Category Archives: Hidden Gems

. discovering the unkempt beauty of the forgotten reservoir .

It has been a while since I went on a mini exploration trip to visit some of the off-the-beaten-track places in Singapore. Beyond the hipster cafes and glitzy malls. I miss the excitement of venturing into somewhere relative unknown, only to get lost along the way, sometimes for an hour or more, before we finally reach our destination.

“You get lost out of a desire to be lost.
But in the place called lost, strange things are found.”
– Rebecca Solnit

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the abandoned reservoir located near Mount Faber, that dates back more than 100 years ago. Did someone just mentioned about a lost place? Immediately, my curiosity was sparked. In our quest to discover the unkempt beauty and history of this forgotten place, my mum (who is also an inquisitive heritage buff) and I decided to join the free heritage tour organised by the National Heritage Board. The 1 hour long talk-cum-tour was led by Charles Goh, the famous “tomb raider” who first stumbled upon the hidden reservoir during one of his exploration trips back in 2005.

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Formerly known as the Keppel Hill Reservoir, this private reservoir was built sometime back in 1905 as a form of water source for the Tanjong Pagar Dockyard. It was later converted into a swimming pool, complete with a diving board and bathing area, during the Japanese Occupation. Post-war years, the area remained as a recreational pool for nearby Kampung residents before the area eventually gave way to other developments. The image of the water source disappeared from local maps in 2000 and hence, this explains why the reservoir has remained ‘lost and forgotten’ for more than a decade.

Interestingly, the reservoir-turned-pool made headlines twice back in 1936 and 1948 when 2 soldiers and 1 young boy drowned in two separate incidents while swimming in the 2m deep pool. Apparently, there were also other drowning cases that were not reported in the news. As a result of that, it was inevitable that the residents became wary of the place that was associated with many haunting tales. So, you have been warned – Swim at your own risk!

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In the picture below, you can still spot the remnants of what used to be the diving board.
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Today, at first glance, the hidden reservoir looks nothing more than a swamp in the middle of the forest. However, upon closer investigation, you will discover the colonial bricks that are still lining the walls of the reservoir and a small bathing area. Apparently, there is also an old and battered sign hanging from a tree that states that no fishing or swimming is permitted in the reservoir.

To me, the long-forgotten reservoir is a place of tranquility and peace … a calming pocket of space in the middle of our bustling city. With the influence of the digital and social media landscape, it’s not surprising that hundreds of people have since flocked to this area since news of the discovery first broke in September. So, take this chance to explore this lost & found place while it is still unkempt & retained in its raw beauty.

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The Forgotten Reservoir (Keppel Hill Reservoir)
Located near Wishart Road and Keppel Hill Road
* Pls wear proper footwear for this walking trail

. off we sail to Lazarus island .

Before I start off on this entry, I would just like to confess that I’m a  living paradox. I love outdoor adventure and nature but I hate the sun. Yes, I’m one of those office ladies who have to carry an umbrella during lunch breaks just to avoid the merciless sun. I love the sea and breeze but throw me into the open sea and I tell you I’ll need a life vest, no matter what. Such an irony right?

Despite my dislike for the sun, I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity when CC and her family invited me to join them and family friends for a morning to set sail to the picturesque Lazarus island. My first yacht party and visit to Lazarus island was one of the best times I ever had and I’ve been talking about arranging a return trip since although nothing has materialized… Till now. Anyhow, since I wouldn’t be travelling much at all this year, I decided to bring the ‘travelling’ to home instead! 🙂

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The little twin captains who took the rein and steer the boat. They might be tiny in size but they sure do pack a punch!
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Although I have an absolute lack of maternal instincts, I think I do get along pretty well with kids in general. Strangely, I found myself quite contented basking in the sun (a usual BIG no-no for me) at the sun-deck with the kids, talking about their interests and dreams. The girls excel in gymnastics and have won medals in competitions, and the boy cannot wait till he’s 14 so that he can finally get a scuba diving license. When I was their age, all I wanted to do was to play catching and hide-and-seek with my siblings and friends. And I thought anyone older than me was just “uncool to talk to”. Hahaha.

If anything, I would think I’m like a much bigger sister to them but imagine my horror when a stranger at Lazarus island approached me to comment on how lucky “my kids” were because they were given the chance to have fun in the week leading up to their examinations. My kids? Which means I would have given birth to them when I was only 17 yrs old! Teen mum alert! Perhaps, I should consider a switch in career to become a nanny instead?

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Lazarus island has always been known as one of Singapore’s best kept secret because of its tranquility and breathtaking beach. However, with the recent buzz and hype, it’s not too surprising to learn that it is now a hit among both locals and tourists. It is not too uncommon to hear people squealing in delight as they first laid their eyes on the picturesque beach, a sight that most would never have thought existed on our little red dot.

For those who do not fancy chartering a yacht to this hidden gem, fret not as there is also a causeway that links St John island to Lazarus. So, pick an afternoon to head over to this island for a refreshing dip in the turquoise waters or have a picnic by the beach! 🙂

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Kids will love playing with the fine sand, and building sand castles, complete with a water moat. For our case, we decided to be creative and give her a mermaid tail! 
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I’ll admit – I’m jealous of a 10 yrs old girl. I’ve tried so hard to perform a handstand during my yoga classes but have never been successful in my feeble attempts. Yet, she does it so effortlessly … on the sand!
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To 14 years of friendship and  many more years to come till we become old and wrinkled! 
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. trip to southern islands: st john, lazarus, seringat .

For this year’s Singapore Heritage Festival themed “Our Islands, Our Home”, National Heritage Board has organised several island trails, including a half-day trip to the Southern islands – St John, Lazarus and Seringat. As usual, I didn’t want to miss out on the chance to go island-hopping so I went ahead for this excursion, alone (Because no one else was able to get the balloted slots). Due to the rushed itinerary, we were not able to explore much of St John island although the trip brought back many fond memories of my first trip to the island. Lots of exploration of every nook and cranny of the island, it was fascinating. Click here to check it out!

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One of the highlights of this excursion was the visit to the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), which is usually out-of-bounds to the public.

As per the website, TMSI is a centre of excellence for research, development and consultancy in tropical marine science as well as environmental science. With its multi-disciplinary research laboratories and active international links, it handles projects relevant to Physical Oceanography, Acoustics, Marine Biology, Marine Mammals, Biofuels, Water Resources and Climate Change.

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Following a short presentation that introduced us to TMSI, we were given a mini-tour of the research facility, including pit stops at the fishery, giant clam aquarium and my personal favourite, the touch pool!

DO YOU KNOW?

Size: These giant clams can grow up to 1.5m in diameter. The ones that we saw at the facility are about 5 years old and measures 30cm. Giant clams need to be about 1m in  diameter before they can be released back into the wild, at the undisturbed Southern shores.

Diet: They feed on the algae that lives in its fleshy body. This is also the reason why the clam will face its shell opening towards the sunlight – To encourage photosynthesis for growth of the algae.

Reproduction: Giant clams have both male and female sexual organs. As such, the clam will release a cloud of sperm into the water first, followed by the eggs for fertilization. Newborn clams are only 0.001 mm in diameter! Invisible to the naked egg!

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Since I was a little girl, I have always been fascinated with touch pools because that meant a chance for me to discover, first hand, how these marine creatures felt like. The touch pool at TMSI isn’t as exciting as those at Underwater World or S.E.A Aquarium but it is unique because all the marine creatures can be found just off our shores. These marine organisms, ranging from soft corals to sea star (or starfish as it’s more commonly known) to sea cucumber, can usually be found nearer to the Southern islands as the water here is less polluted and commercialised as compared to mainland Singapore.

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A picturesque view awaits us as we walked across the “mini causeway” to the neighbouring islands of Lazarus and Seringat. I was hoping that we were able to explore more of these islands but it turned out that the only feature of these island is really the pristine beach and clear blue waters. The exact same spot that my colleagues and I chilled at during our yacht party a couple years ago. Most of my fellow tour-mates exclaimed in awe over the breathtaking sight, as one could hardly expect to discover such a hidden gem in Singapore! It’s no surprise to see the beach, with its turquoise water and powdery white sand, being a hit with many families … Just the perfect spot for a picnic and some fun in the sea for the kiddos! 🙂

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. furry times at The Cat Cafe .

the cat cafe logoAs a parent to 3 furkids and a school of tropical fishes, I know how wonderful it is to bask in the companionship of our furry and well, maybe not-so-furry counterparts. Having experienced first hand the indescribable joy and happiness that comes with pet ownership, I’m a strong believer in the calming effects of animal therapy. That was also the reason why I chose to visit The Cat Cafe earlier this week, after receiving some unsettling news about my neck recovery. I wanted a place where I could seek comfort and healing of some sort and I knew I could find it here at this cafe. And, I did.

The concept of cat cafes has been exceptionally popular in many countries, such as Taiwan, Japan and Korea and it’s little surprise that the first couple of cat cafes in Singapore have also received an overwhelming reception. After all, doesn’t it sounds purrrrfect to stroke and cuddle with a feline companion while sipping a cup of coffee?

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As a strong supporter of pet adoption, The Cat Cafe works with a local cat shelter, KittyHaven, to adopt 14 lovely rescue cats that have now made the cafe their home. These cats are allowed to roam around freely within the cafe so don’t be too alarmed if you happened to be sharing the same table with 1 or more cats!

There are, of course, rules that one ought to follow in the cat cafe but these are minimal and there’s no “bodyguard” to watch your every single move. Just soak in the casual and cozy atmosphere! The entrance fee of $15 (Which I think is very reasonable) will get you a complimentary soft drink and unlimited time with the feline companions.

the cat cafe 2the cat cafe title 3For cat lovers who are looking for a more intimate session with the cats, you might like to purchase a tiny bowl of cat food ($3) to feed the cats. Trust me, these greedy cats will flock to you in no time and you will become their favourite person in the house! I’m guessing that the way to win a cat’s heart is through his stomach! :p

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Cats are known to sleep as much as 18 hours a day so don’t be too upset if there are more cats sleeping than awake during your visit! That’s almost 2/3 of the day! Fortunately for us, we visited at a time (between 6-8pm) where most of the cats were active. As cats tend to sleep more often during the day, it is thus advisable for you to visit sometime in the evening if you do not want to miss the opportunity to catch them in play mode.

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I’m not going to deny that I’m a dog person as I find dogs a lot more interactive and playful. Plus, dogs are man’s best friends. In fact, I’m a little apprehensive about cats as I have this fear that they might scratch or attack me with their sharp claws! Blame this stereotyping on the media that often associate cats with “evil”. However, fret not as the cats at The Cat Cafe are generally docile and approachable. They seem pretty friendly and most would enjoy a pat or rub although the shy ones would run away almost immediately. On the same note, please don’t expect the cats to come running to you for attention, as what most dogs would do, because they are well, aloof by nature.

If you are lucky, you might even get to engage a little play session with some of the cats by getting them to chase after the teaser cat toy (the toys with a stick at the end)! Try that game with the resident black cat as it seems to be the most mischievous of the lot!

In between patting the friendlier cats, I couldn’t help but to behave like a typical Singaporean going around the cafe, snapping countless of pictures as the cats are simply too photogenic! 🙂

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The Cat Cafe

Address: 241B Victoria Street Level 3
Telephone: 6338 6815
Website: http://thecatcafe.sg/

. tales of survivor heritage tour .

Ever since I started hitting the yoga studio on a very regular basis, I must say that it has been awhile since I took the weekends to explore Singapore beyond the usual hangout places. Just today, my ever-so-cool Mum, another friend and I spent a couple of hours with a volunteer guide from the Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB) to uncover some of the gazetted National Monuments that are located right in the heart of the city! Well, I know that most people my age ain’t all that big on checking out historical places but for those who are keen to know more about the captivating stories of our country’s eventual past, do sign up for the mailing list to get updates on the upcoming monuments walking tours!

#lovemyweekends
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Constructed in 1937, the Former Cathay Building (now The Cathay) used to house the famous Cathay Restaurant (still in existence in the current building), luxury apartments, as well as the flagship 1,300 seat Cathay cinema belonging to the Cathay Organization. At 79.5m high, this 17-storey building was the first skyscraper in Singapore and also the tallest building in Southeast Asia at that point of time. In fact, the building has ‘played’ many roles throughout its 77 years of existence.

During the country’s fight against the Japanese invasion, the building served as a Red Cross casualty station and shelter before the Japanese military took over during the Japanese Occupation and used it as a centre to broadcast wartime propaganda! Do you know that the Japanese military also stuck human heads belonging to beheaded looters onto the poles and had them placed outside of Cathay building? Haunting. In the post-war years, the building was converted into the 60-rooms Cathay Hotel which was frequented by the rich & famous during its hey days, and later on, an office space in the early 1970s. What you see in present day is a juxtaposition of the old Cathay Building and the newly furbished mall, a sight that shows that both old and new can co-exist together.
 – source –

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For those of us who visit Orchard Road often, I’m sure that the MacDonald House needs no introduction. It is the last remaining office building in facing brick in town and is currently home to international companies such as Citibank Singapore and Mccann Worldwide. Ironically, did you know that it was first designed and built for another bank, Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC), back in 1949?

Anyway, this distinctive red brick building is more known for the MacDonald House blast and bombings that happened in 1965, which resulted in the death of 3 innocent civilians. The explosion was so powerful that all the glass windows in buildings located within 100m radius from the MacDonald House were shattered. It was an attack of retaliation by 2 Indonesian men during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, when Singapore was still part of Malaysia.

If you have been reading the news lately, you would have certainly read about the recent controversy of Indonesia naming a navy ship after the 2 Indonesian saboteurs, as well as the withdrawal of the Singapore Armed Forces delegation from the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue exhibition just a couple days’ ago. Sensitive issues.
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Old-school ATM depository machine
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MacDonald House

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We have finally come to the highlight of our heritage walk – An opportunity to walk beyond the front doors of the House of Tan Yeok Nee. You can’t possibly miss this 129 years old oriental mansion that stands out like a sore thumb (in a good way) in the heart of town! Being a sucker for historic places, I have always been curious to explore the interior of this ancient house. When the opportunity to attend a heritage tour in the House of Tan Yeok Nee presented itself, I jumped at it immediately!

Do you know that this mansion is  1 of the last 2 surviving traditional Chinese mansions still in existence in Singapore? The other one is the River House in Clarke Quay, more famously known as The Forbidden City by IndoChine.

As the name clearly states, this house first belonged to a wealthy Teochew business man, Mr Tan Yeok Nee, who built his wealth through the pepper, spices, liquor and legal opium trades. It has since, changed hands many times: From a train station master’s residence (the then KTM railway),  an orphanage and school for Eurasian girls, the Headquarters for Salvation Army and now, the Asian campus for the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business!

Personally, my favourite spots of the house are the beautiful and tranquil courtyards, complete with lush greenery and water features. In fact, you can barely even hear the sounds of the passing cars despite the fact that the house is located in the middle of a busy junction!
– source –

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The main courtyard 
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Hand-painted Chinese drawings on the roof
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Door to the beautiful garden courtyard – Perfect spot of tranquility
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Elaborated carvings on the wall
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. adam park project .

For many years, I have always wondered what lies beyond the NUSS Guild House located at 7 Adam Road but somehow, I never did get the chance to explore the 19 black-and-white colonial houses that make up the Adam Park estate. Lady luck was on my side when I found out that the National Heritage Board was organizing “limited edition” tours to bring visitors to Adam Park and discover for themselves the role that the estate had played during World War II.  And yours truly, along with my ever-adventurous mum, were fortunate enough to get ourselves the last couple of spaces left on the last tour! 🙂

Unlike the usual war attraction places that tend to focus on military warfare and buildings (forts/ tunnels), The Adam Park Project, or TAPP for short, is a battlefield archaeology project that aims to educate people about the wartime heritage of the Adam Park housing estate through the eyes of an archaeologist. Think about how the location of the remains of bullets and cartridge could show you where the actual fighting between the English Regiment and Japanese troops took place. Pretty cool, huh? Ironically, this project was founded not by a local but an Englishman battlefield archaeologist, Jon Cooper, who is in Singapore to accompany his wife who’s working here! I have learnt so much about Adam Park through Jon’s very passionate and detailed narration – This relatively hidden place is simply steeped in history and I would honestly encourage all who’s interested in our country’s history to join his tour. I promise you that there will not be a single dull moment on the tour with Jon around! 🙂

It will be a huge challenge for me to squeeze 1.5 hours worth of information into this entry without making it sound like a thesis paper or boring you out. So, I’ll try my best to capture just the main points and share a teaser of what to expect. Please get in touch with Jon through the project FB page and be ready to unearth little known facts about Adam Park!

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That’s our tour guide, Jon, who’s extremely animated and passionate about the battlefield history behind Adam Park estate.
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The colonial house at 7 Adam Park was originally the HQ for the Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment that was defending Singapore from the Japanese. This house was selected as it sits on a reverse slope and is thus hidden from a downhill view. Strategic location for the military troops to plan their attacks. It is categorized as a Class 3 house; Class 1 houses are located at the top of hill (better feng shui).
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House no. 17 served as a hospital during WWII. Unfortunately, it was heavily bombed thus leaving most of the original building burnt to the ground. The house that stands in its place now has been heavily restored and even comes with a private pool!
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Research shows that there used to be a POW’s chapel located in an upstairs room of 1 of the houses. In spite of its relatively simple set-up, it boosted a beautiful mural that was painted by 1 of the POW. The location of this chapel still remains a mystery to-date but Jon & team are in the midst of conducting more on-site investigation to solve this mystery. House no. 12 was once suspected to be home to this chapel; alas, research findings had proved otherwise. 

The group of us was also very fortunate to be invited by the expat owner for a tea break at her lovely and huge home! Super excited to be able to get a glimpse of life behind these colonial houses as it was once my dream to be able to live in 1 of the walk-up apartments at the quaint Wessex estate! 🙂 
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As much as I love to learn about the battlefield history of Adam Park, I must admit that a war-focused tour can be a tad dry for the ladies. So, thanks to an ingenious suggestion by his wife, Jon has incorporated elements of social history into his tours specially for the ladies.

At House no. 16, we learnt that it used to be home to a Dutch family that, unfortunately, died on their way to seek refuge in Australia and a German-Jewish family whose descendants had returned to Singapore from Australia for a visit. They even brought along original photographs of their grandparents living in this house back in the 1940s! Wow!
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bite-sized info

1. Do you know that this site was the last battle line before Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 Feb 1942? There was an intense series of fights between the Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment and Japanese 41st Regiment during the last 3 days in the battle for control of MacRitchie Reservoir (water source).

2. Adam Park also served as a camp for an estimated 1000 British and 2000 Australian POWS, who were tasked to build the Shinto shrine in MacRitchie Reservoir. Many of these POWs were later sent to work on the Thai Burma Railway that claimed the lives of many.

3. According to the personal accounts of some of these POWs, they felt that their existence at Adam Park was boring as the work that they did on local shores was a walk in the park compared to the harsher conditions that they had encountered in other countries.

4. The POWs were even paid a couple of cents a day for the work that they did to build the Shinto shrine. In addition, they were given about 625g of rice a day for their meals … Quite a big portion! What some of these resourceful men did, in their quest to survive, was to keep a portion of the rice to barter with the locals for extra food and supplement their diet. Smart eh.

5. Jon and a group of volunteers have held periodic archaeology digs at the estate over the past few years and managed to dig up about 1000 WWII artifacts, ranging from ammunition cartridges to military badges and even, vintage toothpaste tubes!

“Finding an artifact and piecing together a war narrative can be very addictive. It helps to verify historical accounts and shared memories of the battle site.”
– Mrs Helen Mummery, volunteer – 

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More Links!
The Adam Park Project (TAPP) in motion
The Adam Park Project FaceBook
Interview with TAPP Founder, Jon Cooper

. tiong bahru air raid shelter .

 Today, 8 Feb, marks the 72nd Anniversary of the battle for and eventual fall of Singapore during WWII. As part of the line-up of activities to commemorate the anniversary, the National Heritage Board has organised a series of heritage tours that will take participants to the historical sites to “relive” the WWII battles. Being a WWII history buff, my mum was so excited to discover more about these places that played such pivotal roles in the Japanese Occupation  that she actually signed up for all the tours within 5 minutes! Honestly, I think I have the coolest parents! 🙂  Now, you should know where I have inherited my sense of adventure and exploration from! Unfortunately, I was not able to join my parents for this heritage tour as I had already made prior appointments.

Nonetheless, I’m really looking forward to share with you guys about this relatively unknown historical spot – Singapore’s only remaining pre-war air raid shelter which is nestled in the heart of Tiong Bahru.
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Background: Built in 1939, the air raid shelter located at Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street is the only public housing building by the Singapore Improvement Trust (the housing organization before HDB) to be built with an air raid shelter as part of its design. It occupies an area of about 1,500 sqm (equivalent to the size of 13 5-room HDB flats) and could accommodate up to an estimated 1,600 pax. Forward 75 years later, this air raid shelter is the last remaining pre-war civilian bomb shelter still existing today! Click here to read up more about the history of this shelter.

Exterior: Entrance of the air raid shelter that is located below the flats
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Interior: Main corridor that leads you to more individual rooms within
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Interior: According to my mum, the interior of the shelter had been left pretty much the same condition as it was back during the pre-war days, thus giving visitors a better visualization of the original state.
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Do you know that the air raid shelter even witnessed its first birth back in 1942? A baby girl named Mary Magdeline Pereira was delivered when her mother and siblings sought for shelter during the bombings.
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Interior: Overhead wooden planks that serve as alternate escape doors for the residents to enter/exit. Kinda like the trapped doors that you often see in old American homes that have a basement!
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Interior: See the structure on the left side of the picture below? My first assumption was that these are bunk beds placed for the residents, in times of war. However, these turned out to be storage racks put in after WWII as the air raid shelter was temporarily used as an underground storage area in the 1950s.
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Notice the bricks labelled “Alexandra”? They are made by Alexandra Brickworks. That’s how ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre in Bukit Merah got its name!
tiong bahru air raid shelter 5* all pictures credit to my AWESOME parents

Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter Tour:
Date/Time: 15 Feb, 2.30pm & 4pm

Meeting area: Entrance of shelter at Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street
Registration: Please register via email with jenny_tan@nhb.gov.sg