Some Singaporeans raise an eyebrow when they learn I live with my family in Geylang. For decades, this township has been notorious as a red-light district, an incongruous aspect of Singapore’s wholesome image. But there’s another reason people converge here on weekends. Amid narrow lanes hemmed by shophouses and temples, restaurant chefs are cooking some of the tastiest regional food in Singapore.
Many evenings, my wife and I land at Ăn Là Ghiền, a hot pot joint that feels straight out of Hanoi, complete with squat chairs and bowls of steaming sour prawn soup. Other times, we head to Dong Bei Dumpling King, a Chinese eatery where we always order the crispy pork-and-celery-filled dumplings. For a Thai fix, our go-to is Gu Thai House, with curries and noodles all cooked to suitably spicy standards. Anthony Bourdain loved JB Ah Meng for white pepper crab and Sin Huat Eating House for crab bee hoon, a whole crab served with rice noodles.
There are also decades-old restaurants run by generations of local Singaporeans, themselves the descendants of migrant workers. At 126 Dim Sum Wen Dao Shi, the siu mai (steamed dumplings) and char siew bao (pork buns) come hot, fast, and 24/7. Keng Wah Sung—one of the oldest coffee shops in Singapore—serves the same kopi (coffee with sweetened condensed milk) and coconut jam on toast from the recipe its founder concocted in the 1970s.
But even I need a break from Geylang sometimes. Luckily, Kranji, with its open fields and farms, is just 30 minutes north by car. It’s worth the drive to watch our kids squeal with delight when they feed goats at Hay Dairies Goat Farm, go prawning at Nelly’s, or eat fresh fruit from trees at Bollywood Farms, a scenic orchard with a farmers’ market and café.
We also love the Kranji Marshes and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Together, these nature parks form a 460-acre haven for migratory shorebirds and raptors. With a camera in one hand and a bottle of insect repellent in the other, I walk the footpaths, taking in the sea breeze and the waves hitting the seashore, the rustling of leaves in the mangrove forest, the chorus of birds in the jungle canopy above. If I’m lucky, I might spot a crocodile at the water’s edge, or a family of macaques scampering through the branches. Here I am, in a jungle away from an urban jungle, both of which call Singapore home.