Surviving Singapore’s River Hongbao

On work days, the tiny island city-state of Singapore doesn’t seem so crowded, unless you happen to get caught in the peak hour crush as workers pour into and out of offices like relentless trails of stone-faced ants.

But at Chinese New Year, just about everyone is on holidays, and some parts of Singapore can get very crowded.

We were blissfully unaware of this fact when we decided to visit the River Hongbao to see the CNY (Chinese New Year) decorations and sample some Chinese delicacies. From Nanjing, no less.

There were three of us trying to navigate through the throng while carrying a hungry baby, an oversized umbrella and a sore shoulder. It got a bit testing, especially when we finally found the food stalls, queued up and arrived at the top of the queue to discover we needed to buy vouchers from the other side of the food area before we could get food. And then there was the wait for a table with a wiggly whiny one-year-old who just wanted to steal other people’s balloons. Oh, the joy.

Our first Singapore River Hongbao was less than ideal. Some crucial errors we made were:

  • arriving hungry, so the wait for food was torturous
  • not taking a pram for the baby
  • taking a big umbrella rather than a small one that would have fit inside the baby’s bag
  • trying to get a table at the food area. We would have been better off taking our food upstairs to the stadium-like seating and watching the free concert, which was broadcast on giant screens
  • knowing the way to the MRT station to make a quick exit when we were sick of the crowds
  • getting our own balloon. I’m guessing they were free.

We were too busy fighting the crush to take pictures of the CNY decorations. I’m pretty sure posing in front of the various decorations is a Singapore CNY tradition.

We did get to try some tasty Chinese dumplings. We were too hungry to photograph them first. You’ll just have to imagine plump pillows of pork. And sesame seed-coated fried dumplings. And fluffy white dough wrapped around teeny-tiny sausages.

We slowed down a bit when the soup arrived.  The noodles were slippery, the broth firey. I don’t think you’re supposed to eat the peppercorns. After the first startling self-cracked pepper crunch, I avoided the bobbing balls of bite.

I almost enjoyed the soup but I kept thinking this great Singapore food blog post about peppery pig stomach soup. I stirred the soup around a bit and didn’t see anything that seemed blatantly pig-stomach-y. There was some cabbage slices, which I ate very gingerly at first. When I mentioned the possibility of awful offal in my soup, Darling Man said he’d looked at the soup closely when he ordered it and he didn’t think there was any meat in it, although he could see the stock was made with pork bones. He was looking out for his wimpy street food sidekick after all!

We don’t know what anything was called because all the signs were in Chinese. The servers were too busy to explain much, apart from the price and the number of items per serve. It was an experience. A patience-testing Singapore experience. I suspect Hongboa may translate into “squish-fest”. The crush was unbelievable.

We left the crowd behind and set off for our next Singapore CNY experience – visiting relatives. They weren’t even our relatives but we were welcomed like long-lost family. There was wine, there was bak kwa, there were pastries, there was curry, there were babies crawling on the floor. There were parents and sisters and cousins. There was a long conversation about the Chinese and Vietnamese names for certain Asian delicacies. It was just wonderful.

We arrived home late, tired but feeling very honoured to have sampled such wonderful Singaporean hospitality.

11 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Glen Abbott, dropoutdiaries. dropoutdiaries said: New blog post – Surviving Singapore's River Hongbao #travelblog #rtwsoon #travel #Singapore […]

  2. inka says:

    I can’t get enough of the stories about darling man and the baby on batteries and now you have topped it all with being too hungry to photograph the food. Can’twait to get to Singapore in September-
    inka recently posted..Where butterflies get drunk!

  3. Enjoying your posts and learning about life in Singapore. I’m not sure that soup would suit me well — a little “wimpy” I guess.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday – Sphere of Influence

  4. Happy Chinese New Year! Sounds like it was quite an adventure running around Singapore. I exactly what it’s like to be too hungry to get the first picture in. Many of my food pictures come from the 2nd dish!
    Migrationology recently posted..Jaws Corner – Coffee and Conversation the Zanzibar Way

  5. Crowds are not my thing, so I feel your pain. (I get cranky when I’m hungry too.) I guess sometimes it’s worth it to brave the crowds for a unique experience. The end of your day sounds lovely!
    Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted..Our Brush with Death in the Land of Dr Seuss Trees 2

  6. robin says:

    Lovely writing! Bobbing balls of bite…this kind of event would have driven me demented as I would undoubtedly have arrived ravenous and obsessed about getting hold of some food no matter what it took and no matter how long. You can imagine how enjoyable it is for K to accompany me to crowded things like that. We generally skip them, but are limbering up for Carnival which is quite soon. Thats the yearly festival where Cadiz goes crazy and parties through the n ight and where this year i will be wading through an ocean of people looking for something to eat…
    robin recently posted..Confundido

  7. Laurel says:

    Love hearing about your adventures of traveling with a baby and all your food adventures and agree CNY is not to be missed!
    Laurel recently posted..Fun Things to Do in Bremen

  8. The NVR Guys says:

    Everything you wrote, which I am sure was great, just fell to the wayside when I read “Bobbing Balls of Bite.” Such alliteration. I am going to find a way to work this into a conversation soon. I promise.
    The NVR Guys recently posted..On Working Virtually – Find Your Strengths

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