Take a deep dive into the history of Singapore’s heartlands at these ‘hoods.
Singapore is a unique city where the new and old co-exist. Just take a walk through heritage enclaves like Little India and Chinatown, and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Intrigued? So are we. That’s why we’re taking a closer look at the history of Singapore’s heartlands. These under-the-radar neighbourhoods offer a glimpse into the nation’s past with institutions withstanding the test of time. Are you ready to map out your next adventure?
Guide to Singapore’s heartland history
Say hello to the OG ‘hood. It’s the first town built by the Housing Development Board (HDB) in the 1960s and has since become a blueprint for other heartland areas. Toa Payoh is a place of many firsts – the first MRT station and NTUC supermarket were built here in 1987 and 1973 respectively.
Spotted the Sri Vairavimada Kaliamman Temple along Lorong 8? It’s one of the oldest in Singapore. Its origin traces back to the Orchard area in the 1860s, serving as a place of solace amongst Indian plantation workers and dhobis before being relocated multiple times and finally settling down here. Fun fact: The temple introduced the first Tamil and English preschool in Singapore, Saraswathy Kindergarten.
This quiet heartland was once a bustling coastal settlement for the orang laut, Singapore’s early inhabitants. And its moniker has not changed since the time of Sir Stamford Raffles. Ask residents about Kampong Bedok, colloquially known as Bedok Corner, and they will tell you it’s a food haven. But did you know it used to be a village of rubber plantations and farms? Founded in the 1850s, the area was made up of Kampong Bedok Laut and Kampong Bedok Darat. In the 20th century, it was a lively centre for the Malay community and a go-to hangout spot for British military veterans who were stationed in Singapore before independence.
A stone’s throw away at Jalan Haji Salamlies lies a storied 1920s residential villa called Villa Kahar. It was owned by successful Indonesian businessman, Haji Kahar Abdul Ghani. However, the house was forcefully sold during the Japanese Occupation and the family lost all their fortune after the Japanese surrendered as the yen’s value dropped.
If you look past Ikea and the factory outlets in Anchorpoint Shopping Centre, this satellite city has its fair share of colonial houses worth visiting. After basking in the city’s skyline at the towering HDB estate Skyville@Dawson, pop on over to Wessex Estate.
Built in the 1930s and 1940s, this area is littered with black and white colonial buildings – former residences for the British military. Though it’s now a gentrified space of art studios and galleries (and the uber-cool, laidback Colbar), you can feel the history permeating through the walls. Architectural buffs can continue your adventure at Jalan Hang Jebat, where colonial terraces are fashioned in Tudor Revival style.
Situated near modern Novena, this quiet hood is a local foodie’s paradise. It boasts two iconic chicken rice joints (Loy Kee and Boon Tong Kee), as well as Rochor Beancurd and Loong Fatt Tau Sar Piah. Apart from its rich food history, it’s home to Art Deco shophouses, pre-war terrace houses and historical monuments, including Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and Burmese Buddhist Temple.
The former is a two-storey colonial bungalow showcasing the works of Dr Sun, the first provisional president of the Republic of China, through photographs, paintings and more. Did you know he actually used to live on those grounds, conducting meetings that were pertinent to the Chinese Revolution in 1911? The latter is holy ground for fellow Buddhists and anyone seeking enlightenment. Once you enter the temple, you’ll see a majestic 11-foot marble Buddha statue that was transported all the way from Mandalay in 1819!
Derived from the Malay words pasir (sand) and hiris (to slice or shred), Pasir Ris holds a special place in our hearts. It has blessed us with sweet nostalgic memories of the now-defunct Escape Theme Park and Singapore’s OG waterpark, Wild Wild Wet. The area was once considered a coastal getaway for Singaporeans and even the British Royal Air Force in the 1950s. Thanks to its holiday bungalows and popular beachfront developments like the Golden Palace Holiday Resort and Pasir Ris Hotel.
While those holiday hotspots have ceased to exist, you still can feel the coastal heritage through maritime-inspired HDB flats. Plus, visit Pasir Ris Town Park where the iconic Golden Palace Holiday Resort once stood. It’s now popular amongst anglers as it’s the only commercial saltwater fishing pond in the city.
When you mention Jurong, you’ll probably think of concrete industrial buildings, busy ports and towering chimneys. But before that facelift, it was made up of jungles, swamps and fishing villages. Now, the west side is slowly gaining popularity with its holy trinity of malls (Jem, IMM and Westgate) that house anything and everything. It’s not all concrete walls and floors, though. Folks can trek to Jurong Lake Gardens for a big oasis of greenery.
Made up of three gardens – Lakeside Garden, Chinese and Japanese Gardens, and Garden Promenade – the park is known as the green lungs of Jurong. It was a highly sought-after photoshoot location for soon-to-wed couples in the 1970s and 1980s. There are also noteworthy religious sites that are steeped in history. These include the Tong Whye Temple, built in 1932 by Hokkien migrants from southern Fujian in China to worship the Chinese sea goddess Mazu for safe travel through the tumultuous sea. Also look out for Tua Pek Kong Keng, which was established in 1942 by villagers seeking protection from the Japanese soldiers.
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