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Cool Haunts in Bukit Timah

Bukit Timah evokes images of elite schools and massive bungalows tucked away in exclusive estates. However, it is also dotted with historical monuments, green spaces and Instagram-worthy cafes.

 By Tham Yong Xian

The northwestern neighbourhood of Bukit Timah was once deemed inaccessible unless you had a car. But now, with the Downtown Line, it’s an easy-to-visit area, and there’s no reason to miss out on exploring this green precinct. The Bukit Timah area spans 25km, stretching from the iconic Singapore Botanic Gardens to exquisite residential areas along Bukit Timah Road, all the way to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Bukit Timah literally means “tin-bearing hill” in Malay, although some contest the origin of the name. While some believe “timah” originated from “temak”, a type of tree found in the area, others believe it comes from “Fatimah”, a popular name for girls among the Malays. In the distant past, this neighbourhood was a farming district, full of nutmeg and pepper plantations. This is reflected today in the lush and serene atmosphere the area has maintained all these years. If you want to step away from concrete jungles like Orchard Road, Bukit Timah is the place to head for a tranquil day filled with new adventures.

For flora and fauna

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, which sits on the western tip, is Singapore’s oldest rainforest. Here, you can trek through the dense greenery and experience some pristine, untouched nature. At the other end of Bukit Timah is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, one of only three gardens in the world to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 82 hectares of spectacular greenery and trails is testament to Singapore’s reputation as a garden city, and is perfect for a leisurely afternoon stroll for nature-loving couples or an early-morning run for fitness lovers.

For a touch of heritage

Although mostly residential, Bukit Timah is rich with heritage. Start discovering its history at the Old Ford Factory site, where you’ll learn about its place in World War II history. Then head east to the old Bukit Timah Railway Station to capture the perfect Instagram shot with your partner. The Hoon San Temple and Masjid Al-Huda are also nearby – reminders of the Malay and Hokkien Chinese communities that thrived in the area in the early 20th century.

For a hearty brunch

Admit it: we all love cafes, especially ones that make our Instagram feeds look stunning. With little food enclaves located within the residential estates of Bukit Timah, the neighbourhood is brimming with the most photogenic brunch spots. Must-visit places include Riders Cafe, a charming eatery just off Turf Club Road surrounded by plenty of greenery, and SPRMRKT, a casual hangout in Cluny Court that whips up creations like eggs Florentine and (possibly) Singapore’s best truffle fries.

For something different

Adrenaline junkies can emulate F1 drivers at The Karting Arena, or engage in a tactical game of paintball at Red Dynasty Paintball Park. If you can stand the heat, attend a cooking workshop at ToTT on nearby Dunearn Road. The outlet also has a large retail space for everything you need in a kitchen. However, if you prefer something more laid-back, consider going horseback riding at the Gallop Stable.

Weekend for two

Vast greenery, lots of food, fun activities – here’s your guide to exploring Bukit Timah with your partner.

Bukit Timah Railway Station

Take a step back in time and explore the old Bukit Timah Railway Station, which was originally built as one of five railways stations along the Singapore-Kranji Railway in the early 1900s. It’s a popular spot for Insta and wedding photos. Try looking for the two truss bridges; each measure more than 30m long – one sits on Upper Bukit Timah Road (near the Rail Mall) and the other is on Bukit Timah Road (near King Albert Park).

Address: 1 Bukit Timah Railway Station

Singapore Botanic Gardens

Spend a day unwinding in this gorgeous green space, exploring the swathes of special gardens. Pack a picnic or head to eateries within the gardens such as Food for Thought, Halia or Corner House. If you’re the active sort, don your exercise gear for a run on the scenic pathways.

Address: 1 Cluny Road

The Karting Arena

At Singapore’s first electric karting track, you can slide into the driver’s seat and get a feel of what it’s like to speed down the tarmac with 11 meandering turns. The best part? You don’t need a driver’s licence to race here.

Address: 200 Turf Club Road, #01-01B The Grandstand, South Car Park

Carpenter and Cook

Part bakery, part cafe and part vintage furniture shop, Carpenter and Cook serves tarts, scones and jams that are so pretty, you can’t help but snap a photo. This place is inspired by the quaint cobblestone streets and whimsical vintage stores of London.

Address: 19 Lorong Kilat, #01-06

Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre

For local favourites and familiar classics, head to Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre. The food haven houses a number of popular stalls that specialise in dishes such as white bee hoon with sliced fish and lala from He Le Seafood White Bee Hoon and chwee kueh from Changi Chwee Kueh.

Address: 116 Upper Bukit Timah Road


This article was first published in DUET magazine.