Few countries in the world have developed at the speed of Singapore, and residents and tourists alike may find it almost impossible to escape the relentless pace of change of this futuristic city-state. The sights and sounds of construction surround us, and it is rare to drive in the city for more than a kilometre or two without seeing signs of further development taking place.
Singapore celebrated its 50th birthday this year and much has changed dramatically since 1965. A law against walking buffaloes on the streets was passed only in the early 1960’s, and it’s now hard to imagine a herd of buffalo meandering peacefully along Orchard Road. There are many well-publicised places for tourists to visit that retain ‘old world’ charm from the colonial past. However it can be especially rewarding to explore some of the lesser-known pockets off-the-beaten track that have so far escaped development, or those that have been developed in such a way that they maintain their distinct character. Here are a few of my personal favourites.
The Green Corridor is the name given to a narrow ribbon of land which snakes its way from Keppel Road in the south of the island to Woodlands in the north. This track, now used by walkers and cyclists (and other wildlife), was the old KTM Malaysian railway line until 2011. This unpaved walkway can be accessed by many unofficial tracks created by locals over the years. The corridor can be muddy in wet weather and suitable footwear is recommended. A popular section runs from near Holland Village to Bukit Timah Road and up to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. This can be accessed from the bus park at the northeast junction of North Buona Vista and Commonwealth Avenue (a short walk from Buona Vista MRT station), Greenleaf Walk (off Holland Road) and Bukit Timah Road, opposite the entrance to Rifle Range Road. This charming walk, surrounded by natural beauty, is best enjoyed in the early mornings or early evenings.
The walkways at Labrador Park are also well-known by locals but are considered off-the-beaten track for most tourists. These are easily accessed from Labrador Park MRT, heading south by a newly constructed wooden walkway through a small area of mangrove swamp. Within a few hundred metres, you find yourself at the coast. Here, there are good walks along beach paths in both directions. Heading left as you reach the sea will take you over a delightful raised walkway above the sea towards Keppel Marina. Heading right will take you past Labrador Seafood, a rustic old eating house by the sea, and then on towards Labrador Park and Labrador Nature Reserve. This area makes for a lovely stroll in the early evening and can be followed by drinks and dinner at the seafood restaurant within a stone’s throw of the sea. The main road is several hundred metres away and the locality is very peaceful.
Even more tranquil and unchanged is Bukit Brown Cemetery, named after its first owner, George Henry Brown, who bought the land in the middle of the 19th century and named it Mount Pleasant. Known to locals as Kopi Sua or Coffee Hill, this land became a public Chinese cemetery early in the 20th century. It occupies an extensive area on the hill and there are many meandering paths amongst beautiful mature trees and interesting Chinese tombs. To get there, it’s best to drive – the cemetery can be accessed from Kheam Hock Road near the junction with Merryn Road or via a narrow horse-riding trail leading from the National Equestrian Centre (100 Jalan Mashhor). The cool of the early evening is the best time to enjoy this beautiful area, and the pervasive atmosphere of the peaceful old deserted graveyard increases as the sun goes down. There are many paths, so take care not to get lost if it’s getting dark. There are plans to build roads through some of this area so it will not be here in its current form for much longer.
As the name Fairways Drive suggests, this is a narrow lane that winds uphill towards a golf driving range. What is so striking is that as soon as you enter from Eng Neo Avenue (off Bukit Timah) it feels as if you have somehow entered another country. Gone are the built up streets and suddenly you are in old rural Singapore. The cul-de-sac lane meanders up the hill, past Bukit Timah Saddle Club, to the driving range on Champions Golf nine-hole course.
There are two good restaurants here: Picotin, which offers a bar and western style cuisine and Royal Thai, which serves casual Thai both inside and on the outdoor terrace. Nearby, next to the Saddle Club lies another popular restaurant, Riders Café that is always packed on the weekends. Past Rider’s Café, a narrow lane leads to the large sports stadium at Turf Club Road. En route you will pass a series of decrepit old shops selling all sorts of semi-antique paraphernalia, largely collected from house clearances across the island. If you like bric-a-brac, this is a treasure trove!
Whether you’re a tourist who has already visited the typical Singapore hotspots, or a local craving a break from hectic city life, discovering less travelled locales can be highly enjoyable. Choose a day with good weather, dress down into comfortable and practical clothes (not forgetting the footwear), and allow nature to rejuvenate the spirit. Happy exploring!
By Brian Dickerson
Images by Justin Eeles
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