Flip Side City - The New Indian Express

Flip Side City

Published: 27th July 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 26th July 2014 10:14 AM

The rides and beaches of Sentosa, the colours of Jurong bird park, the night safari, Singapore flyer, and of course the water-spouting Merlion. Thanks to travel brochures and advertisements, these are sights from Singapore that are oh-so-familiar to travellers across the world.

But ditch the brochures and itineraries that your travel agent puts together. Sample the heritage and local art scene, catch a free concert or go cycling.

Start with the heart of the city. The boat perched atop the Marina Bay Sands hotel has a ticketed observation deck where you can spend as much time as you want. Ideally, go before sundown, so that you get to see the city by daylight, watch the lights come on in the high rises, and the city’s transformation into a carpet of fairy lights.

Head over to the Esplanade theatres, built to look like Singapore’s favourite fruit, durian. On weekends, catch a free concert or two at the Esplanade’s outdoor theatre by the bay. For ticketed events, you need to book in advance.

From here, take one of the colourful ferries and head to Clarke Quay. On the way, look out for landmarks like the Merlion, Fullerton Hotel, the Cavenagh Bridge (one of the oldest bridges in Singapore, now open only for pedestrians) and the Asian Civilisations Museum. Clarke Quay at night is a medley of lights, colours and people. Once a busy jetty for cargo boats, it now has several popular restaurants and pubs and wears a festive spirit around the year. If you prefer some place quieter, head further upriver to Robertson Quay, equally full of great restaurants. Take a walk on the Art Bridge.

Now that you have seen the city in all its glitzy glamour, explore its heritage and history. Head to Bugis and Bras Basah, which together form the art precinct. In Bugis, explore the Central Library and pick up souvenirs at the Bugis Street marketplace. At Bras Basah stands the majestic National Museum of Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum. Right next to it is Fort Canning, a small hill atop which stand the remains of a 19th century fort. It now serves as a venue for music and theatre events.

A short walk away is Armenian Street, which has a clutch of art galleries that exhibit global art. For a better understanding of local culture, head to the Peranakan Museum. The street gets its name from the Armenian Church, a beautiful white structure and the oldest church in Singapore.

By way of nature, Singapore hasn’t got much to show apart from the sea that surrounds it. And there are great ways to experience it. Don’t go looking for conventional beaches though; you won’t find long stretches of sand or crashing waves. Instead, you will find expanses of green lawns, cycling tracks and restaurants. There are several such parks along the coast, the East Coast Park being one of the largest. Hire a cycle and ride along the coast—and even go on to other parks; all the parks in Singapore are united via park connectors.

If you enjoy cycling or walking, do a day trip to Ubin Island, one of the last remaining idylls of Singapore. A short ferry ride later, hire cycles and sample village life, Singapore style. And yes, you have to either walk or cycle; you won’t find any other form of transport.

The cultural melting pot that Singapore is, it has its little areas specific to communities: Little India, Chinatown and Arab Street to name a few. Little India is a crowded, commercial hub chock-a-block with Indian stores and restaurants. Chinatown is rather like a large marketplace for tourists, with its street-side shopping and food stalls. Off Arab Street is the colourful Haji Lane, worth exploring. You will find quaint cafes, Arab restaurants and small boutiques along the entire stretch of this lane. Don’t miss the bright paintings and graffiti on the walls.

While eating local, try kaya toast for breakfast, lunch on Hainanese chicken rice, and dine on mee rebus or laksa.

Getting around couldn’t be easier. Taxis will surely get you from A to B quite fast, but arm yourself with a metro card and you can explore the city cheaper. You can use it on the bus too. In fact, spending an hour on the top deck of a double-decker bus is one of the best ways to see the city. There’s much more to the city than the built-up attractions targeted at tourists. Spend a day in the real Singapore and you will feel like a local in no time.

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