If you’re thinking of joining a guided walking tour of Singapore you can’t go wrong with Original Singapore Walks. Their guides speak perfect English and have in-depth knowledge of Singapore’s cultures and history – including the city-state’s dark past.
Launched in 2003, Original Singapore Walks run a walking tour every day of the week to one of Singapore’s unique neighbourhoods plus a bus tour to far-flung World War II sites every Saturday. With tantalising tour names like “Sultans of Spice” and “Secrets of the Red Lantern”, the hardest part is choosing which tour to pick.
Each tour lasts about 2 and a half hours and starts from a location near a MRT station. There is no need to register in advance – simply show up at the right place at the right time and pay S$30 (or S$15 for children) to the guide. Remember to wear comfy walking shoes and to bring your camera.
Full descriptions of each tour are available on the Original Singapore Walks website, but it’s a safe assumption that you will be visiting historic buildings, places of worship, markets and small shops where people still practise traditional trades.
I joined the walking tour of Chinatown called “Red Clogs down the Five Foot Way” and found it to be both fun and educational. At the Thien Hock Kheng temple our guide Helena explained how Singapore’s Chinese community practises a fusion of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs, and later she took us to a Chinese funeral supply shop selling paper replicas of cars and money that are burnt as offerings to deceased relatives – a place most tourists would never find on their own.
The tour guides have relationships with local businesses, and at a traditional Chinese medicine hall we were given free samples of herbal tea and dried goji berries. There was absolutely no pressure to buy anything but, in case you did, you could be confident you were getting full information and a fair price.
Our tour guide Helena was a wonderful story teller, sharing the story of her own ancestor’s journey from China to Singapore and the appalling conditions that new immigrants experienced when they settled in Chinatown. She also pointed out which Chinatown buildings used to be brothels and opium dens.
The final stop on our walk was the Chinatown Wet Market where we learned the names of the exotic vegetables and saw produce so fresh it was trying to run away. Helena concluded the tour by giving everyone an orange – a symbol of luck and good fortune in Chinese culture – and suggestions of where we should go for lunch.
While Singapore is easy enough to explore on your own, a tour with Original Singapore Walks makes you realise how much more you could be getting out of the experience. In case you get hooked after one tour, they offer multi-day passes so you can try them all.
By Tanya Procyshyn
Last updated on 15th November, 2014.