Heritage Trails: Are all 19 National Heritage Board trails worth the hike? Find out with our guide

Four Life reporters road-tested five heritage trails, and these are their picks of the best routes – and must-sees – to check out

SINGAPORE - Walking in Singapore weather is a dicey proposition. If it is not scorching hot, it is pouring with rain. The combination of both heat and humidity makes walking even just a short distance a test of endurance.

Add a compulsory face mask, and only mad dogs and Englishmen, as the song goes, go out in the midday sun.

Still, with air travel limited and Singaporeans in search of recreation within national bounds, heritage trails present an intriguing proposition - learn about Singapore history while getting in that prescribed 10,000 steps a day.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) has collated 19 heritage trails across the island since 1999, and they cover a good range of Singapore's geography and history. But are all of them worth slogging through?

Four Sunday Times reporters sussed out the best and worst of the trails, using NHB's Roots.gov.sg site as a reference point. Most of the trails were covered on foot and with public transport, unless otherwise stated.

Unfortunately, the website was in dire straits last month when the team began exploring the trails. It was not mobile-friendly. Some map pins were wildly off the mark, with at least one pin located in the middle of a road.

Estimations of total trail distances were flagrantly inaccurate, so we have included the number of steps, as a rough approximation of actual distances covered, if one were to follow the site's full trail suggestions.

As the reporters discovered, some trails are insanely long and unmanageable solely on foot. The Yishun-Sembawang trail, for example, had 30 stops, which took 7½ hours to cover in both a car and on foot. The World War II trail is even more manic, spanning some 50 sites in the PDF booklet.

An NHB spokesman has acknowledged that the Roots website has issues. It is refreshing the site, which now boasts a new Pinterest-style layout, and the Yishun-Sembawang trail will be streamlined by the first quarter of next year.

Despite the issues, the heritage trails offer a good way to explore neighbourhoods and unearth new nuggets about places Singaporeans seldom think twice about.

Who knew, for example, that renowned philanthropist Tan Tock Seng's tomb is just a stone's throw from the bustling Tiong Bahru neighbourhood?

Just some things to note if you are planning to tackle any trail.

• Dress comfortably and arm yourself with sunscreen and an umbrella.

• When exploring religious institutions, be mindful about dress and photography, and take note that because of the pandemic, entry might be restricted.

• Take this guide with you, and happy trails!

• Find the trail guides online at this website.


Heritage Trails in the Central: Best for foodies, nostalgia fans and architecture buffs


Sim Kwong Ho shophouses by the junction of Balestier and Kim Keat roads. PHOTO: BT FILE

Balestier trail is one for the foodies

RATING: 4/5

DURATION AND DIFFICULTY

Three hours, about 9,000 steps. Note that the Tan Tock Seng side of the walk is a bit hilly. Moderately easy walk. 

HIGHLIGHTS

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall; Maha Sasanaramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple; Shaw Brothers film studio; Loong Fatt Tau Sar Piah; Balestier Market; former Mandalay Road Hospital; Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple; Art Deco apartment blocks; Sim Kwong Ho shophouses; Loy Kee Best Chicken Rice; Sing Hon Loong Bakery (Ghee Leong); Whampoa Food Market.

READ MORE HERE


Heritage Trails in the North: Suss out gardens galore and religious gems


Upper Seletar Reservoir. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Yishun-Sembawang trail is sprawling, full of nature and religious gems

RATING: 2/5

DURATION AND DIFFICULTY

Seven-and-a-half hours, about 15,000 steps and a fair bit of driving between landmarks. Flat terrain, but challenging in terms of distance.

HIGHLIGHTS

Beaulieu House; Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang; Masjid Assyafaah; Sembawang Hot Spring; Hock Huat Keng and Sri Veeramuthu Muneeswarar Temple; Cheow Leng Beo and Chee Hoon Sun Kong temples; Sree Maha Mariamman Temple; Chong Pang Combined Temple; Lower Seletar Reservoir; Spiritual Grace Presbyterian Church; Masjid Ahmad Ibrahim; Upper Seletar Reservoir. 

READ MORE HERE


Heritage Trails in the South: Go street shopping, search for tombs and try walk of faiths


Haji Lane on the Kampong Glam Heritage Trail. ST PHOTO: OLIVIA HO

Kampong Glam is a marvellous maze of mosques and street shopping

RATING: 4/5

DURATION AND DIFFICULTY

One hour 10 minutes, or about 4,350 steps. Easy walk.

HIGHLIGHTS

Masjid Malabar; Alsagoff Arab School; Masjid Hajjah Fatimah; Istana Kampong Glam and Gedung Kuning; Masjid Sultan; Bussorah Street; Arab Street; Haji Lane.

READ MORE HERE


Heritage Trails in the East: Spot wildlife and explore colonial bungalows


Pasir Ris Park mangrove boardwalk on Nov 26, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The lure of the sea at Pasir Ris

RATING: 3/5

DURATION AND DIFFICULTY

Three-and-a-half hours, about 10,000 steps. The map at Roots.gov.sg looks straightforward, but distances between some landmarks are farther than I thought. 

HIGHLIGHTS 

Pasir Ris Park; Mangrove Forest; Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple.

READ MORE HERE


Heritage Trails in the West: Walk down memory lane, discover an old railway bridge


Wessex Estate is home to black-and-white colonial bungalows. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Walk down memory lane in Queenstown

RATING: 4/5

DURATION AND DIFFICULTY

More than six hours if you visit all 40 points. About 26,300 steps. An easy walk, with some stair-climbing.

HIGHLIGHTS

Queenstown Public Library; first HDB blocks; HDB terraces; Tiong Ghee Temple; HDB’s first point blocks; “Butterfly Block”; Alexandra Hospital;  Hang Jebat Mosque; colonial terraces at Jalan Hang Jebat; Wessex Estate; former Malayan Railways; Singapore Improvement Trust flats; Sri Muneeswaran Temple; Church of the Blessed Sacrament; Tanglin Halt Neighbourhood Centre; first flatted factory; Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Ancestral Hall; VIP Block; Ridout Tea Garden; Commonwealth Crescent Neighbourhood Centre.

READ MORE HERE


Heritage trails: Revisit ghosts of wartime past in islandwide WWII trail


World War II relics at the Labrador Nature Reserve. PHOTO: ST FILE

RATING: 2/5

DURATION AND DIFFICULTY

In its entirety, this islandwide trail will take you several days (there are about 50 points, organised into six regions).

It is best attempted if you are driving or visiting only a few places. Many sites are not within easy walking distance of one another.

HIGHLIGHTS

Kranji War Cemetery; Labrador Battery; Siloso Battery; Fort Canning Command Centre; grave of Lim Bo Seng; Seletar Airfield area; Changi Museum.

READ MORE HERE