Things to do in Singapore - An Expat Weekend Guide
January 1, 1970
by Caroline Sun
So you are an expat 6 months into their new life and have started to find this tropical island somehow dry despite its high humidity. If that is the case, why not try some weekend activities of the locals? Here are some suggestions.
Sing KTV in Singapore
Singapore has a strong KTV culture, especially among the Chinese speakers. For a country with high alcohol price and well, just generally doesn’t drink much, KTV is an ideal alternative for friends gathering or even company events. Most of the Singaporeans are not shy to sing a bit in front of friends. KTV in Singapore is most authentic if you sing it in Chinese, be it Mandarin, Hokkien or Cantonese. Try to jio (Singlish for “invite”) some of your Mandarin speaking friends and ask them to introduce you to Chinese Pop. Want to familiarize yourself with some of the most popular mandarin songs? JJ Lin and Jay Chou have never been missed out from a single of my KTV sessions.
The most popular KTV franchise would be Teo Heng, they have a few outlets all over Singapore. Visit their website and make a reservation. And my favorite would be Cash Studio. It might seem kind of suspicious at the first sight with its neon lightings, but it is made up by their touchscreen song selector, multiple TV screens and a wider range of song selection. You also have Family KTV (most economical but lower than average environment), Manekineko (better environment but pricier than Cash Studio), and a few other fancies location in case Teo Heng and Cash Studio are all fully booked.
Supper at Geylang
After KTV or a heavy drinking session, Singaporeans go SUPPER, a word that refers specifically to late night snack in Singapore. Popular choices include dim sum, roti prata, and frog porridge. Geylang is one of the top areas for supper. It is also the last legal red light district in Singapore. Small wonder why it is the best supper place. You’ve got to fulfill one of your needs before you fulfill another. Personally, Mongkok is my favorite place for dim sum. Make sure you try their custard bum. Followed by Swee Choon. You can find roti prata shops almost everywhere, most of them open till late. Ask the staff to give you some white sugar to go with your roti prata.
Feeling adventurous? Try Singapore’s frog porridge and 24hr durian shops. Don’t be too scared by the idea of eating frogs. Only frog legs are used for the porridge, so you won’t see the whole frog floating in the claypot. It looks just like porridge with tiny chicken legs, and they taste incredibly tender. The two most famous frog porridge places are Eminent Frog Porridge and Geylang Lor 9 Frog Porridge. Eminent is my favorite. And if you are around the Outram Park and Chinatown area, Tiong Shan Claypot Frog Porridge is a great choice, too.
If you pay attention to the many warning signs at the public spaces in Singapore, you will notice that durians are not allowed in many of these places including bus or other public transportation. This is due to the strong (some may call it pungent, or fermented-sock-like) smell of durians. As a Taiwanese and a loyal stinky tofu advocate, I like the way durians smell the same way I think the scent of stinky tofu represents night market and home and everything nice. Unfortunately for many others, the durian smell is just unbearable, and that is why these outdoor durian shops are set up for Singaporeans to without making others vomit. Seriously, you’d think the locals are all used to it. But one of my friends can only eat durians at his balcony at home because his (Singaporean) wife hates it. And one time my Uber driver had to pull off because that box of durian I carried made him sick. There are a few durian shops at Geylang, and like the rest of the stores there, these shops run 24/7. I have no preference for any specific durian place. You may look for Durian 36 or Durian Geylang if you don’t know where to go.
Join the long queues for food with Singaporeans
If you haven’t realized, Singaporeans are all about food. You ask them how is Phuket (Thailand), and they’d tell you they love the tom yum soup (so do I). You ask them how they like Taipei 101 (Taiwan), they’d tell you they how great is Ding Tai Fung’s xiaolongbao. Because their impressive enthusiasm for food and because Singaporeans are a bunch of kiasu (Singlish for “scared to lose”) folks, they are willing to queue for hours so that they can try this famous Gudetama omelet before anyone else does. I respect their passion.
Why not joining the Singaporeans in the queue and see whether you’d be able to understand what are all these buzzes are about. The longest queue I have ever seen was in front of the Michelin-star soya sauce chicken stall at Chinatown Food Complex. Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle is possibly the cheapest Michelin-star experience you could have. Be prepared to wait in line for at least 2 hours during peak hours.
One-day getaways to JB, Batam or Bintan
Yes, sometimes it gets so hard to find anything to do that the islanders have to escape to nearby cities for a break. The most frequently visited choices are without a doubt Johor Bahru (“JB”), Batam, and Bintan. The former one is known for shopping, food, massages, cafe, and movies – everything that is also available in Singapore, but with one-third the price. And the latter two are known for beach resorts and water sports, and, well, cheaper food and massages.
All three of the locations are easily accessible and are ideal destinations for a day-trip. JB can be reached by either bus from Woodland or train, also from Woodland. It is faster to go there by train. However, you’ll have to reserve your tickets online before they are sold out. The tickets are released one month prior to the departure date.
There are plenty of ferries to Batam and Bintan. One ride takes around 1 hour. Ferries to Batam depart from both Harbourfront and Tenah Merah, and ferries to Bintan departs from Tenah Merah.
To be honest, when I asked my Singaporean friends what they did during the weekends, they’d usually share with me this Netflix show they watched or that cafe they visited. But this is life everywhere. Expat life can’t always be exotic and exciting. In the end, you’d realize it is built up by the little ordinary details – that green plastic plate from the hokkien mie shop next door, that tree you park your Obike next to, or those moments when you try to jaywalk like a Singaporean and fail. Anyway, I hope this article did give you some ideas on how to spend your next few weekends.