Smoking hot local tours

Visit a grimy coffee-roasting factory which just might be the source of your favourite cup of kopi. Learn what type of sand is used in the construction of HDB flats. Plant paddy or make the ancient alcoholic beverage mead at an organic farm.

These are some offbeat activities that companies are offering tourists who prefer to go off the beaten track or locals seeking new adventures.

There are at least five companies here that take customers on journeys into little-known areas and offer an insider's perspective into Singapore.

One such company is Tribe, which started operations in March and conducts nine day tours that are participatory and focus on experiencing Singapore as the locals do.

Co-founder Jason Loe, 42, says: "We want to feature the real and uncut Singapore. That means getting to know the country through its locals and trying activities such as doing taiji or making popiah."

The itineraries include exclusive peeks into a traditional bakery, and coffee and paper house (a type of offering burnt for the dead) factories. Tourists can even choose to visit the HDB flats of two locals on one of the tours.

Tribe has held more than 10 tours and inquiries have risen by 60 per cent in the past three months.

A major player in the offbeat tour scene here is Long Tien, which its chief tour agent Richard Yap says has been around for more than 20 years. Offering 200 tours that range from visiting food factories to a sand depository in Pulau Punggol Timor, the company caters to a mostly local market.

Mr Yap, 34, says more than 90 per cent of the firm's customers are locals. "We work with community centres, educational institutions and companies so we get all age groups, from kids to senior citizens," he adds.

One of the popular tours is a trip to My Genie Gourmet, a nondescript factory in Hougang where visitors can observe staff crimping curry puffs and stuffing mini soon kueh.

Its company director Lawrence Lim, 57, is all too happy to welcome curious day-trippers to his factory. He says: "It's good for us and customers. The tours bring potential customers who get to see how the products are made."

On online travel booking platform Voyagin, travellers game for an unusual experience have close to 50 to pick from, such as a bar crawl to try local cocktails with a food writer or a guided tour of organic farm Bollywood Veggies in the Kranji countryside.

A Bollywood Veggies spokesman says: "Such tours give locals and tourists a respite from city living and offer an alternative experience.

"At Bollywood Veggies, visitors are surrounded by nature and learn about tropical fruit, plants and herbs from our guides."

The prices for a tour can vary widely, from $5 to $300 a person for a half-day affair, depending on the size of the tour group, the number of places to visit, transport and whether meals are included.

For locals, these tours are a way to reacquaint themselves with their home.

Ms Lianne Tan, 41, a tour guide with Tribe who has been in the trade for the past seven years, notes a growing interest among locals in such tours in the past two to three years.

"With more of the older landmarks being torn down, such as the former National Library in Stamford Road, there is a stronger desire to learn about the places that still stand today," she says.

For those who do not have time for tours but wish to explore these places on their own, they can use JalanJalan, a free mobile app that enables users to switch on the GPS and learn the histories of buildings or streets located nearby.

Co-founder Steve Tan, 29, says: "Much has been done to document the histories of well-known landmarks. We want to share stories of lesser-known places, so that they are remembered."

The app was launched in April and is supported by the Singapore Memory Project's irememberSG fund.

JalanJalan also conducted three free heritage walks along Purvis Street, Seah Street, Queen Street and Waterloo Street in the Bugis and Bras Basah areas earlier this year.

Singaporean Koh Shing Lei, 29, her German husband and his family went on a food tour Tribe organised last month. They have lived in London for the past two years and were back for a visit in Singapore.

Ms Koh, a marketing analytics manager, says: "We went to a wet market and I got to see what belacan is made from. Even as a Singaporean, I didn't know this before.

"For my husband and his family, they had a glimpse of the real Singapore."

A taste of taiji and incense-making

1 Long Tien

What: Highlights are its factory, warehouse and educational tours to places such as a bioscience laboratory at Nanyang Technological University, sand depository in Pulau Punggol Timor and food factories that make otah, soon kueh and curry puffs.

Info: Go to

2 Tribe

What: There are nine tours and each is distinctly unconventional. They include visits to a wet market, traditional bakery and a coffee-roasting factory, as well as a hands-on popiah rolling or teh tarik-making sessions.

Info: Go to

3 Voyagin

What: The online platform curates offbeat tours islandwide including cafe-hopping with a local foodie, learning how to make incense and completing fun challenges at organic farm Bollywood Veggies.

Info: Go to

4 JalanJalan

What: The mobile app brings to life forgotten or lesser-known places in Singapore such as the history of the Spooner Road flats and the former Jubilee Theatre. It is free for download and, with GPS switched on, will indicate such landmarks if the user is nearby and share information about it.

Info: Go to

This article was first published on August 21, 2015.
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