Adventures At Home: Let's Rediscover Bukit Timah
Most of us would associate Bukit Timah with its nature reserve, Botanic Gardens, or the delicious food at Adam Road. But our parents and their parents probably remember it most for the old kampongs, Beauty World, or making trips across the Causeway via train. In fact, this was where the British surrendered to the Japanese during World War II.
In a sense, Bukit Timah really encapsulates the history of Singapore.
The name "Bukit Timah" means "Tin Hill" in Malay, but tin was never discovered here. It is possible that this place was actually named "Bukit Temak" by the locals but was badly translated. Other spellings in old British maps from the 1800s include "Bukit Tima" and "Bukit Teemar".
With the National Heritage Board’s Bukit Timah heritage trail in hand, we rediscover the stories that make up this charming neighbourhood.
Brekkie at Adam Road Food Centre
The best way to kick-start the day at Bukit Timah is with a plate of hot nasi lemak at Adam Road Food Centre. This makan place was opened in 1974 by the then Minister for Law and National Development, E. W. Barker. Many of the original hawkers here used to peddle their trade by the Bukit Timah Canal, but were moved here to facilitate the construction of a flyover.
While this place is famous for its Malay food stalls, there’s no queue here longer than at Hassan Abdul Kadir’s Selera Rasa nasi lemak - the original home of Crave. We owe it to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, who encouraged Hassan to open his biz after sampling a packet. Even Indonesian President Joko Widodo has tasted this nasi lemak.
Also visit the Bahrakath Mutton Soup stall (don't forget to ask for extra soup) and Adam Road Noo-Cheng Big Prawn Noodles.
Check out more yummy goodies in our piece, "Go There Eat What: Adam Road Food Centre".
Coffee, brunch, and shopping at Cluny Court
This old building across Botanic Gardens is home to small boutiques and cafes - the smell of fresh baked bread is enough to pull you in for a quick tea break. Cluny Court was constructed in 1928 and is an Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) conserved building. Explore the place and you’ll find ornate decorative elements distinctive of shophouses built between 1900-1940.
Catch up on WWII history at the Former Ford Factory
It was here on 15 February 1942 that Allied Commander Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival signed the surrender document in the factory’s boardroom, marking the start of the Japanese occupation.
Today, this National Monument houses a permanent exhibition showcasing the events and memories of the British surrender, Japanese rule, and legacies of the war.
If you’re interested to learn more about Singapore during World War II, check out this other NHB trail: Adventures At Home: Let’s Rediscover Our Valiant Past.
Hiking at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Take a break from the WFH life and go for a hike at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It was established way back in the mid-1880s by the British and covers a total of 163 hectares. Challenge yourself to climb Singapore’s highest hill, or make your way to the quiet Hindhede Nature Park - the views at the Hindhede Quarry are gorgeous.
Bukit Timah Hill was also prominent during the battle for Singapore in February 1942. The Japanese forces wanted it because it offered a panoramic view of the island, making it a strategic target.
More makan at Beauty World
There’re only a few old shopping malls that have stood the test of time, and Beauty World is a Bukit Timah landmark. There are some food gems on the 4th floor open air food court - including authentic Korean food from Pink Candy and Ban Mian soup from Top 1 Home Made Noodles.
Back during the Japanese occupation, Beauty World was called “Tai Tong Ah Sai Kai” (Greater East Asia in Cantonese) and was the MBS casino of its time - gambling here was sanctioned by the Japanese authorities. It also had coffee shops where “coffee girls” socialised with the chee ko pek.
When the British returned to power, gambling was made illegal again and “Tai Tong Ah” was renamed Beauty World. The place was ravaged by fire a whopping five times before it eventually closed down in 1983. The current Beauty World Centre was opened a year later for the old shop owners and hawkers.
If you're looking for a date with a difference, check out our piece "Let's Go Paktor: Date Spots In Beauty World And Hillview".
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Bukit Timah Railway Station
Probably one of Singapore’s most insta-worthy sights, the original Bukit Timah railway station was opened in 1915 and ran all the way past the Causeway. The station became defunct in 1993 with immigration moving to Woodlands.
Head up to the Upper Bukit Timah Truss Bridge from Hillview MRT and follow along the revamped NParks “Rail Corridor” to find the old Bukit Timah Railway Station. It is being renovated to become a heritage gallery. Ailurophiles (yes, there's a fancy word for cat lovers!) in the area should visit The Cat Cafe at The Rail Mall.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens is Singapore’s first UNESCO world heritage site. It was founded by the former Singapore Agri-Horticultural Society in 1859 and originally spanned 23 hectares - today it is 82 hectares wide and is home to 17 URA conserved buildings and structures including Burkill Hall, the only Anglo-Malay plantation-style house in the country, and Atbara, Singapore’s first Black and White bungalow.
Did you know - global large-scale cultivation of rubber was pioneered right here in 1896, by the then leader of the Gardens Henry Nicholas Ridley and Tan Chay Yan. Wah, could you imagine life without rubber?
(Psst, if you're looking for other green spots, read our piece "8 Parks To Visit In Singapore Besides The Botanic Gardens".)
This mosque was constructed in 1925 for the old kampongs around the area, including Kampong Tempe, Kampong Chantek, Kampong Banjir, and Kampong Holland. The land it sits on was donated by a Hindu landowner, Navena Choona Narainan Chitty. Masjid Al-Huda was rebuilt in 1966, and later renovated in 2015 to expand the prayer hall and install a heritage gallery - where you can find photos and artefacts including a kentong, a drum used to call the neighbourhood to come for prayers.
Hoon San Temple
Nearby Masjid Al-Huda is this URA conserved temple dedicated to the deity Lim Tai See. It was established in 1902 by emigrants from Jiazhou village in Fujian, China. In 2008 and 2011, craftsmen from China restored the temple’s intricate frescos and painted pillar carvings - also check out the wall mural depicting the 24 stories of filial piety written during the Yuan Dynasty.
In the 50s and 60s, Hoon San Temple put on Chinese opera shows, which attracted the Malay residents from the nearby Kampong Tempe. Even today, Hoon San Temple and Masjid Al-Huda exchange gifts during Lunar New Year and Hari Raya Puasa - keeping the kampong spirit alive.
Happening history sia
If you’re interested in exploring the rich history of Bukit Timah, you can follow NHB’s Bukit Timah Heritage Trail. There are three suggested routes you can take:
- Kampong Life, 3km: 1 hour bus and walk
- Learning and Leisure, 1.25km: 2 hours on foot
- WWII Legacy, 3.2km: 1.5 hours bus and walk