These days, I enjoy going for heritage walks to find out more about our past and to understand how much we have grown as a nation. This sudden interest in our history was probably stirred up by the recent ongoing bicentennial celebration fever. Year 2019 marks 200 years since the Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore to set up a British trading port. Since then, Singapore had transformed from a fishing village to this cosmopolitan city within a period of 200 years.
Our city has been transforming even faster over the last decade. Even neighbourhood estates like Tiong Bahru has experienced several changes over the years. Today’s Tiong Bahru looks, smells and feels different from the Tiong Bahru I knew when I was a child.
Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail
I’m so glad that Tiong Bahru is one of there 17 heritage trails launched by National Heritage Board (NHB). Even hotels like Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel Singapore are offering heritage walks and tours in Singapore to showcase Singapore’s unique heritage and culture to tourists.
1. Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel organises Live Like A Local Tours in Tiong Bahru
During our stay at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, we participated in their Live Like A Local Tour. It is a 3-hour guided heritage tour in the Tiong Bahru estate conducted by Tour East Singapore. This walking tour is complimentary for all hotel guests of Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel. It is conducted on every Saturdays.
We met our tour guide for the day at Tour East Lounge, which is located at Level 3 of the hotel. She was a really knowledgeable and experienced guide who made our walking tour in Tiong Bahru a truly memorable one.
We got on the bus which takes us to Link Hotel, located right at the heart of Tiong Bahru estate. It is a short 5-minute bus ride. After the tour, the same bus will take us back from Tiong Bahru to the hotel.
1) Tiong Bahru was once a cemetery
On our way to there, our guide briefly explained how Tiong Bahru got its name. ‘Tiong’ in Hokkien means ‘to die’ while ‘Bahru’ in Malay means ‘new’. It is interesting how the name of this neighbourhood was coined using words of two different languages. But that also reflects how diverse our society is.
In the 19th century, Tiong Bahru Road ran through a large Chinese cemetery that stretched all the way to Leng Kee Road.
2) Tiong Bahru is once a bird-lover gathering spot
Our first stop is this bird singing corner at Tiong Bahru. In the past, this is where all bird-lovers would gather to admire each others’ prized birds in well-decorated cages. Many of these bird lovers would chat and sip coffee at the nearby coffee shop, Wah Heng Kopitiam. Today, this corner is no longer in use.
This bird singing corner also inspired the decorations and art of this neighbourhood.
2) You can find some of the best local delicacies at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre
This walking tour includes breakfast. Each of us
We were given about 45 mins to have our leisure breakfast at Tiong Bahru Market. There was more than enough time for us to decided and queue up for the local food which we wanted to try. For us locals, it is like discovering our love for Singapore food again. I haven’t had a decent plate of Chwee Kueh (Steamed rice cakes) and fried carrot cake for a really long time!
I could not remember if I have been here before when I was just a child. But I vaguely remember coming to Tiong Bahru with my family for fish porridge at a coffee shop by the roadside. My Dad loves eating fish so he would usually order a plate of raw fish salad as well as bowls of
This is one of Singapore’s popular breakfast items which I had eaten since young.
These Teochew steamed rice cakes are served with diced preserved radish. The rice cake itself is tasteless but when you pair it with some radish and chilli sauce, it tastes so satisfying and filling. It’s simple yet delicious.
Fried Carrot Cake (Chai Tow Kway)
Another popular local breakfast item in Singapore is fried carrot cake. There are two versions of the fried carrot cake – white and black. The main difference between these two is that one is fried with sweet soy sauce while the other is fried without the soy sauce.
This is such a warm and delightful savoury dish. It is rather oily and unhealthy to have it as breakfast but to us Singaporeans, as long as it’s delicious – we can have this anytime, any day.
The Michael Jackson Drink
Sam went to order more food with his $5 cash. The food here is rather cheap. You can order a local dish, a light snack and a drink for slightly under $5.
He bought some peanut pancake (Min Jiang Kueh) and a cup of ‘Michael Jackson’. What’s exactly a ‘Michael Jackson’ drink? I didn’t know that we Singaporeans would be that creative to name a drink after a song by a renowned celebrity. It is simply a soya milk drink mixed with grass jelly.
Long Queue = Good Food
Other famous hawker stalls include this Tiong Bahru Pau stall. And there is a saying in Singapore that good food is found wherever the queue is. If there’s a queue at a particular stall, you should join in the queue as the food must be so good that people are willing to queue for it.
The Wet Market
After breakfast, we explored the wet market on the first floor. It was pretty pack on a Saturday morning and what’s interesting is that we spotted several foreigners hustling among the locals to buy vegetables. They were probably long term residents or expats living in Singapore. Looks like they have also adopted our local way of living too.
3) This award-winning community farm in Tiong Bahru was visited by Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall in 2017
The guide brought us to Seng Poh community garden which is found in between the low-rise flats. This garden is managed by the local residents living in this neighbourhood. They have even won an award in 2018 for their stellar gardening efforts.
On 1 November 2017, Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall visited Tiong Bahru as part of their four-day visit in Singapore. They dropped by this community garden and spoke with the volunteers to learn more about plants.
Look at how ‘fruitful’ this garden is!
4) There’s a ‘girl’ who dances all day at Tiong Bahru
A girl who dances? Yes, I’m referring to this lesser-known sculpture in Tiong Bahru estate called ‘The Dancing Girl’. The man who sculpted this 1.2 m tall dancing girl is the same man who designed Singapore’s first one-cent coin as well as our iconic Merlion statue. He was none other than Lim Nan Seng, a Sarawak-born sculptor.
The Dancing girl ‘took her dance’ to the dance floor too. Does it look like a swan about to take flight or a girl performing a joyful harvest dance?
5) Tiong Bahru houses Singapore’s very first community centre
Tiong Bahru community centre was established in July 1951 at a cost of $20,000. The purpose of having a community centre in the neighbourhood is to instil citizenship and promote friendship among the various different ethnic groups living within the community.
The community centre was very popular with the residents back then. Within the first six weeks of its opening, the centre has 13,000 membership sign-ups. Ever since then, more community centres have sprung up over the years. It used to be a popular hang-out spot for neighbours. These days, it is not as popular as before. Instead of hanging out at community centres, people prefer to spend their time at shopping malls.
6) There are 3 Instagrammable mural paintings at Tiong Bahru
These heritage-themed murals were painted by Yip Yew Chong, a Singaporean mural artist. He used to play in this neighbourhood with his cousins when he was younger so he felt connected to Tiong Bahru.
For each of his wall murals, he would usually sign off with a poem.
If you observe closely, each mural tells a story of the past. The ‘Home’ mural, for instance, brought back memories of my childhood. From the wooden canes to the traditional Chinese calendar, every detail of the past is captured. Anybody who lives in the 1960s to 1980s could totally relate to this mural.
Pasar and the fortune teller
If you examine this mural closely, you can find all of our local food – from Kaya Toast to Laksa and Putu Mayam.
Bird Singing Corner
7) Tiong Bahru Bakery offers some of the best croissants in Singapore
This modern bakery sells some of the best croissants in town. Today, Tiong Bahru Bakery is a popular brunch place and cafe in this neighbourhood. You’ve got the new and old in this one spot.
8) This Temple is decided to Sun Wu Kong (孙悟空), the Monkey King from a popular Chinese Fable, Journey to the West.
This temple is more widely known as Tiong Bahru Qi Tian Gong Temple or Tiong Bahru Monkey God Temple. Upon entering this temple, you can see 10 statues of the Monkey God and one of which is almost a century old.
9) You can get old-school confectionaries from this pastry shop!
During the walking tour, we were treated some yummy traditional Malay kueh from Tiong Bahru Galicier pastry shop. These days, there are fewer of such old-school confectionary and pastry shops in Singapore.
Kueh Dadar (Coconut crepe)
Kueh Puteri Ayu (Steamed Coconut Pandan cakes)
10) Singapore’s very first public housing estate is in Tiong Bahru
These white low-rise buildings you see along Tiong Bahru road is one of Singapore’s first public housing. They are constructed by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), the colonial predecessor to the Housing Development Board (HDB). The first block of flats is Block 55 which currently stands at the junction of Tiong Bahru and Tiong Poh roads, right opposite Link Hotel.
Now that I’ve explored this side of Singapore, I am interested to find out more about the heritage and culture of other local neighbourhoods. It felt really nice to be a tourist in your own country. Looks like Singapore is not that young or small after all.