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Vintage playgrounds and staycation spots of the '70s: 5 hidden gems in Pasir Ris

Vintage playgrounds and staycation spots of the '70s: 5 hidden gems in Pasir Ris

The elephant playground is located within a privately owned chalet complex in Pasir Ris Park. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

SINGAPORE: On Thursday (Dec 19), Singapore’s National Heritage Board (NHB) launched its 19th heritage trail, this time in Pasir Ris in a bid to showcase the neighbourhood's coastal and natural features.

The self-guided tour runs 14km long, but can be broken into three thematic routes: Beachfront history and nature, recreation sites and architecture.

Each route takes between an hour to 90 minutes to complete by foot.

Here are five hidden gems that tell the little-known history of this tranquil seaside town. 


Together with Sungei Tampines, Sungei Api Api is one of the two rivers that intersect Pasir Ris, lined by mangrove trees as the brackish waters allow the shrubs to thrive.

Sungei Api Api today, as seen from Pasir Ris Park. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

During the kampung days, people in Pasir Ris turned to the river for fish, prawn and crab.

Villagers would often come to the river to catch shrimps and prawns, and turn them into local condiments such as cincalok (fermented shrimp sauce) and belacan (fermented shrimp paste). 

Some residents would also sell these to neighbours or visitors. 

Within Pasir Ris Park is a six-hectare mangrove forest that visitors can walk through via the boardwalk. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

Mangrove timber would meanwhile be turned into boats, tools and charcoal. 

The river is currently flanked by rows of HDB flats. The apartment blocks have marine-themed features embedded, such as lighthouse-shaped turrets or windows framed by clam-shaped features.

D'Best Fishing Pond in Pasir Ris Town Park welcomes about 8,000 human visitors every month, and a few otter ones. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)


Fancy catching your own snapper or pomfret for dinner? You can, at D’Best Fishing at Pasir Ris Town Park.

The 24-hour outdoor hangout sits on the site of the former Golden Palace Holiday Resort and sees around 8,000 visitors a month. 

Established in 1967, the mixed-use lodging was the go-to holiday spot in Pasir Ris for locals in the 1960s and 1970s, with a nightclub, restaurants, chalets and Chinese-style pavilions that dotted its pond.

However, profitability concerns and internal conflict weighed on the resort, which closed down in 1971.

Andy Tay, who co-runs D'Best Fishing, Singapore's only commercial saltwater fishing pond. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

Today, the pond is co-run by a sprightly otter-loving man, Mr Andy Tay. 

He likes otters so much that three years ago he ordered customised carbon fibre statues of otters from Malaysia. There are now 13 of these statues "floating" around the pond. 

Never mind that his beloved animals come over and eat up his primary sources of income when they cannot find food in their spot at Pasir Ris Park. It is “charity”, he joked.


Staycations in Pasir Ris were once only available to Singapore’s upper-class during the colonial period since 1890. 

Elite landowners would build seaside bungalows along the beach, where they got a view over the Johor Strait, in order to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

The former People’s Association Holiday Flats. (Photo: National Heritage Board)

Some of the well-known businessmen that owned waterfront properties here in the colonial era include Joseph Aaron Elias, whose 12-bedroom bungalow was later converted into the Pasir Ris Hotel in 1952, and movie mogul Run Run Shaw.

The bungalows were often located within a wider estate of plantations and workers’ quarters. Some of these workers also built kampung houses around the area, which led to a thriving village life in Pasir Ris. 

Recreational trends shifted with the opening of the People's Association Holiday Flats at Pasir Ris Park in 1973.  

People could rent a two-room flat for S$7 a day and a three-room unit for S$10. This gave the average Singaporean affordable seaside vacation options, NHB wrote in a guide for the Pasir Ris heritage trail. 


Toa Payoh has its dragon-shaped playground and Pasir Ris has an elephant one. 

Located near the northern end of Pasir Ris Park, the elephant playground is within a privately owned chalet complex that once belonged to the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore (Telcoms).

The bumboat playground near Elias Mall was built in the 1980s by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). (Photo: National Heritage Board) ​​​​​​​

The former statutory board built eight chalets in 1975 and they were available to Telcoms staff at subsidised rates. 

It was common in the 1970s and 1980s for government agencies and companies to build holiday accommodation as a form of staff welfare, the guidebook stated.

Another iconic old school playground is the bumboat one at Elias Mall, which was built in the 1980s by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). 

It is part of the agency’s mosaic series of playgrounds, known for its terrazzo tiles, geometric lines and designs based on Asian cultures, animals, trades and food. 

Bumboats were used to transport goods in the past. 


Nestled in a housing area is Sakya Tenphel Ling, one of the first Tibetan Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. 

Sakya Tenphel Ling is one of the first Tibetan Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

It was established in 1995, with its architecture and design modelled after a Tibetan monastery. 

Ms Regine Wong, a representative of the temple, pointed out some replicated features: Parasols with the key Tibetan colours of blue, red, white, yellow and green hang prominently in the temple, while the dung-chen or Tibetan long horn, is used during ceremonial rituals. 

Parasols with the key Tibetan colours of blue, red, white, yellow and green hang prominently in the temple. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

The temple is a short walk away from other religious sites, including the Masjid Al-Istighfar, whose design was inspired by the "Blue Mosque" in Istanbul, and the Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple, which houses deities from Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism. 

Masjid Al-Istighfar's design is inspired by the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the "Blue Mosque" in Istanbul. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

Bethesda Pasir Ris Mission Church and Pentecost Methodist Church are both also within walking distance. The latter, which was founded to reach out to the Peranakans in the 1930s, still holds services in Baba Malay.

On the multi-religious aspect of the heritage trail, Ms Wong said that it creates a “beautiful experience for everybody” and creates the opportunity for people to “learn how to embrace all our friends”. 

Source: CNA/rp(hs)


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