Local's guide to Singapore: beyond the skyscrapers


Singapore. Mention this buzzing city-state and several things comes to mind: urban jungle, chilli crab, hawker food, perhaps even shopping. Yet, Singapore has a skyscraper-free hidden side. There are myriad experiences and places even locals don’t know about. From green corridors to hot springs, if you really want a slice of rustic, green, unique Singapore, read on. And it's best to see them now - because of the rapid change in Singapore, you can never know when you could blink and miss something.

Walk Singapore's grassy train line

When the 23km-long railway line leading from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands was shut down in July 2011, the abandoned trail along the tracks experienced a surge of visitors. Both the curious as well as nature lovers turned up for jaunts through quiet, green-lined tracks. The route starts near the CBD in Singapore and wends its way northwest, across railway bridges and through parcels of Singapore’s priciest and most beautiful real estate.

Singapore's green corridor. Well-maintained path inside Old Holland Road area. Flickr image by kiampa.

While there’s still debate as to what will become of the land, a passionate grassroots movement is petitioning to turn the area into a green corridor. A non-elevated version of New York City’s High Line if you will.

How to: The Green Corridor organises walks through various sections and has handy route maps.

Hot springs in Sembawang

From the outside, the barbed wire gated fence seems more 'military installation' than 'hot spring', but once you’re inside, you can join in-the-know Singaporeans soaking their feet in water drawn from a tapped underground spring. Grab a plastic tub, draw some water from the tap, sit back on a plastic chair or BYO mat and away you go.

First discovered in 1909, the springs have had quite a colourful life. From having its water bottled by soft-drink company Fraser & Neave (F&N) to being turned into recreational baths during by the occupying WWII Japanese force, to being acquired and then subsequently saved from military redevelopment, the springs are still pumping out water 100 years on.

How to: Take the MRT (subway) to Woodlands station then take bus 858, 965 or 969 to Sembawang Hot Springs, Gembas Ave, Woodlands.

The last Kampong

As if willed into existence from an old black-and-white photograph from the 1950s, the kampong (village) at Lorong Buangkok is mainland Singapore's last blip of resistance against the tide of modern development. Hidden behind a wall of trees, this little swath of land houses a ramshackle collection of wooden houses, many with simple corrugated-iron roofs.

The few residents live a seemingly idyllic existence, not unlike how many Singaporeans did before the development frenzy. Chickens roam the grounds, dogs flick flies away with a flap of their ears, crickets and birds hum and chirp in the background, and the 28 families here seem to have carefree sensibilities not commonly found in the general populace (the $30 per month rents here probably help).

Hurry though. The kampong has been earmarked for, what else, redevelopment into housing blocks.

How to: From Ang Mo Kio MRT station, take bus 88 (in the direction of Pasir Ris). Get off on Ang Mo Kio Ave 5 (10mins), just after Yio Chu Kang Rd. Walk north up Yio Chu Kang Rd and, after about 50m, turn right onto Gerald Drive. After about 200m, turn right into Lorong Buangkok. 50m later you'll see a dirt track on your left that leads to the village.

Bukit Brown Cemetery

Singapore’s oldest cemetery is home to nearly 100,000 graves, many capped by elaborate Chinese-style tombs and headstones. The earliest reported grave dates back to 1833, and many of Singapore’s earlier pioneers are buried here. Sadly, the place was abandoned in 1973. Today, the cemetery is a quiet, lush overgrown patch of land, 0.86 square km in size (huge by Singapore’s standards). For a decidedly non-Singaporean experience, take an early morning stroll through the grounds and chat with the resident caretaker. Of course, it’s no surprise to find out that there are government plans to build a road that cuts through part of the land. A Facebook campaign to save the cemetery has been initiated: www.facebook.com/bukitbrown.

How to: Check out http://bukitbrown.org for stories related to the cemetery. For directions and information on who's buried there head to this Singapore blog.