What guided walking tours mean to me

In my first post I briefly introduced the concept of the Grand Tour which was a very fashionable way of travel in the classicists Europe.

The idea of today`s walking tours arises from the same intention as the late Grand Tours – all you do is trying to get a truly authentic experience and turning the act of travelling into learning rather than consuming.  Nowadays most of us – except the lucky ones – don’t spend years with travelling, we only have a couple of days or weeks to pick up the somewhat authentic knowledge which Byron has a half of a lifetime to. Fortunately there is a great choice of walking tours which provide you with a slightly deeper understanding on the places you visit and its people. They are more than pure presentation of history and art – they make you realize that every street is unique, every building and every community has a story to tell.

I first came across the concept of guided city walking tours around five years ago in Budapest, when I joined one of the thematic walks of Imagine Budapest, in which we explored the spots of  the early 20th century`s literary world.  At that time they were already quite popular among the locals and it was really hard to book a free slot to their tours. Due to the various thematic walks they really uncover the secrets of Budapest – from the bath culture to today`s nightlife. They also organize team buildings for companies – really worth to check them out if you are around.

When we started to travel in South East Asia my first thing was to look up the recommended companies in the “guided walking tour business”. Let me share some great examples I met. In the following I`d rather focus on the short description of the tours not the cities, as I plan to dedicate separate posts to each place anyway.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In KL we did the Dataran Merdeka Heritage Guided Walk organized by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall. The meeting point was the Kuala Lumpur City Gallerywhere you could catch yourself posing with the giant I Love KL logo while waiting for the tour to start. Basically we took a 3 hours long stroll around Merdeka Square (a former cricket pitch) having stopped by the most famous and/or interesting colonial heritage sites.

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Heritage sites around Merdaka Square

Why I loved the walk?

Unlike other guided city walks we not only stayed on the streets but also had the chance to actually visit two museums (KL City Gallery and National Textile Museums), the City Theater and the Royal Selangor Club – and all these for free. Our guide, Marie, a member of the KL City Gallery was extremely knowledgeable on KL`s past and present. I liked that she touched on some personal memories in her presentation, e.g how her mother and family survived the Japanese invasion.  She also shared some insights on current social tensions in Malaysia, and what issues tend to rise between the three main ethnicities of the country, Malays, Chinese and Indians.

We ended the tour in the Royal Selangor Club which was an important scene of social life of the growing expatriate community back in the colonial era. Sitting in the Victorian wicker chairs on the shady terrace I could almost hear the sound of a cricket bat hitting the ball and catch a conversation on exchange rates and rubber prices.  Well, only the gin tonic was missing to complete the scene.

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The view to the Merdaka Square from the Royal Selangor Club

More information on the tour

Singapore

Sneakpeek Singapore was our choice from the list of guided walking tours offered in Singapore and proved to be a very good one.  We started our quite long – 4 hours – walk from the Asian Civilizations Museum (which alone is worth a visit), explored the memories of the colonial era, the most important places for former Chinese and Indian immigrants, dropped by the Maxwell food court to try the famous sugarcane juice and ended up in the middle of Chinatown on the top of a public housing block. All in all this was a totally complete journey in the history of Singapore.

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Route of our Singapore city walk

Why I loved the walk?

Singapore`s present just as exciting as its past and the tour manages to combine  both pointing out how the past circumstances affected the present urban planning, policy making and the people themselves.

It was really interesting as an example how the city assures that in spite of the limited space and continuous real estate developments the residents don’t  suffer from the lack of green: since 2009, all new developments in Marina Bay, Kallang Riverside and Jurong Gateway, are required to provide greenery within their developments, occupying an area at least equal to the plot of land the developments sit on. And – wait for it – these “vertical parks” should be accessible by the public! This is just one fun fact from the tour but I guarantee that you will hear many more from Darren, who studies Geography at the National University of Singapore when he is not guiding a group.

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The view from the deck of a public housing block in Chinatown

More information on the tour:

  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Available schedules: Wednesday and Saturday from 1:30 pm
  • Price: Free (we only paid for the sugarcane juice and for the entrance to the viewing deck)
  • Contact details: sneakpeeksingapore@gmail.com

Taipei, Taiwan

When we visited Taipei for the first time only had a day to check the entire city so we wanted a short and sweet walking tour – a 4 hours long stroll unfortunately wasn’t an option.  Luckily we found the team of Taipei Walking Tour who were flexible enough to tailor fit their tours to our needs. We booked a 2 hours long walk to the historical Dadaocheng (now Datong) area. This district was the center for local craftsmen and medicine shops and later, when Taiwan`s port were opened tea merchants invaded the area. After the Japan occupation these streets were a playground for wealthy Japanese salesmen who built their western style mansions and shop houses here.

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Streets of Datong

Why I loved the walk?

Unlike the other walks in KL and Singapore which were organized by the local city halls, Taipei Walking Tour is a private company hence they are a bit pricey. In turn you get an absolutely customized experience just for you and your travel mates. But that was not the only thing why I think they are worth the price. Our guide, a young lady was extremely well prepared and knowledgeable on the city, especially on the built environment (influences on the district`s architecture). Taipei for me is a mysterious place and this walk just made me admire it much more.  I especially like the atmosphere of the Dihua Street where new underground cafes hide among Chinese medicine shops.

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A tea shop run by a fortune teller family

More information on the tour:

  • Price: $4500NTD (approx. 141 USD) for 4 people
  • Duration: flexible – we took a 2 hours long walk
  • Available schedules: flexible
  • Contact details: taipei.walkingtour43@gmail.com