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Worlds within: 6 places that make it hard to believe you’re in Singapore

You probably know Singapore as a buzzing metropolis, full of contemporary structures made of concrete, glass, and steel.

Which is partly true – but there are certain areas that seem to have the power to magically transport you to another part of the world.

From rainbow-hued colonial storefronts and busy market streets to tranquil greenery where you can only hear the symphony of nature, if you wander around them long enough, you might just forget you’re in one of Asia’s busiest capitals.

Here are some of our favorites:

1. An English Park at Singapore Botanic Gardens

Singapore Botanic Gardens
Source: Shutterstock.com

Founded in 1859, the Gardens were developed by botanists trained at the Kew Botanic Gardens, hence its distinctly English design.

It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, making it the first and only tropical botanic garden on the list, and Singapore’s first.

Spanning over 180 acres, the ever-evolving Gardens host a number of features that nature lovers will appreciate, such as the National Orchid Garden, an educational children’s garden, the meandering Saraca Stream, and several lakes.

The Bandstand in particular wouldn’t be out of place in an English park and was formerly used for early evening performances by military bands.

Located in the Gardens’ Tanglin Core site, the octogonal gazebo is now a popular background for wedding photoshoots, thanks to its gorgeous setting surrounded by Yellow Rain Trees.  

Nearest MRT Station: Orchard (Tanglin Gate) or Botanic Gardens (Bukit Timah Gate)

Opening hours: 5.00 am – 12 midnight daily

Admission fee: Free, except for the National Orchid Garden

 

2. The bustling streets of Beijing in Chinatown

Chinatown, Singapore
Source: f11photo / Shutterstock.com

Walking through Chinatown’s narrow, hectic streets, you’ll feel as though you’ve stumbled onto a slice of China. The market is a bargain hunter’s delight, as they can haggle to their heart’s content, while foodies can find a wide variety of street food to sample.

Within the popular ethnic enclave, the new manages to effortlessly mix with the old, as hip coffeehouses and eateries are sat next to the more traditional teahouses and medicinal shops.  

During the day, you can shop your way through Pagoda Street and snack on local delicacies such as char kuey teow (stir-fried flat rice noodles) and satay (barbecued meat skewers) at Chinatown Food Street. At night, hit Club Street or Ann Siang Road for an array of trendy bars and speakeasys.

Nearest MRT station: Chinatown

Opening hours: 10.00am – 10.00pm

 

3. A sprawling Bangkok street market at Bugis Street

Bugis Street Market
Source: 2p2play / Shutterstock.com

There are plenty of glitzy, air-conditioned shopping malls across Singapore, but if you’re looking for someplace with a bit more character, head over to the island’s largest marketplace – Bugis Street Market.

Its energy is similar to Bangkok’s famed Chatuchak Market, selling anything and everything you could want – from clothes and accessories to artwork – for a steal.

Nearest MRT station: Bugis

Opening hours: 12.00 noon – 10.00pm

 

4. Traditional Chinese and Japanese gardens at Jurong Lake Gardens

Japanese Garden, Singapore
Source: Shutterstock.com

At the Jurong Lake Gardens, you’ll come across two captivating gardens which contrast in style – the Chinese Garden is a majestic work of art meant to inspire wonder with its towering pagodas, while the Japanese Garden was meticulously designed to evoke feelings of inner calm and peace.

Yet both fit together like yin and yang.

Built in the 1970s, each garden has its own island in Jurong Lake, and are connected to one another via a magnificent stone bridge, aptly named the “Bridge of Double Beauty”.

Walking around the Chinese Garden has you feeling as though you’ve stumbled into Imperial China, with lion statues, stone bridges, and a teahouse.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Garden’s aesthetic was inspired by the Muromachi and Momoyama periods, featuring arched bridges, stone lanterns, and gravel paths.

While the Gardens are lovely all-year-round, you may want to drop by around Chinese New Year or the Mid-autumn Festival in particular, as the Gardens are given an added magical touch with cultural performances and a profusion of paper lanterns.

Nearest MRT station: Chinese Garden

Opening hours: 5.30am – 7.00pm

 

5. The backstreets of New Delhi at Little India

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, Little India, Singapore
Source: Shutterstock.com

The lively neighborhood of Little India is likely the most Instagram-worthy among Singapore’s ethnic enclaves, thanks to its bright, festive colors, which can be seen from its shophouses to its elaborate temples.

Here, the strong scent of incense and jasmine in the air and the sound of popular Indian hit songs piped out over loudspeakers are prevalent.

In the market for a reasonably-priced saree? You can shop around the bevy of traditional clothing shops along Serangoon Road.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, be sure to bite into some traditional Indian sweets, like gulab jamun (fried milk balls soaked in sweet syrup), jalebi (dough fried in a coil shape dipped in sugar syrup), or laddu (ball-shaped sweets typically made of flour, dough, sugar and other ingredients).

Nearest MRT station: Little India

 

6. A Middle Eastern bazaar in Arab Quarter

Sultan Mosque from North Bridge Road
Source: Luriya Chinwan / Shutterstock.com

The Arab Quarter is a hive of creativity, filled with vintage shops and walls adorned with whimsical murals.

Comprised of Arab Street, Bussorah Street, Haji Lane, Bali Lane, and Muscat Street, perusing the shops in the Arab Quarter will remind you of a Middle Eastern market.

Besides the usual textile shops and stores selling Persian carpets, you’ll also come across jewelers and perfumers.

In the evening, listen to the haunting strains of the Muslim call to prayer coming from the centuries-old Sultan Mosque.

Nearest MRT station: Bugis

A storyteller with an insatiable sense of curiosity. Travel junkie. Card-carrying member of many fandoms. Heavily dependent on caffeine. Loyal cat servant. Former journalist at the New Straits Times and Hybrid News.

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