Singapore has two new quarters in its kitty to be discovered: an art deco neighbourhood and the nation-state’s most Instagrammable district. By Riaan Jacob George
Tiong Bahru — an Art Deco wonder
If you think of art deco neighbourhoods, one would instantly recall Miami, Mumbai or Havana. The idea of a massive art deco neighbourhood in Singapore’s concrete jungle would never cross your mind. Tiong Bahru is a must-visit district if you are an art deco buff because the entire neighbourhood is brimming with gorgeous 1920s art deco buildings.
Originally built by the Singapore Improvement Trust, this neighbourhood of state housing is considered to be the original HDB (Housing Development Board) buildings that are now visible all over Singapore. Take an afternoon to walk through the crisscrossing roads and alleys and marvel at the gorgeous art deco masterpieces, in white, brown stone and red bricks, with round windowpanes, ornate window grills, unmistakable parapets and geometric detailing. Some of the crossroads in Tiong Bahru make for the perfect Instagram spots as it highlights the recent gentrification of this neighbourhood.
Today, Tiong Bahru is home to a host of trendy cafes, chic boutiques and vintage stores, which blend in perfectly in the pre-war architecture of these buildings. A visit to this neighbourhood would be incomplete without a quick dash to the Tiong Bahru Bakery. This hipster-magnet cafe is one of the many swish cafes that have popped up along Eng Hoon Street. This French bakery has the most delectable selection of croissants, pain au chocolat and the best coffee on the street. Expect to queue for a table on weekends.
Another interesting address to visit is Curated Records, a paradise for vinyl collectors. This tiny space is packed with a huge range of records, all of which are brand new and not secondhand, reflecting vinyl’s growing popularity in Singapore. Make a pit stop at Tiong Bahru Bird Corner, a curious place where a historic bird shop once stood and where you will see a traditional coffee shop where bird owners could hang their cages while they drank coffee. While there are no birdcages there anymore, you will still see the structure standing.
Adding to the stunning art deco vibe of Tiong Bahru is the street art that dots every other street and wall. For this, you need to take the time to explore these colourful streets and marvel at the artists’ creations within this quarter.
A stone’s throw from Chinatown and the Central Business District, Tiong Bahru is only three stops from Raffles Place in the centre of the city on the East-West MRT Line.
Katong — Singapore’s most Instagrammable Neighbourhood
While scrolling through your Instagram feed, researching on places to see in Singapore, chances are you have seen travel bloggers posting in front of a row of colourful heritage shop houses. This emblematic picture is taken at the heart of the Katong district. This residential neighbourhood in central Singapore has been rooted in prestige and wealth, as it was home to many rich English, Portuguese, Malay and Chinese settlers that bought homes here. They built business and operated out of this neighbourhood, making it a major merchant hub in Singapore.
Today, Katong is a gentrified ethnic neighbourhood, which is also synonymous with the Peranakan community. This is a unique mixed race community that blends Malay, Chinese and British ethnicity and their culture today is well preserved in Singapore. In fact, here in Katong, you will be able to sample traditional Peranakan cuisine at the local restaurants, indulge in a batik making class or even enter one of the shop houses-home museums, to enjoy a tea ceremony. Some home museums even let you photograph yourself wearing Peranakan attire, which makes for a nice immersive experience. There are quite a few Peranakan sweet shops that exist here too, where you can try local sweets and savouries.
However, Katong is well known today for its trendy cafes and street art spots. Amble through the lanes of this quarter and you will be surprised at the amount of stunning street art that can be found. Commissioned to both local and international artists, the street art has made Katong look very trendy. The juxtaposition of fancy high-rise buildings standing next to pastel-hued heritage homes lends that extra charm.
Visit Rumah Bebe’s famous shop house, dating back to 1928, where you can buy traditional sarongs and beaded slippers, while shopping from the in-house bakery.
Katong is easily accessed from downtown Singapore via MRT and the closest station is Paya Lebar.