Fun Places in Singapore to Discover with Your Kids

Fun Places in Singapore to Discover with Your Kids

No experience in life can ever be as meaningful as that of spending quality time with your children. Watching that angelic smile bloom shyly on their face before erupting into an exuberant grin, the bubbling of laughter so pure no mineral water harvested from pristine icebergs in the alp can match—parenthood is its own reward.

Until you realise that you’re going to be spending the next decade or so together. Before you start panicking, here are three child-friendly—and parent-accommodating—activities to do in Singapore that will simultaneously preserve your sanity, keep your children entertained, and forge that quality bond together.

For the Hyperactive Child: Climb Central

Climb Central is an indoor rock-climbing gym that caters to climbers of all experience. As long as your children are at least 5 years-old, heavier than 20kg, and above 1.1 metres tall, they can scale up the walls like the twitchy spiders they are. (It’s a great way to exhaust them so both you and your children can have a peaceful night at home.)

Climb Central conducts a compulsory safety briefing for all first-timers, so rest assured that safety is their top priority. With their range of traditional top-rope walls and auto-belay systems, you can be the literally supportive parent and belay your children, or race them up to the wall as both of you are hoisted up by the auto-belays. Your children will probably be much faster than you, though.

Climb Central Locations

Kallang Wave Mall, 1 Stadium Place,  #B1-01, Singapore 397628;

Nearest station: Stadium

Novena Velocity, 238 Thomson Road, #03-23/25, Singapore 307683

Nearest station: Novena

 

Opening Hours

Mon to Fri: 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Weekend and Public Holiday: 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM

For the Fearless Child: Airzone

If your children have ever wanted to walk on air, Airzone is the perfect place to bring them. The facility comprises several nets spanning across multiple levels and suspended over the atrium of City Square Mall. Even though the nets are engineered to be super strong structurally (each net can hold two fully packed buses), they also allow anyone on them to look all the way down to the ground level. Once your children get over their initial fear (if they have any at all), it is pure exhilaration to feel like walking on air. Now everyone can be Elphaba, as long as you are below 120kg. Children who are below 7 years old must be accompanied by a supervising adult.

Airzone comprises several activity zones, such as a 3-dimensional maze, the world’s only suspended ball pit, and a suspended slide. In fact, you are free to join your children within the Airzone facility as it is open to people of all ages. But if heights are not your friend, there is always Don Don Donki at the basement of the mall.

Airzone

City Square Mall, 180 Kitchener Road, Singapore 208539

Nearest station: Farrer Park

Opening Hours

Daily from 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM (Last admission at 9PM)

For the Child of Nature: Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden

Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden, located in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, is the first garden in Asia built with children in mind, and it certainly shows. Unlike most other areas of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the space in Jacob Ballas is highly interactive. Alongside the myriad of plants, there is a suspension bridge, tree houses, a farm, a forest with a stream and ponds, all features that are guaranteed to attract your children like honey to a Pooh bear. Moreover, children are encouraged to touch, jump, climb, play with everything in the garden, and in so doing, learn about the ecological environment.

What is a parent to do at a children’s garden, you ask? Well, after your children have played horticulturalist for a day, usher them to the main area of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Take it from us: they’d be happy just running around the lawns while you lounge on a mat, a glass of ice-cold rosé in one hand and a bar of dark chocolate in the other.

Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden

481 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259769

Nearest station: Botanic Gardens

Opening Hours

Daily from 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM (Last admission at 6:30PM) Closed on Mondays except on public holidays.

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The Unforgettable Taste of Vietnam

The Unforgettable Taste of Vietnam

If the only Vietnamese food you’ve tried is phở, you’re really missing out on a plethora of delicious dishes defined by daring and distinct use of herbs, spices, and sauces. And eating in Vietnam is not a boring sit-down affair in a sterile restaurant. The nation’s delicacies are better sampled right on the street while you perch precariously on plastic stools as motorcycles zoom by you, only inches away.

We all know street food is the best sort of cuisine, anyway—and Vietnamese eating culture epitomises this down-to-earth authenticity, one that you can taste in its food.

Phở

We would not be phởgiven (pardon the pun) if we curated this list without listing phở.

A good bowl of phở has a complex broth that is at once beefy, herbal, and sweet, with silky rice noodles that you can slurp right up without having to chew.

Combine that with tender morsels of rare beef and the fresh hit of basil and mint, and you’ve got a hearty, comforting bowl of noodles that you’d want to eat for every meal.

While the basis of phở–the broth, the beef, and the noodles—are identical through Vietnam, the North and the South have their own take on it. Phở Hà Nội, or Hanoi-style phở, keeps the dish classic with a heavier and oilier broth, such that the only accompaniments it needs are chopped chili and lime.

The South prefers a lighter broth that is perked up by hits of fresh basil, coriander, and mint, and the crunch of bean sprouts. You can even accentuated the broth further by adding pickled garlic and a multitude of sauces that sit at every table of the phở shops in Saigon.

Bánh Mì

Think of bánh mì as a sort of French-inflected Vietnamese sandwich.

Wedged between freshly baked baguettes is an assortment of fillings that vary according to region—but our favourites are the bánh mì that come stuffed with paté, picked vegetables, heaps of fresh coriander, and of course a generous serving of cold cuts.

The result is an explosion of tastes and textures that somehow perfectly complement each other.

Apart from the joy you feel from consuming the pinnacle of a sandwich, eating bánh mì also imparts a strange, ambivalent sensation to the politically conscious. How can such a delicious meal arise from the tumultuous affair of colonialism?

Though munching on bánh mì bears no fruitful answers, it is a reminder that food is as much a country’s cultural heritage as its architecture.

Gà Nướng Sả

On first sight, gà nướng sả is essentially grilled chicken on white rice or vermicelli noodles, a staple fare of many cuisines. What makes it stand out, then?

As is the case in many Vietnamese dishes, its distinguishing feature lies in the use of sauces and herbs. In particular, lemongrass is a flavour signature to Vietnamese cuisine—East Indian lemongrass is native to Vietnam (and Mainland Southeast Asia) and has been used by people in the region for centuries—and the herb takes the centre stage here.

The chicken is first marinated in a blend of honey, fish sauce, lemongrass (of course), and other secret ingredients, depending on the chef. It is then grilled over a roaring flame that gives it a crackling skin while keeping the meat inside moist and tender.

If you like bbq, you’ll love this piquant and aromatic take.

Bánh Xèo

Despite its lace-like, eggy appearance, bánh xèo is actually more a pancake or crepe than an omelette, as its name, “sizzling pancake”, suggests.

The yellow colour derives from the addition of turmeric to the rice batter, which not only makes it gloriously golden, but also tasty and healthy (turmeric is a powerful antioxidant).

Bánh xèo typically contains shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and greens, and is eaten dunked into a sauce that is unique to every chef.

Like phở, each region has put its own twist on bánh xèo—but unlike phở, these variations can change the flavour profile of the dish immensely!

For instance, you might find bánh xèo  with fruits like banana and starfruit in central Vietnam,  which sort of turns it into a sweet crepe, compared to the standard savoury fillings that the Southern chefs favour.

Chè

Once you’ve had your fill of hearty savoury fare, it’s time to unwind with a traditional Vietnamese dessert, chè.

Chè is actually an umbrella term for any sweet Vietnamese drink or pudding, so there is an endless variety to pick from. The most common ingredients include beans, fruits, tapioca, jelly; the ingredients are then almost always topped with sweet coconut cream.

It’s the perfect dessert for you to cool off during a scorching Vietnamese day, and, with the array of ingredients, you are sure to find one that appeals to your palate.

It’s also super convenient to get—just pop into any grocery store and you’ll find rows of chè in plastic cups lining the shelves—befitting of its status as the national dessert of Vietnam.

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3 Trekking Trails in Taipei for the Intrepid Traveller

3 Trekking Trails in Taipei for the Intrepid Traveller

Taipei is a great quick getaway. It has cheap and tasty street food, a plethora of quirky and independent shops brimming over with character, an efficient transport system, safe streets, cultural institutions steeped in history… what’s not to like?

Furthermore, Taipei offers a surprisingly large number of hiking trails suitable for hikers of all experience. As a city surrounded by mountains on one side and bordered by the ocean on another, the views that these trails offer are, more often than not, stunning and perfect for that Instagram shot.

Prepare your hiking gear and on-the-go food (some stinky tofu and papaya milk would be perfect) and it’s time to embark, with Discoverist.sg as your (virtual) hiking guide.

For Beginner Hikers: Xiangshan (象山)

This trail is for the absolute neophytes for whom exercise means a quick sprint to their car before the summon auntie reaches there first. Xiangshan’s trail largely comprises a series of ascending steps, with plenty of railings and rest spots for you to catch your breath—though paved, the steps can be quite steep and precarious, so do take your time as you ascend them.

In just less than twenty minutes, however, you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of Taipei 101 soaring above its surrounding buildings, which truly puts its daunting scale into perspective. (Tip: this is a great spot to catch the famous Taipei 101 New Year countdown.) Most people start descending Xiangshan after reaching this point, but the trail actually continues into the mountain, winding around rustic bamboo groves, temples co-existing with the trees, and golden grass stalks laden with seeds.

Getting There

Take the red line to Xiangshan station. Follow the signs to the start of the trail, which is located less than ten minutes away.

Approximate time for completion: 1.5 hours
Length: 1,450 metres

For Intermediate Hikers: Jinmianshan (金面山)

Oddly enough, Jinmianshan’s hiking trail grew to prominence only because of social media. As with all things viral, it’s hard to trace the origins of this craze, but a clue to its sudden ascent (no pun intended) can be found in its name. Jinmianshan, which means “Golden Face Mountain”, has a rich deposit of quartz arenite, a type of sandstone. In the sunlight, it glitters like—as you’ve probably guessed by now—gold, thus giving it its moniker.

Once you’ve scaled to its peak and drank in the sight of the mountain range, you will find that it is true to its name: Jinmianshan offers a beautiful display of golden rocks in addition to a sweeping view of the Neihu district.

Like Xiangshan, it is composed of a series of paved steps and trails, but it also has some unpaved paths with boulders that you have to climb over, so ditch your sneakers and wear some proper trekking shoes for this path.

Getting There

Take the brown line to Xihu station. Follow the signs to the start of the trail, which is located less than ten minutes away.

Approximate time for completion: 3 hours
Length: 2,330 metres

For Advanced Hikers: Chahushan (茶壺山)

Once the secret haunt of local hiking enthusiasts, Chahushan, or Teapot Mountain, has in recent times started to gain popularity among local and foreign hikers alike. And for good reason: the trail atop the mountain offers not only unparalleled views of the azure Pacific Ocean but also of the surrounding peaks and the bucolic villages nestled within the mountains.

Before these sights seduce you, be warned, though. The difficulty of the trail is commensurate with its beauty. You will have to clamber over exposed rock formations and cling on to ropes as you climb up steep gradients. The trail is also pretty high above sea level, so the sun will bear down on you more strongly. Be sure to outfit yourself in proper hiking gear and slather on sunscreen before you journey up the teapot. The stunning view will be more than ample reward and recompense.

Getting There

Head to Jiufen via direct bus from Taipei or Ruifang. The trail begins near the village.

Approximate time for completion: 5 – 6 hours
Length: 3,500 metres

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Bhutan, The World’s Happiest Nation

Bhutan, The World’s Happiest Nation

Bhutan, a tiny, population-sparse, and landlocked country in South Asia, is bordered by China, India, and Tibet. Spanning an area of 38,000 km² (54 times larger than Singapore), it has a population of only 700,000 (8 times smaller than Singapore). Even though it is relatively small in comparison to its neighbouring countries, its geographical landscape ranges from alpine Himalayan mountains to humid subtropical forests, to wide valleys carved by slow rivers; a rich biodiversity is sustained by these pristine, untouched environments.

The Way of Zen

Architecturally, Bhutan is known for its breathtaking Buddhist monasteries perched atop a flowing river or by the cliff-edge of a mountain, with elaborate roofs clad in ochre. It’s a place where the land is respected and people are aware of the fact that we are visitors, not masters, of the earth. Indeed, thanks to its assiduous protection of its forests (it is legally enforced that forests must cover at least 60% of the country), Bhutan is not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative, which means that it absorbs more carbon than it emits.

But the country is perhaps most famous for its notion of Gross National Happiness, which measures not only the country’s economic and development standards, but also the state of its cultural heritage, the condition of its environment, and the health of its population.

Little wonder why it is called the “last Shangri La” on earth.

Finding Inner Peace and Happiness

In recent years, Bhutan has been attracting a steady influx of people who wish to experience a different type of life, one divorced from the mindless capitalist mantra of “produce and consume”. At the risk of sounding too Eat Pray Love, in Bhutan, one is able to slow down and reflect on how life should be led, especially in relation to the physical and cultural environment around us.

Yet, for a country that prioritises Gross National Happiness instead of Gross Domestic Product, it might seem incongruous for Bhutan to impose a daily minimum tariff on foreign visitors. Travellers who wish to enter the land of Shangri La have to pay a mandatory amount of money per day; the amount varies according to the size of your group and the month when you visit. In general, it ranges from US$200 to US$290.

Meaningful Travel Experience

Before you balk at this number, know that it covers your accommodation for your entire trip, all three meals, the cost of hiring a Bhutanese guide, all transport internally, and even entry or programme fees for activities and attractions. Part of the money is also used by the Bhutanese government to fund their healthcare and education systems (which are provided free to citizens), and maintain their natural and cultural environment. When put into perspective, the minimum daily tariff now seems less an onerous financial burden but an enlightened approach to managing a sustainable and mindful form of tourism.

Shangri La is not—and should not—be a place where one can zip in and out at will, lest its tranquillity be spoilt. But it also should not be inaccessible, for that would defeat its purpose of paving a future forward for humanity. Bhutan strikes a happy balance between the two by making it compulsory for all visitors to book a package with one of many registered Bhutanese tour operator, which will provide your visa and arrange the tourist tariff, before anyone is allowed to pay a pilgrimage to its land.

Visiting Bhutan from Singapore

Luckily for our readers based in Singapore, Changi Airport is one of the few airports around the region where visitors can take a flight, operated by Druk Air, directly to Paro International Airport in Bhutan. Druk Air also flies to Bangkok, various cities in india, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

Visiting Bhutan might present a tiny bit more hassle than any other destination. But one simply can’t put a price on happiness.

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What to Watch to Wean Yourself off Your Wanderlust

What to Watch to Wean Yourself off Your Wanderlust

If you have an inability to sit still, recurring dreams of speaking in a foreign language, and find yourself lingering around Changi Airport on weekends, I’m afraid the diagnosis is definite. You have wanderlust, a chronic syndrome that afflicts up to 80% of people globally. Unfortunately, there is no cure for it—it will persist through your life, compelling you to travel to places other people would never want to. But we are happy to say that, if your current circumstances prohibit you from leaving your country, there is a temporary cure to this syndrome.

What is it? Well, it is the universal remedy for most modern ills: a Netflix binge. As your (completely unlicensed) doctors, these are the shows we would recommend to wean yourself off your wanderlust. If your case is more severe, then we would recommend the Upside Down versions reflected in a black mirror—but watch them at your own risk.

Theatrical poster for Eat, Pray, Love, Copyright © 2009 by Columbia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Eat Pray Love

With such a saccharine sweet title, you already know what to expect from this travel movie. Elizabeth Gilbert, the protagonist (played by a very radiant Julia Roberts), loses everything, and embarks on a journey around the world to rediscover what is Important in her life. In Italy, she nourishes her body with food; in India, she feeds her soul with prayer; in Indonesia, she… you get the drift.

 It’s the filmic equivalent of consuming an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream in one seating. And wanderlust, as its name suggests, can be as painful as the usual, non-wandery variety. So, we’re not judging. Go ahead and eat, pray, love. We certainly have turned to it in our times of wanderlust.

Theatrical poster for Lost in Translation. belong to the distributor of the film, Focus Features, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist, Corey Holms.

The Upside Down: Lost in Translation

If Eat Pray Love is a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is a plate of Uji matcha warabi mochi with shiratama that is as bitter as it is sweet. The movie is set in Tokyo, but it defies all expectations of presenting a spectacle of the glitzy cosmopolitanism of a familiar-yet-unfamiliar city.

Instead, Lost in Translation explores the interior psychology of people: the alienation, existentialism, and unheimlich (unhomely) feelings that arise when one is alone, and unable to communicate with anyone else, in a foreign city. Lost in Translation cautions against giving your wanderlust full reign. Sometimes, the movie says, your wanderlust should be directed inwards, for that is where the most profound experiences can be found.

Samantha Brown’s Travel Series

In Samantha Brown’s 19-years as a travel host, she has travelled across practically all the continents on earth, so whether you are itching to lounge by the beach during a lazy Spanish summer or lose yourself in the labyrinthian alleys of old Beijing, you can bet that Samantha Brown has an episode dedicated to it.

What is especially soothing about the show is its unabashed dedication to extravagance and luxury. Samantha Brown does not sleep in capsule hotels. Please. The show only features presidential suites and spa treatments that anoint her with the essence of moon lily that blooms only during a lunar eclipse when Jupiter is aligned with Saturn.

And this peek into excess, this vicarious pleasure, is exactly what will calm your wanderlust.

The Upside Down: Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man

“We’re here, but should we have come?” Richard Ayoade asks at the start of every episode. Each is dedicated to 48 hours in a different city—but even within this short span of time Richard Ayoade, a diagnosed (by me) introvert and homebody, is already lamenting the foreignness and strange ways of whatever country he is in. And his sentiments as he explores the city are always a mix of bewilderment, gentle amusement, or, when he is eating gelato, happiness.

It’s not xenophobia or insularity that Richard Ayoade is displaying, however. It’s a recognition that travel can oftentimes be genuinely terrifying as it literally takes you out of your comfort zone. This is a fact obscured by many shows that only showcase the highlights of the trip, like one of those carefully curated Instagram account.

Ditch those fantasised and idealised pictures of travel. Watch Travel Man instead. It’s the bitter pill that will make you feel better, not the sweet lozenge that will give you diabetes in the long run.

Television Poster for Travel Man: 48 Hours in…, Copyright belongs to IMdb.com

Image by theamazingrace_cbs via Instagram

The Amazing Race

Eleven teams of two travelling around the globe, deciphering cryptic messages, navigating foreign cities, completing culturally specific tasks, and race to be the first across the finish line. The Amazing Race has been such a cultural phenomenon that it hardly needs any additional description.

It’s one of the better cures to wanderlust that we can prescribe here, too. It cleverly mixes the thrill of the unknown with a respect of local cultures, allowing our vicarious sensation of travel to be inflected with education. Throw in the adrenaline-pumping challenges and down-to-the-second sprints, and you will forget that you even had wanderlust.

Take one episode a day, preferably during meals. Its effects will last up to a month.

The Upside Down: Big Brother

What is a reality television show about a bunch of people being cooped up in a television set designed to look like a simulacrum of a house doing on a list about travelling out of your house? If we examine the aetiology of wanderlust, we find that most cases stem from a desire to experience dramatic revelations, heightened emotions, new people and surroundings.

And these ingredients that contribute to wanderlust are precisely what can be found in Big Brother. By inundating your system with the show, your wanderlust will mutate into a form of voyeurism easily satisfied by Big Brother.

But consume it sparingly. This treatment is addictive when abused, and is not a substitute for the real thing.

Seriously. As effective as they are, these are all temporary measures. Go pick up your luggage and book the first flight out.

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