Want to get see Singapore off the beaten path? Then you have to venture into Keong Saik Road, a one way street in the south of Chinatown that’s famous for its shophouses, notorious for being where Chinese merchants once housed their mistresses, and named after Tan Keong Saik, who is remembered for having contributed to the local Chinese business community. This area that was once the red light district is now home to hipster restaurants, trendy bars and luxury hotels. Despite this, not many people know much about this small street that’s tucked away in Central Singapore. Perhaps that is what makes this place so special and different to all the other Singapore neighborhoods. I love wandering this street and not having to worry about dodging the crowds. That said, everyone should experience Keong Saik Road at least once so if you do find yourself visiting Singapore, then here are a few essential tips to help you along your adventure.
A brief history lesson
Keong Saik Road has a very interesting history. The economic downturn in the 1930s resulted in the start of the operation of brothels in Keong Saik, which was considered a lucrative industry for the local businesses. In its heyday (60s – 70s), Keong Saik was notorious for being a red light district but furiously underwent a transformation at the beginning of 90s. Eventually, most of the brothels closed and the area is now loved by locals for its vibrant atmosphere, great food, and traditional shophouses, which are an example of one of the city's significant architectural styles. Built during the old days by the Peranakans (an ethnic group who share Malay-Chinese heritage), the shophouse became a residential and commercial property, where usually, its residence part is on the 1st and 2nd floor, and its commercial space is on the ground floor. If you want to explore Singapore off the beaten path look no further than this!
It was my dream to live in one of these shophouses in Keong Saik Road ever since I participated in an exchange program at the local Singapore university. One day I took the chance to visit the Tanjong Pagar area during my course work, and I was fascinated with the beauty of the Peranakan shophouses. After completing my exchange in Singapore, I was blessed with the opportunity to get back to Singapore, and I got to live on Keong Saik Road which is also full of colorful shophouses. All of the details in this feature came from my life in Keong Saik - I hope you’ll experience some of the fun memories I had and be inspired to find hidden gems and Keong Saik Road's attractions.
Singaporean food captures a rich blend of flavors that have been borrowed from the many different Singapore neighborhoods, cultures, and communities who the city is home to. You can taste this at the many different places to eat in Keong Saik Road- but where do you go? I have you covered. Afterglow: As a vegetarian, this is a must. If you get tired of hawker vegetarian food and need fresh air, look no further. The kitchen serves mouth-watering delicacies from Korean bibimbap to Japanese vegetable rice, French food to vegetarian burgers, the décor is contemporary and the atmosphere friendly.
Keong Saik Bakery: Opened in July 2017, this bakery is the go-to spot to find the all-time local school favorites that are the specialty there. Tak Kiu (croissant, Milo chocolate lava, Milo Powder), Green Egg Bun (matcha salted egg lava, sweet bun), and XO Lup Cheong (Taiwanese sausage, mozzarella cheese, French dough) fill the counter. Notice that these buns have combinations of western flavors and Asian tastes, which revolutionizes what you think of traditional Singapore bread.
V Cafe: Also opened recently, this café offers a unique dessert set. Any cake order comes with a free ice cream, which costs decent SGD 8.9. Stable Wi-Fi is also available, which caters the need of office crowds and school pupils.
Kok Sen Family Restaurant: Come to Kok Sen hungry and with a group of your loved ones. Its selection of Chinese cuisine is a highlight. Most of the dishes are serving 2-3 persons, and keep in mind that it’s often closed on Mondays without any notice.
Grab some drinks
There are several really cool Keong Saik Road bars to visit but my favourite is a cocktail bar chain, Potato Head, which has 4 locations across Southeast Asia and even in our Singapore neighborhoods. The local branch wows you with the special dining experience and the rooftop vibes. Its interior consists of vintage comfy chairs and tables as though those were straight out of the old luxury hotels. Don’t miss out eating its wide array of burgers and hanging out on their signature rooftop - it’s not sky high, but I much prefer looking out over the quirky shophouses and seeing people scurrying around on the street below than hanging out at the iconic rooftop bar of Marina Bay Sands.
Things to do
There are many fun things to do in Keong Saik Road, so don't let its size deter you from having a good time. It’s the perfect place to take a break, people watch and lose track of time (Potato Head is somewhere this often seems to happen). Most of the businesses here have a special vibe; old Chinatown meeting the new bustling neighbourhood. Alternatively, book a room with one of the contemporary, boutique style hotels (can you believe that they accommodate a decent gym inside their premises?) on KSR.
Venture further into the Singapore neighborhood streets such as Jiak Chuan Road (I recommend Lime House on this street, which is well known for its Caribbean speciality dishes), Neil Road (book the free Baba House tour to get to know more about the life of the Straights Chinese, aka Peranakans, which is subject to availability, so book early to avoid disappointment.), Teck Lim Road and Jain Chuak Road. Need to do some work during your trip? Head off to The Working Capitol to get the comfortable and productive co-working environment.
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