Going Off the Beaten Path in Singapore, Part I

A reflection and narrative on my travels through Singapore

When visiting a new city you can opt for one of two options: follow the traditional tourist route and do what 99% of your fellow travelers are doing...or toss the guidebook in the trash and head off the beaten path. I'm not advocating either option, as both have their upsides. But one thing is for certain: if you choose the road less traveled you'll certainly return home with a bit more swagger in your step and a potent case of wanderlust.

Singapore, like all other cities, has its go-to tourist locales. You've got Sentosa Island, effectively a western theme park boasting imports like Universal Studios and American chain restaurants; the Marina Bay Sands hotel, a swank cluster of three 55-story buildings connected by a roof terrace shaped like a cruise ship and overflowing with luxury stores; or Gardens by the Bay, a 101 hectare garden teeming with exquisite florae. There's nothing wrong with these localities, but if you really want to experience unique and under-the-radar spots Singapore has to offer you've come to the right place.

So put down that $7 Starbucks (be prepared to shell out for western chain coffees) and grab a local kopi (coffee) or teh (tea) – we're going exploring.

1. Central Catchment Nature Reserve (MacRitchie)

This underrated 12-hectare national park is rather inconvenient to access via public transportation, so try taking an Uber or a GrabTaxi (Uber's Southeast Asia competitor.) They're always running promotions, so look online before you download the app to save some money. Pack plenty of sunscreen and water as many paths will leave you exposed to the relentless sun. But keep your phone handy for photos because you'll probably see a monkey or two. Just don't feed them. The best part of the reservoir is the TreeTop Walk that allows you to cross over a small ravine. Just wide enough for allow for one-way traffic, it affords an incredible opportunity to gaze across the wild jungle that once blanketed the island before a human presence forced it underground.

2. Singapore Sports Hub

Don't be fooled by the name. While you can certainly take advantage of the athletics on display, the true value of this local haunt lies in its spectacular nighttime view of the island. Gaze across a glittering body of water that hosts dragon boat races during the day and feast your eyes on the spectacular skyline of Singapore's CBD (central business district.) You can also rent a kayak, paddleboat, or even a dragon boat should the desire so move you. If you're in the mood to nosh, try a bun from Fun Toast, a local bakery located inside the Kallang Wave Mall that has served up traditional Singaporean snacks for over 70 years. The best part? You'll rarely see another foreigner. Instead, locals chattering away in Mandarin, Bahasa, or "Singlish," Singapore's hodgepodge language comprised of English and Hokkien phrases, will surround you.

3. Biking in East Coast Park

If zipping down a path with the wind whistling in your ears sounds appealing, definitely rent a bike and take it for a spin on an East Coast path. East Coast Park is accessible by public transportation and is a perennial local favorite. The path borders the sea and most of the time it's wide enough so if you get stuck behind a slow-moving auntie or uncle (colloquial casual term for a mature man or woman) you'll be able to easily navigate around them.

4. Mint Museum of Toys

Indulge your inner­­—or outer—child at this eclectic museum near the legendary Raffles Hotel. (Pro-tip: pop by Raffles anyway to ogle the exquisite stained glass framing the Raffles Courtyard restaurant and gawk at sweat-stained tourists slurping $30 Singapore Slings.) The Museum showcases an astounding 8,000 collectibles on display at any given time from 40 countries, ranging from the 1840s –1970's. Take a gander at early Batmans and popular Japanese toys, or admire the original enamel signs hawking dry goods from days past.

5. Saigon Jalan

The Best Vietnamese Hawker Stall – Most of the food found at hawker stalls—tiny food vendors serving up steam bowls of laksa, economic bee hoon, or other local favorites—is outstanding. Singapore takes great pride in its foodie culture, and it's quite easy to find a satisfying and delicious meal for under $5USD. However, this understated joint dishes out some of the best and most affordable Vietnamese fare in Singapore. Enjoy slurping down fragrant beef noodle soup (Phở Tái) overflowing with plump bean sprouts and paper thin wisps of scallion, topped with dried shrimp flakes and fresh sprigs of thai basil. Or dig into Chả Giò, a crunchy, so-greasy-you-can't-stop-eating deep fried spring roll filled with pork and veggies.

6. Labrador Nature Reserve

Reserve a grill online at this local park to enjoy a barbecue by an aquamarine sea with waves lapping hypnotically in the background. While your view of the Pacific will be slightly marred by the ever-present shipping vessels stationed a mile or so out, it's still an incredibly serene park to spend a lazy afternoon picnicking or running around with the kids. If you take a walk through the forest in the center of the park it'll seem like the frenetic energy of the Singapore streets is miles away and it's easy to see what the island must have been like hundreds of years before man ever set foot upon it.

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If you've googled one thing during this pandemic, it is definitely: "Thai food near me."

Thai food has remained one of the most delicious and sought after takeout gems; and in New York City, specifically, there are so many delicious options that it can be overwhelming. Often unlike Chinese food, Thai food offers fresher ingredients and versatile cuisine options. Whether you want some Pad Thai or Pad See Ew, or some coconut milk-infused curry or even just some soup, Thai food is good for any occasion. But with so many options, how do you know you're getting the freshest ingredients at the best price? Here are the best spots to order take-out from, and we even broke it up by borough for you.


Manhattan: Fish Cheeks

Fish Cheeks

Reviewed by The Times as "fresh, vivid and intense," Fish Cheeks offers solid takes on traditional Thai Cuisine. Their speciality remains seafood, so their Crab Friend Rice and Coconut Crab Curry are delicious highlights. Their Tum Yum is also to die for, made with fresh galanagal, lime leaves and lemongrass.

The version [of tum yum] here hums with fresh galangal, lime leaves and lemongrass. Shrimp and knobby mushrooms simmer in a broth that gets extra body from milk, a twist I've never seen before but one I approve of. It could be spicier, but the use of bird's-eye chiles is far from shy.

Manhattan: Lan Larb

thia food

Arguably some of the best Pad Thai in the city, Lan Larb is focused mainly on the food of Thailand's northeast region. As a result, there is often a combo of meat and seafood involved in most dishes, such as the Lao Chicken Soup, which combines fresh chicken with pickled fish and a steamy brown broth. The menu will make your tastebuds whirl if you're one for experimentation, if not, their Pad Thai is iconic and filling enough on its own.

Brooklyn: Ugly Baby

Brooklyn has always been teeming with amazing Thai food joints, but Ugly Baby is the borough's most established success story. The Carrol Gardens sensation was preceded by two long gone Red Hook restaurants known for their authentic Northern Thai cuisine. With Ugly Baby, a name which comes from an ancient belief in Thailand that ugly children bring good fortune, chef Sirichai Sreparplarn had mastered his craft. The restaurant quickly gained glowing praise throughout Brooklyn and New York, and their take on Khao Soi Nuer and Kao Tod Nam Klook remain the stuff of legends.

Queens: Ayada

ayada thai

Ayada's cuisine is so good that it made a New York Times journalist cry at his table. Not out of emotion though, but out of spice. For those looking for a truly bold eating experience, this Queens Thai restaurant holds nothing back when crafting their drunken noodles or Pad Thai, but that spice is what makes it one of the best spots in the city.

Bronx: Ceetay

​While the Bronx isn't necessarily a buzzing Thai food borough, Ceetay's asian fusion cuisine is of the highest quality and will appeal to anyone desperately needing to nom on some noodles. Their sushi is amazing but their Pad Thai is packed with amazing flavor. Seasoned with onions, peppers, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, peanuts, scallions and cilantro, this Pad Thai is packed with flavors and will slam your taste buds in the best possible way.

Travel

5 Countries to Visit This Fall

As the weather starts to chill out, we're just getting warmed up to travel

It's not winter yet!

So that means, we're all about that fall travel. It's a beautiful time of year to be outside in many countries, soaking up the colorful landscapes and fresh air. Here are our picks for the top places to visit this fall.

1. Germany

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Burg Eltz Castle is a magical step back into the Middle Ages that's been here for more than 850 years.

2. Switzerland

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The red leaves in Bern are absolutely striking.

3. Italy

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Nothing like the sheer beauty of the formidable Italian alps.

4. Peru

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Machu Picchu beckons visitors from near and far this fall.

5. Mexico

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It's not too cold to skip the beach!

Everyone has heard of the murder-hotel where dark shadows creep at the edge of your vision, or the abandoned house where the furniture moves each time you leave the room.

But sometimes the places set up to capture the fun and fright of the Halloween season for paying customers can be far more horrifying than any ghost stories. These "fake" haunted houses will leave you genuinely haunted.



Pennhurst Haunted Asylum

So spoooky!

Thomas James Caldwell

Pennhurst Asylum was in operation from 1908-1987 in the small town of Spring City, Pennsylvania. While we don't have all the records of the residents' experiences there, it doesn't take much imagination to realize that this building was home to true horrors. In many ways, 1908 wasn't that long ago, but in terms of mental health treatment—especially in small-town Pennsylvania—it was absolutely the dark ages. This was the time of lobotomies, straight jackets, and shock therapy. Whatever the jump scares and fake blood contribute to the fear you will feel walking through Pennhurst Asylum's aging, echoing halls, they can't come close to the deep, sinking feeling caused by the deep history of torment that has left its imprint on the very fabric of the place. Four spooky skulls out of five.

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Haunted Trap House

Like this, but less 90s

In Centreville, Maryand, in the year 1989, a group of visionaries were struck by a bolt of inspiration. What if—instead of zombies and werewolves and demons, and all the stuff out of children's nightmares—what if they filled their haunted house with the real-world nightmares that were actually infesting their city, killing their residents, and generally afflicting every corner of the entire nation. Thus, the Haunted Crack House was born. Since renamed the Haunted Trap House, it's ostensibly an educational experience on the dangers of drug use, it features simulations of overdoses, arrests, and shootings, as well as actual former convicts who are paid to draw on their real experiences to make your visit as terrifying as possible. This kind of fetishizing of human misery to capitalize on the Halloween season is as despicable as it is spooky. Four-and-a-half skulls out of five.

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McKamey Manor

He technically consented to this

A $20,000 reward? A 40-page waiver? These figures have garnered a lot of attention in recent headlines. Supposedly this is the "scariest" haunted house experience in the country. Who could resist the temptation of that once-in-a-lifetime experience, combined with the chance to win a big cash prize? Unfortunately, that is exactly what Russ McKay wants. There's a reason he's put so much work into the legal side of his operation. Rather than gassing up neutered chainsaws and chasing you around in a hockey mask, McKay has opted for producing actual, real, straight-up torture. You may not find the decorations and costumes that scary, but you will absolutely fear for your life when you consent to be water-boarded with fake blood. For being operated by a man who is clearly an unhinged psychopath, McKamey Manor ties the Haunted Traphouse, with four-and-a-half spooky skulls.

💀💀💀💀.5/5

Donald Vann's House of Horrors

Donald Vann murdered eleven people. Happens to the best of us, but it does present a problem. How do you dispose of all those bodies? Donald's solution was to open a haunted house and put his victims' decaying remains on display as props. Props to him. For eight months he prepared his fetid, malodorous horrors, before debuting on October 1st. Unfortunately, you won't be able to visit his house of horrors, because he has since landed in some legal trouble—board of health, maybe?—but I'm sure for the lucky few who were able to visit during its brief tenure, and witness Vann's "psychotic smirk," I'm sure the nightmares they're left with keep on spooking.

💀💀💀💀💀/5

Every Hell House in America

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In the same vein as the Haunted Traphouse, Hell Houses are church presentations intended as educational experiences that warn kids and teens away from the path of sin. Their methods for achieving this obviously vary, but according to The Washington Post, you can generally expect the following: "A devil ushers a gay man dying of AIDS into the fiery pit. A teenager who is raped at a drug-filled rave commits suicide and also goes to hell. A young girl hemorrhaging from an abortion repents at the last minute." Awful. Truly sickening. What kind of trauma are they inflicting on these children to prop up their outdated ideologies? Six spooky skulls. Where'd that extra skull come from?? Nobody knows…

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