape this is to visit Singapore’s other islands. Singaporeans flock to overseas tropical islands like Pulau Tioman and Ko Phi Phi, but guess what, our own islands aren’t that bad either, especially if you’re looking for a rural experience filled with wild boars and monkeys, away from the shopping malls and crowds.
If the last time you were at Pulau Ubin was when you were a boy scout or girl guide, it’s worth a revisit. The boat ride costs just $2, and renting a bicycle (hint, don’t rent at the first kiosk you see, there are many deeper inside) is quite an experience. Climb up to the lookout somewhere along the mangrove boardwalk and hike down to the Chek Jawa Boardwalk, and you might think you were in Malaysia, except that everything’s brand new and there are signs everywhere.
Other islands to try are St John’s Island, Lazarus Island (you can get to the latter from the former on foot), which are great places to just string up a hammock, down a few cans of Tiger and do absolutely nothing, and Kusu Island, which feels like Penang with its famous turtle temple and mosque. Coney Island is another up and coming hipster haunt so you’re going to want to go and check it out before it becomes crowded with overeager Singaporeans, or before OBS gets built there, whichever comes first.
Until you’ve explored these places, you have no right to complain about how boring mall-infested Singapore is.
Explore neighbourhoods you don’t know well
I’d like to say I know Singapore like the back of my hand, but in reality I’m only familiar with the central area and the few neighbourhoods I frequent. Believe it or not, there are some neighbourhoods I’ve never set foot in more than once or twice in my entire life, like Woodlands (the only reason I pass by is to go to JB) or Ang Mo Kio (went there once to eat crab and that was it).
Thanks to sky high prices in the central areas and a rise in nostalgia, hip businesses are starting to consider setting up shop in the suburbs, which makes it a better time than ever to explore neighbourhoods you might previously have thought of as ulu. With the expansion of the MRT line, it’s easier than before to access certain areas.
Here are places to explore:
- Redhill: Salut Coffeeshop at Bukit Merah Lane is home to a hawker stall that sells imported craft beers.
- Telok Blangah: Dustbunny Vintage is a vintage store that’s been around for ages and is full of character.
- Katong: If you didn’t grow up in the east, you might have missed out on the classic eats in this area, including the famous Katong Laksa and Ritz Apple Strudel.
- Punggol: The new waterfront area is a favourite of cyclists, rollerbladers and dog owners.
- Jalan Besar: Another old neighbourhood that’s been taken over by hipster estalishments.
See all the new tourist attractions you’ve never visited
Back in the 90s, Singapore’s only credible tourist attraction was the zoo, and Sentosa was filled with cringe-worthy theme parks like Volcano Land and Asian Village.
But things have changed so fast that you might be forgiven if you’re not so familiar with some of the island’s newer, shinier tourist attractions, like the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay, Universal Studios, the River Safari (otherwise known as the park beside the zoo with the pandas) and the ArtScience Museum.
There’s also a good chance that, like a ridiculous number of Singaporeans, you’ve never set foot in the National Museum, Singapore Art Museum, Peranakan Museum or Asian Civilisations Museum.
Ironically, Singaporeans don’t mind shelling out the cash to visit museums, theme parks and other attractions overseas, when many haven’t even bothered to check out what we have.
Seek out places and things in Singapore that remind you of your favourite overseas destinations
Okay, so you’ve seen all there is to see in Singapore, and frankly, you’re missing the rough-and-tumble vibe of Bangkok, the restaurants in Seoul blaring K-pop tunes and Melbourne’s cafe culture.
Well, people always lament that Singapore lacks a cultural identity. But one advantage of this is that we’re great at borrowing what we love from other cultures and trying to recreate it on our shores. Heck, our entire hipster cafe scene seems to be modeled on Melbourne.
If you’re stuck in Singapore for a while and are craving the vibe of your favourite destinations, see if you can find a bit of what you love right here. If you’re a fan of Bangkok, check into Golden Mile Complex for authentic Thai food that’s almost as spicy as the real thing, Singha Beer, a Thai supermarket and infamous Thai discos.
Dying to visit Korea again? Check out the area in and around Beauty World Shopping Centre and Lorong Kilat, now made accessible by the Downtown line. The area has turned into a bit of a Korean enclave, with authentic and affordable Korean restaurants (Kim’s Family Food is a neighbourhood staple), a Korean grocer and even a taekwondo school or two.
If you’re really desperate to trick yourself into thinking you’re no longer in Singapore, you can even theme your weekends. Japanese weekend will see you hanging out at Robertson Quay and reading manga at Book Mart at Clarke Quay Central. During Central/South American weekend, down an enchilada and mojito at Piedra Negra before going dancing at Cuba Libre.
How do you keep your weekends fresh and new without travelling overseas? Tell us in the comments!