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Guide to McNair Road

Whether you’re already living in Singapore and looking to move to a new neighbourhood or moving here from overseas, nothing beats hearing from the residents themselves! We speak to Simon Hayes and Ee May Khoo, about the ins and outs of living on McNair Road in Balestier.

Hayes family
Simon Hayes, Ee May Khoo, Patrick and Aerin

The Specifics

Where do you live? McNair Road.

Who is it named after? The road was named after Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair, the first Colonial Engineer of Singapore.

Exact words you tell a taxi driver to get home? “McNair Road, off Balestier Road.”

What’s the name of your neighbourhood? Balestier.

Boon Keng MRT station
Boon Keng MRT station at your doorstep

Closest MRT station? Boon Keng MRT, a three-minute walk away.

How long have you lived here? Eight months.

Why here? When we arrived, we decided that we needed a house rather than a condo, and we wanted a neighbourhood that reflected the country’s history and culture. This area, close to Little India, was an obvious choice for us.

The Scene

When you walk out of your place, the first thing you see is: A nice black-and-white house that is now the Karate Association headquarters.

The closest store to your front door is: Sheng Siong supermarket – just up the road at McNair Spring HDB.

Your street would make the perfect backdrop for a remake of: Serangoon Road, which Aussies might recall as a short-lived drama series; probably because this area is short on drama.

Your neighbours are great, but you wouldn’t mind a little less: Silence. So many of the neighbouring houses are offices and we rarely hear noise or see any activity.

The unofficial uniform of your street is: School uniforms. We are near three schools: Northlight, Hong Wen and Bendeemer Secondary School.

Chinese temple
A Chinese temple along Serangoon Road

When you’re in need of a dose of culture, you: Go to the Tekka Market on Serangoon Road for biryani.

If you’re missing home, you: We haven’t missed home, at least not yet! This neighbourhood already feels like home.

A mandatory stop for out-of-town guests is: A walk down Serangoon Road past the temples, mosques, charcoal sellers, gold stores and sari shops that make up our thriving corner of Singapore. We’re also near two museums: the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the Indian Heritage Centre, so we can cover much of the historical background of Singapore in a single day.

You’d swap houses in a second with: We happen to live in the coolest house in the entire neighbourhood, so there’ll be no swapping going on!

A common myth about your neighbourhood is: Expats couldn’t possibly want to live there. Yes, it’s true it’s the one part of the island our kids’ school bus doesn’t serve; but word is getting out.

If you’re ever woken up at night, it’s almost always due to: The rain, which pours off the roof during storms. Or the time we were all woken to screaming in the back alley, only to find the neighbour had lost her dog.

A massive late-night rager on your street is likely to be: Hmm … the best we can suggest is the Bollywood joints on Serangoon Road.

The Superlatives

Breton Bistro
Enjoy French cuisine at this outdoor bistro

Your hands-down favourite neighbourhood joints are:

  • Breton, our neighbourhood French bistro, a short walk down Serangoon Road. In its latest incarnation, it’s a relaxed outdoor eatery threatening to make Farrer Park fashionable. They run a great market there on Saturday morning, and that’s where we buy our fresh-baked buckwheat bread.
  • BG Café on McNair Road is just thirty seconds from our front door, so it’s our go-to eatery when we can’t be bothered cooking. Cleverly divided into Chinese and Indian, it caters well for a family that is often divided along culinary lines.
  • The kebab stall at Bendemeer Market – when we miss our Sydney cuisine, that’s where we go.
  • Boon Tong Kee, just outside Boon Keng MRT, is rightly the most famous chicken rice place in Singapore, and featured in the Michelin Guide.

After all that food we occasionally head to the gym or go for a swim at the Civil Service Club on Tessensohn Road.

You won’t find better local food than at: Whampoa Markets. For the best food, just join the longest queue.

The strangest thing you’ve ever seen on your street is: We regularly spot squirrels in the trees outside our balcony.

Bendemeer Market and Food Centre
Enjoy local eats at the Bendemeer Market and Food Centre

We love a good bargain. The best deals in your neighbourhood are at: Mustafa Centre wins hands down. It’s the best place to go for food, clothing, books, glucose monitors, vinyl records … anything, really. And best of all, it’s open 24/7.

The guiltiest pleasure in your area is: The numerous bakeries selling chocolate lava buns.

One thing you’d never change is: The Townerville estate, which is three streets of conservation terraces and reminds us of Paddington in Sydney, Australia.

The city gives you $5 million to soup up your street. You use it to: Buy the old student accommodation opposite and turn it into a public park.

Why should your neighbourhood be featured in a guidebook? If you want to see Singapore like it used to be, this is the place to visit.


This is an extract from an article that first appeared in the April 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy for the full article, or Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!

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