EXPLORING HEARTLANDS

TOA PAYOH

Toa Payoh has the distinction of being the first town designed and developed entirely by the HDB. This is the quintessential modern Singapore town and boasts a list of firsts, such as the first Residents’ Association, neighbourhood police post, supermarket and MRT station, among others. The town gets its name from “toa” (Hokkien and Teochew for “big”) and “payoh” (derived from the Malay word for swamp, “paya”). Its literal name, Big Swamp, is a tribute to the hard work and vision of its early settlers – plantation owners and workers in the 19th century who cleared swathes of swampland to settle here. Later on, kampungs (“villages” in Malay) sprouted up in the area before finally evolving into the town visitors see today.

NEAREST MRT:
Braddell Station / Caldecott Station / Toa Payoh Station

ANG MO KIO &
BISHAN

These two towns are next to each other and as such, share an almost similar history. Once a rubber plantation, Ang Mo Kio started out as a hub for car repair shops in the 1970s and soon grew into a well-planned housing estate that won the Singapore Institute of Architects’ Outstanding Buildings Award in 1983. Ang Mo Kio Town Centre in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 is the town’s main commercial and community hub.

Like Ang Mo Kio, Bishan is a peaceful yet buzzing town in central Singapore. Located on the site of a former Chinese cemetery, Bishan usually refers to Bishan New Town, a self-contained estate built in the mid-1980s to 1990s. Besides a town centre, Bishan has schools, public parks and communal facilities.

NEAREST MRT:
Ang Mo Kio Station / Bishan Station.

GEYLANG SERAI

The heart of the Malay community in Singapore is Geylang Serai. This was where the natives of Singapore, Indonesians
and Malaysians settled after the British dispersed the Malay settlements at the mouth of the Singapore River in the 1840s.

In the early 1920s, more Malays moved into the area from Kampong Gelam (Kampong Glam, see p60). Geylang Serai is derived from the Malay word kilang (meaning a press or a mill) and the fragrant serai or lemongrass, which the Malays grew in the area during the late 19th century.

One of the best times to visit the neighbourhood to experience Malay culture and heritage is during Ramadan, or the fasting month, right up to Hari Raya Puasa, or the festival of Eid, which
marks the end of Ramadan (see Events & Festivals, p25). During Ramadan, the streets of Geylang Serai are aglow with
the annual street light-up. A huge pasar malam (night market) filled with stalls selling everything from traditional ethnic wear and home furnishings to a wide variety of Malay snacks entices people from all walks of life to gather and enjoy the festivities.

NEAREST MRT:
Eunos Station / Paya Lebar Station

KATONG & JOO CHIAT

The eastern region of Singapore is steeped in a different set of history and culinary heritage. The residential neighbourhoods
of Katong and Joo Chiat, in particular, are known for their rich Peranakan heritage and culture. This area traces its roots to the early 19th century, when wealthy English, Portuguese, French and Chinese settlers established coconut, cotton and gambier plantations here.

In the early 20th century, many locals started building homes in the eastern region, which resulted in the varied styles of bungalows, shophouses and places of worship in the area. Now, the area is a must-visit for its cool cafés, shopping and old-world coffee shops selling famous local delicacies such as Katong laksa (see Eat & Drink, Local Favourites, p99) and nonya cakes (nonya is a term for Peranakan women, while baba refers to Peranakan men; see sidebar above for more information).

Visitors and locals alike enjoy taking photos of and with the many restored heritage buildings along East Coast Road, Koon Seng
Road and streets such as Joo Chiat Terrace and Joo Chiat Place. Visitors can opt to book a walking or food tour of this area
(see Tours, Couples, p154).

NEAREST MRT:
Paya Lebar Station / Eunos Station

TIONG BAHRU

It may be one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore, but this once-sleepy residential district is now a cultural hotbed for the island’s young and hip. Built in the 1930s, the neighbourhood has a look that sets it apart: low-rise buildings in the Streamline Moderne architectural style of clean lines and minimalist forms. Amidst this throwback architecture lies the district’s modern appeal, distinctively blending old and new Singapore: pre-war apartments with Art Deco façades now house quirky fashion boutiques, while decades-old kopitiams (traditional coffee shops) rub shoulders with trendy cocktail bars and cool cafés. Travellers can experience Singapore’s famous hawker culture at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre (see Eat & Drink, Hawker Centres, p122). With its unique heritage-meetshipster vibe, Tiong Bahru is a neighbourhood worth exploring on foot.

NEAREST MRT:
Tiong Bahru Station

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