Singapore’s secret sites
Singapore’s a small island, and it seems near-impossible that there can be things about it we don’t know about. Given the fact that we’re barely 50km wide from one end to the other, it seems like we’d have unturned every secret spot in this country by now.
We’re wrong. Singapore has plenty of secrets that most of us have never heard about. If you’re looking to peel back the layers on our island home, here are 10 super secret sides of Singapore that no one knew existed.
1. This 73-year old Japanese shrine at MacRitchie
Hidden away in the depths of the forest, far off from the popular hiking trails of MacRitchie Reservoir, lies the derelict remains of a once-glorious Japanese shrine.
Opened in 1943, the Syonan Jinja (Light of the South Shrine) was built to commemorate Japanese soldiers who died in the conquest of Malaya and Sumatra. It was also the site of many public ceremonies that Singaporeans of the past were compelled to participate in, to show their allegiance.
A ceremony held at Syonan Jinja in 1943
The shrine was modelled after the famous Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, and it was envisioned to become one of the biggest shrines in the world, second only to the Meiji Shrine. However, that was not to be, as Syonan Jinja was razed to the ground in 1945 when the Japanese surrendered.
Its ruins remain to this day, tucked away in the depths of the forest. Very little of it still stands, but the site is home to a startling natural beauty and rich history, and one worth visiting before it falls into further disrepair.
There was a bridge built across the water next to the temple, known as the ‘Divine Bridge’. That too has been destroyed, but when water levels are low, you can see the stumps of the bridge’s support peeking out above the surface.
The Divine Bridge in 1943
The Divine Bridge, now
Getting to the Syonan Jinja is a huge challenge, because the trail is unmarked and the area around the shrine isn’t maintained, so Mother Nature reigns supreme. Fortunately, some adventurous souls have beat us to it, and shared their tips for tracking down this elusive piece of our past.
2. Beautiful coral reefs under Keppel Bay!
I’ve always seen Keppel Bay as the place for the rich and famous - with swanky yachts and buildings that look like the Avengers Tower, But did you know that under all the glitz and glam lies a beautiful coral reef?
From Marina at Keppel Bay, you’ll get a fascinating look at the natural world full of life under the sea. As part of Keppel Land’s conservation efforts, they’ve partnered with marine experts to embark on a coral cultivation programme, one that will boost the existing coral habitats at King’s Dock.
The ecosystem is full of life and colour, and even from the surface it’s easy to see the beauty of the reef.
Keppel Bay also goes to great lengths to make sure they’ve created an optimum environment for the corals to thrive. Marina at Keppel Bay features a reticulated vacuum pump-out system to ensure waste doesn’t get chucked into the sea, and boat owners are encouraged to use biodegradable detergents when cleaning their vessels.
All this works towards one thing - creating an environment where humans and marine life can co-exist and thrive! Who knows, perhaps one day Singapore will have a coral reef fit for a feature in National Geographic.
It’s fascinating to see how an old shipyard has transformed into one of the fanciest properties around, and how it’s become a place that’s doing a great part in coral conservation efforts.
Fun fact: Marina at Keppel Bay was named Asia’s first fish friendly marina by the Marina Industries Association! Way to put Singapore on the (marine) world map!
3. Singapore’s oldest bus stops that have been preserved
Bus stops are a common sight here in Singapore - there’s probably one just down the road. They’ve transformed over the years to their present sleek design, but there are still some old-fashioned bus stops along our streets today that are a blast from the past.
Located along Tanjong Pagar Road, this bus stop dates all the way back to the sixties:
And travelling down Old Choa Chu Kang Road, you’ll find this old metal-and-concrete bus stop believed to be the last of its kind from the seventies:
And of course, not forgetting the iconic orange-and-white bus stops that lined Singapore streets for years! These brightly coloured stops have mostly been replaced by the modern grey ones, but there are still some around today, in areas such as Lim Chu Kang and Jalan Kayu.
But for one orange bus stop that’s also a great photo-taking spot (without the possibility of being run down by a truck), head down to Punggol Waterway Park. This old bus stop has been preserved and is now a part of the park- a great place to ham it up for the cameras.
4. North Korean Embassy
Most people see North Korea as a kingdom of isolation, secluded from the rest of the world, but did you know that they’ve got an embassy right here in Singapore?
Located in Golden Mile Complex, the North Korean embassy is where tourists can go to apply for visas and settle other administrative matters before embarking on a journey to the Hermit Kingdom. Who knows, maybe the Supreme Leader will set foot on our shores one day.
Fun fact: did you know that there are only two nationalities that can travel to North Korea without a visa? Singapore and Malaysia.
5. An extinct species on our very own Pulau Ubin
Sometimes it seems like the only animals in Singapore are pigeons and rats, but we’re home to a huge variety of flora and fauna, from exotic birds to wild boars.
And one of the most intriguing animals we call our own is the mousedeer. There are two types of mousedeer, but the one that’s stirring great interest is the greater mousedeer, because it was thought to have gone extinct eighty years ago.
The greater mousedeer has been spotted on Pulau Ubin, and it’s a testament to how nature can flourish when left undisturbed. The next time you’re visiting Pulau Ubin, keep a lookout for the mousedeer. Who knows, maybe you’ll have a close encounter of the best kind with these cute fellows.
You can find the lesser mousedeer in areas like Lower Peirce Reservoir - they are oh-so-adorable.
Fun fact: Inch Chua’s single ‘Mousedeer’ was inspired by a sighting of the greater mousedeer during her stay on Pulau Ubin! #supportlocal and check out her music video here:
6. The Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter that never got demolished
During WWII, air raids were frighteningly common. Sighting enemy planes or hearing the telltale sound of aircraft sent civilians scrambling for shelter, usually in underground bunkers. While most air raid shelters have since been demolished, there is one that still remains in Tiong Bahru.
Located at Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street, the air raid shelter shows a side of Singapore we’ve never seen before. Built entirely using bricks by the Singapore Improvement Trust (HDB’s grandfather), this shelter was used to shield civilians from the impact of bombs dropped by enemy planes.
The Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter is not open to the public, but there are occasionally guided tours that give you a peek into our history. Check out the Tiong Bahru Heritage volunteer group to see if there are any tours going on, or keep an eye on the National Heritage Board to see if any open up.
7. This awkward looking giant frog statue
A long, long time ago, a frog, a pig, and an elephant took part in a challenge. They dared each other to swim from Singapore to Johor, and whoever did not succeed would be turned into a rock. Alas, the waters were choppy and swimming was impossible - and so the three animals turned into rocks. The elephant and the pig became Pulau Ubin, and the frog became Pulau Sekudu.
This is just an old folktale, but there really is a giant frog on Pulau Sekudu. No one really knows the origin of the statue on the barren island that’s usually only visited by researchers, but you can’t deny that it truly has one of the most adorable expressions I’ve ever seen on a hunk of rock. .
Just look at that face.
Note: You’ll need special permission from NParks in order to visit Pulau Sekudu, so seeing this frog up close may be a distant dream for most of us.
8. Old medicine jars from WW2 in the secret tunnels of Alexandra Hospital
Hidden tunnels are the stuff of adventure novels, but here in Singapore, we have a real-life hidden tunnel network right under one of Singapore’s oldest hospitals.
Alexandra Hospital was once known as the British Military Hospital, and it was the site of a terrible massacre during World War II. There are several tunnels under the hospital, and rumour had it that the tunnels stretched all the way underground to Labrador Park.
However, the tunnels simply connect one end of the hospital to another, and were built to serve as air raid shelters and vaults to keep medicine and other medical supplies safe from the bombs. During the massacre, staff and patients tried to seek refuge in the tunnels, but were forced out when the Japanese opened fire.
Walking through the tunnels, one can see many vault-like structures, as well as old medicine jars and bottles left behind, dusty remains of a time now past.
The tunnels aren’t exactly the safest to explore on your own, and the two tunnel entrances can be a little tricky to spot. Fortunately, there are regular heritage trails that will bring you on a journey through these tunnels, casting light on a part of our history we don’t really know about.
9. Mystical Treehouse
Take a stroll through Kallang Riverside Park, and you’ll see an intriguing Banyan Tree, one that looks like something out of a Miyazaki movie.
Go closer, and you’ll find what looks like a house entangled with the tree roots, with only a stone gate visible among the jumble of roots and vines. At the base of the tree, there is a small shrine dedicated to the earth god.
No one really knows the origin of this mystical treehouse, why it’s there and who put it there, but it definitely adds a touch of curiosity to the park. Who knows, maybe one day, we’ll find out what secrets lie among those roots.
10. Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree
Forget rainbow cakes and rainbow unicorns - here in Singapore, we have our very own rainbow tree! The Mindanao Gum Heritage Tree, located in Katong Park, is possibly the prettiest tree we’ve ever laid our eyes on.
Native to Papua New Guinea, the Rainbow Tree, as we’ve affectionately dubbed it, sheds patches of its outer bark at different times of the year, exposing the bright green inner bark. This bright green bark changes colour as it matures, giving blue, orange, purple, and even maroon tones! The transformation is magical, and it looks almost holographic at times.
This colour-changing tree is a little like a slow-going chameleon, but it’s a beautiful sight that’s totally nature’s work of art. Be sure to bring your camera to snap some snazzy #ootds or artistic shots for the IG feed!
Hidden sides like never seen before
There are many parts of Singapore that I never knew existed, and it’s great that our little island is still full of surprises when we think we’ve seen it all.
It’s also great to know that most of these sites are being protected, whether historical sites or nature. There was a time when the tunnels at Alexandra Hospital would have been renovated or demolished without consideration of its past. It's especially heartening now to see big organisations like Keppel Land making an effort and preserving a part of Singapore's natural ecosystem.
By preserving both our history and nature, we’re ensuring the future generation will be able to see these sights.
Still can't believe this is under Keppel Bay!
The next time you’re looking for a bit of adventure, head off the beaten track and check out these interesting sights. From the coral reefs under our swankiest marina to the ruins of a once-grand Japanese shrine, our island home has so much more than meets the eye.
Whether historical or cultural, natural or manmade, there’s so much to explore. Onwards we go!
This post is brought to you by Keppel Land.