Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Time warp: 3 themed itineraries to discover old-time Singapore

*Produced by SilverKris for Avis*

Singapore may be a renowned global hub that houses Michelin-starred dining, iconic structures and the like, but there’s plenty of heritage and history to be found once you peel back its modern façade. Heritage preservation is a big deal here, and it’s not too hard to find an experience that hearkens back to old-time Singapore, if you know where to go.

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Trishaw Uncle
Explore Singapore the old-school way with Trishaw Uncle

For food lovers

Going on a food adventure is the easiest way to sink your teeth into a slice of Singapore’s history, which is why Balmoral Bakery should be your first stop. The bakery has been quite the presence since 1965, and its appeal lies in its pastries, pies and sweet treats. Balmoral’s creations began as interpretations of various colonial flavours and this hasn’t changed since. Must-tries include the dome-shaped chicken pies, cream horns, custard puffs, Swiss rolls (also known as towel rolls here) and rum balls.

Photo credit: Rumah Bebe

Then, hop on the PIE for a 20-minute drive to Lam Yeo Coffee. One of the last remaining family-run coffee businesses, Lam Yeo has been a giant in Singapore’s coffee culture since 1959. While you’ll find plenty of exotic or gourmet beans and blends here, its biggest draw is the Singapore-style kopi, which is traditionally roasted and blended for an unmatched aroma and flavour. The storefront remains unchanged from its first days, and your beans of choice can be blended to suit your personal coffee machine.

Afterwards, make the 15-minute drive along the ECP towards Rumah Bebe, a traditional two-storey Peranakan shophouse that’s stood since 1928. A hidden gem in Katong’s food scene, the in-house café here uses fresh, natural ingredients to recreate traditional Peranakan cuisine that used to grace the tables of many Peranakan families on a daily basis decades ago. Everything – tarts, pastries, dumplings, sauces and more – is handmade, and you can sign up for crafting workshops, explore the various museum replicas and heritage products and even try on Peranakan outfits for photo ops.

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Lam Yeo Speciality Coffee
Old-school equipment at Lam Yeo

For hands-on adventurers

Many drive to Singapore’s west side to Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle, a 56-year-old pottery business for a look at its ancient dragon kiln. Dragon kilns are said to hit temperatures as high as 1,400°C, and fire up to 25,000 pottery items at once. These days, Thow Kwang’s dragon kiln only lights up on certain days (call ahead to enquire!), and you can sign up for a pocket-friendly tour to see its insides. Parking is free, but the lots are limited, so be sure to get here early.

An in-demand mode of transport after the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945, the trishaw now lives on as a popular tourist attraction. Relive a decade long gone with Trishaw Uncle (tip: Park your car at the nearby Fu Lu Shou Complex). Named after the term of endearment used for trishaw riders, Trishaw Uncle takes you to explore heritage districts like Little India, Kampong Glam and Chinatown the old-fashioned way – with his colourful running commentary for company.

Dragon kiln Singapore
Firing up the old dragon kiln at Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle

Beat the heat at the rustic Hai Bin Prawning, where you can try hand a family-friendly Singaporean activity that’s been a favourite for at least two decades. This Tebing Lane setup lets you catch prawns from a pond in groups or by yourself. You could grill your catch after in pre-Covid times, but these days, it’s best to dine on the cooked-to-order dishes available at the in-house café.

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For explorers and Instagrammers

Add a touch of heritage to the ’gram with a gambol through the Kranji Railway Train Crossing. A former manned level crossing for the Malaysian Railway (KTM) trains, this historical point is part of the larger Kranji Heritage Trail. The railway line was constructed in 1903 before being decommissioned in 2011. While the tracks have been removed, you’ll still get to walk through the greenery and snap a picture for posterity.

Haw Par Villa. Photo: Shutterstock.com
Immerse yourself in old Chinese folklore at Haw Par Villa. Photo: Shutterstock

Then, peek into Chinese folklore with a 26-minute drive to Haw Par Villa. Formerly called the Tiger Balm Garden, the macabre cultural park has been a Singapore icon since 1937. It houses more than 1,000 statues and 150 artisan-created dioramas, all drawn from popular Chinese literature. The park’s most intriguing feature is, undoubtedly, the Ten Courts of Hell display, which depicts the consequences of disobeying traditional Chinese morality. If you’d rather not explore the park alone, opt for one of its revelatory guided tours.

Affectionately dubbed as the country’s last kampung (village), Kampong Lorong Buangkok lets you get a feel of life in 1950s Singapore. There are wood and zinc houses aplenty – the homes of a blended Malay and Chinese community – and children play freely in the traffic-free streets. Feel free to stop for a chat and photos with the welcoming residents, too. There’s no parking within the village itself, so leave your wheels at the multi-story car park at Buangkok Parkvista instead.

Kampong Lorong Buangkok
A scene from Kampong Lorong Buangkok. Photo: Rayson Tan (Unsplash)

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