Singapore is a melting pot of different cultures. A bit like Hong Kong, but Singapore seemed even more diverse to me. Indians, Chinese, Malay, Britons, every culture has left its traces here and created this multicultural place that I still find hard to categorize. I’ve only spent a few days in Singapore, but I didn’t only visit the usual attractions like Chinatown and Marina Bay, but also more unusual corners of the city such as Tiong Bahru. If you’re looking for something special in Singapore, I can recommend a walk through Tiong Bahru! I had already chosen a hostel in Tiong Bahru* for a part of my Singapore trip in advance, and I didn’t regret spending two days away from the tourist areas.
Tiong Bahru – A historical neighborhood in Singapore
Strictly speaking, there are no real landmarks in Tiong Bahru, it is just a residential area. But a very special one. Tiong Bahru is the first social housing project in Singapore and was already built in the 1930s. In Singapore, where buildings are often demolished to make way for new, better and higher ones due to the lack of space, Tiong Bahru is today the oldest residential area of the city.
Formerly a cemetery, then a pure residential area and now one of Singapore’s trendiest districts. By the way, social housing has a long tradition in Singapore. Which surprised me a lot, because most of the time you can only think of a lot of banks, expensive skyscrapers and big companies when it comes to real estate in Singapore. But without social housing, many locals could hardly afford an apartment, but Singapore has been forward-looking in the past. The entire Tiong Bahru neighborhood with its residential buildings is now under historical preservation. With good reason, because the houses in the Art Déco style are truly special: round forms, in a way a little Bauhaus, in another way a little Miami. Anyway, a pleasant living atmosphere in the middle of this fast moving metropole Singapore.
The Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail guides you through Tiong Bahru and tells a little about the history of this special district. Here you can also stop by the Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter*, the last remaining bunker in Singapore from the Second World War. However, you can only enter it during guided tours.
The new trendy quarter in Singapore
In recent years, local hipsters have conquered the sleepy Tiong Bahru neighbourhood and revived the area. Whether you like that or not, I was very surprised by the contrast to the other parts of Singapore. I enjoyed sitting in one of the cosy bars or restaurants outside under the arcades in the humid temperatures in the evenings, with the ceiling fan humming gently above me, eating good food and sipping on the best cocktails. All in this tropical scenery with lots of green plants and bright houses all around – quite magical. By the way, during the day you should visit the Tiong Bahru Market. Recently renovated, it is one of the most popular Hawker Centres in Singapore. And as you might know, Hawker Centres are always a good spot when it comes to delicious and cheap food in Singapore! (Hawker Centres are food courts in covered shopping centres – and they are real culinary highlights! There is a stand in Singapore that is so good that it even owns a star from Guide Michelin!)
Tipps für Tiong Bahru: Shopping, Cafés und Restaurants
Tiong Bahru Bakery One of the institutions in Tiong Bahru. Bakery with kitchen, for coffee or a small bite
The Tiong Bahru Club Singapura* Beautiful bar for the evening: Sit outside on the sidewalk and enjoy the flair of the colonial-style bar with a cocktail during a mild tropical night.
Plain Vanilla Bakery Famous for its fantastic cupcakes, located in a small street with some other beautiful cafes and shops like Books Actually.
Books Actually – A cosy bookstore with a lot of literature about Singapore and very art- and design-oriented. With a very nice children’s book corner.
Sam Yat Coffee*, recently changed to Café Pandan (same owner) – Basic interior, but very neat and cheap. And the Char Siew Rice (barbecue-style marinated Cantonese pork on rice) is divine. A Singapore dish you absolutely have to try!
PS.Cafe Petit Tiong Bahru A bit of a café, a bit of a deli, a bit of a wine bar. What it is exactly, I have no idea. However, the interior is really impressive. Everything shines in deepest black, noble and yet cool. Good for a small bit to eat, or for a glass of wine.
Accomodation in Tiong Bahru – Staying in Singapore’s coolest neighborhood
For the real Tiong Bahru experience and because I liked the area so much, I spent two nights at the COO Boutique Hostel*. Pretty hip, clean rooms, unfortunately small and cramped – but hey, that’s Singapore! But I can still recommend it, especially if your travel budget is already quite looted. Definitely a good alternative to accommodation in tourist hotspots like Chinatown, where you get even less for your money.
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