City Guides

A Singaporean's Guide to Singapore

I’m quite lucky to call Singapore home. It doesn’t always feel this way, but having returned back from Australia (for uni) and then New York (for work) 10 years ago, I’ve began to appreciate Singapore a lot more. And now I see it through the lens of a parent, scouting for nice spots to immerse in nature with the kids, and then you realise how it’s not such a concrete jungle after all. This list will never be complete - but is just a starting point. It doesn’t contain any information on malls (because I generally try to avoid them unless I need something), but instead, highlight some of the spots and independent establishments/small businesses that give Singapore that little more soul. And if you chance upon this, I hope it helps in your exploration, and do let me know if you end up checking any of these.

. . .

NATURE

IMG_2157.JPG

Singapore Botanical Gardens: Perfect for walks, runs, picnics, especially in the early mornings or evenings. It gets crowded especially during the weekend, but most of the crowd tend to be around the Symphony Lake area, and if you head further out to the other side of the park closer to the Circle Line, there are plenty of open spaces there for everyone. 

East Coast Park: I generally recommend cycling along the scenic Eastern Coastal Route, and you can also do an extension and cycle all the way to Changi. There are plenty of pitstops along the way at East Coast Park, don't forget to stop for a coconut at the East Coast Lagoon Hawker Centre, or have a drink/picnic at the generous grassy lawn patch at Aloha Beach Bar while the sun sets - it’s one of our family favourites.

Labrador Park & the Southern Ridges: Located in the southwestern part of Singapore, there are plenty of walking trails available, some along the coastline.

Hort Park: It’s never really busy here which is great. Definitely check out the nature playground, NParks did a wonderful job with this space. Early mornings or evenings are your best bet as there’s little shade/canopy.

MacRitchie Reservoir: Nice for a tropical jungle run, and kayaking is also available. If you’re with the kids, it’s great for a walk in the early morning or evenings. Close to the zigzag bridge, there’s often turtles (kids love sighting this), or if you’re along the boardwalk, you might be lucky to see a monitor lizard or two..

Fort Canning Park: Right smacked in the city centre and makes for a nice historical walk. Major plus: The Jubilee Playground (near the Fort Canning Station) - big hit with the kids.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve: A bit out of the way but so nice in the morning. While you’re there, make a visit to Bollywood Veggies and walk around their vast vegetable garden, and hop over to Hays Dairies to see some goats.


ARTS & CULTURE

2017_Beanies_088.jpg

Library@Orchard: is an oasis in the middle of Orchard Road. Not your typical tourist spot, but well-worth a visit if you like books, or appreciates good design. In fact, if you have kids, I think we have some of the best libraries for the little ones. Sassymama wrote a good article on that here.

National Museum of Singapore: It is a beautiful building with permanent exhibits of Singapore heritage and history. I love looking up at the dome the moment you step in to the building :) It also links to Fort Canning Park on the 3rd floor, which makes for a nice side trip.

National Gallery: It's a gorgeous building, previously home to the Supreme Court. Very nicely restored and has a number of good restaurants and an awesome programming / area just for the kids. All-time favourite.

Objectifs: If you enjoy photography and film, check this place out. They also have a store that sells books and films by local artists, and often holds exhibitions and talks/workshops.

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall: This was the original home for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra before Esplanade and is my preferred venue (over Esplanade) for classical music concerts because it's just so much more intimate and the heritage building itself is a good reason to visit. You can get tickets for concerts that are held there via the Singapore Symphony Orchestra website.

The Projector: An independent cinema situated at Golden Mile Tower, don’t be fooled by the state of the building. Awesome place for people who enjoy a bit of your non-Hollywood blockbusters. Singapore needs more places like this.


BOOKSHOPS

I used to work at Borders for a year before going to uni and it was one of the best work experience. I love the smell of books. While lots of the big players have all gone out of business (Borders, Times, MPH), the smaller independent bookshops that has so much more heart and soul are the ones we should be supporting. Knowing how hard it is to survive in the print business, all the more we should support small businesses like that who dared to create a space for the community to enjoy.

IMG_1532.JPG

BooksActually. This 100% local independent bookshop is a labour of love. You have to visit it. Well-stocked with local literature and other trinkets. Pair that with a visit to the Tiong Bahru Market and also a walk around the neighbourhood. 

Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop: Located at the side of the URA building, this bookshop stocks titles related to Singapore (but not necessarily just by Singapore authors).

Grassroots Books: This cosy bookshop stocks predominantly Chinese books but also has a small selection of English books. I love their selection for kids. Nice place to browse and have a coffee at the back of the bookshop.

Littered with Books: This is just 5-min from Grassroots Books and has a wide variety of books spanned over two floors.

Hook on Books: Located along River Valley Road, I love the customer service here at this predominantly Chinese bookstore for kids and the art and craft table.

The Moon: An independent bookshop with a focus on writers and artists of colour.


HOMEGROWN BRANDS

A94C319A-8C67-48D1-A1E6-D70470B256D5.jpg

MATTER: Probably the most comfortable pants I have so far, I like and appreciate their philosophy of being inspired by tradition, sourcing heritage prints and styles, and reinterpreting them for the modern nomad. #buylessbuybetter

NAIISE: If you are looking for unique and tastefully designed Singapore souvenirs, you should check them out. They've got a great selection of lifestyle products, which makes for great non-kitschy gifts.

SUPERMAMA: Designed in Singapore, made in Japan. Beautiful homewares (made of ceramics) that often included symbols of Singapore. Flagship store is at Beach Road.

Rocket Eyewear: Prior to this I’ve not had a pair of sunglasses that I REALLY liked, until I found Rocket! No physical location (but sometimes they have pop-ups).

Our Second Nature: Very beautiful prints (especially for the kids).


BARS

20160319__Singapore_Photowalks_004.jpg

Jigger & Pony: Great team, great service, great tapioca chips and great cocktails.

Idlewild: New-ish jazz bar situated at Intercontinental Hotel. Love the tapas and the live music.

Le Bon Funk: Good wine menu for an after-work/after-dinner drinks, and the open kitchen looks like it serves up pretty decent food options too. I love their branding.

Little Creatures: Our favourite Fremantle-brewery now with an outpost in Singapore!

Kafe UTU: African-inspired bar in the hip Keong Siak area. Head to the rooftop for a sunset drink. Very interesting cocktail menu.


RESTAURANTS

20170218__Photowalks_003.jpg

Local

The best way to try local food, is to head to a hawker centre. Tiong Bahru Market is a great starting point. Ocean Curry @ Telok Ayer has a kick-ass curry (avoid going between 12pm-2pm during weekdays as the crowd is insane). Visit Chomp Chomp in Serangoon in the evening for the best BBQ stingray (as well as a good selection of local fare). Jumbo for the chili crabs (I like the outlet at East Coast for the sea breeze and sea views). And my latest obsession - The Coconut Club which serves up awesome nasi lemak and the best chendol I’ve ever had. Over at Joo Chiat, One Kind House offers a private-dining experience at a shophouse helmed by Mummy Soh.

Japanese

Tomi Sushi: Excellent quality sushi at a decent price

Yazawa Yakiniku: This Japanese yakiniku joint is my favourite Japanese grill place. Bit pricey, but excellent meat.

Suju: Really good traditional Japanese food with a focus on miso.

Ramen Bar Suzuki: Highly recommended by a Japanese friend.

Jypsy: More of a Japanese-inspired menu by the folks at P.S. Cafe. Beautifully done interiors with a great menu.

Other Asian Cuisines

Ding Tai Fung (Taiwanese): Everyone should try this at least once. Consistently good quality and service. To-die-for xiao long bas.

Basil (Thai):I love Thai food but have not found a really authentic one since the chef left at my favourite spot at East Coast. Basil serves up a decent Thai fare though. If you know of a good spot, please let me know!

Colombo (Indian & Sri Lankan): I actually don't enjoy the Boat Quay stretch that much but this particular restaurant is situated right at the top of one of the shophouses on the 5th floor and comes with a beautiful view of the skyline at night.

Annalakshimi (Indian vegetarian): Delicious Indian vegetarian meals and you pay what you think the meal is worth.

Home Bar & Kitchen (Indonesian): I love love love this place for the Indonesian food, and the friendly service. It’s located near Little India, and has a really nice homely vibe. The sambal is soo good.

Meats

Camp Kilo: Located near the Kallang Riverside is one of my absolute favourite joints in Singapore. It’s so casual, always play good music, has delicious grilled meats (and seafood and vegetables), and some seriously good vibes.

Burnt Ends: Bit heavier on the wallet but very good meats!

Bistecca: Known for steaks, but has equally good options for non-steak eaters. I personally love the loooooong shophouse layout.

European

Cicheti: I have good memories of good meals and conversations and Cicheti (Kandahar St), and the pasta bar at Keong Siak (Bar Cicheti) looks promising too.

Casa Rustico: A random find and surprisingly good.

Greek: Blu Kouzina, Bakalaki

Firebake: That angel hair prawn dish. The bread. The neighbourhood.


CAFES

20170525__Photowalks_104.jpg

The cafe scene is burgeoning. Too many to mention but here’s a few to start..

Punch, Bundt at Havelock (not so much of a sit-down cafe, but great sandwiches, and to-die-for brownies), Mellower Coffee, Glasshouse, Hvala, Baker & Cook Dempsey (bonus points for having an outdoor playground for the kids), Chye Seng Huat Hardware.

So, over to you, what’s your favourites?


Last updated: 11 Aug 2019.

Summertime in Karuizawa

Earlier in June this year, we had the opportunity to bring the kids along to Karuizawa as part of the Saturday Kids Unplugged Summer Camp. I was part of the organising team, and I wrote about my reflections following the trip on the Saturday Kids blog - you can read all about it here.

Karuizawa is a very idyllic mountain resort area 1-hour by bullet train from Tokyo, and traditionally known as a summer retreat for the imperial family. It does feel like a very wealthy town - the tree-lined streets were very manicured, there’s a lot of huge houses with some situated right in the forests presumably for the wealthy Japanese who can afford to make this their summer homes. I find it slightly ironic and a bit of a contrast that the first thing that we noticed the moment we stepped out from from the train station were: 1) the fresh smell of nature / trees, and 2) a giant illuminated Prada sign at the outlet mall situated right by the train station.

. . .

Days in Karuizawa were filled with time spent in the outdoors, nature walks and whenever we could muster the energy, dining out with the kids at night. We returned with a lot of good memories and the kids speak very fondly of time spent catching butterflies, playing catching, dipping their feet at the chilly waterfalls, finding twigs in the forest, AND they absolutely loved sweeping the campsite (!). Read on to see a few recommendations on where to eat and what to do should you plan to visit in the future.

karuizawa_009.jpg
karuizawa_010.jpg
karuizawa_011.jpg
karuizawa_007.jpg
karuizawa_003.jpg
karuizawa_002.jpg
karuizawa_012.jpg

…And a little guide

Here’s a sampling of the places that I like, there were others that we didn’t get to check out: Harvest Nagai Farm, Stone Church, Yo Ho Brewery, Bird Izakaya. Our team has put together a more comprehensive Saturday Kids Guide to Karuizawa, worth checking out if you’re planning to visit.


STAY

The place we stayed at was very modest and a little run-down so nothing to write about there, however, just take a look at this new gorgeous boutique property Shishiiwa House - the wood, the light, zen to the max. Read more about it here and here. If you ever stay there, please let me know how it is.

Eat

Sandaimekoko: One of the best ramen I have EVER had. Avoid lunch hour if possible. I’d go back just for this.

Suju Masayuki: Good quality Japanese food with a focus on miso-based dishes. Didn’t realise this is the original spot for one of my favourite Japanese restaurants (same name - Suju)

Sawamura Bakery and Restaurant: One of the bakeries that open earlier (8am+). Excellent pastries and bread.

Maruyama Coffee: Great coffee and space.


Do

Nature walks and onsen: The Japanese call this forest bathing, and it is very therapeutic and pleasant to walk in the forest, soaking in the fresh air. There’s an abundance of trails (just Google it). There’s a few in the Hoshino area which is near an onsen called Tombo No Yu and the surrounding shops/cafes make for a nice side trip altogether.

Karuizawa Bookstore: Situated right next to Delica (great supermarket!), this bookstore has a nice collection of books, wares and stationery. Doesn’t matter if you’re non-Japanese speaking, the kids’ books are equally interesting and fascinating in Japanese.

Karuizawa Station Children’s Play Area (Mori no Korisu Kids Station): This was a lucky find, so spare yourself (and your kids) at least 30 min - 1 hour prior to departure to play at this super play space, complete with replica of steam trains, cabins, and the whole works. It’s really all kinds of wonderful (and is free).

Saturday Kids Unplugged Summer Camp: If you’re planning to visit the area in June (and have kids 4-12 years old), then it might be an interesting way for you and them to spend part of the vacation where they go on a 4-day summer camp (without stayover). All the details here.

Sandaimekoko’s ramen.

Sandaimekoko’s ramen.

A walk in the woods

A walk in the woods

Not a real train, but an awesome replica! Plus great play space.

Not a real train, but an awesome replica! Plus great play space.

Get on this steam train kiddos

Get on this steam train kiddos

A day trip to Kurashiki

Kurashiki is most known for its beautiful canal area, and is just an easy hour-train ride from Onomichi. I’ve been a little wary about the Venice-like canal, which usually implies that it’ll be filled with tourists. BUT If you’re a fan of Japanese denim, this is the place to go to for your denim fix for Made in Japan denim, with nearby Kojima being the birthplace of the first Japanese jeans. Half a day was definitely too short, but here’s a look at what I saw, and a few recommendations at the bottom of this post.

Japan_038.jpg
Japan_033.jpg
Japan_039.jpg
Japan_035.jpg

EAT/DRINK

Kurashiki Ramen Masuya: Good ramen and even better gyoza.

Abuto (Sushi): Good lunch sets, fresh sushi, decent garden views.

SHOP (DENIM)

Japan Blue Denim Laboratory (my fave)

Inobe

Denim Bar

Blue Sakura

Japan_032.jpg
Japan_034.jpg
Japan_040.jpg
Japan_037.jpg
Japan_036.jpg

Slow Life in Onomichi

The funky yellow local train pulled up at Fukuyama station and arrived at Onomichi station 20 minutes later. After 4 hours on the Shinkansen from Tokyo, this ride was quite a welcome change as it chugged along and passed through a few small towns before stopping at Onomichi - a sleepy port town in Southern Japan, not far from Hiroshima.

Japan_031.jpg

Stepping out of the station, the first thing that greets you is the waterfront promenade, and the smell of the sea. We had just wrapped up the very first Saturday Kids Unplugged Summer Camp (more to come on that - it was awesome and lots of fun for the kids, hit me up if you want first dibs for the 2020 edition), and I took the opportunity to extend the stay in Japan for a few days while Erwin brought the kids back home to Singapore first. I’m drawn towards the smaller cities and towns in Japan - I find them less overwhelming and more enjoyable to explore. Onomichi wasn’t on my radar till I started researching for a smallish town with a growing creative community, and where I can just spend my days leisurely exploring on foot.

Onomichi is a bit of a ferry and bicycle kind of town - and for all you cycling enthusiasts, you might have heard of it as it’s known as the starting point for Shimanami Kaido, a scenic 70+ km cycling route that connects Honshu to Shikoku, via 6 small islands on the way. Life takes on a slower pace here, and as a visitor, for the very fact that there’s not a gazillion sights to see makes the visit a lot more enjoyable and less-rushed. There wasn’t much on my agenda, just wanted to photograph, write and organise a whole year’s backlog of photos, and chomp away on Japanese food.

It was in the early evening when I arrived at this very relaxed town. People were sitting around at the benches enjoying the sea breeze and the view (albeit a little industrial with the big ships), people walking their dogs, students playing football, and of course, the cyclists.

I read about how there’s efforts to revive this town. At times, the town felt a little deserted, and there’s doesn’t seem to be much going on. The ‘shopping street’ which is over a kilometre long, consists of a mix of old school mom-and-pop shops selling sundries, socks, hats, some F&B and in the midst of it, a number of small coffee shops/roasters that provides an interesting mix of new and old. But for most parts of the day, it’s fairly quiet, except for the afternoons when students walk home / cycle home after school. Walking along the shopping street, you’ll be able to catch glimpses of the many flights of steps across the railway track leading up to the hill. Given that the temple walk (there’s 20 over temples of which Sentoki is the most famous), and the Onomichi City Museum of Art is located at the top of the hill, I was expecting to see some people on the way up, but on that afternoon, was pretty much the only one hiking up the meandering and narrow walkways (no wonder, the museum was closed that day!). Once up, you’ll be able to see a splendid view of the outlying islands especially on a clear day.

I left Onomichi after spending 4 days there, longer than I originally planned, mostly due to the comfortable stay at the Onomichi U2 Hotel. If you’re looking for a place with a vibrant nightlife, or lots of shopping, or one that’s bustling with activities, this probably isn’t it. But go to Onomichi if you want to experience a small town in Japan, eat good food, and even better, embark on that scenic cycling route across the Seto Island Sea. I think I’ll be back, I was very charmed by the city, but also because I went with no grand sightseeing plans.

I’ve put together a few of my favourite things and places below. Most of these are places that I’ve stumbled upon, and which I kept returning to during the time I was there. Some are places that I’ve bookmarked and would love to check out but didn’t get to do so. If you do visit, do let me know how it goes.

STAY

Onomichi U2 Cycle Hotel

Set in an old warehouse and situated just by the waterfront, here is a hotel (the very first in Japan with only 28 rooms) designed by Suppose Design for cyclists and with cyclists in mind. The space is stunning, very well-designed with an industrial feel (lots of concrete, but also wood). It is also a lifestyle hub, that houses a bike shop, a cafe, a retail shop that curates local goods, a restaurant and a bar. Rooms are very comfortable and at 10,000 Yen - 13,000 Yen, I’d say, very reasonable. Little touches make the difference, such as the provision of soft denim pyjamas designed and made in Japan especially for the hotel, racks in the hotel rooms for cyclists to hang their bikes, if they wish, and nice coffee. I just can’t recommend this hotel enough.

Japan_029.jpg
Japan_017.jpg
Japan_025.jpg
Japan_026.jpg
Japan_023.jpg
Japan_019.jpg
Japan_018.jpg
Japan_016.jpg
Japan_015.jpg

LOG

Didn’t stay here, but space looks very zen and was featured in Monocle (although about 3x the price and up on the hill - waterfront at Onomichi U2 or hilltop at LOG, take your pick).


EXPLORE

Hike up the hill and head to the Onomichi City Museum of Art, check out the Sentoki Temple, the observation tower and if you’re lucky, stumble upon a few small shops and cafes along the way. Spend an afternoon checking out the cafes, having a drink at the waterfront promenade. Walk around the harbour and watch the sunset. It’s a small town, wander around and see what you find.

Japan_030.jpg
Japan_014.jpg
Japan_041.jpg
Japan_007.jpg
Japan_013.jpg
Japan_022.jpg
Japan_020.jpg
Japan_021.jpg



SHOP

Campanella Press

This was a lucky and unexpected find. Paper products, notebooks, locally designed stationery and lifestyle products, and letterpress workshops. I really like the space.

Japan_010.jpg
Japan_011.jpg
Japan_012.jpg


Onomichi U2 Shima Shop

This is the lifestyle shop situated at the Onomichi U2 Hotel , lots of locally-sourced/designed products.

Japan_027.jpg


Onomichi Denim Project

You can read all about this here and here. I love the story behind it, but didn’t spend more than 5-min at the shop because there really wasn’t much to browse (!)

Japan_006.jpg


Uzushio Zukkaten

Lifestyle shop with fun knick knacks.


EAT & DRINK

Yamaneko Mill

Having just arrived, I walked by a small back street on the way to ramen. Smelt something amazing. Through the glass, I saw a felt pastry chefs whipping something up in the kitchen. Popped in, asked if I can try/buy whatever they’re making. Ate one, and ended up packing another 3. Visit this place for the most delicious pudding, cheesecake, and on the 2nd floor, they have a restaurant that has a really good view/vibe serving up dishes focusing on local produce. Highly recommended, for coffee/juices, desserts, lunch and/or dinner. I would return just for this.

IMG_2773.JPG


Ramen opposite Uzushio Zakkaten

Small 7-8 seater ramen joint (name unknown sorry!) but simply find it opposite this shop Uzushio Zakkaten. Try the spicy ramen for a really good kick.


Onomichi U2 Hotel’s Restaurant + Cafe + Bar

Everything is good here. They’ve done a really good job curating the entire space. Head there for breakfast, lunch or dinner, grab a table outside and enjoy the view. If you’re there for a drink or for dinner, please order the wings too. It’s as good as it gets. Friend of mine said that the lemon pizza is excellent too.

Coffee

All around the small town you’ll find a good selection of roasters and cafes - some more traditional, some more hipster. a few that I like: Classico, AROUND, The Yard at Onomichi U2, Pour Over Coffee (can’t locate the address for this but it’s a few shops away from this old Japanese restaurant called Hanaakari), and this called satie that overlooks the railway tracks which I didn’t get to check out.

Japan_003.jpg
Japan_004.jpg

Enjoy Onomichi.

City Guide: Bergen

Bergen is the hometown of Kings of Convenience, and was the only reason why I picked that city to visit during my maiden European trip almost 10 years ago. Still one of my favourite singer-songwriter bands, I love the simplicity of their music and their set-up - listening to them is good for the soul. Watching them performed live when they came to Singapore a couple of years back, was a fan girl dream come true. 

It is not hard to envision where their inspiration come from having witnessed the beauty of their city and country, and in fact, that could probably be said of some of the music that came out of Nordics like Sigur Ros, with sounds that instantly transport you to somewhere idyllic. 

ber.jpeg

Situated on the southwestern coast of Norway, Bergen is surrounded by beautiful mountains, lakes and sea, and used to be the Norwegian capital, until 1299. 

“Bergen is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, laid out across harbours and hillsides. It’s also rich in history and architecture, especially in the quayside Bryggen district. But this is a city that is anything but stuck in the past with a dynamic cultural life, great restaurants and nightlife”
— Lonely Planet

Walking is the best way to explore the city of Bergen. You will need a good pair of shoes to deal with the cobble-stoned streets, and possibly arm yourself with a brolly in case it rains - which happens very often. Soak in the scenery from the hilltops and peek at the secret gardens. Most of the wooden houses are gorgeous, and often decorated with flowers, a lot of flowers. Spend a day out at sea and try out deep sea fishing, where it goes as deep as 120-meters and takes a good 5-min to reel a fish in. Do an easy trek up Mount Floyen to get a nice view of Bergen. Who knows, you might spot Eirik from Kings of Convenience (as I did, really! I almost died.). Settle at a cafe for a drink or coffee over board games and good music. Check out some of the small live music venues and get a taste of the local music scene. Food-wise, Norway is an expensive country to eat out. Check out the local grocery stores - always a good idea. Fresh market stands offer fresh open sandwiches (shrimps, smoked salmon), mussels, fishcakes. Lots of seafood. Drink Hansa, the local brewery, and most importantly, drink the tap water, it's one of the best I've had. 

And to stay. The one recommendation I have, is Skuteviken Guesthouse, which is owned by Solveig and Elvind, who are artists by profession and set this up a few years ago. Located just 5-10min walk away from city centre and just across the pier, it has a great views of the neighbouring houses on a hill, as well as a gorgeous view of the horizon. It’s a small charming guesthouse on a narrow cobble-stoned street, with just 5 small apartments, each individually designed by Solveig and Elvind, and decorated with some of their own artwork. All the apartments were extremely clean and even have kitchenettes with utensils and some complimentary dry goods such as tea, coffee, pasta, which came in really handy. Great apartment, great location. Great owners too, who were more than happy to have conversations around the Norwegian culture, the Bergen-Oslo ‘rivalry’, music, life in Bergen. We ended up checking out some local music at this local bar called Logen (it's still around!) together - local musicians get together every Monday night for performances. A fantastic spot to stay in all in all.

Address: Skutevikens Smalgang 11, 5032 Bergen, Norway
Phone: +47 934 67 163
Website: http://www.skutevikenguesthouse.com/englishindex.htm