Updated: Nov 4, 2020
When people think of Singapore they often think of shopping on Orchard Road but while on assignment I found these 5 hidden gems showing me a whole new side to the clean, formal, lush and humid "Garden City".
1) Taoist and Buddhist Culture
Singapore has been a city of immigrants for hundreds of years and the Chinese diaspora has made its way in waves to this tiny part of the world bringing with it festivals and traditions that have since died out on the mainland. After brutal communist crackdowns on religion the communities that had settled in Singapore were free to worship and indeed Singapore has acted as a cultural refuge for ancient Taoist traditions.
Here we stumbled across the amazing Nine Emperor Gods Festival at the that is a nine-day Taoist celebration beginning on the eve of 9th lunar month. Its colourful, loud and most of all authentic! Incense and chanting is the backdrop to ritual dancing and an enormous dragon :)
2) The wild and whacky Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa is a Willy Wonka style land of life-sized dioramas telling ancient Chinese myths and morality tales. Its fantastic! After a recent facelift of all the exhibits you can walk around a theme park built by the creators of the Tiger Balm empire more then 100 years ago. Its hilarious! Who knew a chicken woman is a symbol for prostitution or a rat woman offering oranges to a pig in his underpants was a story of infidelity!! And the famous story of a Monkey born on an egg on the mountain top will no doubt raise a smile.
3) Fancy and lovely Whiskey Bar with Chesterfield couches
A guy we were interviewing mentioned he had a penchant for whisky so I went down the rabbit hole of whisky bars and found this hidden late night watering hole The Auld Alliance tucked inside a shopping complex. But this isn't the only one Singapore has a thing for 1920's feel whiskey bars. The entire room on every wall floor to ceiling is filled with whiskey from all over the world and you can order little sample glasses that come out like a degustation menu. Very swish and a really nice chesterfield couch vibe. Hidden gem!
4) The brave new world of Szechuan Hot Pot
Sometimes the perception of a Hawker Centre in Singapore versus the reality can be well, disappointing but Szechuan Hot Pot what a delight! When the meat and fish arrived wrapped around a Barbie Doll I knew I was having a cultural experience but when the soup stock arrived in the shape of a Teddy Bear I just surrendered to the unknown magic as it melted away into a pot of soupy goodness.
Basically it's super fresh food cooked in a communal way - highly recommend if you're looking for something different.
5) Chinese Opera
The Chinese Theatre Circle Tea House is a wonderful cultural find in a sometimes sanitised feeling city. During the cultural revolution back in China under communist Mao the art form of Cantonese Opera all but died out but Singapore acted as a cultural refuge for the art form via the diaspora and here it's alive and kicking.The artists are some of the best practicing in the world spending hours before the show doing their very distinctive makeup and they run through the symbology and myths that they are singing about. Very civilised.