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Upper Bukit Timah, Singapore: A resident’s guide to living, eating and shopping

There are only two major cities in the world that hold a significant piece of primary rainforest: Rio de Janeiro and Singapore. Doubtless you’ve heard this factoid before. If not, make a beeline for Upper Bukit Timah and explore the suburb’s 164-hectare nature reserve. In fact, explore the whole area while you’re there.


Shamus Sillar, Australia

Why did you choose this area to live?

I like monkeys. So does my 18-month-old daughter.

And apart from monkeys?

It was in our price range and it’s right near the jungle – which, by the way, is full of monkeys.

Best thing about the neighbourhood?

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Because of the humidity under the canopy, I can perspire more during a 15-minute climb to the top of the hill (161 metres) than I would during a 60-minute gym routine. Therefore, for each fitness session I do in the jungle, I chalk up 45 minutes of bonus time for beer drinking.

Why did you choose your particular apartment complex?

We liked the nonsensical name: Southaven II. South of what exactly? And the “II” makes it sound like a film sequel – something sci-fi, perhaps. It also has nice pools and big balconies overlooking trees.

What facilities were important to you?

The mini-mart! I was devastated when it closed two weeks after we moved in. Now I have to cross the road to buy six-packs of Chang beer (for me) and Magnums (for the pregnant missus).

Preferred local shopping area?

Hmm. I find shopping about as much fun as tooth extraction. But there are several malls within a 10-minute walk: Bukit Timah Shopping Centre, Beauty World Plaza and Bukit Timah Plaza. They’re all fairly tired, to be honest. The first one seems almost wholly devoted to maid employment agencies. I like Beauty World because of the irony of its name (it’s arguably the grimiest shopping centre in Singapore). My better half says that Bukit Timah Plaza is best because the coffee there is at least drinkable. For a more comprehensive shopping experience (no thanks!), West Mall at Bukit Batok is five minutes by taxi. It has everything from Harvey Norman to a Converse shoe store, as well as a cinema and a Time Zone on the fifth floor.

There’s also a community library, which we’ve joined to satiate our daughter’s voracious appetite for books about monkeys.

Favourite local restaurants?

Okay, now I’m on firmer ground. I’ll give you ten that are within a few hundred metres of our place.

1.  Al-Azhar (11/11A Cheong Chin Nam Road)

Perennially popular Indian/Muslim/Thai food place that spills out onto the street. Great biryanis.

2.  Spice Peranakan (Bukit Timah Shopping Centre)

The good news? Perfect rendangs and seafood sambals. The bad news? They’re moving to another    
part of Singappore soon.

3.  Bukit Timah Market & Hawker Centre (116 Upper Bukit Timah Road)

Prawn-heavy hokkien mee and a beer stall where a smiling uncle pours your Tiger into a German

4.  Firestation Hillside Gastrobar (274 Upper Bukit Timah Road)

This place and Raw (below) are tucked away in a new arts hub called Spectra (formerly the Bukit
Timah Fire Station). Gourmet burgers, duck pizzas and steaks.

5.  Raw Kitchen Bar (276 Upper Bukit Timah Road)

Smaller than the Gastrobar (above) with a similar menu. Both places are excellent for drinks, too.

6.  Sweet Salty Spicy (392/394 Upper Bukit Timah Road)

Superb suburban Thai with an Aussie at the helm. In the Rail Mall complex.

7.  Don Quijote Spanish Restaurant (17 Lorong Kilat)

Newish tapas-and-sangria spot on a back street across from Beauty World Plaza.

8.  Woori Nara (19 Lorong Kilat)

Korean place next to Don Quijote. Crispy chicken is their specialty, though they’ll also home-deliver a giant 1kg tub of kimchi to keep in your fridge as a beer snack.

9.  Frutta La Viva (21 Lorong Kilat)

Highly regarded by Makansutra and alleged to have the best durian gelato in Singapore. Don’t worry: they do chocolate, too.

10. Sinma Claypot Live Frog (5 Cheong Chin Nam Road)

There’s nothing particularly “ Live ” about the frogs by the time they reach the table. Tasty though.

Favourite place for a tipple?

“Favourite” for me means “closest”. In which case it’s Bojangles on the bottom corner of Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. Cheap beers, a pool table, a splash of neon. Perfect.

Other activities?

Bukit Batok Nature Park is about a kilometre from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, but it’s much less crowded and it has a beautiful quarry lake that I’m very tempted to swim in one day. Memories at Old Ford Factory is an interesting museum built on the spot where the British surrendered in 1942. And we’re a short cab ride from the bars and restaurants at Turf Club Road and the Saddle Club, plus the Green Fairways golf club for smashing a bucket of balls from time to time.

Any drawbacks about the area?

Once – just once – I’d love to see a major road with a gentle pedestrian ramp passing underneath it, rather than an overpass with three flights of stairs up and over it. Upper Bukit Timah is particularly bad in this regard.

Final word?

If your office is in the city, Upper Bukit Timah is a rather long haul – it’s 20 minutes from Orchard on a very good day. If, like me, you work on this side of the city centre, the suburb is green and quiet, with cheap eats and more macaques than you can poke a stick at.