Something new, something old. Singapore is definitely a city that has them both and no other neighborhood demonstrates it better than Tiong Bahru. Originally developed in the 1930s as one of Singapore’s first HDB (Housing & Development Board) complexes, and infamously known as mei ren wu after the mistresses housed here by their sugar daddies, the Tiong Bahru neighborhood is currently experiencing a revival with new shops, cafes, and restaurants to draw in the young and hip crowd.
Until recently, Tiong Bahru was a predominantly local neighborhood of Singaporean families. It wasn’t uncommon to see seniors gathering for a morning session of tai chi or children playing badminton in the community center. Despite the number of expats and hipsters (don’t take offense – I mean it in the best way possible) moving into the art deco neighborhood, Tiong Bahru is retaining its local charm, making it a great spot to explore in Singapore.
For a insightful glimpse into Singapore’s past and to get a feel for what’s to come in the near future, head out to Tiong Bahru and see for yourself what a perfect afternoon in Singapore can be like!
Tiong Bahru Food Market, 30 Seng Poh Road. Start exploring Tiong Bahru at the focal point of the neighborhood. Stroll the lower level to get a feel for local household shopping before heading upstairs to the bustling, expansive, open-air hawker center. One to try: Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee. Ask for the chili sauce on the side and add to taste if you’re not into the hot stuff. The sauce isn’t that spicy, but the addition of a wonderful hint of chili oil to a dish that’s already brimming with flavor is absolutely brilliant.
Trees and Fleas, 68 Seng Poh Lane. Enter through the glass doors and search through this quaint little shop for some fabulous vintage Japanese finds and colorful jewelry. While I was able to find a number of vintage dresses that I loved, I unfortunately, do not have the typical Japanese woman’s body and only walked away with one dress. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck (and a slimmer waistline!).
Tiong Bahru Bakery, 56 Eng Hoon Street. Backed by French television celebrity baker, Gontran Cherrier, Tiong Bahru Bakery boasts the city’s best croissant and offers a wide array of French bread and pastries, making it very popular for expats and up-and-coming Singaporeans. Typical Singapore weather may not allow for it on most days, but the outdoor seating area is ideal for people watching.
nana & bird, 79 Chay Yan Street. While there are actually two locations in Tiong Bahru, the Chay Yan Street location houses a design studio where you can see some of Singapore’s creative minds at work. The two owners curate truly unique fashion and lifestyle items from local designers primarily, but also have gorgeous pieces from modern designers around the world. My favorite label there? STOLEN for it’s beautiful and super sexy, yet demure lowcut back designs.
BooksActually, 9 Yong Siak Street. If all bookstores could be like BooksActually, I would think I had died and gone to heaven. Entering this wonderfully small, yet charming bookstore and you can easily spend a couple hours scouring the eclectic collection of contemporary literature, independent publications, artsy foreign magazines, vintage and collector edition books, as well as a wide selection work from local writers. There’s a little gift shop in the back behind the counter with delightful curios from the area’s bygone era that shouldn’t be missed. Be on the lookout for the two resident cats, both of whom can usually be found sleeping in the shelves.
40 Hands, 78 Yong Siak Street. For a bit of rest from the heat and humidity, duck into 40 Hands for an afternoon snack and cup perfectly brewed fair-trade coffee. Owned and operated by an Australian, 40 Hands is surprisingly renowned for it’s tau sar pao, a fluffy steamed bun filled with red bean paste, which I have to admit, was pretty damned good. With an excellent ratio of fluffy dough to mildly sweet filling, it’s an ideal late afternoon snack to stave off your huger without killing your appetite for dinner.
Singapore’s a fantastic city to visit and with places to explore like Tiong Bahru that blend history and modernity, there’s no shortage of urban adventures and discoveries to be had. No wonder Singapore is fast becoming one of my favorite Asian cities!