Courtesy of Tribe Tours
Photos by Lester V. Ledesma
On the Sunset Street Eats tour, travelers eat their way across Katong, Singapore, with a food and cultural heritage expert.
A murder-mystery session that teaches you local history on the sly? A foodie tour led by an expert? Sign us up on these four tours that take you deeper into Singapore.
Stuck behind closed borders for much of 2020 and 2021, Singaporeans (who count among the world’s most active travelers) sought fresh eyes with which to see their “Little Red Dot.” Thankfully, many local tour operators were happy to help, coming up with fun and interesting ways for folks here to rediscover home. With the country’s Vaccinated Travel Lanes now in place, foreigners are finding a tourism industry that’s been reoriented toward its own people. You can still get the ordinary tour-bus window view of Singapore, of course—but why, if you can now have these uniquely local experiences:
Singapore cuisine is a multicultural buffet that requires a lifetime to fully explore—and many locals make a fair attempt at it. While some operators offer food tours to acquaint travelers with the standard must-eats, food and heritage specialist Shabnam Bana of SingaBites does it with a heart for the local foodie favorites. On her Sunset Street Eats tour, participants get to experience the unique fusion of Chinese, Indian, and Malay flavors that define the local palate. These are told through several food stops in Katong, a neighborhood that’s known for its excellent traditional fare. Bana adds layers of history and trivia to every delicacy—be it a crispy-savory curry puff, a sweet kueh rice cake, or a fiery bowl of laksa noodles—through her own personal stories of growing up in this very place. The tour may be three hours long, but it takes you through several generations of Singaporean food culture.
The garden-variety walking tour consists of a whirlwind romp through a neighborhood with lots of talking, looking, and not much else. But this one is different: Tribe Tours’ award-winning Chinatown Murder Mystery takes the escape room concept to an entire neighborhood. Participants are divided into teams of four, and tasked with solving a series of make-believe murders committed in one of Singapore’s oldest ethnic enclaves. With character-acting guides and a host of clues waiting to be deciphered, this program seamlessly mixes mystery and intrigue with lots of history and trivia. So while you’re hot on the killer’s trail, you’re discovering—in an indirect but very memorable way—facts that explain why Chinatown’s local name translates to “Bullock Cart Road,” or that its earliest buildings were built by women, not men. These and many other tidbits are sprinkled thoughout the three-hour itinerary, giving a truly fun flavor to this heritage game-tour.
The sky-high buildings and urban environs make it easy enough to forget that Singapore is a tropical island. This geographic fact is not lost to outdoorsman Darren Goh, who conducts kayaking tours through his company Sneakpeek Singapore. The outfit’s waterborne offerings range from easy two-hour tours to challenging full-day land and sea adventures. Most popular on the menu is Ubin All-in, which starts at Singapore’s northern coast and goes all the way around nearby Ubin Island for a 10-kilometer traverse. Before the paddling starts in earnest, a quick introductory session gets beginners up to speed on kayaking basics. Then you’re off to visit little-known places that are only accessible from the sea: pristine mangrove forests to admire, hidden beaches to play on, and floating fish farms to inspect. This is a world away from the concrete jungle—and an eye-opening journey into Singapore’s natural side.
A lot can change in 50 years, as Singapore has seen when it quickly transformed itself from an impoverished ex-colony into an affluent modern republic. Yet beneath this nation’s success story are bits of its soul that were left behind in the process. The grit, the traditions, the forgotten history that shows this city’s deep roots: these raw, unvarnished aspects are what Offbeat Singapore delve into. Jan Chow is the enthusiastic force behind this quirky tour outfit, which the guide uses to uncover hometown stories that the guidebooks don’t mention. On his Vanishing Craftsmen tour, guests get a rare peek into professions in danger of dying out. Between visits to a traditional locksmith, bamboo worker, and even a “thieves market” dealer, Chow peppers his tour with intriguing facts about everyday local sights. Whether you’re a sworn local or Singapore first-timer, this squeaky-clean country won’t look the same to you after this tour.
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