A visit to Singapore would not be complete without a stop at famous tourist attractions such as Marina Bay Sands, Universal Studios or Sentosa.
But for those who prefer something offbeat, Singapore has equally much to offer.
Travel sites and apps such as Airbnb and Showaround are just some options available to help tourists plan for a less conventional vacation in Singapore.
In March, home-sharing site Airbnb launched Trips in Singapore which allows users to book unique activities led by locals via its Experiences feature.
Local experiences range from a craft-beer crawl and modern calligraphy classes to pottery-making workshops and whipping up a feast with traditional recipes using urban-farming technologies in a kampung.
Photo: The New Paper / Courtesy of Stella Tan
Miss Stella Tan, 26, hosts such a site – the Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle – which was set up by her grandfather in 1965.
For four hours, tourists get to try their hand at pottery making and tour the facility.
Located off Jalan Bahar, Thow Kwang has been home to a dragon kiln since the 1940s. It is one of the last few left here.
Dragon kilns, which are wood-fired, are losing popularity to gas- or electricity-powered ones due to the convenience factor.
However, ceramics fired in a dragon kiln acquire a distinctive glaze because of the wood. The pottery-making experience and tour costs $130 a person.
Photo: The New Paper / Courtesy of Stella Tan
Miss Tan would also gladly drive you to certain less-visited parts of Singapore – at no extra cost. These include nearby attractions such as an eco-garden or Salt & Light Archery, which is owned by her brother,, or farms in Lim Chu Kang where visitors might stop for lunch.
Miss Tan, who is breathing new life to her family business, fully channelled her efforts towards it five years ago.
“Growing up, I saw the effort that my family had put in to sustain it for future generations. I didn’t want to let it go just like that, so I started to find ways to promote it,” she said.
It is easy to see why this experience might be a refreshing one for visitors to Singapore.
When I tried it out with a colleague last month, I left not only with good memories but a new friend as well.
The serenity of the location also provided a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Even though I struggled to mould clay into something decent looking, I greatly enjoyed the process.
Much of that had to do with Miss Tan’s patience and her ability to make you feel at ease.
I was convinced that I did not have an affinity for the potter’s wheel, but she encouraged me to try different techniques before I came up with an “abstract” – her words, not mine – creation.
We ended the visit with a tour of the premises which led us to the dragon kiln.
I learnt even more about the effort needed for a firing, which involves up to 20 people.
Due to the size of the kiln, which is about 40m long, it is fired only when about 1,000 to 2,000 pieces are amassed from workshops.
Hence, the firing takes place only two to three times a year.
Temperatures reach up to 1,260 deg C and it takes a week to cool down. The next firing will be next month.
Miss Tan said: “Sometimes, even locals are surprised to hear about Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle. Via Experiences, I open up this opportunity for pottery artists from across the globe who are curious and want a taste of this little-known tradition in Singapore.”
Showing tourists around for free
Photo: The New Paper / Courtesy of Christopher Boey
Since he signed up on Showaround just over a year ago, Singaporean Christopher Boey, 26, has played host to eight tourists from various parts of the world.
His new friends come from countries such as Indonesia, Austria and Germany, and are typically students or are fresh out of school.
As a host, Mr Boey, a recent graduate who will soon start a job in pharmaceutical manufacturing, has one aim – to show that Singapore has more to offer beyond the tourist sites listed in guide books.
He told The New Paper: “I first used Showaround as a tourist myself in Basel, Switzerland. It was fun to make friends with these hospitable hosts and even though they usually charged a fee, they didn’t charge me a cent.
“I took that memory back home with me and wanted to extend the same warmth to tourists in Singapore. I wanted to give back.”
Mr Boey is among the 895 Singaporeans on the Lithuania-based travel app and about 81,000 users worldwide.
In Singapore, 35 per cent of locals, Mr Boey included, provide Showaround tours free of charge.
Otherwise, the average rate is about $15 per hour.
Mr Boey’s tours are customised to meet the needs of the tourists and can last from two hours to half a day.
Before the meet-up, he makes it a point to have a chat about their travel plans and interests.
During the meet-ups, he shares with them a slice of authentic local culture and lifestyle by touring the heartlands, enjoying green spaces and introducing them to local cuisine.
“The Austrian tourists specifically told me they wanted to tour my neighbourhood. I took them around Bishan, to the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and we had some drinks at the coffee shop,” he recalled.
Asked if there was any other place he hoped to show tourists one day, Mr Boey said: “Perhaps places that show a different side to Singapore like the red light district.
“It is the hidden side that will open their eyes and show the unexplored part of this city.”
This story was originally published in The New Paper, May 5, 2017.