Tourists can now explore heartland eats easily with Makan Bus

Come Sept 2, singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan (above) will play her first gig in Singapore at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Tomgirl's Cherie Ko (far left) and Ted Dore. Singer- songwriter Patrick Wolf.
Tourists who want to explore heartland eats in Singapore can now hop on a bus service that will take them to Balestier, Ang Mo Kio and Toa Payoh, among other places.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Tourists who want to explore heartland eats in Singapore can now hop on a bus service that will take them to Balestier, Ang Mo Kio and Toa Payoh, among other places.

The Makan Bus, as it is called, starts operating today and ferries passengers to the doorsteps of eateries in housing estates.

For a start, the bus service will operate one route with 10 stops. It starts at orchardgateway mall and goes to Balestier Road, Tai Gin Road, Upper Thomson Road, Sin Ming Avenue, Ang Mo Kio Central, Bishan Street 13, Toa Payoh Lorong 8 and Toa Payoh Central.

Passengers pay a flat fee of $28 each for a one-day pass. They can hop on and off these buses, which run from 11am to 7.30pm daily at 20-minute intervals.

They will be given a brochure listing more than 20 eateries - mostly hawker stalls - that are within a five-minute walk from bus stops and some buildings.

There are also maps and bus schedules to guide them.

Food tours tend to be draggy as participants need to sit through some parts that may not appeal to them. With the Makan Bus, people can zoom in on the places and food that attract them.

MR JOHN NG PANGILINAN, chief executive officer of MeGuideU and who is behind the Makan Bus

Suggestions include Meng Kitchen in Upper Thomson Road, known for minced pork noodles; and Yunos Food N Family in Ang Mo Kio Central Food Centre, which serves mee rebus in satay sauce. Most of the dishes cost $3 to $5 each.

Makan Bus, which has a fleet of six vans that seat 13 each, is owned by tour guide company MeGuideU.

Its chief executive, Mr John Ng Pangilinan, 36, says he started the service after noticing that tourists are increasingly interested in exploring off-the-beaten-track places in Singapore.

He says: "They have become more budget-conscious and are looking for more value-for-money dining options outside the city. They also want to experience a slice of Singapore life by visiting shops and hawker centres in the heartland."

However, he adds that some tourists find it difficult to navigate outside the city as they need to make multiple bus and train transfers.

A tour guide will be on board the bus. Besides talking about the stories behind the dishes and giving tips on how to order the dishes, he will also provide information about attractions along the route, such as MacRitchie Reservoir, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the Burmese Buddhist Temple.

Passengers can explore these attractions after their meals.

While food tours are common here, Mr Ng Pangilinan says most of them are in areas such as Chinatown and Geylang and keep to a fixed itinerary and food line-up. They typically cost about $60 for a three-hour tour, inclusive of food.

With a "hop-on-and-off concept", passengers can customise their trails by deciding which stops to check out at their own pace.

He says: "Food tours tend to be draggy as participants need to sit through some parts that may not appeal to them. With the Makan Bus, people can zoom in on the places and food that attract them."

Makan Bus is also working with telco company StarHub to offer passengers a discounted pre-paid SIM card with a local data plan so they have connectivity on the go. An app, with user-generated food reviews and maps, is also in the works.

Makan Bus is partly funded by Singapore Tourism Board's Experience Step-Up Fund, which encourages tourism businesses to use technology or immersive tours to enhance visitor experience.

The four-man Makan Bus team took six months to plan the route, from getting eateries on board to seeking approval from the authorities to make stops along the roads.

The list of recommended eateries includes a mix of their personal hawker favourites, popular and well-established places offering a wide variety of local cuisines and those which have received good reviews on food blogs.

The participating food outlets need to display a decal stating they are part of the Makan Bus route.

Later this year, he plans to add a service that plies the eastern part of Singapore, given the wealth of eateries in Tanjong Katong and East Coast Road, and offer themed routes for occasions such as Hari Raya.

• For more information on Makan Bus and to buy tickets, go to www.makanbus.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Bus through heartland food stops'. Print Edition | Subscribe