30 Apr 2014: Head out on our Pasir Panjang walk, which takes you by art galleries, HortPark, Reflections of Bukit Chandu and Singapore’s most bizarre attraction, Har Par Villa.
Labrador Park MRT
1. Arty Farty
Take Exit A out of Labrador Park station, and walk through the series of overpasses and get off the first escalator at Alexandra Road. Keeping the PSA Building and ARC Shopping Centre on your left, walk north along the road – this is actually part of the Alexandra Garden Trail – and you’ll soon see the Academy of Singapore Teachers on your right. Go past it, and you’ll reach Malan Road, leading to Gillman Barracks. Once a military encampment for the British Army, the area was converted into an art cluster in 2012, and it’s now home to 16 galleries (opened at various times from Tue-Sun). Feel free to make a detour here to admire the art – we recommend checking out Singapore’s own FOST, New York’s Sundaram Tagore, Tokyo’s Mizuma and Hong Kong’s Pearl Lam galleries – then take a right back on Alexandra Road until you get to the overhead bridge that takes you across to HortPark.
Q: When you get onto the park connector, there’s a sign that tells you things you shouldn’t do when encountering wild monkeys – what are they?
2. Farm Ville
Enter HortPark – the first gardening hub in Asia – through the Floral Walk. Make your way to the Visitor Services Centre, the exterior of which is covered by a colourful, shimmering mosaic piece that was created by students from the Nanyang Technological University as part of their annual Challenge Your Limits (CURL) project, and unveiled in 2008. Take a stroll through the park, where you’ll encounter a range of interesting themed gardens, such as the Balinese, Edible and recently completed open-concept Butterfly Garden. Continue walking up the hill after the Prototype Glasshouses, where you’ll find a shortcut to the next landmark.
Q: There are two types of greenhouses at the Prototype Glasshouses section – what are their respective climates?
3. Past Reflections
Walk up the wiggly uphill path that will take you towards Reflections at Bukit Chandu (Tue-Sun 9am-5.30pm; free for locals & PRs, $0.50-$2 for foreigners), which means Opium Hill in Malay. The restored black and white bungalow was first built at the turn of the 20th century for British officers, but the area remains an important historical site today as this was where the fierce Battle of Pasir Panjang took place in 1942 during the Second World War. Malay soldiers led by British commanders fought against the Japanese even though they were heavily outnumbered. It didn’t end well, unfortunately, and almost all of them either died in battle, or were captured and killed. The British surrendered two days afterwards, and Singapore became Syonanto until the Japanese surrendered in 1945.
Q: On the gates outside Reflections, visitors are invited to check out another war-related site – what is it?
Make your way downhill on Pepys Road – it’s a long and winding walk, but amidst the quiet of nature, the views are pretty spectacular. Turn right when you get back onto Pasir Panjang Road. If you’re hungry, there’s a PIT STOP Fatboy’s The Burger Bar (122 Pasir Panjang Rd, 6471 3224: drop by with a copy of this month’s issue and get a free milkshake with every main course purchased – valid until 31 May); if not, just continue west past Pasir Panjang station. About ten minutes past the station, you’ll reach a slightly tucked away Chwee Chian Road sandwiched between a few condos. Walk up it and continue around its bends – admiring the gorgeous landed houses in the sleepy neighbourhood while you’re at it – and you’ll find the Poh Ern Shih Temple on your left. Much blood was shed here during the war, and the temple was erected by philanthropist Lee Choon Seng in 1954 as a way to liberate the spirits of those who died here. Four years later, American Venerable Sumangalo was asked to be its honorary abbot, thus becoming the first western abbot of a Buddhist temple in Singapore. The originally single-story building was demolished at the start of the 2000s and reconstruction works were completed in 2007; this is the first religious building in the country to boast of eco-friendly features such as solar panels and a rainwater purification system. It’s now also home to the forward-thinking, non-sectarian Buddhist Fellowship.
Q: The outside wall of the temple has a series of patterns on it – what are their shape and colour?
5. Go to hell
Continue along Chwee Chian Road and turn left onto Lorong Sarhad, then left again when you get to South Buona Vista Road. Take a right when you get back onto Pasir Panjang Road, and keep going until you reach the surreal Haw Par Villa (daily 9am-7pm). With a slope that’s surrounded by tigers, snakes and other beasts, you won’t miss this place. It was created in 1937 by Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the brothers who founded Tiger Balm, and its most well-known feature is the pretty disturbing Ten Courts of Hell – a dimly-lit tunnel that takes you through the levels at which various crimes would be punished, ranging from having your heart torn out to being drowned in a pool of blood.
Q: A figure of a man stands to the right of the attraction’s name before you reach the entrance. What’s the colour of his robe?
6. Pop a pill
Emerging from Haw Par Villa – and hopefully you’re not too shaken to continue on with the final part of the trail – turn right and walk along Pasir Panjang Road once more, until you reach the junction at Science Park Road. Sitting inconspicuously on a patch of grass is a large stone structure, which is actually the Pasir Panjang Pillbox. There were once quite a few of these along the road (which used to be the coastline prior to the extensive land reclamation works to the area), but today this is one of the handful that can still be found. During the Second World War, British machine-gunners were stationed here to protect Singapore against coastal attacks from the Japanese, although it is now locked and cannot be accessed by the public.
Q: According to the blue plaque in front of the machinegun pillbox, the structure lays within the World War II defence sector of what?
Turn around and walk east back along West Coast Highway to get to the Haw Par Villa MRT station. If you fancy doing a spot of cheap food shopping before heading home, you can also take a shortcut located across the pillbox and find your way to the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre on the opposite side of West Coast Highway, where you can buy dried goods and vegetables in bulk at a fraction of supermarket prices – there’s also a lively auction in early hours of the morning for the freshest goods.