Jumping out of chronological order to skip ahead and tell you about my February adventures! We’ll be back to Hawaii soon <3
Over my last three trips, I’ve fallen pretty crazy in love with the surreal skyline, efficient energy, futuristic architecture and extreme organization that are hallmarks of Singapore’s downtown core. But I’ve also started to understand the charms of Singapore’s hip, energetic outer neighborhoods, where character oozes from every alleyway and Southeast Asia’s signature chaos seeps in a bit through the streets.
For this trip, we’d carefully selected a chic apartment from Airbnb, preferring the ample space and slightly more reasonable prices than hotels offered (the rumors are true: Singapore is expensive — ease the sting with $40 off your first Airbnb booking using my discount code.)
I’ve recently learned that using Airbnb in Singapore is actually in somewhat of a legal grey area for the hosts, however we had a very positive experience and there was nothing sketchy whatsoever about our stay — in fact, true to Singapore’s style, I’d say it was one of the most efficient and well-organized Airbnb stays we’ve ever had. Plus, um, how cute is this place? That was our room on the top left, with the double doors flung open!
As I was catching up on communication from our three nights completely offline, we did spend quite a fair amount of time in this space and I absolutely adored it — especially the balcony overlooking the park across the street.
While Singapore was far too delicious for us to cook any full meals here, we did love using the kitchenette for having tea in the morning and being able to keep leftovers in the fridge and heat them up when we needed a snack.
The shophouse was in the heart of Jalan Besar, an up-and-coming area named after the road that runs through it, famous for hipster cafés and coffee houses. Jalan Besar is part of the Lavender District, which also encompasses Kampong Glam and parts of Little India. We spent most of our time on this trip north of the Singapore River exploring these neighborhoods, and others further afield.
One of the best things about our Airbnb was that our cute young Singaporean host had compiled a beautifully designed guide of her favorite neighborhood restaurants, which we followed almost religiously and were never led astray.
She led us to Butter Studio, an adorably twee bakery with unicorn-horned mini-cupcakes, to Chye Seng Huat Hardware, where Ian drooled over the artisanal coffees and the weekend workshops on offer, and Wimbly Lu, cult favorite cafe with desserts to die for. Seriously, I will never go to Singapore again without their version of a root beer float — a slab of densely rich brownie served in a martini glass slicked with fizzy root beer-infused chocolate sauce.
However, our favorite spot may have been Swee Choon Dim Sum. After a movie one night (more on that below), we were craving some late-night munches, so we did as the locals do and made a b-line for this hole-in-the-wall dim sum spot we never would have found otherwise.
We were definitely the only tourists there, and I’m sure we provided great entertainment for the locals as we fumbled with the process of taking a queue number to wait for our table, ordering from a checklist menu, and getting the waiter’s attention by hitting a call button on the table. I was obsessed with both the soup-filled dumplings and the mango pudding dessert we ordered — but it was the overall experience that made this our most memorable Singapore meal.
Our flat was about a ten minute walk from the heart of Little India, and one afternoon we walked over on foot to take some photos and do a bit of sightseeing. In retrospect, we still can’t figure out if it was pedestrian rush hour, there was some sort of event or job fair going on (we saw some evidence to this effect) or if it was a just a standard day in Little India, but from the moment we stepped onto Serangoon Road, there was an absolute crush of people like I’ve never seen before in Singapore. After a few blocks, I realized what was odd about the scene: 90% of them were men.
We actually held hands not to lose each other in the crows, and often would make eye contact just to signal to each other, “isn’t this crazy?!” These photos don’t show it, since I think I would have been stampeded if I’d tried to pause and take my camera out anywhere but the side-alleys and parks we ducked into, but as two people who have never been to India before, we did feel as if we’d been transported there, at least for a brief moment. We loved it.
One of the best things about Little India? The food! In Little India, our host directed us to Mustard, which was the perfect blend of upscale and not-taking-itself-too-seriously, as proved by the evidence of “pizza nan” on the menu.
We stopped at all of Little’s India’s big sights: the Residence of Tan Teng Niah, Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, and many stumbled upon works of street art. We didn’t linger at any, and none alone are must-sees (though the rainbow-hued Tan Teng house is like nothing I’ve ever seen before).
Visiting Little India is more about wandering by the overflowing tea houses, pausing for an excellent meal, admiring the flower vendors, and just allowing yourself to enjoy soaking up the chaos.
Traditionally, Kampong Glam was the base for Muslim and Malay communities in Singapore. Today, it’s also a popular destination for shoppers, yogis, and caffeine addicts who flock to Haji Lane to comb through the eclectic mix of boutiques, colorful cold-pressed juice shops, and fitness studios.
We actually stumbled on Haji Lane by accident. When I’m in a big city, I walk as much as possible for exercise and exploration (and it’s not bad for the budget, either!) We were on our way to Gardens By the Bay when we were captivated by the sight of the majestic Masjid Sultan, or Sultan Mosque, and then felt we’d fallen down the rabbit hole when we wandered into Haji Lane.
Don’t leave it up to chance — make a visit to Kampong Glam a must when you’re in Singapore. We are obsessed with modern food courts like The Commons in Bangkok and Station X in Boracay, and were excited to check out FOMO in Singapore.
The space itself was gorgeous and over lunch we chatted about how these hipster food centers popping up all over Southeast Asia right now are kind of a fun, modern iteration of the traditional Singapore hawker centers. Our favorite aspect of FOMO however wasn’t the yummy lunches we slurped down; it was the employee tasked with clearing the tables, who practically sat down with us while telling us his entire life story and showing us photos of his kids and grandkids. He made for a lovely and unexpected lunch date.
Ian and I are pretty much cinema addicts — we go to the movies whenever and wherever we can, and living on and island without a real movie theater is a struggle.
When we arrived in Singapore, I thought for sure we’d see a movie at City Square Mall, which was so close to our Airbnb we could pretty much see it from the window. But a little research revealed something much more enticing — The Projector, Singapore’s one and only independent cinema on the edge of Kampong Glam.
In its two theaters, The Projector screens a diverse mix of classic and cult favorite movies, award season shoe-ins, indie films and local flicks. We debated several choices but settled on I, Tonya, which I found to be both spectacular and spectacularly sad.
The Intermission bar was buzzing when we arrived, and served up a menu of popcorn, coffee, draft and craft beer, and desserts like lychee rose cheesecake. Posters advertised live bands and DJ’s over the weekend, and Ian and I immediately agreed we’d be regulars here if we called Singapore home.
When they called our movie, the current regulars made a bum-rush for the door, and we soon discovered why — in addition to the usual rows of theater seats, there was a row of comfy couches for early arrives, as well as several rows of overstuffed bean bag chairs down in the front.
After the movie, I was delighted to find the bathrooms papered in movie posters from past screenings. What was this magical indie dreamland!?
We noticed the crowds were heading not for the elevator we’d arrived through but a mysterious backdoor, and so we followed suit. What we found was an grungy open-air-parking-garage-turned-bar, where drinks were served out of converted VW vans and the downtown skyline glittered in the distance.
This certainly wasn’t the sterile Singapore I’d heard rumors of before my first visit.
While I was pretty content to chill in the walking-distance radius of Lavendar, Ian followed his stomach and dragged us both further north, which my stomach ended up being super grateful for. A search for the best bagels in Singapore led us to Two Men Bagel House, a hip-hop blaring, New York style bagel shop that left me begging the staff to open another location in Bangkok — or what the heck, Koh Tao!
We walked the long, circular route of Thomson Road — not the most charming, but oh well — to the Whampoa Hawker Center, one of Singapore’s more off-the-grid eating halls. Ian went all-in on a weird soup that we didn’t understand based on joining the stall with the longest line of locals (we were definitely the only tourists there!) and I, true to form, sought out a nearby modern donut shop called Doughnut Shack.
Bagels and donuts in one day? Clearly, no diet was involved in my trip to Singapore.
With that, we were back to Koh Tao. It was a vacation for the books!
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