Not Your Usual Staycation: Quieter Side of Jalan Besar
You can’t beat a developing area for real feels when you’re on vacay. It’s like tapping into a reservoir of hopes, dreams and the feeling that you’re on the cusp of something exciting about to happen. And that goes for domestic travel too – which is why Jalan Besar is one of our fave places for a Singapore staycation.
This gazetted conservation estate is the gritty cousin of gentrified Tiong Bahru, a place where industrial shops huddle alongside just a sprinkling of hipster restaurants and gelato bars; where light-filled shops sit side-by-side with the darker realities of life (like casket vans from the nearby Singapore Casket); and where you can get parking space even if you arrive at dusk (because no matter how romantic the notion, we Singaporeans are practical like that).
The Tyrwhitt Road area can get busy thanks to popular places like Chye Seng Huat and The Tiramisu Hero, but a stroll towards the eastern part of the hood will take you to quieter and more quaint streets, like Cavan and Hamilton roads.
It’s here, amid a labyrinth of back alleys and tranquil roads, that we recommend setting up camp and spending a relaxing weekend discovering the nooks and crannies of this almost 150-year-old area. And there are plenty to explore. Here’s what you can do on the quieter side of Jalan Besar.
WHERE TO STAY
First things first: There are plenty of affordable hotel options in the area, but many of them look suspiciously like the hourly-rate type. For the least-sleazy bang for your buck, check into the under-the-radar Arcadia Hotel (32 Hamilton Rd).
This 36-room accommodation in a refurbished 1930s industrial building even has a rooftop Jacuzzi, where you can chill after a day out exploring. Don’t feel like sharing? Splash out on one of their Arcadia Balcony rooms that comes with a private balcony space looking out onto the hood.
All rooms come with L’Occitane toiletries, 42-inch flat-screen TVs, Sealy Posturepedic mattresses and free Wi-Fi (most also have Nespresso machines) – which means you have everything you need to, um, Netflix and chill if you get tired of walking around.
Rooms start from $85 for a Superior Single.
WHAT TO DO
Spend a morning racking up your 10K steps with a stroll around the neighbourhood’s most famous landmark, Jalan Besar Stadium.
This sprawling 6,000-capacity complex at 100 Tyrwhitt Road (fun fact: many of the roads in the area are named after World War I generals) is considered the birthplace of Singapore football, and it’s the default alternative for the national team when the National Stadium isn’t in use. International teams such as Spain’s Atletico Madrid have played here too.
Then it’s time for some retail therapy – you’ll be surprised at the unique finds in this area. Swing by W Rice Wine (11 Cavan Rd) for handcrafted rice wine made with an heirloom recipe that goes back to 1931.
The year-old family-owned brand is possibly Singapore’s only artisanal rice wine maker, and the brew here is aged in traditional clay barrels, just like it was back in the days of the Qing, Han and Song dynasties.
Sleek packaging aside, another reason to snap up a bottle is the purported health benefits of rice wine – it’s supposed to lower everything from blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation, and relieve stress.
Wanna take home a bigger souvenir from your staycation? Head over – but not without making an appointment first, because Covid – to the beautiful showroom of Roger & Sons (115 King George’s Ave).
This maker of “thoughtful furniture” is known in the design industry for their meticulously crafted pieces made from felled local trees, and is responsible for the furnishings in spaces such as cult fave bar Employees Only and Instagram-favourite PS Cafe. You can also book workshops to build your own furniture – check out their website for details.
For all-day entertainment, check out Ofun at Aperia Mall (12 Kallang Ave). This game arcade specialises in claw machines, and the owners have been known to experiment with weird and wacky variations of the game (imagine using a fan to pick up coupons!) that you won’t find anywhere else. Definitely one of Singapore’s most interesting arcades.
Get groomed before dinner at the gorgeously retro Gosmack Barbershop & Supplies (L2, 109A Jln Besar). This second-floor salon in a conservation shophouse is so stylo, it’s worth stopping by for a pic even if you’re botak. If you want a cut though, remember to make a booking before you go (psst... they have special prices on Sundays).
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Refuel in between the day’s activities with an award-winning cuppa at Apartment Coffee (161 Lavender St). This lovely light-filled space isn’t just #homegoals – it brews some of Singapore’s best java too.
Owner Yeo Qing He won the Singapore Brewer’s Cup in 2018 and placed 6th on the world stage that year. Apartment also won Singapore’s first Roaster Forum roasting competition last year.
The dedication to coffee here shows up in the coffee-only menu, though sometimes on weekends you’ll find the occasional pastry, a collab between the java joint and its fave bakers.
Hungry? Hotfoot it to seafood specialist Scaled (8 Hamilton Rd). This funky resto is run by the folks behind local seafood supplier Ah Hua Kelong, so you can be sure everything – from the Cantonese-style grouper to the almost-as-big-as-your-fist XL clams – is as fresh as they come. We especially love the spicy, punchy Prawn Dashi Aglio Olio and the Lala Chawanmushi topped with a mini mountain of fat clams.
Finally, don’t end your stay without a visit to Gelatolabo (11 Cavan Rd). This hole-in-the-wall space opened just before the Circuit Breaker, and is probably the most exciting new entry on Singapore’s gelato scene. It serves up elegant botanical flavours in freshly baked, fragrant lavender-infused jumbo cones.
Our fave: The light, refreshing Watermelon with Mint and Chia Seeds. FYI everything here is made with fresh fruit and local or organic ingredients where possible, so you know you’re in for a shiok, guilt-free treat.
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