Off the Beaten Track with the Singapore Heritage Festival 2018

Published on 13 April 2018

By: Victoria Tay

From bullock carts to drive-in cinemas, relive Singapore’s colourful history at the Singapore Heritage Festival 2018, organised by the National Heritage Board from the 6th to the 22nd of April. Travel back in time through exhibitions, tours and performances as you take a new look at the districts of Singapore. The A List invites you to take our challenge – how many of these facts did you already know?

Jurong – Home to the crocodiles and (industrial) giants

Kampong Teban, Jurong, 1950s (Image Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)


Before Jurong was industrialised, there used to be a river that has now been dammed. It ran through what is now the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, and crocodiles were a common sight along its mudbanks. Until as late as the 1980s, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens had signs that warned people about the presence of crocodiles.


Jurong Town Hall (Image Courtesy of National Heritage Board and Singapore Heritage Festival)


As a landmark representing Singapore’s industrialisation drive, Jurong Town Hall hosted local statesmen and international industrial heavyweights who visited Singapore to study its industrialisation efforts in the 1970s and 80s.


Jurong Drive-In Cinema (Image Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore)


Jurong had Singapore’s first and only drive-in cinema, operated by Cathay Organisation. It opened in 1971 and closed in 1985 after issues with the sound system and crowd management.


Fire Up with History

Tour the oldest wood-fired kiln in Singapore at the Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle on the 14th and 21st of April and learn how these potters produced cups and bowls to support the numerous rubber plantations in Jurong. Tours cost S$15 per person.

Toa Payoh – Singapore’s first & fiercest town

Toa Payoh enjoyed many firsts in the modernisation of Singapore. It was the first town designed and developed entirely by HDB. It was also the first town to boast a neighbourhood police post system and an MRT station.

Gang warfare in Toa Payoh was so fierce that it was known as the ‘Chicago of the East’ or ‘Chicago of Singapore’, a name that remained until the 1970s.


Toa Payoh Dragon Playground (Image Courtesy of HDB)


One of the most iconic and beloved landmarks in Toa Payoh is the Dragon Playground, part of a second wave of playgrounds built by HDB in the 1970s, based on the theme of local culture. Today, there are four Dragon Playgrounds left, but the only one to keep its original sand surface is in Toa Payoh.


Bus into Heritage

Toa Payoh Dragon Pillar at Blk 91 Lorong 3 Toa Payoh (Image Courtesy of Yue JP at

Experience the history of Toa Payoh and see where all of these landmarks are located with the Toa Payoh Bus Tour on the 22nd of April for just $10!

Chinatown – Singapore’s centre of trade

Chinatown’s colloquial name is “Bullock Cart Water” (牛车水), because before piped water was available in this area, portable water was transported to shops and residences on carts drawn by oxen.


Great Southern Hotel (Image Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore)


Now known as the Yue Hwa Building, the structure at 70 Eu Tong Sen Street used to be the Great Southern Hotel, and was popular with high society and Hong Kong and Chinese celebrities. It was the first Chinese hotel to boast a lift!


Coolies in Chinatown (Image Courtesy of the National Museum of Singapore)


Though Chinatown had its fair share of luxurious hotels, it was also home to many poor Chinese migrants called ‘coolies’. Many of them lived in cramped and dismal quarters on Pagoda Street. They were hired by middle-class merchants to do back-breaking work or pull rickshaws.


Hear our Grandfather Stories

Encounter the stories of the communities in Chinatown through a free-admission theatre experience by Dramabox on the 15th of April. Registration is required.

Jalan Besar – The story of two swamps

Jalan Besar was once home to two massive swamplands that have now been reclaimed. Serangoon Road was once a swampland that was similar to what the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve looks like today.


Kampong Boyan (Image courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore)


Houses that were built on stilts and submerged in water once existed between Syed Alwi and Jalan Besar. This village was called ‘Kampong Boyan’.


New World Gate at Night (Image courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore)


A theme park called ‘New World’ once occupied an area along Jalan Besar, Kitchener Road, Serangoon Road and Petain Road. It was the first of three iconic Singaporean theme parks, and was the longest surviving one. The park entertained three generations of Singaporeans before closing down in 1987. Many people from all walks of life would flock there for the infamous strip-tease shows, Ferris Wheel rides, carousel rides, cabaret acts and even wrestling shows.


Makan with Culture

Eat your way through the history of Jalan Besar with Singaporean YouTube sensation Preetipls on the 13th of April. Tickets cost S$20 per pax:

Bras Basah. Bugis – An exhilarating centre of culture

Bras Basah is one of Singapore’s oldest districts, and it means “Wet Rice” in Malay, because of the “decayed rice” smell from coming from the sailing vessels, which were docked there.

Today, the Bras Basah. Bugis district is central to Singapore’s arts and culture scene, and home to the Singapore Art Museum, National Museum of Singapore and the Peranakan Museum.


Bugis Street Food Market (Image courtesy of David Ayre)


After World War Two ended, hawkers started to bring their food and goods to Bugis street, and in the daytime, it became a hub for al-fresco street food and fashion. At night, it was a notorious entertainment zone for cabaret performances and beauty pageants.


Get Trippy with Tradition

Armenian Street Party 2017 (Image courtesy of the Peranakan Museum)

Relive the heady days of outdoor street raves with the Armenian Street Party happening from the 20th to the 21st of April. Admission is free. 

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