The Great Singapore Drive: A 200km road trip around the island

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ST assistant news editor Toh Yong Chuan embarks on a 200km road trip around Singapore to seek out interesting driving routes and unusual places.

SINGAPORE - For some in Singapore, road trips to Malaysia are regular affairs.

The easy access to places like Melaka and Kuala Lumpur, a three- and four-hour drive respectively from the Woodlands Causeway, provides affordable holidays.

The 110kmh speed limit on most stretches of Malaysia's North-South Highway, and scenic roads like the Terengganu coastal highway, also allow keen drivers and bikers to stretch the performance of their vehicles, within legal limits, while exploring new places.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has put the brakes on road trips north.

So The Straits Times took the road less travelled - a 200km drive around Singapore.

In this guide, the trip we took - in a Mini Convertible - is divided into four parts, which can be completed separately or in a day.

Starting at the Seah Im carpark near VivoCity, motorists can journey to the west, to the Jurong industrial estate, and then to Kranji in the north.

The route skirts the perimeter of the Central Catchment area before heading east to Punggol and Changi. The drive ends at Mount Faber.

1. Morning drive (77km) - Industrial Jurong and the scenic Kranji countryside

The first stop is South Buona Vista Road, which is known for its winding turns.

Although the road is referred to as "99 turns", it is an exaggeration as there are only 11 turns.

The writer manoeuvres around one of the bends at the "99 turns" at South Buona Vista. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

For history buffs, there is a historical marker in Kent Ridge Park off South Buona Vista Road worth stopping for.

It describes the epic battle in Pasir Panjang during World War II, where Lieutenant Adnan Saidi and the Malay Regiment fought the Japanese invaders from Feb 13 to 14, 1942. The national hero died as a result of the fight.

From South Buona Vista Road, the route takes drivers through the Jurong industrial estate, which has powered Singapore's economic growth since independence.

The highlight of the drive is the construction site of Tuas Mega Port. When completed in 2040, it will be the world's largest fully automated terminal.

After Tuas, the next stop is the "40 lamp posts", or Lim Chu Kang Road, which is Singapore's "spare runway".

The writer driving along the "40 lamp posts" at Lim Chu Kang Road. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The road is flanked by the Lim Chu Kang cemeteries and Tengah Airbase. Since 1986, the Republic of Singapore Air Force has turned it into a temporary aircraft runway seven times for fighter jets to take off and land. The long and wide road is favoured by street racers for illegal car and motorbike races.

The next stop is Jalan Bahtera, possibly Singapore's last unpaved and unlit road. It leads to Sarimbun Beach, where the first wave of Japanese soldiers landed on Feb 8, 1942, marking the start of the World War II battle for Singapore.

The writer driving along the Bahtera track which leads to the Sarimbun Beach landing site. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The route also covers the Lim Chu Kang and Kranji areas which are set to be transformed into Singapore's food bowl, as the country ramps up its drive to produce more food locally as a buffer against global supply shocks. Some 390ha of land will be redeveloped under a masterplan to create a high-tech agri-food cluster.

The lunch stop is Bollywood Veggies, one of a handful of farm-themed eateries in the Kranji area. It is famous for its signature nasi lemak and dessert.

The lunchtime crowd at Bollywood Veggies in Neo Tiew Road. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Bollywood Veggies in Neo Tiew Road. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Insider tip: There is no public toilet along this 77km route.

2. Early afternoon drive (56km) - Exploring the Central Catchment area

The three stops in this segment are at the fringes of the Central Catchment area, with attractions that will appeal to nature and history buffs.

The first stop is Rifle Range Road, which peels off from Dunearn Road. It is frequented by those visiting the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers' club, otherwise known as Temasek Club.

After the club, the road cuts into the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, one of few public roads inside the reserve.

Across the other end of the Central Catchment area from Rifle Range Road is Old Upper Thomson Road.

The writer drives around the "Devil's Bend" at Old Upper Thomson Road which was previously the street circuit for the Malaysian Grand Prix and Singapore Grand Prix between 1961 and 1973. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Grand Prix drivers raced on this road between 1961 and 1973. It was where the Malaysian Grand Prix and Singapore Grand Prix were held. A 3km stretch of Old Upper Thomson Road is now a one-way street to accommodate a park connector.

Insider tip: Slow down at this stretch. The Grand Prix circuit claimed the lives of seven racers over 11 years the races were held there.

In January 2008, a Mitsubishi Lancer careened off the road when approaching the Devil's Bend - a sharp 300-degree hairpin turn - and slammed into a wall of trees, causing the death of two passengers.

In addition, be careful about wildlife such as macaques in Rifle Range Road and Old Upper Thomson Road. Both are narrow roads between forest fragments which wildlife cross frequently.

The lone casuarina tree (left) at Upper Seletar Reservoir. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The third stop is the rocket tower and the famous casuarina tree at Upper Seletar Reservoir. It is an opportunity to take a photo or selfie at one of Singapore's most Instagrammed trees.

3. Late afternoon drive (39km) - Exploring two quirky spots

This segment explores two quirky landmarks.

The first, a coffee break at the Soek Seng 1954 Bicycle Cafe, which is hidden in the Seletar Aerospace Park. Diners can get a view of the Seletar Airport runway and parked planes, including private jets.

Soek Seng Bicycle Cafe at Seletar, which has a view of the Seletar Airport runway. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The second stop is the "UFOs" in Tampines Road. The "UFOs" or "giant spinning tops" are storage tanks to hold Newater, which is water recycled from waste and treated to drinking quality.

Insider tip: There is no carpark near the "UFOs", so look out for a runoff area opposite the Tian Teck Keng temple to park and take photos. The stretch of road hosts several large temples and a funeral parlour.

The car parked at the "UFOs" or "giant spinning tops", storage tanks to hold Newater in Tampines. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

4. Night drive (23km) - Night drive through the city

The dinner stop is along Changi Coastal Walk, in the Belly View Cafe in the National Service Resort and Country Club. Diners can check out the flight paths of planes landing and taking off from the Changi Airport, and soak in views of the sun setting over the horizon.

The writer (third from left) at Belly View Cafe and Restaurant at Changi Coastal Walk. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The eatery serves affordable local zi char dishes such as fried rice and prawn-paste chicken. It is not the best zi char in Singapore, but it is definitely the zi char with one of the best views.

After dinner, the route takes drivers to Sheares Bridge for a view of the Marina Bay skyline, Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands, Bay East Garden and the Supertrees of Gardens by the Bay.

The writer drives past the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The drive continues through major Shenton Way landmarks like the Marina Bay Financial Centre, Lau Pa Sat and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Building, and Keppel Road landmarks like the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

The journey ends at Mount Faber, which is near Seah Im carpark where it all started.

Insider tip: Head to carpark B for the best view of Sentosa. Parking is free.

In January 2003, then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made a quip directed at Singapore drivers: "If you like, drive on our roads, which are quite long, in Ferraris - they have Ferraris, you know - because in Singapore you can't drive very far."

While Singapore's roads may not be as long and as varied as Malaysia's, there are still ample routes to keep both keen and casual travellers in gear, and little known out-of-the-way places to entertain explorers.

For more stories on exploring Singapore, go to the SG Go Where page.

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