With the impending term break rapidly approaching at the end of the week, I thought it’ll be a good idea to take the weekend off and spend some quality alone time, alone, and kinda explore the heritage areas of Singapore and immerse myself in places I’ve never been to before. I’ve been constantly complaining about my country and how dull and uninteresting it is compared to other more photogenic and less mainstream places in other countries for quite some time now, so, I figured, maybe if I want to actually enjoy being in this cramped, dense, tiny island, I should be a tourist in my own country and experience the sights and sounds here like how a tourist would. No matter how many problems and uncertainty Singapore is facing, tourists seem to love Singapore and embrace it like how the PAP embraces bleach.
For my international readers, may this article serve as a guide the next time you guys decide to backpack over to our garden city (it’s not a joke, the amount of greenery here is scary). I’ll not be talking about the overexposed attractions of Singapore like the MBS, Gardens by the Bay, Esplanade, Merlion etc., nor the usual local delicacies like Chilli Crab (I prefer Black Pepper), Satay, or Char Kway Teow, but instead, I’ll be sharing about the less-commercial side of Singapore, one that would provide you with a true-blue Singaporean experience mixed with local cuisines, heritage trials and plenty of interaction, all for just under S$200.
Woke Home Capsule Hostel
Of course, what’s a staycation if you have no place to stay. I chose Woke Home while researching about the different hostels in Singapore. It’s a neat little place and what drew me in was the fact that they are the first hostel in Singapore to adopt the capsule living concept (i.e. they’re Singapore’s first capsule hostel).
I originally settled with a 3D2N stay, but changed it to a 4D3N visit after being called upon to referee a soccer tournament for the weekend. The tournament was cancelled at the last minute and since there were no refunds for cancellation, I decided to run with it and did a bunch of stuff I’ll talk more about below.
It cost me $24 a night for a capsule. It includes breakfast as well.
Let’s start with the positives about this hostel. For one, the location of the hostel is absolutely prime. Located along South Bridge Road, this place connects to just about everywhere. There’s a bus stop just outside the hostel entrance, convenience stores located just beside it, a huge shopping mall not too far away, an MRT station slightly further up, two heritage-rich streets (Chinatown and Little India) nearby, and a plethora of bus stops that lead to endless destinations. If you’re serious about exploring Singapore, this is as good as a headquarter as it can get.
I myself prefer a warm, cosy place over a huge sprawling estate (altho I wouldn’t mind that tbh), so the size of the capsule is perfect. It’s not that big, but it’s not that small either (it would fit two teenagers comfortably).
For those who are security-conscious, I was surprised to see this place with a really decent security setup. The lockers are, as what we Singaporeans like to say, solid. People seem to be comfortable with leaving their expensive electronics around though, which is not a very common occurrence nor something you should do in Singapore. The 4th and 5th levels of the building, where the capsules are housed, can only be accessed by keycards that are given to occupants, which goes some way in providing a peace of mind.
The lounge area, which is located on the main floor (6th), is really homey and comfy. There’s a library, which impressed me with its wide offering of books in different languages (nice touch), a couch with a TV, some tables for people to do work and stuff, an Internet surfing area, and a pantry that offers free breakfast every morning and tea/coffee/hot water throughout the day.
The outdoor terrace was kinda homey actually. Could imagine daydreaming off here.
And the fact that there was a boxing dummy just puts an exclamation mark on the first impression barometer.
The staff were nice as well, offering me food whenever I’m in the lounge and generally made my stay enjoyable.
Now, the room-for-improvements.
The lights, or the lack thereof, is eyebrow-raising. It was essentially pitch-black (well you could still see stuff) when I took my showers at night. There were no lights over the shower cubicles, so the only source of light came from the one located in the sink area. The dormitories were poorly-lit as well, in the sense that while it was enough for you to see, it was still dark even when all four lights were turned on. You could get a idea of how dark the place was by the amount of noise in my pictures, even after noise reduction and other minor tweaks.
The dorms also have no windows, so like a casino, you wouldn’t know whether it’s nighttime or daytime without a clock. And the poor lighting, coupled with the relatively cold air-conditioning, gave the room a rather solemn mood.
Besides that, the capsule TV was broken due to a lighting strike, although other bloggers have been stating that the TVs were broken during their visits as well. That, was disappointing, but it was something I could make do without. The Wi-fi seemed to be working only in the lounge, exact sentiments once again shared by other reviewers.
The atmosphere wasn’t that great as travellers mostly kept to themselves, which I felt was a pity as I was looking forward to exchanging stories with them before the trip.
To be honest, other than the poor lighting which stuck out like a sore thumb, there’s nothing significantly bad with the hostel. The lounge area and all were wonderfully lit, which made the contrast between the levels as puzzling as it was worrying. The rays of sunshine and the warmth in the 8am-10am part of the day were great, and I could see a constellation in one of the most light-polluted area in Singapore at night. With a few minor tweaks here and there, this place would really make for an even more interesting experience. I had a joyous time here, but it was sad that the lighting had, ironically, dimmed my staycation spirits just a li’ll.
Spent: $24 x 3 Nights = $72 (USD57.6) + $30 deposit refunded at end of stay
Total Thus Far (TTF): $72 (USD57.6)
Day 1: Maxwell Food Centre
Maxwell Food Center is widely regarded as one of the best and most well-known hawker centres in Singapore. The stalls here generally open till rather late when compared with food outlets from so many other countries, but it’s pretty common in Singapore and people kinda take the long operating hours as somewhat of a given. The place was still packed when I arrived at about 9pm, as teenagers and working adults alike flock to the food paradise for their supper fix.
The place sells all the usual favorites you can expect from your average tourist guides. I got myself a plate of cockles from my favorite stall and a cup of strawberry-banana fruit juice for $3 and $2.50 respectively. While the price of food in Singapore has experienced a steady rise in recent years, the food items are still affordably-priced, but the cost of beverages is another story.
On the way back, I passed by Chinatown Food Street. The place itself had a great ambience and the crowd was great, but unlike Maxwell, the food were obviously pricier. Way pricier in fact.
There was a seriously sick light display (for Christmas) near the ATM where I stopped to withdraw some cash after realising I left my leisure money at home before heading out for the staycation.
Spent: $5.50 (USD4.4)
TTF: $77.50 (USD62)
The following morning, I decided to make myself some breakfast from the hostel’s pantry. I grabbed some cereal, poured in some milk, brew myself a pipping hot cup of tea, and tried a creation that involves putting jam on toast along with milo (malt chocolate drink) powder. I was pretty skeptical that it’ll taste good, especially when I’m not a fan of eating jelly without something else to bring the taste down, but boy was I proven wrong. The neutral taste of the bread and the sour mix of the jam really brought out the sweetness of the milo powder, and the concoction of flavors, along with the unique contrast of textures, really made for a memorable breakfast.
Day 2: The Back Alley Collective
I decided to explore the back alleys around the South Bridge Road area after my meal, and that’s when The Back Alley Collective was born.
In a global city where most things lack singularity, the back alleys of Singapore are distinct. The iconic green bins, the lively shops, and of course, the people, the characters who uses the alleys for a colorful myraid of reasons.
The Back Alley Collective aims to capture the soul and essence
of these ‘roads less travelled’.
Here are some pictures I took during my li’ll trip for the project:
For more, do support my personal project by visiting http://thebackalleycollective.tumblr.com and share it around with your friends and family. It’s a great way to learn about Singapore without being exposed to the usual over-hyped attractions.
I would highly recommend scouring these unique roads if you need to digest your lunch, or really, if you have some time to spare. It’s probably one of the best and most peaceful things to do in a hectic city like Singapore, and it gives you time to reflect and think ’bout life y’know?
Besides, it’s free! What better way to get into the Singapore spirit by going gaga over free stuff!
TTF: $77.50 (USD62)
Nations Cup 2014
Lhu Wen Kai (@wenkai31) December 13, 2014
I decided to meet up with my fam to catch the finals of the Netball Nations Cup at the OCBC Arena (it’s part of the newly-opened Singapore Sports Hub, which also contains other really impressive sports facilities, like the controversial revamped National Stadium). The tickets were priced at $8, pretty reasonable considering you get to watch three matches. I made in time only for two though. The 3rd placing match featured Malaysia and Botswana, which the latter unsurprisingly won. The final between Singapore and the mighty Samoa was a little disappointing tho, with our girls throwing away a seven-goal lead to lose by nine at the final whistle. We lost against the same opponents just a few days back, and when we stormed into a really emphatic lead, you could sense that the crowd was expecting something special to happen. Alas, it was a great experience, and the fact that the management allowed the feverish fans to crash onto the field and mingle with all the players from all six participating teams really added a nice touch to this great tournament.
After watching the match, I decided to go watch a comedy which I thought was in English, till I saw the tickets display monitor at the cinema. A bit shocked, I went through with the original plan and bought myself some tacos before making it into the theatre just in time. Man, I think Serial Bad Weddings is easily one of the best comedies I’ve watched all year. The underlying issues of the film (disapproval of parents, xenophobia in society etc.) were something everyone, especially Singaporeans, can relate to. The race jokes and stereotypes (note: I don’t condone racism) were beautifully and delicately written and played on, the character development and acting were superb, and the whole theatre was ruptured with laughter throughout the two wonderful hours, making it a truly remarkable and enjoyable movie-going experience.
Spent: $8 + $6 + $13 = $27 (USD21.6)
TTF: $104.50 (USD83.6)
After the movie, I went to wash up back at the hostel before going to a local pub to get myself a well-deserved soccer fix. The food items there were pretty expensive, but man was it worth it. Behind the nachos at Hard Rock Cafe, this was easily the best nachos I’ve tasted in my entire life:
The staff there were friendly, the atmosphere was decent, and while I didn’t really get to fully experience the famed Clarke Quay nightlife since I was looking like a little boy who was lost, ya’ll should come over on a weekend, whether to pour your hearts out in a heart-to-heart talk, rage over some sports with fellow diehards, or just simply chill out and wind down while admiring the lights and unique scenery of the place.
Since it was an hour past midnight and my mind was filling up with scary urban legends told by my parents, I decided to hitch a trishaw back to the hostel, about a hundred metres away. The driver initially wanted $10 but I managed to cut it down to $4. Yes, please make sure no one rips you off, especially in tourist-rich areas.
Spent: $25 + $4 = $29 (USD23.2)
TTF: $133.50 (USD106.8)
Day 3: Shin Boon Hwa Food Centre
On Sunday morning, I decided to visit one of my favorite jaunts for breakfast, and do a little bit of exploring around the area.
I’m not sure how renowned Shin Boon Hwa Food Centre is, considering how there’s always seats everytime even during peak periods, but I am absolutely certain that this food centre houses one of the best food in Singapore, period. I’m sure ya’ll have heard of Hainanese Chicken Rice, but what about Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls?
For an unimaginably scrumptious set meal consisting of chicken, pork, soup with tau pok (the soup is my favorite soup of all time… it’s that good), and two chicken rice balls, the mind-numbing experience will only set you back by S$4.50 (USD3.6). I’ve been eating at this shop for well over a decade, and I’m surprised that even with the constant media attention and heritage, the place is still not packed to the roof. Not that I’m complaining tho, since I get to hog the huge ass tables meant for 8 pax and enjoy my meal like a king, but I have a premonition that this stall is going to shut down real soon. The shop owner told me that finding manpower is proving to be a huge issue (yes, our government has created a big issue by blooding all of us to be book-smart intellectuals), so I urge ya’ll to skip the Hainanese Chicken Rice, be a hipster, and try something I believe every human being on the planet should try at least once in their lifetime.
The relatively-small food centre also has an economical rice stall, perfect for the budget-friendly traveller who wants to get a taste of Singapore, literally, and a prawn noodle stall, which is equally fantastic as well.
Spent: $4.50 + $0.50 (extra rice ball) + $1.50 (ice coffee) = $6.50 (USD5.2)
TTF: $140 (USD112)
Sim Lim Square
After the now-infamous “Jover Chew Incident”, Sim Lim Square has kinda become a tourist attraction. For those who need to be brought up to speed, here is a great timeline about the events that transpired. It was so big that the international media picked the story up and it made headlines around the world.
Anyway, it was really surreal being in the mall after the crazy media frenzy. I never really planned to visit the place, but since it was just a few blocks away from Shin Boon Hwa, I figured I made the short trip. The main attraction, Mobile Air, was unfortunately close, but for Singaporeans who feel strongly about the events, this is as cheap as a nostalgia run can get.
Business was brisk for the other shops, and the deals here were indeed tempting and cheaper than the other electronics stores in our heartland malls. They were not lying when they said Sim Lim Square is where you get your electronics fix. Rare cameras, the newest phones, quirky items, repair services, anything related to I.T. seemed to be conveniently located in this once-vibrant building now dotted with vacated storefronts and vanishing crowds. It’s quite sad to see the sight of honest businesses being ruined by a few bad apples and the incompetency of our government, but nevertheless this place makes for a good afternoon walkabout, especially if you’re a tech junkie.
Oh, this is what the inside of an iMac looks like btw:
TTF: $140 (USD112)
Again, I wasn’t planning to visit this estate before reading from the hostel’s library that Tiong Bahru is actually more than a hangout for wannabe-hipsters and cafe hoppers. There is some serious heritage even though the sprawling town might seem like any other neighborhood developed during the 1990s.
For one, did you know that the flats in Tiong Bahru were considered ‘hipster’ at the time they were built?
Here is an excerpt from the comprehensive Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail Brochure by the National Library Board, a perfect alternative to exploding candies while shuttling on the MRT.
Unlike earlier incarnations of Art Deco, practitioners of Streamline Moderne abandoned lavish and ostentatious decoration in favour of simple and functional lines that reflected the buildings’ connection with the machine age. Elements of Streamline Moderne were: clean, curved shapes and rounded corners; long horizontal and vertical lines; inclusion of the occasional nautical element (e.g. porthole windows and stainless steel railings); simple uncluttered lines; bands of windows; flat roofs; racing stripes to simulate speed and motion; and glass blocks and group windows.
Although Streamline Moderne was popular in large-scale public buildings such as libraries, railway stations and airports, it was not commonly deployed in housing projects, much less public housing projects. In 2003, the Urban Redevelopment Authority gazetted 20 blocks of the pre-war flats for conservation so that the area can continue to evolve with the assurance that its unique architecture will be kept.
Block 78 is probably the most heritage-rich part of Tiong Bahru. It’s iconic for five main reasons, the first being the iconic ‘horse-shoe’ flats built between 1939 and 1940, the second being that the elusive place is the largest block of flats in the much sought-after estate in Singapore, the third being that the block houses one of Singapore’s oldest coffee places, Hua Bee (which was started in the 1940s, but has supposedly closed down in 2014), the fourth being that this single block of flats actually “straddles” between two streets, Moh Guan Terrace, and Guan Chuan Street, and the fifth reason, perhaps the most interesting one, being that Block 78 features Singapore’s first public air raid shelter in a housing project.
Yes, Singapore has a bomb shelter in the hippiest neighborhood of Singapore. How not-mainstream is that!
Unfortunately, the bomb shelter was closed to the public, much to my dismay having trudged a good mile or so in the rain. I would do a nice little feature once I get the permission to scour the place, but from pictures and blog posts I saw online, man, this place is like, the bomb.
Ill-advised humor aside, I spent the rest of the evening browsing through the remaining of the brochure, watching Channel NewsLater, doing some design projects, before heading down once again to Brewekz for the Manchester United vs Liverpool game. I wasn’t aware that Liverpool was wearing yellow, so it was pretty embarrassing after the match with everyone thinking I’m a Reds fan.
Unlike the previous night, I walked home alone, no pun intended.
Spent: $0 + $10 (Virgin Mojito) = $10 (USD8)
TTF: $150 (USD120)
Day 4: Lunch at I Forgot The Name Of The Place (No, I meant it literally)
I woke up late the next morning, about 10, probably due to the fact that I stayed up till 3 in the morning to write an article. I wanted to try out a ramen place that I saw while exploring the back alleys, but it was closed. I tried searching for the Vietnamese restaurant around the vicinity, but it was close on Sundays as well. I furthered my search down to Clarke Quay, and surprise surprise, the stalls were all closed. It was only when a waiter gave me a weird look that I realised that the restaurants don’t usually open till 11.30.
I went back to my hostel to watch Channel News Later again, when the news were suddenly interrupted by a news flash of the Sydney hostage situation. It was actually quite a shock to me and I ended up making some tea and followed the updates for the next half hour or so before checking out. Anyhow, I’m glad the situation was resolved, but it was unfortunate that deaths had to be involved in a year blighted with human tragedies that had already sent more than enough shockwaves throughout the globe.
Shortly after, I lugged my luggage into this seafood restaurant, which name I forgot. I was initially craving for a BBQ Stingray, but I went for a rather peculiar lamb chop dish after being told the former wasn’t available.
I said peculiar partly because it didn’t taste like lamb, and partly because it didn’t taste like lamb. It was really weird. The whole thing changes flavor once you dipped them into an extra serving of salt and a unique blend of pepper. Not exactly what I had in mind for a sweltering afternoon, but I’m glad I managed to end of my staycation with something out of the ordinary, and a nice dining experience with a strangely relaxing view.
Spent: $17 (USD13.6)
TTF: $167 (USD143.6)
While I’ve been using my student hybrid concession pass throughout this stay, both locals and tourists can opt to purchase a Tourist Pass or Tourist Pass Plus. The former costs $20 (along with a $10 deposit) for a 3-day pass and it allows unlimited rides on Singapore’s public transport system (buses, MRT, LRT) for the entire duration of its validity period. The latter, meanwhile, costs $30 (no deposit required) for three days of usage, and it comes bundled with a 1 Day Bubble Jet Ride, and a 1 Day FUNVEE Bus Tour, which, both alone, costs $39.80 each. For more details on where to purchase the passes and what this whole pass is about, please visit the Singapore Tourist Pass’s website.
Spent: $30 + $2 (Newspapers) + $1 (Tissue Packets x4) = $33 (USD26.4)
Final Expenditure: $200 (USD160)
While your trip might easily exceed $200 if you splurge unnecessarily on taxis or expensive food, I hope this list serves as a good guide on how you can pretty much spend your next long weekend for a relatively small budget that will definitely reconnect you with the country we thrash and complain so much about in one way or another. For my international readers, I would like to think that my list has offered you another alternative to explore should you wish to visit or backpack to Singapore. Sure, the overexposed tourist attractions do live up to their billings and statuses as world-class facilities, but maybe for a significantly lower budget, you can immerse yourself in a ‘truer’ experience that’s closer to the soul of Singapore.
The list isn’t meant to be exhaustive; you can easily replace the Tiong Bahru heritage trip with one to Kampong Glam, opt to watch local amateur teams play soccer at St. Wilfried instead of a sporting event at a billion-dollar facility, or visit gigs of local artists at the hippiest of locations if you do not prefer to spend your nights with a nice cool drink and some Premier League football. Singaporeans are a fairly friendly lot, especially the teenagers (I think as we grow older we get more grumpy? I don’t know), so if you get a chance to visit, do interact with the locals and they’ll bring you with more stories and ideas than this blog post could realistically provide.
Thanks for reading through my first 4000-word entry!
To end off 2014, I’ve prepared a li’ll food guide to help you guys plan your New Year Party. There’s going to be sashimi, ham, sausages, ice cream, cakes, tarts, desserts and plenty more, all for a much, much lower price than your local supermarkets and stores. The Great Woodlands Industrial Food Run will be up on Boxing Day, so do check back in after your Christmas party!
In the meantime, here’s wishing you guys, a merry, merry Christmas!
Do you have any not-that-well-known places in Singapore that would make for a great staycation itinerary? Share them with me in the comments section below!
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