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Woking Road, Singapore: Guide to living, eating and shopping in Wessex Estate

 

Name: Murray Campbell and Alex Westcott

From: South Africa

Occupation: African adventurers – crocodile wrestling, river tubing, professional spring hare hunting is all in a day’s work back home – moonlighting as a project manager and photo editor in Singapore

The Specifics:

What street do you live on? 

Woking Road.

 

If it’s in another language, what does it mean? 

No idea, but as it’s an ex-British army district, it could be derived from the town of the same name in Surrey in England.

Exact words you tell a taxi driver to get home?

Portsdown Road, Uncle – near Tanglin Trust School.

What’s the name of your neighbourhood? 

Wessex Estate.

 

Closest MRT station?

Commonwealth station, if you can manage the muddy shortcut across the old railway line (keep a beady eye out for snakes) or One-North station which is a bit further along the road, but a bus services this route if you don’t fancy the 15-minute walk.

How long have you lived here?

Eight months.

 

Why here?

We’re both from relatively rural areas in South Africa, so when we moved to crowded Singapore, we wanted a place where we could escape the chaos of the city and feel more at home. We love that we live in the jungle – toads, squirrels, snakes and all!

The Scene:

When you walk out of your place, the first thing you see is: 

Greenery. And unfortunately the high rises encroaching on the area due to the One-North development.

The closest store to your front door is:  

Sheng Siong Supermarket.

Your street would make the perfect backdrop for a remake of:

Something along the lines of Empire of the Sun, a period drama beginning with the Japanese occupation of Singapore followed by the reclamation of the country by the British in the build up to Singapore’s independence; architecturally, the area’s a colonial time warp!

Your neighbours are great, but you wouldn’t mind a little less:

Of the screaming kids downstairs first thing in the morning.

 

The unofficial uniform of your street is:

Running shorts. There is no shortage of joggers and people walking their dogs in Wessex.

If a celebrity moves in next door, it will most likely be: 

Emily Dickenson, Diane Arbus, Ludwig van Beethoven or Albert Einstein… or some equally famous, tortured reclusive writer/musician/artist/scientist seeking solitude to tend to their matters of genius. Is there a modern equivalent?

When you’re in need of a dose of culture, you:

Head to Commonwealth, grab a Tiger beer at the hawker centre and take a stroll through the wet market.

If you’re missing home, you:

Fire up the braai (South African term for barbecue) on our lovely big balcony while drinking a fair few G&Ts, which in Africa we pass off as a preventative measure against malaria; here we’re without excuses save for the fact that it reminds us of being home in the bush.

A mandatory stop for out-of-town guests is:

 

Beers at Colbar followed by a wander around the area. There are some fantastic walks beginning here: the green corridor (the old railway line) runs through Wessex; alternatively, you can venture to neighbouring Normanton Park which has a gateway into Kent Ridge and extends into the Southern Ridges and Henderson Waves, ending at Mount Faber.

You’d swap houses in a second with:

One of the standalone black-and-white houses further down the road (we’re in one of the barracks-turned-apartments). They’re enormous with big gardens and a lot of them have swimming pools – envy!

A common myth about your neighbourhood is:

That it’s difficult to get public transport. The MRT is not far away, and there are several bus stops along Portsdown Road if you don’t fancy the walk.

If you’re ever woken up at night, it’s almost always due to:

The jungle cacophony of frogs, geckos and beetles.

A massive late-night rager on your street is likely to be:

It’s mostly peaceful, but occasionally our neighbour, who travels a lot and is rarely at home, makes a grand return and throws a party. It’s usually on a weeknight and at bizarre hours! There’s also a group of live-in domestic helpers who like to hang out on the lawn behind our building for a smoke and an animated gossip session.

The Superlatives:

Your hands-down favourite neighbourhood joints are:

Colbar, run by sweetheart Aunty Lee and her family for decades, has a stodgy menu of British pub fare, local dishes and beers and ciders with lots of kids and dogs running around in a really casual setup; the old army mess hall and canteen has a sense of colonial history about it, hence the name “Colonial Bar”. The best part is you can rock up barefoot, and you won’t be out of place.

Pietrasanta is a romantic Italian trattoria-style restaurant with an outdoor terrace, cosy interiors, sharp service and delicious food. Plus, we save on a taxi fare as we can wobble home after a bottle of wine.

 

Jimmy Monkey is tucked away in the One-North Residences; this little known café serves up great breakfasts and the best coffee we’ve had in Singapore.

Fusionopolis is equipped with a Cold Storage (without the crowds), One-North MRT station, a bakery, coffee shop, food court and a gym with a rooftop pool on the 24th floor. It’s a hassle-free, all-in-one weekend stop for a Pilates class, groceries shop and a quick coffee with the newspaper.

You won’t find better local food than at: 

The Holland Village food centre. Colbar also does some authentic local specials, the hor fun being a particular favourite.

The strangest thing you’ve ever seen on your street is:

Kingfishers, Toddy cats, cobras, toads and monitor lizards that rival alligators in size. Name the Singapore animal, and we’ve probably seen it on our street.

We love a good bargain. The best deals in your neighbourhood are:

Shopping at Sheng Siong; it’s vastly cheaper than other supermarket chains. The Commonwealth area also hosts a market that sporadically sells second-hand books, clothes, shoes and other bits averaging around $10 a piece. A notable spot is the flower shop in the Commonwealth wet market where they sell bunches of flowers at $3, which is ideal for when some cheap and cheerful damage control is required when you’re in the dog box with the Missus!
The guiltiest pleasure in your area is: 

Dinner at Pietrasanta with a bottle of good red wine.

One thing you’d never change is:

The buildings in Wessex. There’s been talk of knocking them down to make way for more “economical use of the space”. This would be a travesty! There’s so much history in this area, and the space is such a haven for nature; some spaces should stay green and retain their history.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing go is:

The high-rise developments engulfing the surrounding area and disturbing the peace!

The city gives you $5 million to soup up your street. You use it to:

Re-paint some of the buildings that need a revamp, build a proper path to Commonwealth MRT so the walk doesn’t ruin our shoes, have more buses service the area or have the one bus run more frequently (every ten minutes instead of every 25) and provide a free “park and ride” bicycle rental service like they do in European cities. Oh – and pay out the developers so we can keep the area as it is!

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