Singapore’s a small country. Hell, we’re even small for a city. Singaporeans are well-aware of this fact and spend ages complaining that they’ve been to every corner of this place already and there’s nothing left to do. Well… outside of convenient MRT station-linked malls, and gimmicky tourist attractions, have you really explored the city proper? Here are some places you could check out if you’re stuck on this little island with some time to spare. Whether you are a tourist looking for an unconventional adventure in Singapore or have lived here for years, this little island has way more to offer than you know!
1. Joo Chiat
This charming little district is hidden away a short distance from Paya Lebar MRT station, and contains the rich heritage of the Peranakans, from their colourful shophouses to the famous 328 Katong Laksa that beat celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in a cooking showdown back in 2013! There are also shops selling the traditional Nonya costume, the kebaya, and other Peranakan accessories. The streets are filled with interesting little storefronts with vintage clothing, cooking wares or various spices, making for new discoveries wherever you decide to go!
For a quiet afternoon stroll away from the bustling city centre or on a hunt for your next favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Joo Chiat remains a seldom explored treasure off the fringe of the East Coast. It is still relatively unaffected by the hectic re-development in other parts of our island—so do experience it before it’s gone!
2. Coney Island
The popular destination is Pulau Ubin, we all know that—for biking and seafood and nature trails—but its less flashy sister Coney Island stands off the coast of Punggol, where it’s definitely more accessible and quick to get to. You can take a bus in or grab over across the link bridge.
People go to this island to camp, jet-ski, or just to relax and enjoy nature. For photographers, the beautiful flora and fauna and the occasional wandering monkey make for an incredible picture.
You can even ride a horse for $10 at Punggol stables, and feed your horsey friends carrots and apples and other yummy food. For the city folk of Singapore who rarely see these friendly giants, this is really a rare treat!
There is also Haw Par Villa—no, not the one near the Science Centre with its humongous statues. This is a simple abandoned building that brings back all the times you regretted walking into the house of horrors at the amusement park or watched a scary movie. Visitors are not allowed to go in, but this makes for an interesting photo op as well.
There are also long boardwalks that wrap around the island so you can be in full view of the sea as you take a nice romantic walk and watch the sunset over the beautiful water.
Do leave Coney Island by dusk though, because there are no lights to be found on the island.
3. The Projector
This quaint little cinema isn’t super unknown, but it’s nevertheless hidden away in the dingy carpark of Golden Mile Tower behind a worn-looking door. But once you step beyond that door, it is a charming, hipster kind of place with fairy lights and the Intermission Bar, where you can buy yummy food, coffee and alcohol to bring into the theatre with you. The Projector is known for screening less mainstream, more experimental or avant-garde movies, many from the East and Southeast Asian region. They also screened the film Call Me By Your Name in 2017, which had been banned from being shown in mainstream commercial cinemas like Golden Village or Shaw due to its LGBTQ themes. They’ve even screened the incredibly controversial film, 1987: Untracing the Conspiracy, which touches on Singapore’s complicated and shady political history and is difficult to find online or in theatres. As you can see, The Projector largely attracts the artsy, hippie type looking for something different from the mass-produced movies churned out by Hollywood. If that sounds like your scene, or if you just want to try something new as well, look out for this special little theatre! It doesn’t hurt that Golden Mile Complex is just next door, where you can sample all sorts of delicious Thai food for cheap.
4. The Substation
The Substation is a little artsy exhibition space at the end of Armenian Street, near SMU and a stretch of karaoke bars. It is Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts centre, founded by playwright Kuo Pao Kun in 1990, and supports local artists and cultural projects to show off our nation’s rich art scene and remind us of our history. One of its recent and longest-running exhibits was the “Cities die. People change. Everything you know goes away.” display which featured old stuffed toys and trinkets donated by members of the public that held sentimental value for them, as well as a reconstruction of the iconic ‘dragon’ playground that could be seen in many neighbourhoods before many of them were torn down for urban re-development; to this day, they are still recognised as an important marker of Singapore’s past. Singapore really isn’t as much of a cultural, artistic desert as we seem if you bother to dig deep enough; there’s a vibrant arts scene waiting to be found!
(Fun fact: it used to be a power sub-station that generated electricity!)
There are lots more Singapore has to offer if you just look hard enough! Maybe it’s time to go exploring in your backyard — you never know what you’ll find!