Singapore’s popular Tiong Bahru district is one of those rare gems that’s become cooler than cool, while managing to keep a grip on its old-school charm. Small wonder it’s become a hipster haven.
With its sinuous low-rise art deco buildings packed with everything from independent book shops to French-style bakeries to trendy bars, Tiong Bahru certainly has a high concentration of cool. But as one of Singapore’s oldest residential estates, it’s also got an enduring charm that seems to thumb its nose at the pressures of gentrification.
You see it in the architectural style of the compact, 50-block district. You taste it in local dishes like chwee kueh (steamed rice cakes) sold at the popular hawker centre. And it’s there on the faces of elderly Chinese men in white singlets playing mahjong on street corners. If you’re after an escape from the relentless bustle-and-buy of Orchard Road, Tiong Bahru, a 10-minute taxi ride from Singapore’s CBD, is your spot.
What to do
There’s plenty of boutique shopping on offer in Tiong Bahru. Stop in to Books Actually on Yong Siak Street for stories, poems, plays and literature written by Singaporean writers. There’s Strangelets next door for homewares and Curated Records on Tiong Bahru Street for records. After shopping, why not join a National Heritage Board walking tour? Volunteer guides take you to 10 heritage sites, including the Qi Tian Gong temple (a monkey god temple erected in the 1920s), all within a 1.5m (2.5km) block. Or you can follow the signs and do the hour-long tour yourself.
Where to eat and drink
Get your fill of old-school delicacies at the Tiong Bahru wet market and hawker centre. Buy fresh produce at the market downstairs or head upstairs for delicacies like nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk with an anchovy and peanut sauce) or onde-onde. Onde-onde are sweet Malaysian green-dyed rice dumplings, coloured from the juice of pandan grass, then rolled in coconut and filled with a liquid palm sugar. If you’re in need of a craft beer to wash it all down, head to the dark, air-conditioned environment of Forty Hands for a Little Creatures pale ale. And if you’ve still got room, you may be tempted to grab a truffle mushroom toastie while you’re there.
Go to Tiong Bahru to enjoy what’s quirky and current, as well as to sample the best of old-school Singapore. Dip your toes in both worlds and you won’t be disappointed. Remember, Singapore is hot and humid, so it’s best to head to Tiong Bahru early to avoid the heat of the day.
Currency is the Singapore dollar. Time is 16 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Average temperatures for Singapore sit at around 80F (27C), with December its wettest month (expect around 270mm of rain).
Plenty of airlines fly direct to Singapore from US destinations. Expect a 20 to 22 hour flight from Los Angeles to Singapore.