No Vacation Required (NVR): How long do you recommend a first-time visitor spend in Singapore?
Peter Chua (PC): As small as Singapore is, there is actually a lot to do! I’d say you need five days, spanning over a weekend. That’s just enough time for sightseeing of iconic locations, indulging in local cuisines, doing a bit (read: a lot) of shopping, and of course, checking out the bubbling bar scene that has been brewing the last few years.
NVR: What are three can’t-miss activities for that same traveler who is new to Singapore?
PC: Aside from a lot of “spiritual” experiences at bars, I do enjoy the more popular touristy activities like heading to the top of the Marina Bay Sands to see the skyline, and the amazing Zoo and Night Safari, which really is outstanding. For a more “Singaporean” experience, I would recommend:
1. Eat at a hawker center or kopitiam. A hawker center is a food court with lots of different food stalls, and a kopitiam is a traditional coffee shop. The experience of trying different dishes—let alone ordering in another language—is super fun! Also, you will catch a glimpse of the infamous “Chope” festival, where patrons use inanimate objects like umbrellas, bags, name cards, and (the most famous of them all) the tissue packet to “reserve” their seats as they go to get their food.
2. Try the notorious durian at a 24-hour roadside fruit stand. With its pungent aroma and yellow sticky sweet and bitter flesh, the durian aka “king of the fruits” is a real hit or miss. You either love it or hate it. The scent from the fruit lingers on your fingers and breath for hours; there’s an old wives remedy to get rid of the scent—add salt onto the inside of the durian husks and drink water from it. Given that the fruit stands are open 24 hours, you can build up some liquid courage before attempting this.
3. A small island located on the eastern coast of Singapore, Pulau (which translates to “island” from Malay) Ubin is home to Singapore’s last few remaining “kampungs” (village community) from a forgotten past. Before all the skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, Singapore was made up of many kampungs scattered across the island. It’s an insight into a bygone era; and the island is also great for outdoor activities like cycling and kayaking. Top it all off with a delicious seafood meal from the island’s small group of family-owned restaurants. There is even a house near the end of the bicycle tracks that owns a pet boar! You can bring your own fruits and feed her. I don’t really think she has any dietary restrictions. I mean, she’s a wild boar after all.
NVR: Where is one place you take all of your out-of-town guests?
PC: It may seem a little cliché but I always take people to the East Coast Seafood Center for seafood and local grub. To me, food is the most delicious and tangible way explaining the cultural diversity that we have here. A plus point is that food is relatively cheap so I wouldn’t have to break the wallet to entertain my guest. Winning!
NVR: Where do you shop? Any neighborhoods and shops you would you recommend that a savvy shopper make time for?
PC: Singapore has a reputation for being a shopping haven. With gigantic super malls like ION Orchard and VivoCity you’re spoiled for choices with all the major brands. However, hidden in the shadows of these big malls are places like Haji Lane, Far East Plaza, and Scape, where young creative millennials set up shops selling everything from fashion to vintage collectibles. Also there are flea markets and fun shopping events popping up every weekend.
NVR: Many of Expedia’s customers are millennials. What tips do you have for millennials looking to build a fun, action-packed, authentic Singapore itinerary?
PC: Firstly look for cool boutique hotels or hostels (depending on your budget) in charming neighborhoods like Little India and Chinatown for an authentic vibe. A little tip: I heard Expedia has really great deals if you check online (wink). Then see below for my recommendations.
Day 1: Kaya toast and eggs breakfast at any of the quaint little kopitiams in Chinatown. Explore Chinatown and the neighboring Central Business District area. Lunch at Lau Pa Sat (hawker center) for local cuisine. After that, take a stroll around Gardens by the Bay. At night, it’s time to get a little fancy; check out one of Singapore’s many amazing restaurants like Burnt Ends, Angeleno, Long Chim, Sugarhall (also an awesome bar), or CUT by Wolfgang Puck. End the night with a bar hop at Manhattan at the Regent, Operation Dagger, Tippling Club, Jigger & Pony, the Cufflink Club, and Skinny’s Lounge.
Day 2: Wake up as early as you can after a heavy night before, and have a local breakfast at Tiong Bahru Market to prepare you for the Zoo/River Safari and Night Safari. That will take all day and night! I’ve been going there ever since I was little, and apart from the fact that they’ve been improving it every year is that I finally don’t have to emotionally blackmail the mother to get me souvenirs. I just go to the store, pick what I want, and pay for it with my own money. The only good thing about being an adult.
Day 3: Breakfast at Park Bench Deli or Amoy Street Market for more local food, then splurge on shopping along Orchard Road and/or Bugis. Have a late lunch at Sky on 57 on the top of Marina Bay Sands and go for a little swim to cool off from the tropical heat. A catnap in the room, then head to Song Fa Bak Kut Teh for dinner. Literally meaning “meat bone tea,” bak kut teh actually refers to a soup brewed with pork ribs complete with various herbs and spices. Work off all the eating you’ve been doing and hit up the dance floor at nearby club the Cannery. Going for late night “supper” to soak up the alcohol is common in Singapore, so hop in a cab to Newton Circus or even Geylang if you’re feeling adventurous. Just make sure you follow the itinerary in this order, especially if you are looking to make new attractive friends at the clubs for durian is maliciously unforgiving on the breath and fingers.
Day 4: In the morning, go to Pulau Ubin for some time away from the city, and explore the island on a bicycle. Get back to the mainland, and for dinner, check out the East Coast for a chilled evening of seafood and beers. Again, great deals at East Coast! Don’t be fooled by all the “aunties” and “uncles” (general terms we use instead of “Mr” and “Ms”) hounding you to eat at their stalls. Walk around and compare prices on your own before making a decision. Nothing really tastes bad in Singapore.
Day 5: Try to make this day a Sunday. Go to Sentosa via cable car from Mount Faber or walk across the boardwalk from VivoCity. Get on a luge, jump on the zipline, play archery tag, and then head to Tanjong Beach Club for drinks by the sea. Exercise by playing some sports on the beach or exercise your eyes watching beautiful people play sports on the beach. For your last meal, head down to Decker Barbecue for a good old-fashioned meat fest, or to Super Loco for delicious Mexican grub and margaritas. Your tour of Singapore is complete.
NVR: Okay, we’re going to make you give it up. Singapore’s cuisine options are beyond amazing. What’s your insider pick? Why?
PC: My insider pick is little more local. I’d pick chicken rice at Pow Seng Restaurant. Soft, savory, garlic rice served with cold, delicious white skinned chicken with a side of tasty chicken broth. Song Fa Bak Kut Teh for peppery pork rib broth and white rice. Order a bowl of salted vegetable and you tiao (fried dough sticks). Also, no one can leave Singapore without trying laksa—noodles cooked in rich coconut and curry broth with seafood and bean sprouts. Go for the one called Kelantan Laksa in the Little India area. Last but not least Hokkien mee (mee = noodles)! Hokkien mee is a prawn-based noodle dish that comes with a side of chili paste. The best tasting hokkien mee actually depends on the chili paste and every family has a secret recipe. I’d pick the one called Kim Keat Hokkien Mee at Toa Payoh, it comes in a dried banana leaf.
NVR: And we’re going to make you do the same for your favorite bar/lounge? Why?
PC: There’s too many choices! If I had to pick, I would say go to Manhattan Bar at the Regent and order a Primavera to start. When your sobriety is at its peak, ask head barman Philip Bischoff to give you a tour of its hidden rooms, in-bar rick house, and impressive ingredients room. Then head to Operation Dagger to order a Red Eye and quiz head barman Luke “Wookie” Whearty and his right-hand man Vijay Mudaliar on how they make their bottle fermented beverages, compressed fruits and drinks that come in 2 different temperatures. Lastly go to Anti:Dote to order a Blood of Dillinger and bask in the hospitality of Tom Hogan.
NVR: What makes Singapore “home” for you?
PC: I guess it is the same reason that makes a place a “home” for anyone: the people. Apart from the fact that my family and friends make up most of my life, the cultural diversity we have here due to our mix of races is something that really makes Singapore home. Also, just seeing how much Singapore has progressed in the last 28 years of my life fills me with the utmost pride! From a colonial state to an independent country and then to a metropolis in 50 years, not many other nations can boast of such success, and I am extremely proud to call Singapore home.
NVR: Finally, what’s one thing that you think more visitors should know about Singapore?
PC: You are not going to jail for everything you do wrong. People have the misconception that in Singapore we are quick to throw people into the gallows for every wrong deed. We won’t. Or at least if you don’t do anything wrong…
Why would you travel to Singapore—food? culture? shopping?
A member of the opening team at 28 HongKong Street (named after it’s address in Singapore and not the eponymous country), Peter works closely with Proof & Company clients in Singapore and across Southeast Asia. These assignments span cocktail development, spirits curation, staff training and education, and high profile event bartending. He is now working on opening a new bar project under Crafty titled “Crackerjack” which will be opening its doors in Singapore in the second half of 2016. Their mission is to conceptualize, develop, and operate bar programmes that set a new paradigm for the industry.