Yes, you read that headline right, and no it’s not magic. We tell you how to see 4 cultures in a single day.
We bet you clicked on this article wondering how on earth you could possibly see so many country’s cultures in just a single day.
Well, the trick is to find them all in the same place. And that place is Singapore.
One of Asia’s most exciting cities, Singapore is more – much more – than just Singapore Slings and chilli crab.
We show you how to experience 4 very different cultures, scattered in unique neighbourhoods all across Singapore. You’ve never had such a diverse day.
Let’s start with the destination itself; Singapore. If you have a taste for heritage, the hip, or are just insatiably curious about how everything can come together beautifully in between, you have to make a trip over to Tiong Bahru, an almost-80-year-old estate that charmingly blends new- and old-world allure.
Right at the centre of it all, you will find the perfect place for a breakfast fix; traditional coffee shops where you will be surprised by the kind of food Singaporeans start the day with.
Brace yourself for a barrage of friendly banter and outlandish drink names – that’s what our coffeeshop culture is made of.
After you have had a taste of the food and fun, you have even more decisions to make. You can choose to take in the neighbourhood’s stories with a stroll through its heritage trail, chill out at the establishments that have made this neighbourhood a hip town, or simply hop on the train, bus or in a cab to explore other trendy neighbourhoods, all minutes away.
Your day in this city of possibilities has barely begun.
With the shortest of journeys, all of a sudden, you’re immersed in Chinese culture. While the world is familiar with the trishaws, eateries and traditional remedies, on sale in the famed Chinatown, there are many other hidden gems to explore.
A stone’s throw away from the pre-World War II era shophouses in Telok Ayer, you will find a 75-million dollar temple erected to house a dental fragment of religious history, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum.
Apart from a 3.5 tonne stupa that houses the actual relic; there are also exhibits of religious art, a depository for Buddhist texts, and a vegetarian dining hall to be explored.
In its neighbourhood, you will also find some of the most celebrated hawker centres, such as Maxwell Road Hawker Centre and Hong Lim Food Centre, where local delicacies such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Fried Carrot Cake and Kaya Toast can be found.
Have your fill, then take a leisurely stroll through Ann Siang Hill, which not only houses some of the city’s hippest dining and hangout places, but also conceals one of the most tranquil parks in the heart of the city.
Further on at the fringes of Chinatown, you will find Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple. It’s a magnificent and awe-inspiring display of Chinese art and culture, but here’s its real claim to fame – its entire 980 square-metre compound was built without the use of a single nail.
Thian Hock Keng Temple is a sight you must see to believe.
When you are ready to dive deep into another of Singapore’s vibrant historical neighbourhoods – and totally jump ship into a new ‘country’ and culture – then head on over to Little India.
We recommend starting from Tekka Centre, a former abattoir that is now a multi-use complex where cultures of the world’s two biggest countries coexist.
Upon stepping in, it is hard to miss the constant hum of voices bantering in a mish mash of languages – do not be surprised if a man of Chinese ethnicity starts jesting with Malay stall owners in the Tamil language! This has become commonplace in a landmark where different cultures and communities have been congregating for almost a century.
Wander through the different floors, and you will find a wonderful myriad of the marvellous and eclectic. Get an intricate henna tattoo, or get lost amidst the bright and colourful wares up for sale.
From rice served on banana leaves to Sup Tulang, a dish of mutton bones in a bright red stew, there is an endless array of culinary discoveries to be made. For the more gastronomically adventurous, it is said that the country’s best Fish Head Curry can be found a little way down the road, deep in Little India itself.
Malay / Arab Quarter
To experience this part of town is to experience the glamour and beauty that is derived from Kampong Glam.
The ‘Glam’ in Kampong Glam didn’t originally stand for glamour, but it might as well have been. The genesis of its name is a lot more grounded, literally.
Named after the ‘gelam’ tree and originally demarcated as a settlement for the ruling Sultan and his household, Kampong Glam has over time grown into a precinct rich with history, culture and some of the most trendy shops in the city.
As you explore the area, the massive golden domes of the Sultan Mosque are hard to miss. But these marvels are not just about scale and opulence.
Try and spot the glass bottles at the base of each giant dome – these were donated by the poorer devotees during its construction and incorporated into the design so that all Muslims, not just the rich, could contribute.
If you would like to mix up the heritage of the area with experiences that are hip and modern, check out the vicinity of Arab Street. Traditional textile stores and hip indie outlets play good neighbours here, and you might even be able to get your hands on rare alcohol-free perfumes.
To satiate the hunger roused from all this activity, look to the host of cafés and restaurants serving the most exotic of cuisines, from unconventional bar grub to authentic fares from the Middle East.