Monday morning. I sleep in past ten, and wake up quickly so that I can get breakfast before it ends at 10.30 pm. It’s my last day in Singapore, and there’s a couple of areas I want to check out before I leave.
I’ve been combing the Singapore Insider booklet, and I’ve done the main areas. Before I came here I saved some Singapore guides which mentioned getting out into the countryside (who knew they had some?) and up to the Malaysian border to see the nature reserves, but I’ve been content to stay within the city. There’s a small column in the booklet about Tiong Bahru, which is apparently the hippest new area in the city, crammed with interesting shops, coffee shops and bars and restaurants. I quickly google it and find that it is only one MTR stop from Chinatown. In that case, I’m just going to walk it. There’s also a website with a top ten things to do in Tiong Bahru that I turn into a PDF and put onto iBooks so I can follow it offline.
It’s easy to get there – I just head down one street about half a kilometre and turn right and walk another kilometre or so. It’s hot again today, but a little blustery as well. There was a spot of rain while I was eating breakfast, but nothing much. I find the main street – it’s called Tiong Bahru Road, so it’s easy to follow. I quickly find some of the stores that were mentioned on the website. Curated Records is apparently the last record shop in the city, but it’s closed on Mondays, as are many of the shops on the street.
Undeterred, I press on. I find the market – it’s easy to find, being a big white building with a big red sign saying Tiong Bahuru Market on top – and take a quick walk along the side street, where I spot another couple of things mentioned on the site. So far, so good.
I duck into the market, thinking it might be interesting to see the food and items on sale, but many of the stalls are closed and shuttered. Monday must be their day off after the weekend, I surmise. I go up the escalator to the food court. It’s close to lunch time and despite the late breakfast I’m hungry. The food court is huge. It takes at least five minutes to walk around and peer at the foods for sale. I’ve only really had snacky things in Singapore rather than a meal (well, except for that huge biryani in Little India). I spy a couple of things I might want to try but keep walking around until I have seen everything. I go back to a stall and get crispy beef noodles.
Back outside the market I try to follow the map but it seems I’m going in the wrong direction and end up near a kind of housing estate. I go back to the front of the market and find the right road. What makes this area of Singapore a little different is that it is more of a 1930s Art Deco-style rather than the traditional shopfronts, and most of the buildings and the estate layout have the curved balconies we associate with Art Deco houses and buildings. I follow a crescent and spot some of the cafes, stores and restaurants that I’ve read about. It’s all quite sleepy – not much traffic and quiet roads. I find the bookstore that I wanted to go into, but that is also closed and shuttered. I come back to the road by the market and walk along to the Monkey God temple, and then stop in at Tiong Bahru Bakery, a landmark coffee shop.
It is good. The coffee is really tasty and they have a mouthwatering array of pastries and sandwiches. I get a chocolate almond croissant and it is so good I consider getting another. I think it’s another shame that we don’t really get great artisanal places like this in Korea. The trouble with Koreans is they always want to Korean-ise things. Croissants in Korea are generally laced with sugar and they mess with bread and sandwiches to make them more palatable to Koreans. I surmise that it must again be down to the more cosmopolitan mix of expats here, as the bakery is French-owned.
I’m done here now. It was a nice 90 minutes or so, but not quite what I was expecting. I’m hoping for more from Joo Chiat, another apparently hip and vibrant area to the east of the city, a little far out from the centre. The MTR for Tiong Bahru is on the same line, so I jump on it and make the 30-minute journey. The air conditioning is great, and I’m thirsty from the heat and keep wanting to drink from my water bottle but know that I can’t do that. Damn those regulations!
There is a double-page spread for Joo Chiat in the Singapore Insider booklet with walking trails – one for in the daytime and one for in the evening. I check the map and decide to do a hodge-podge of the two, starting wherever I can find. The MTR station is quite far, but it’s easy to get to the Joo Chiat Road. I wander along it. It’s nothing special at this point, just more shopfronts and more Indian and Muslim businesses. Insider recommends going to see the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Hindu temple, the oldest in Singapore. It’s on a street called Ceylon Street which runs parallel to Joo Chiat Road about four streets over. I make the turn and head there.
The address for the temple is 19 Ceylon Road. I find myself at number 220. God, this is a long street. It’s so quiet as well – very residential. It’s just a single carriageway and the houses have their wheelie bins out (it must be bin day) and there’s no one around. It feels like a whole other world – it’s almost quite British-feeling. I come to a big road that cuts through the middle and in my mind I feel like I’m in Leicester – the layout and the petrol station all remind me of the roads leading up to where my maternal grandparents lived.
I come to another crossroads. I’m only at number 58, and I’ve been walking for about 15 minutes. I work out in my head that if the house numbers are going up by two on each side I’ve got twenty houses to walk past before I get to the temple. There’s one more road to cross and then I see its gate rising up into the sky. It’s not as colourful as the other temples I’ve seen, and it’s almost deserted. One woman walks in as I peer through the doorway, deciding whether I should go in. There’s a place for washing feet and I’m not sure if I have to do that or not. I decide to just wander around the outside with my shoes off and peer through the doors.
It’s not far now to the main road through the area, East Coast Road. I turn left, checking the building numbers to see if I’m going in the right direction. I seem to be. One of the businesses that the book recommends isn’t at the number it says in the book. I walk along the street and do see a couple of other places – An Acai Affair, Alibarbar (coffee shop by day hawker restaurant by night), a mall on the other side of the road. The book recommends strolling along the terraced houses at number 150, which have been built on stilts in case of flooding. I see a row of shops and the sign says 138, but I don’t see a number 150 and the next block of buildings is 154. I eventually twig that the terrace is the row of houses running down the street that turns off from East Coast Road so I do as the book says and stroll along.
Above: what I thought was the row of houses at 150 East Coast Road
Below: the actual houses at 150 East Coast Road
I head back the way I came and look for a shop selling traditional noodles. I find the street number but the business doesn’t appear to be there. A couple of doors down at 128 there should be a store with elaborate Chinese decoration dating from 1928. I take a photo and try to find the dumpling store. I find a business there – it looks like a Chinese herbal medicine shop, not a food place, and then I spy a menu on the counter with the dumplings. I ask for one and the lady reaches into a display cabinet and pulls out triangular banana leaf package. I tell her about the book recommending this place and she seems non-plussed.
I head a few doors down to the Alibarbar and get coffee and kaya toast. It’s 5 pm I figure it will be a while before I get back to the centre of the city. After this I walk back up Joo Chiat Road, since I haven’t been to this part yet and the book recommends a few places. They are all shut. I guess it’s either because Mondays are a quiet day or because it’s quarter to six now and they’ve closed for the day.
The final thing I’m looking for is a row of pastel-coloured houses on Koon Seng Road. The books says start your journey here at the “Instagram-worthy” terrace, but I’ve ended up here last. I get to the street and find the houses. The road is chocka with traffic so it takes a few minutes to get across the street to take some pictures. They’re certainly brightly coloured.
I have to make a choice now: head back to the MTR or walk along East Coast Road back to the centre of the city. It doesn’t seem that far – basically just a straight road. I know I’m quite far from the MTR anyway. I begin to walk but decide to go for the MTR. I set my Apple Watch to track and outside walk to see just how far it is, and at the pastel houses I am 1.6 km away from the MTR it turns out.
I get the train to the Esplanade MTR station. It comes out within the M&S mall I was in yesterday. I have been thinking about those shorts and whether I should get them. Although I’m trying to stay within the budget I set for Singapore and not have to take more money out, I’ve got my card with me. I decide to go for it. I head back to the store and then I see a nice white linen shirt. I never wear white – too many lumps and bumps get exposed – but I like it and it might be nice to have something white for the beaches in Indonesia. You may or may not have noticed that in most of my pictures I am wearing black. It’s not the same T-shirt – I’ve got 15 black T-shirts with me on the trip. Look carefully and you’ll notice different necklines or sleeve lengths. I’m hot and sweaty so I don’t think I should try it on. I will need to because it’s an XL size and I want to know if it will fit – I usually get a shirt in XXL as they’re not as stretchy as T-shirts. I’m surprised to find that it is baggy and loose when I put it on, and it could be taken in a bit. Before I left Seoul I had lost 20 kg this year, and in Hoi An I weighed myself and I was a further 4 kg down. I’m quite happy with this, so I go ahead and buy the shirt and shorts.
I go back to the Esplanade. There are no jazz concerts tonight. It must be a weekend thing. I try again to get some night photos of the bay, resting my camera on the edge of the seating and using the Canon app and Bluetooth for the remote shutter. I’m quite pleased with the results. The Marina Bay light show begins, so I watch it and try to catch the lasers streaming from the roof and the boats cruising past. It’s quite quiet along the waterfront and very breezy, so it’s a nice, lazy half hour. I go back to the Merlion too and sit cross-legged on the floor with my camera out on the ledge beyond the railings and try to capture the water spouting out of its mouth.
It’s 9 pm and I already know I’m going back to the hotel early to get a couple of drinks in the bar and write up and post a couple of blog entries. They sell bottles of beer for only $5, whereas in bars around the waterfront you’ll pay at least twice that amount. I do my traditional look around and take in the moment goodbye to the waterfront and head back.
Instead of walking past the market, I walk a street over. I’ve tried to be canny with the traffic lights – I should go right and then cross over again, but the ones going ahead are green now so I trot for those, but there’s no crossing to the right which would take me to the market, so I have to walk an extra street over. Behind the market is an outdoor food street and there are several satay sellers and beer sellers and a crowd of people eating on benches in the street. After China Street last night this is another thing I didn’t know about and would have liked to have tried. Never mind – I’ll come on my next trip.
At the hotel I shower and have a couple of drinks. I’ve got just enough money left to book the airport shuttle bus tomorrow. I’m using my brother’s backpack – he left it behind in my place a few years ago and it’s slightly bigger than mine, so I decided to bring his on this trip, but the straps are thinner and much more uncomfortable. It pains my collar bones so I don’t fancy lugging it along the MTR to the airport.
I reflect on my time in Singapore, and it has really charmed me. I thought it would be sterile and clinical, but it hasn’t been that at all. Although it has been kind of expensive, I have really enjoyed my time here and I know that I would like to come back sometime, especially as there are still many things to see and do.
And then to bed. I put my laundry in a neat pile ready for packing tomorrow morning and have a final, restful sleep.