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



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


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


Kampong Glam is the heart of Malay heritage in Singapore. Between this and the profusion of eateries and shops in the area, it is a wonderful neighbourhood to spend an afternoon in.

The Roots.gov.sg trails are rather strangely organised - whole streets are designated highlights, though in Kampong Glam's case, this is well deserved - so I simply started at Malabar Mosque, walked down Jalan Sultan towards Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, then went up and down the streets of the central Kampong Glam area until I reached North Bridge Road.

The area has three of the loveliest mosques in Singapore: the exquisite blue-tiled Malabar Mosque, built by Malabar Muslims who migrated here from Kerala, India; Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, one of the few mosques here founded by a woman; and the great golden-domed Sultan Mosque.

The Malay Heritage Centre at Istana Kampong Glam, a former palace, is well worth a visit for an insight into Malay history and culture.

The Malabar Muslim Jama'ath Mosque on the Kampong Glam Heritage Trail. ST PHOTO: OLIVIA HO

Otherwise, just walk the streets. Admire bolts of cloth in Arab Street, try out scents at the 87-year-old Jamal Kazura Aromatics and browse the shelves at Wardah Books in Bussorah Street. Dine at decades-old North Bridge Road restaurants such as Zam Zam and Warong Nasi Pariaman.


The three trails available on Roots.gov.sg are downloadable at present only as a somewhat confusing PDF. I took Trail 1, added parts of Trails 2 and 3 (namely, the mosques) and rearranged the stops in the order that made sense to me.

From tombs to homes, Tiong Bahru is a beautiful little trail

The Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre. ST PHOTO: CLARA CHAN



One hour, or about 3,700 steps. Very easy walk, with the exception of one tricky traffic junction and a pedestrian bridge.


Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre; Bird Corner and Former Hu Lu Temple; Graves of Tan Tock Seng, Chua Seah Neo and Wuing Neo; Monkey God Temple; Seng Poh Garden; Horse-Shoe Block


Tiong Bahru's reputation these days may be as one of Singapore's hipster havens, but the area was once dotted with graves.

As heritage walks go, this is a beautiful, compact little trail that ends near where it begins, at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre.

It wends its way through the area's charming 1930s Art Deco flats, from the uncluttered lines and porthole windows of the Streamline Moderne flats in Tiong Poh Road to the Horse-Shoe Block that curves across Moh Guan Terrace and Guan Chuan Street.

Hidden gems include the tomb of 19th-century philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, tucked away on a leafy ledge overlooking Outram Road, and the colourful, century-old Monkey God Temple, where worshippers still offer incense in the morning.

Rise early and end your trail with breakfast in the area, whether at a hipster cafe like Forty Hands or Plain Vanilla, or with a simple chwee kueh at Tiong Bahru Food Centre.

Tan Tock Seng's grave overlooking Outram Road. ST PHOTO: CLARA CHAN


If one is to split hairs, crossing the traffic junction to get to Tan Tock Seng's grave is a bit dicey. But really, there is little to find fault with.

Remarkable walk of faiths in Little India

The former House of Tan Teng Niah on the Little India Heritage Trail. ST PHOTO: OLIVIA HO



One hour and 35 minutes, about 7,800 steps. Moderately easy walk.


Indian Heritage Centre; former House of Tan Teng Niah; Shree Lakshminarayan Temple; former Racecourse; Foochow Methodist Church; Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple; Mahatma Gandhi Memorial; Angullia Mosque; Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple; Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple; Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple; Leong San See Temple; Kampong Kapor Methodist Church; Church of the True Light; Abdul Gafoor Mosque


Little India is one of the densest heritage neighbourhoods there is - one turns a corner and is met with yet another landmark. It is also perhaps the best sign-posted - the markers are colourful and clearly visible from a distance.

I combined two trails, covering Serangoon In The 1900s first, beginning at the Indian Heritage Centre, then walking down Serangoon Road towards Leong San See Temple, the farthest landmark on the Walk Of Faiths trail.

The diversity of faiths represented on a single stretch is remarkable - one can stroll easily between Foochow Methodist Church, Angullia Mosque, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, each with its own considerable history.

Although it is a heritage district, Little India is also very much a living one. If you go in the morning, the air is full with the scent of jasmine and the calls of vegetable vendors setting up, as worshippers stream in and out of the many temples.

As for food, one is spoilt for choice in this neighbourhood - although I always end up going back to Madras New Woodlands Restaurant for its thosai and VIP thali.

The Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on the Little India Heritage Trail. ST PHOTO: OLIVIA HO


I had to do quite a bit of doubling back to cover everything on my agenda, though not so much that it was a trial. Abdul Gafoor Mosque is undergoing renovation.

The dark side of Orchard Road

A mural at Cuppage Terrace. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE



Two hours, about 7,000 steps. An easy walk.


The YMCA of Singapore; MacDonald House; Memorial to the Victims of Konfrontasi; Red Cross House; House of Tan Yeok Nee; Cuppage Terrace; Emerald Hill; Goodwood Park Hotel


The trail showcases lesser-known aspects of the shopping belt and its dark side is compelling.

A sign outside the YMCA tells of its former history as the East Branch of the Kempeitai, the dreaded Japanese military police.

The fear-drenched silence surrounding the building was often broken by the screams of detainees, including World War II heroine Elizabeth Choy, who compared her torture at the hands of the Kempeitai to "hell".

The Memorial to the Victims of Konfrontasi on Dhoby Ghaut Green faces MacDonald House, where, in 1965, a bomb planted by Indonesian saboteurs killed three and injured 33. The attack marked the darkest day of Konfrontasi, or Confrontation, the period in the 1960s when Indonesia waged an undeclared war against the creation of Malaysia. Singapore was briefly part of the new nation.

The memorial, with its clean lines and polished black stone, is moving in its simplicity.

Move on to Red Cross House, which looks like an all-white Rediffusion set. The creamy yellow House of Tan Yeok Nee, a few steps away, is a rare example of Teochew architecture.

I also like the cheerful colours at Cuppage Terrace and the intricate houses on Emerald Hill. Goodwood Park Hotel, built to resemble the German castles of the Rhine, is pretty, too.

The memorial to the victims of Konfrontasi. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE


The trail is divided into three mini ones, one of which showcases "historical gems" such as Ngee Ann City, the site of a former Teochew cemetery, Tang Plaza and The Heeren.

But these too-familiar buildings look stale as their historical aspects are either already known, or not intriguing enough.

Fort Canning Park is the jewel in the crown for the Jubilee Walk

The lawn in front of National Museum of Singapore is currently filled with kids and adults taking pictures of Doraemon. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE



Three-and-a-half hours, about 7,000 steps and a bus ride of two stops. Easy walk, though it felt overly long.


Fort Canning Park; National Museum of Singapore; Esplanade Park


The Jubilee Walk was created in 2015 to mark Singapore's Golden Jubilee.

Fort Canning Park, with its centuries-old hoard of treasures, is the jewel in the crown. From the 14th century alone, there are Javanese Majapahit gold ornaments, Yuan dynasty stoneware and Indian glass bangles.

Besides the kings of Temasek, British governors also dwelt at Fort Canning Hill.

At the bottom of the hill, a pedestrianised Armenian Street houses a beguiling recreation of the First Botanic Garden from 1822. I learn that buah keluak means "the fruit which nauseates" in Malay, and that ixora flowers were pinned onto a Peranakan bride's chignon for good luck.

The front lawn of the National Museum is charmingly overrun by kids and adults taking photos with more than 10 Doraemon figurines, part of an ongoing exhibition.

Esplanade Park, accessible from Connaught Drive, has a pleasing mix of old and new monuments.

The Tan Kim Seng Fountain commemorates pioneer philanthropist Tan's donation towards the first public waterworks. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

The Tan Kim Seng Fountain, bulging with Victorian cherubs, commemorates pioneer philanthropist Tan's donation towards the first public waterworks. The Rising Moon by artists Han Sai Por and Kum Chee Kiong is a modern work in granite which reinterprets national symbols like the five stars and crescent moon.

A spot in Esplanade Park where five angsana trees stand is named "gor zhang chiu kar", which means "under the shade of five trees" in Hokkien. Occasional blooms of brilliant yellow flowers drew couples, seeking a picture-perfect date, in the past and present.


Some landmarks on the trail are closed, like the Peranakan Museum and Singapore Philatelic Museum.

The greater dilemma, though, is how the trail delineates the difference between viewing heritage attractions and experiencing them.

I barely glance at the Fullerton Waterboat House and Old Hill Street Police Station because I see them so often.

Other landmarks on the trail, like National Gallery Singapore and Gardens By The Bay, are worth hours of exploration. But to complete the trail in a reasonable time, I end up ticking them off like groceries on a shopping list.

Treasure in the mouth of the Singapore River

A bumboat on the Singapore River. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE



Slightly less than three hours, about 9,500 steps. Moderately easy, though I had to backtrack a few times to find some landmarks.


Cavenagh Bridge; art by the river; tributes to famous visitors; River House


Beauties converge near the mouth of the Singapore River.

Take your time to admire the art near Cavenagh Bridge, which has a winsome notice prohibiting cattle and horses.

In The River Merchants sculpture by artist Aw Tee Hong, a coolie has wound his pigtail around his head, perhaps to get his hair out of the way as he lifts heavy cargo. The work First Generation, by sculptor Chong Fah Cheong, sits nearby, outside Fullerton Hotel Singapore. Boys, cast in metal, leap into the river below, their enthusiasm contrasting with the uninviting algae-green waters.

The River Merchants sculpture by artist Aw Tee Hong. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

Tributes to famous visitors to Singapore are found on the opposite side of Cavenagh Bridge, beside the Asian Civilisations Museum.

Busts and placards commemorate visitors such as Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, Polish-British author Joseph Conrad and Filipino hero Jose Rizal, who was executed at age 35 by the colonial authorities.

Farther down the river, the pale and beautiful River House stands out among the loud colours of Clarke Quay.


Except for Cavenagh Bridge, the many bridges that span the Singapore River are a bridge too far, frankly. Historically significant but dull, not even the coloured lights that illuminate them after dark can save them from dreariness.

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