Things to do in Singapore including film, clubs, bars and restaurants
Who says nothing ever happensin the heartlands? We found 37 weird and wonderful excuses to make a run for the island’s most‘ordinary’ neighbourhoods
June Lee finds peace, ponies and the paranormal in the island’s far east
Scoff all you like, but Pasir Ris lays claim to Singapore’s only theme parks – Escape Theme Park and Wild Wild Wet, both at Downtown East (1 Pasir Ris Close, 6589 1688, www.downtowneast.com.sg; Pasir Ris MRT, then bus 3, 6, 12, 17, 21, 89,354, 358). Make it a family affair at Wild Wild Wet for rafting, slides and a 2.3-metre-deep wavepool. Can you help but crack a grin at the wildly punny names like Ular-Lah (ular means snakein Malay) for South-East Asia’s first raft slide? At Downtown East, about 15 rides range fromthe mild to the dangerous – literally. The Alpha8, Singapore’s first indoor rollercoaster, injured two riders in 2005 and was discontinued. The other rides are a good mix of go-karts and spinning wheels. We love the log flume ride – a log run with two incredibly stee-eep drops.
According to Singapore Paranormal Investigators, Pasir Ris is prime haunting ground,thanks to its long history as a Malay kampong. Sightings include pontianaks at the Pasir Ris Park maze (along PasirRis Road at Elias Road; Pasir Ris MRT, then bus403), a headless ghost at the tallest observation tower at Pasir Ris Park (along Pasir Ris Road,Elias Road, Pasir Ris Green, Pasir Ris Close andJalan Loyang Besar; Pasir Ris MRT, then bus 403) and other shadowy spirits hanging out by the Sungei Api Api swamps (Elias Road, offPasir Ris Drive 3; Pasir Ris MRT, then bus 403). Whether these are tales of jumpy NS men or true observations, we will never know. IncredibleTales, a local TV programme on the supernatural, filmed an episode at Sungei Api Api.
Grab a cheap beer at any of the pubs in Fisherman’s Village (167 Pasir Ris Rd; Pasir Ris MRT, then bus 403). This little enclave’s position at the tip of the north-east coast on Pasir Ris Beach offers one of the best sunsets in Singapore. The beach may not be glamorous, and you’re more likely to be bopping along to Michael Learns To Rock than DJ Tiesto, but it boasts the slow, ulu lifestyle you always (secretly)wanted. Our favourite hangout is the three-month old Beach Culture Restaurant & Bar (131 Pasir Ris Rd; 6584 0080, www.beachculture.com.sg; Pasir Ris MRT, then bus 403), which offers jet-ski rentals and beachfront dining.
That famous chicken rice Steven Low is the self-proclaimed Mr Chicken Rice (Downtown East, Singapura Food Court, 1 Pasir Ris Close; Pasir Ris MRT, then bus 3,6, 12, 17, 21, 89, 354, 358). Famously retrenched in 2006 after 30 years at Chatterbox, Low now sells hundreds of $5 chicken-rice sets that would cost at least twice as much at his old restaurant. Low makes his secret ingredient, the coveted chilli, in huge batches, as customers slurp it up by the spoonful along with minced ginger – a rare offering at hawker stalls. He says that previous customers from Japan and Indonesia make special trips on transit at Changi Airport just to get their hands onthe silky chicken and rice.
Fishing and riding
Learn to fish on the cheap at New Pasir Ris Fishing Pond (Pasir Ris Town Park, Pasir RisDrive 1, 6584 4479; Pasir Ris MRT). A Sure Catch pond offers its fishy citizens at $10 per catch. More exciting is Gallop Stable (61 Pasir Ris Green, 6583 9665, www.gallopstable.com; Pasir Ris MRT), where ponies Bella and Fella entertain children, while both adults and children learn to ride, starting at $400 for ten lessons.
Jamil Bin Rimon, 58, taxi driver
Where were you born?A kampong by a sand quarry that’s now Elias Road.
Is Pasir Ris named after thesand quarry?Yes, ‘pasir’ means sand, and ‘ris’ comes from race, and this refers to the lorries that came racing into the quarry every day to carry off the sand. The same sandwas used to build the HDB flats.
BOON LAY Fast wheels, spirited flora and a towering stainless-steel cross are all par for the course at this western suburb, says Jaclyn Tan
On most nights, there’s a queue that stretches from Haji Maksah Barkat Chahya (#01-106, Blk 221 Boon Lay Place Food Village, 9023 4495; Boon Lay MRT, then bus 240) out of the hawker centre boundaries. The nasi-lemak stall has been serving this neighbourhood for more than 35 years. The majority of regulars are shift workers from the Jurong Industrial Estate, as well as university students living at the nearby Nanyang Technological University campus looking for a late-night supper. Popular picks include the otak, ayam masak merah (chicken in red chilli) and mutton rendang. But the real secret is the sambal chilli, which takes between eight to ten hours to make. It is so popular that nearly 18 tubs (approximately 68 gallons) have to be prepared every day to meet customers’ demands.
Feeling the F1 fever? Get your fix at Kart World (open field, Yung Ho Rd, 6266 2555, www.kartworld.com.sg; Boon Lay MRT, then bus 240). The place has been around for ten years and sees a vibrant crowd of karting enthusiasts every weekend. Pay $40 to rent a helmet, a kart and ten minutes of driving time; kids age nine and below drive for just $28, provided they meet the minimum height requirement of 1.2 metres. There are corporate functions on a regular basis, so call and check if the track is available before heading down. Weekends are usually busy, so visit on a weekday if you want the track to yourself.
Bowling and shopping
Away from crowded spots like Jurong Point and Boon Lay Place Food Village, the Jurong Superbowl Complex (1 Yuan Ching Rd; Boon Lay MRT, then bus 240) – a hub of restaurants, fast-food outlets, shops and KTV bars – sits inconspicuously behind the Ayer Rajah Expressway, next to the now-defunct Tang Dynasty City. Play a game of bowling for under $5 at Superbowl (6266 1000), get your kid a haircut for just $5 at Innovation Hair & Beauty Studio (#01-03, 6265 1609), or try out the myriad of treatments at Super Spa (#02- 03, 6264 3221). Sheng Siong (#01-01A; 6262 6968) sells a good variety of groceries, from live bullfrogs to Iranian dates and German alcoholic yoghurt; goods are a tad cheaper than at regular supermarket prices, too. The V.Hive Mega Mall (21 Yung Ho Rd, 6264 7865; Boon Lay MRT, then bus 240) is right opposite the Superbowl Complex, if you’re scouting for new furniture.
Culture and religious fervour
Take your time to walk around the retail haven of Nanyang Centre (junction of Pioneer North Road and Jurong West Street 91; Boon Lay MRT, then bus 179) where you’ll find a host of Indian beauty parlours offering services like honey waxing, tailor shops, wet-market stalls, aquariums and a 24-hour coffee shop. Climb up the stairs at Block 962 and discover A2G Music Centre (#02-300, 6795 6006), which houses a small second-hand piano showroom and offers music lessons. If you’re looking to pick up something more traditional, sign up for guzheng or erhu classes at Nanyang Community Club (60 Jurong West St 91; 6791 0395) – this is the only community club on the island that offers lessons specialising in erhu, a Chinese fiddle said to date all the way back to the Tang Dynasty. Across the street, you’ll see City Harvest Church (1 Jurong West St 91, 6795 7789; Boon Lay MRT, then bus 179), home to Singapore’s largest congregation, which also houses a 12-metre-tall, 800kg stainless-steel cross, said to be the biggest of its kind in the world.
Following a spate of news reports in September this year, a surge of interest in the monkey god tree (Jurong West Ave 1 St 42, in front of Blk 431; Jurong East MRT, then bus 334) phenomenon turned the usually quiet Jurong street into a hotspot for locals. Witness the strange formation of godly faces on the bark of trees along this road – the Taoist tiger god; Ganesha, the Hindu elephant deity; Guanyin, goddess of mercy; and, of course, the monkey god. Locals come from all over the island to offer prayers and incense at the trees; some visit the altars to draw ‘lucky lottery numbers’ from the lotto drum – winning numbers like 4309 have already blessed some with fortune. Beware, though, individuals have also been said to become possessed by passing spirits at these trees. One of the volunteer caretakers, 55-year old Mr Tan, recounts: ‘I saw this woman who came to offer incense one night, when she suddenly started jumping and behaving extremely oddly. We were all shocked. A friend of mine, who’s a Chinese medium, was in the area and helped bring her back to normal. He said it was a passing spirit that possessed her in a bid to pay respects to the monkey god in this tree.’
Malar Suhunan, 34, beautician
How long have you lived in Boon Lay?
Eleven years. I moved to Boon Lay with my husband when I got married.
How do you think Boon Lay has changed in the last 11 years?
It’s developed a lot. It’s much more convenient living here now. When I first moved here there was no MRT, no wet markets and not many shops. We had to take a taxi all the way to Jurong East just to get groceries on the weekend.
What do you like about this neighbourhood?
Everything I need is just a short walk from home – my shop, my relatives’ places, my regulars. I love the Indian food at Boon Lay Place Village and the chicken rice at the 24- hour coffee shop at Nanyang Centre.
SEMBAWANGDerek Lim heads to the woods for some fresh air and topless uncles
Singapore’s one and only Sembawang Hot Spring (off Gambas Ave, between two restricted military areas; Sembawang MRT, then taxi) is not only haunted by visitors itching to soak their aching feet, but also by rumours of a Malay boy who met his gruesome death falling into the boiling spring water ten years ago. Two elderly men protect the site from vandals, but they have no control over a Chinese curse, written in graffiti on the wall that now encloses the well, promising similar ill-will to anyone bold enough to attempt damaging the premises. On the Sunday we were there, half-adozen shirtless retirees lazed around (the hot springs are inconspicuously situated between two restricted areas – blink and you’ll miss it), with one soaking in the natural goodness of the water in a bathtub for good measure – he swears it does wonders for his arthritis. Plastic buckets allow you to fill up and follow suit.
Produce and exotic plantlife
Opposite the Sembawang Golf Course is the lovely Bottle Tree Park (81 Lorong Chen Charu, 6759 5771, www.bottletree.com.sg; Khatib MRT), whose name comes from the odd-shaped Australian trees – imported to the tune of $30,000 each from Brisbane – planted around the compound. A throwback to when Sembawang used to be a kampong, this little estate with thatched huts and even a buffalo cart buzzes with visitors on weekends. Kids are entertained by the longkang (tiny wading pool), where small fish can be scooped out with nets and put into the plastic tanks provided, for $10 a day. Grown-ups can purchase fresh produce from the vegetable farm, which also supplies goods to the restaurant. Afterward, clean the kids up and enjoy Chinese seafood at the restaurant, or let Uncle Willie teach you about the fruit trees and exotic Australian trees in a $3 tour.
Solitude and seafood
Travelling to seclusion is as easy as taking a leisurely drive along Sembawang Road to its northernmost end. It’s no Botanic Gardens, but Sembawang Park (Sembawang MRT, then bus 882) does have lots of lush greenery for shade on a mercilessly sunny day, and its gently undulating landscape with park benches are perfect for picnics and evening walks. Don’t miss the Sembawang trees, which the area was named after. Foodies in search of something different can try the steaks and seafood at the Beaulieu House (117 Beaulieu Rd, 6257 9234, www.beaulieuhouse.com.sg; Sembawang MRT, then bus 882), which was built around 100 years ago as a seaside home.
Sandy beaches and fishing
A two-minute walk from Sembawang Park is Sembawang Beach (Sembawang MRT, then bus 882), one of Singapore’s few natural sandy beaches and the only accessible sand turf of the ‘northern territories’ that fronts the Strait of Johor. You can easily see Singaporeans’ de facto getaway across the waves, but far more interesting is the sea life it has to offer. You’d expect having a wharf for a neighbour would kill off all living things in sight, but it happens to be one of the best places for fishing, which you can enjoy on the jetty. The jetty itself has its own history – it was abandoned by the Brits when the Japanese attacked, who later completed it. The more adventurous can check out the popular sea-sports club. The beach has been ear-marked for yet another land reclamation project, so build those sandcastles while there’s still sand.
Authentic American barbecue
You’d expect the far-flung Buckaroo BBQ & Grill (12B Andrews Ave, 6754 2621; Sembawang MRT, then taxi) – a Texas-style steakhouse – to be a struggling enterprise. Well, you’d be wrong. Despite having only been around for about seven years, it’s the one place that comes to mind for in-the know residents. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and at Buckaroo, you can believe it. The American-sized portions (the prime ribs are a hefty 500g) find their way into hundreds of satisfied diners on any given weekend – the following includes locals as well as American sailors thirsty for a cuppa. Also try the freakishly large house-specialty buffalo wings, which come in varying degrees of spiciness (‘combustion’, ‘volcano’ and ‘insanity’) and the hand-breaded onion rings. The only thing not big is the restaurant itself, so book in advance.
Mr Tiah, 42, landscaping specialist
Have you lived in Sembawang for a long time?
About 42 years.
What would you consider to be the locals’ favourite pastime?
Durian picking in Mandai and crab fishing at Sembawang jetty, before the invention of the rapid transport system and internet.
If you get lost here, what should you do?
One, don’t panic. Two, remind yourself that this is Singapore. Three, call a taxi; simply find the nearest road name for the operator. Four, if you are in the forest (for durian picking), then panic and do all the necessary screaming and shouting.
Wide-open spaces and history lessons abound at this north-eastern ’hood, says Lester Ledesma
Sixty-five years ago, on the evening of 28 February, Japanese soldiers executed more than 400 civilians at the northernmost point of Punggol, at the end of Punggol Road. This tragic event led to the shoreline being declared a historical site by the National Heritage Board – a designation that’s kept the World War II massacre site (at the end of Punggol Road; Hougang MRT, then bus 82) from being developed. Save for a concrete jetty, a police box and a nearby community of childcare centres, this boulder-strewn stretch of fine grey sand is practically untouched. Drop by on a weekday afternoon when the kids have gone home and you’ll have that beach all to yourself.
Campgrounds and wilderness
Check out a district map of Punggol and you’ll find that the last third of Punggol Road is surrounded by, well, the boonies (at the end of Punggol Road; Hougang MRT, then bus 82). This, of course, means anything from well-manicured grassland to plain jungle – all of which are surprisingly accessible from the road’s end. When you get to the Punggol Beach jetty, walk east and follow one of the trails leading into the bush. No dainty boardwalks or vending machines here, so bring a can of bug spray and plenty of drinking water. While this ‘wilderness’ may not exactly be the Discovery Channel type, it does host enough wildlife (like quail, birds of prey and monitor lizards) to keep nature lovers happy. If you like it that much, you can even camp overnight – in which case, walk west from the jetty and follow the shore until you reach the tree-lined camping area at the far end.
The lakeside view from Bliss Restaurant (Punggol Park, Hougang Avenue 8, 6280 3389; Hougang MRT, then bus 62, 113) is good, but the wine and food are even better. Situated amidst that tranquil chunk of greenery known as Punggol Park (at the other end of Punggol Road), Bliss is the kind of place that makes you want to lounge on a balcony all afternoon. In fact, that’s what guests do here every day, while indulging in the restaurant’s collection of more than 100 fine wines, beers and cocktails. The Western menu contains items that are ten steps more refined than regular eating-house fare – think delicacies like tangy, spicy butter fish with tom-yam sauce, juicy French escargots, and the house specialty, sizzling Grantin steak served on a hotplate.
Not far from the beach and boonies is the Marina Country Club (600 Punggol 17th Ave, 6388 8388, www.marinacountryclub.com.sg; Punggol MRT, then taxi) in Punggol Marina, a popular watering hole with the usual banquet facilities, a dockside bar and the attached Ponggol Seafood restaurant (6448 8511; Punggol MRT, then taxi), which is known for spice-laden, lemongrass-soaked chilli crabs. The prime attraction, however, is the sea seasports centre, where one can book quality time on wakeboards and powerboats. Water-sports enthusiasts are thankful for this marina’s remote location at the island’s northern edge. This makes it closer to the open sea – a bigger playground compared to, say, an enclosed area like the Kallang Basin (another water-sports venue). Fares on standard four-seater boats are $90 per hour on weekdays and $100 per hour on weekends.
Old Town charm
With new HDBs and condos being built, you’d think Punggol was a recently settled area. But Punggol was, in fact, already home to kampongs more than 100 years ago. Proof of this can be found in the Franklin and Jackson map of 1828 (as seen in John Crawfurd’s book, Journal of an Embassy from the Governor General of India to the Courts of Siam and Cochin China), which was commissioned by Sir Stamford Raffles. These days, traces of the Punggol of yore are still around in Punggol Old Town. Among these are the 71-year-old Pu Ti Buddhist Temple (121c Punggol Rd, 6386 3392; Hougang MRT, then bus 82) housing a nunnery, and the 105-year-old Matilda House (next to Punggol MRT), a bungalow that once sat amidst farmland and is now fenced off and awaiting restoration. There are also the humble remains of the 1950s-era Singapore Zoo (Hougang MRT, then bus 82) – the original, before the Mandai one was built – located along the jungle-encrusted stretch of Punggol Road.
Sifu Sek Foong Yun, 85, Buddhist nun
You’re a genuine Punggol old-timer. Tell us what this whole area was like before.
There were kampongs and farms everywhere. People called this place a para kang (halfharbour) back then because boats would go to the Serangoon River to buy produce from the farmers.
Are there many other old-timers around?
Yes, many are still here. I still get to see some of them on Sundays when they come here to pray.
What do you like most about living here?
It’s quiet and the air is clean. The rest of Punggol has changed very quickly over the past 20 years, but this temple I live in remains the same.
Where is the best place to get a taxi in Punggol?
I don’t know. I never leave the monastery.
Do you miss the old Punggol?
No. Back then this whole area stunk because there were too many pig farms around!