In the world’s most expensive city, it’s nice to give the old wallet a reprieve and enjoy a free activity. There are many organised tours all over this city, but Monster Day Tours elevates themselves above the rest with the most accessible free walking tours in Singapore that you don’t need to pre-book.
What To Expect
Monster Day Tours operates three different free walking tours that focus on the ethnic quarters: Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. Each of these runs year-round, several times a week. Rain is a common visitor in Singapore, but if you’re there in the torrent, so will Monster Day Tours’ passionate tour guides. A decent number of tourists make it out to their twice-daily tours. We had around 15 people on the tours we took, but that number can swell as high as 45 people.
Some meeting points are more crowded than others and there may be other tours gathered around. The Chinatown tour meet-up spot is a prime example of this. Look for someone dressed in a purple and yellow golf shirt – this will be your guide for the day. Tours will hang around the meeting spot for about ten minutes while the guide makes introductions and talks about this stop, so if you’re only a bit late, you won’t be left behind.
Guides use microphones to make it easy for everyone to hear, but they will not use them when the group stops in a housing complex so that residents aren’t disturbed. Visual aids are frequently used at route stops to get you really immersed in the information and history. As you’re walking along, it will be noted by the guide that the streets of Singapore are filled with street art. While these not the focus of the tours, there will be mini-stops here where you’ll be given a couple of minutes to snap a picture.
Tours are advertised as two and a half hours, and they mean it. While this may sound like a long time to be walking around, all of the tours will include a rest about halfway where a little snack will be provided, which is awesome and the first time I’ve seen such a thing on a free walking tour. At this pit stop, there will always be a place to sit and a bathroom around (it’s like this tour was made just for me!). Despite this, it is still a fair distance that the tour will cover, and during the Chinatown tour, involved an ascent up a couple of flights of stairs. It can be tiring, but what’s even worse sometimes is the standing still while you listen that can batter your feet. If you’ve had a long day that already included a lot of walking, your feet will get very tired so don’t make it any more difficult: wear appropriate shoes!
Tour Pit Stops & Complimentary Nibbles
The Chinatown tour will make a rest stop at a local indoor hawker centre. The guide will organise the group at a table before fetching the complimentary snack for this tour. During this time, you can use the bathroom and get a drink at any of the many stalls around. There are a couple of hawkers that specialise in drinks, so try to seek these out so you can get something local, exotic and interesting. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck getting a boring Coke from a food stall. The stalls tend to look the same and it can get disorienting in here if you wander off. Before moving too far from the group table, get a mental snapshot of the stalls in the immediate area so you’ll know you’re on the right track when heading back. Getting food wouldn’t be a good idea, as you’ll never finish it before it’s time to move on. The tasty snack provided on the Chinatown tour is popiah, a spring roll with a soft exterior but crunchy interior. The guide will get enough so everyone can have a one-inch piece with a few leftovers – don’t be greedy and think this is some sort of gastronomic tour!
Kampong Glam Tour
The Kampong Glam tour will deposit you at the Malay Heritage Centre. This is an outdoor pit stop, with the bathrooms at the far end of a manicured courtyard. There is a small covered gazebo that the guide will ask you to wait at while they gather the snack for this tour: karipap (curry puffs) filled with potato. I’m fairly certain the guide will always make a point to get vegetarian curry puffs regardless of the diet practices of the group just to be safe; for the same reason, they will also get them non-spicy to cater to what are probably European tourists (Mark protested vociferously but playfully at this injustice, knowing how much better the spicy curry puffs are!). There is, unfortunately, nothing to drink here, but later in the tour (depending on the time and queue), the guide will take you to the famous Bhai Sarbat tea stall where you can get something – ideally their teh tarik, the supposed best in Singapore.
We sadly ran out of time and were unable to do the Little India tour. However, Monster Day Tours was kind enough to inform me that the snack on this tour is either Thosai or Indian sweets!
We chose Monster Day Tours free walking tours over all the other tour companies because of its great reviews and its very informative website. Everything you need to know about when a tour is, where to meet, and where the tour goes is provided in an easy to understand layout.
We did the Chinatown and the Kampong Glam tours, and our guide or “storyteller” for both was an adorable local named Bas. He was an affable fellow who was regularly chatting with members of the group in-between route stops. I’ve had guides from other tour companies that gave off a “please don’t talk to me” aura and would force cringey small talk that seemed like they were only doing to make it less awkward. Bas, on the other hand, was pretty good at remembering all of our home countries, asked relevant questions and seemed genuinely interested in getting to know the group.
Those with crippling social anxiety, take note: at the start of the tour, the guide will ask you to introduce yourself and announce where you’re from to the entire group. Bas also asked a lot of trivia questions to the group and encouraged people to volunteer answers (with the postscript of “don’t be shy, there are no wrong answers!”). I’m pretty outgoing so I liked this engaging interaction and built-in icebreaker with my tour group members. If you’re a total introvert, however, you may emotionally crap your pants and forget your own name when twenty strangers are staring at you.
If you take more than one of their tours, you’ll notice some overlapping information. Singapore’s public housing procedures are unique and have become such a success that Singaporeans kind of like showing it off. During both tours, we were taken to two different apartment complexes where Bas explained how it works. It’s a very different system than what is in your home country and is an insider peek at the real Singapore behind the luxe and gloss that the city is known for. Questions naturally arose, and Bas answered them with extensive knowledge on the subject.
Something that I really appreciated: there was never any hint of panhandling. I know tips are always optional, but whenever a guide makes the spiel at the end of a tour about how basically “they get paid in tips,” I always feel deeply obligated to recompense their time and efforts. Even if I was going to tip them anyway, the fact that the guide had to subtly beg for it makes me feel less good about giving it – like I “had” to, as opposed to I “wanted” to. Monster Day Tours removes this awkwardness by simply giving a fun and informative experience that visitors actually want to give their money to.
There is nothing to dislike about these walking tours, in my opinion. A bonus for those who are completely clueless about what to eat is that they can dip a toe into the exotic world of Singaporean food thanks to the complimentary snacks. If you’re ever in Singapore and want an entertaining, in-depth tour with lots of interesting tidbits, take a free walking tour by Monster Day Tours.