Mention this buzzing city-state and several things comes to mind: urban jungle, chilli crab, hawker food, perhaps even shopping. Yet, Singapore has a skyscraper-free side that even locals do not know about. From green corridors to hot springs, these places and experiences are slices of a rustic, unique Singapore that is best to see now – with the city’s tendency to change rapidly, it is easy to blink and miss something.
Walk Singapore’s grassy train line
When the 23km-long railway line leading from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands was shut down in July 2011, the abandoned trail along the tracks experienced a surge in visitors hiking its quiet, green-lined tracks. The route starts near the central business district in Singapore and winds its way northwest, across railway bridges and through parcels of Singapore’s priciest and most beautiful real estate.
While there is still debate as to what will become of the land, a passionate grassroots movement is petitioning to turn the area into a green corridor. The group organises walks through various sections and has handy route maps.
Hot springs in Sembawang
From the outside, the barbed-wire gated fence seems more “military installation” than “hot spring”, but once you are inside, you can join in-the-know Singaporeans soaking their feet in water drawn from a tapped underground spring. Grab a plastic tub, draw some water from the tap, sit back on a plastic chair or bring your own mat and away you go.
First discovered in 1909, the springs have had a colourful life. From having its water bottled by soft-drink company Fraser and Neave to being turned into recreational baths by the occupying World War II Japanese force, to being acquired and then subsequently saved from military redevelopment, the springs are still pumping out water 100 years on.
Take the MRT (subway) to Woodlands station then take bus 858, 965 or 969 to Sembawang Hot Springs, Gembas Ave, Woodlands.
The last kampong
As if willed into existence from an old black-and-white photograph from the 1950s, the kampong (rural village) at Lorong Buangkok is mainland Singapore’s last blip of resistance against the tide of modern development. Hidden behind a wall of trees, this little swathe of land contains a ramshackle collection of wooden houses, many with simple corrugated-iron roofs.
The few residents live a seemingly idyllic existence, not unlike how many Singaporeans did before the development frenzy. Chickens roam the grounds, dogs flick flies away with a flap of their ears, crickets and birds hum and chirp in the background, and the 28 families here seem to have carefree sensibilities not commonly found in the general populace (the $30 per month rents probably help).
Hurry though. The kampong has been earmarked for — what else — redevelopment into housing blocks. From Ang Mo Kio MRT station, take bus 88 (in the direction of Pasir Ris). Get off on Ang Mo Kio Ave 5. Walk north up Yio Chu Kang Rd and, after about 50m, turn right onto Gerald Drive. After 200m, turn right into Lorong Buangkok — you will see a dirt track on your left that leads to the village.
Bukit Brown cemetery
Singapore’s oldest cemetery is home to nearly 100,000 graves, many capped by elaborate Chinese-style tombs and headstones. The earliest reported grave dates back to 1833, and many of Singapore’s earlier pioneers are buried here. Sadly, the place was abandoned in 1973. Today, the cemetery is a quiet, lush overgrown patch of land, 0.86sqkm in size (huge by Singapore’s standards). For a decidedly non-Singaporean experience, take an early morning stroll through the grounds and chat with the resident caretaker. Of course, it is no surprise to find out that there are government plans to build a road that cuts through part of the land.