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In some ways, Singapore might be a victim of its own success. It is known around the world for its commitment to efficiency and security. Unfortunately, some people have taken that reputation to its extreme.

Mention Singapore and some people’s eyes will glaze as they say, “Look, I visited for a weekend back in ’98, I know all about it.” It can be easy to swing by this small nation once and feel like there’s nothing left to surprise you.

Luckily, we’re here to uncover a wealth of oddities and activities showcasing Singapore’s strangely wonderful side.

1. The Perfect Nest for Culture Vultures

Kampong Buangkok

Myth: Singapore has no culture
Not at: Kampong Lorong Buangkok

There was a time when Singapore was criss-crossed with rustic villages known as kampongs. But if you think the country is now exclusively made up of skyscrapers, think again.

Kampong Lorong Buangkok proudly remains as Singapore’s last mainland kampong. Though it has shrunk in size, dozens of families still proudly live here, sleeping under zinc roofs and walking on earthen tracks. The pace of life is slower here, and if you listen to the chirp of crickets and crow of roosters, you can almost feel like you’re stepping back in time to 1956, when the kampong was built.

While villages provide a dose of rustic heaven, there are also celebrations here that are just as otherworldly. Take the Hungry Ghost Festival, a yearly celebration held by the Chinese community. During this period, it is believed that spirits roam the earth, appeased only by offerings made by us mortals.

Hence you can hardly walk by any street corner without finding it blossoming with smoke. Locals burn incense and paper money (emblazoned with the words “from the bank of hell” in Chinese characters) as offerings. You may see people carefully modifying their behaviour, too. Nary a whistle is heard (it’s thought to attract ghosts), nobody picks up shiny objects on the ground (it might be an offering meant for a spirit) and people make sure not to turn their heads (this can knock off protective flames thought to sit on your shoulders).  

2. Save on Money, Splurge on Experience

Save Money Photo by Red Dot Singapore

Myth: Singapore is expensive
Not at:
its flea markets

Think shopping here is expensive? You’ve been hanging around Orchard Road too much, then. Head instead to the wealth of funky flea markets that have started to pop up, some quirkier than others. Try the “Singapore Really Really Free Market”, where all trade is gleefully done by barter, and people even swap skills like tarot card reading, poetry writing and hair cutting.

Need an excuse to enter the fun and fiery-looking Red Dot Design Museum (you can’t miss it — true to its name, it is redder than a sunburnt surfer)? On certain Fridays, this artsy hotspot gets MAAD. Or shall we say, it holds MAAD: the Market of Artists and Designers. Open ’til midnight, it’s a haven of quirky prints, jewellery, clothes and more. Plus, it’s got a rocking soundtrack — the market usually hosts live performances by homegrown musicians. Free tunes and funky trinkets? Quite a bargain.

3. Drink in the View (and a Cocktail or Two)

Drink in the View

Myth: Singapore’s buildings — and bars — are predictable
Not at:
Parkview Square

When travellers think of the Singapore landscape, they either think of jaunty pastel HDBs, or sleek, silvery skyscrapers. Enter Parkview Square, Singapore’s most out-of-place structure.

It’s easy to see why locals call it “Gotham City”: it looks like it stepped right out of a Batman novel, with art deco oozing from its gargoyled façade, odd band of bronze statues (including Mozart and Winston Churchill) and 1920s-style interior. So soak up the old-school interiors and massive chandelier at Divine Bar. (And don’t forget to ask for a bottle of wine — waitresses dubbed “wine fairies” will strap into bungee chords and float up the multi-storey wine chiller to fetch your plonk.)

A bungee jump away from Parkview is a chance to get sky-high yourself. Head to Loof, a rooftop bar where you can bask under starlit skies as you sip delightfully pun-worthy cocktails. (Our favourite: Ho Chi Mint, a refreshing blend of vodka, pear nectar, Japanese cucumber and mint).

Sky views giving you vertigo? Head to the earthbound Bincho, a cocktail gastrobar in Singapore’s hip Tiong Bahru neighbourhood. As cramped as it is cool, it’s got little more floor space than an aeroplane aisle. No matter, as every square inch radiates cool, from the shiny copper bar to the cage-covered walls. The vibe is so eclectic, underground and futuristic that after a couple of excellent sakes you’ll feel like an extra in Bladerunner.