Despite Singapore’s rapid urbanisation, there’s still a handful of historical places where you can take a trip down memory lane, and get the feeling that you’ve left the modern world behind for a time. Enjoy the experience, though, because these places may also be gone, or irrevocably changed, before we know it!
1. Best Kept Secret
Who says you have to travel out of Singapore for a beach break? If you’re looking for soft, white sand and turquoise waters, say hello to the still relatively isolated beach paradise of Lazarus Island, and its historical neighbour, St John’s Island, right next door. St John’s was once used as a quarantine centre for immigrants suffering from cholera and leprosy, and later as a drug rehabilitation centre for immigrants. Don’t let its chequered past put you off, though – today, it’s a quiet weekend getaway, reached easily by ferry. Getting there: Boats depart at least twice daily from Marina South Pier.
2. Fading Past
Think of a village kampong and you likely think of tin-roof houses and dirt roads. Believe it or not, scenes like this can still be seen in Singapore, at Lorong Buangkok Kampong, the last remaining kampong (village) on the mainland. With its rural surroundings, rustic charm and slower pace of life, it’s a slice of old Singapore that is fast being forgotten. Residents pay a small monthly rental fee of around $30 a month to the current landlord, Madam Sng Mui Hong. Although the houses are now equipped with water and electricity, some women still cook with makeshift campfires in large, communal pots – a testament to the “kampong spirit” that persists despite years of change in the surrounding city. While no confirmed plans have been announced for the area, there’s a chance this kampong may soon be lost to urban redevelopment.
Getting there: Lorong Buangkok is in Hougang, in the northeast of the island.
3. Little-known Graveyard
Surprisingly, Singapore is home to the largest Japanese cemetery in Southeast Asia – one with almost 1,000 graves. Donated by three Japanese brothel owners in 1891, the Japanese Cemetery Park was initially used as a burial ground for prostitutes. With the onset of WWII, however, Japanese merchants, traders, war criminals and soldiers were also buried there. Notable graves include Commander Hisaichi Terauchi who led the Japanese occupation of Singapore and Indonesia, and Yamamoto Otokichi, recognised as Singapore’s first Japanese resident.
Getting there: Enter the cemetery from Chuan Hoe Avenue, Hougang.
4. Frozen In Time
For a trip back in time, look no further than Pulau Ubin, another of Singapore’s surviving kampongs – this one off the coast of the mainland – still unspoiled by urban development. While settlers on Ubin back in the 1960s depended on granite quarrying for their livelihood, only a handful remain living on the island today. The island’s relatively untouched nature also makes it an ideal destination for lovers of the great outdoors. Check out the Chek Jawa Wetlands for marine life, or hire a bike and cycle the quiet roads and paths; or, if you’re an adrenalin junkie, take things up a notch at the Ketam Mountain Bike Park, which has trails of varying difficulty.
Getting there: Take a bum-boat from Changi Point jetty.
5. The Green Corridor
The Bukit Timah Railway is one of the few remaining sections of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway running between Singapore and Malaysia. Back in 2011, the decommissioning of the KTM railway led to the termination of all train services between Woodlands and Tanjong Pagar. Although now defunct, the remaining railway tracks and the station at Bukit Timah are reminders of Singapore’s historical ties with Malaysia. The remaining space where the track used to run has since been converted into a public park as part of the Rail Corridor project of the Nature Society (Singapore) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Getting there: Enter the railway from the corner of Bukit Timah Road and Rifle Range Road.
By: Peihua Goh