Monday, 21 January 2013

From the Straits of Singapore to the Straits of Johor, Overland

The Ulu-ness Scale
In the 1970’s most people would have considered Jalan Kayu an “ulu” place. Remember, there were no expressway’s then and the only way there was by the long Yio Chu Kang Road. Also, the initial stretch of Jalan Kayu then was bordered on both sides by rubber plantations, giving it a truly rustic feel.
However, even in those days Punggol was probably considered much more ulu than Jalan Kayu --at least it was to me. I had heard the place mentioned but have no childhood memories of going there and so in Ocober 2012 I decided it warranted a cycle trip before that place was totally re-developed. (Yes, I have heard of Punggol mee-goreng, and have tried the version served in food-courts, but as I had no clue where to try it in Punggol I was not driven there by that desire. But I do wonder if every ulu, or formerly ulu, place has some famous food associated with it J )
The Start
As I was heading for a destination that was new to me, I planned it using and brought along a smartphone so I could consult the map on the go. I found that I could very much stay on park connectors this time.  (All maps and images below are from Google Maps and Street View)

From Marine Parade I headed to Jalan Eunos as before and then turned and kept going up along Jalan Eunos which at some point becomes Eunos Link. The initial stretches are bordered by HDB flats which later give way to industrial buildings and many car show rooms on the left side. (The right side is apparently part of the Kaki Bukit Industrial estate while the left is the Ubi Industrial area).
At the intersection with Airport Road, on the left, is the Driving Centre which looks like it has been there for a long time. Beyond the intersection the road changes name to Hougang Avenue 3. (A place I had ended up on during my return trip from Jalan Kayu). Continuing straight on beyond the intersection with Bartley Road East (a “new” road extending Bartley Road), cycling uphill; one see a SBS bus depot on the right.
First Part of Trip

Defu Industrial Estate
At this point I decided to turn right into Defu Avenue 1 (it more or less runs parallel to Hougang Avenue 3) which cuts through the Defu Industrial estate. On the left is the Singapore Girls Home and after that it is pleasant downhill free-wheeling for a very long stretch until the intersection with Tampines Road.
Defu Industrial estate is an old estate with mostly low-rise buildings and it was in the news recently: It will be upgraded. So catch the scene before it is gone.

Serangoon and Buangkok Park Connectors
After the intersection with Tampines Road, Defu Avenue 1 gets renamed Hougang Avenue 7. Just to the right, after that intersection, is the start of the Serangoon Park Connector which runs along Sungei Serangoon The right facing view along this connector is forested area (not sure how long it will last) while the left has HDB flats and some upcoming condos.

At the intersection of Sungei Serangoon and Sungei Pinang there is a fork in the connector. The left fork is still called the Serangoon Connector while the right is called Punggol Promenade. I took the left path and would eventually return later that night by the right one, completing a very big loop.
So, the Serangoon connector now passes the edge of Punggol Park (although the park is really on the edge of Hougang) and then becomes a trail that passes through a HDB estate, crossing several roads. You have to look carefully for the fading signs at intersections to keep on the official track. At some point the Serangoon Park Connector becomes the Buangkok Park Connector which doesn’t have any parks along it, unless once counts the sprawling grounds of the Institute of Mental Health which it borders, buts eventually it leads to one.
When the Buangkok Connector hit Yio Chu Kang road I recognised the place: I had arrived there by a different route during my Jalan Kayu trip. This time I turned into Gerald Road around the corner and continued that way to join the Punggol Park Connector

Punggol Park Connector
A lovely connector along Sungei Punggol, with lots of pristine greenery on the right side when you start, and much open space (as of writing) on both sides. After a long ride one reaches the inviting Sengkang Riverside Park. This looked like a nice place to explore but since I was determined to reach Punggol Point I decided to skip that distraction (but only after stopping for a snack at the Sports and Recreation centre next to Anchorvale community club.)
Pushing onwards along the connector one comes to another alluring distraction: “My Waterway at Punggol”, which provides a short-cut through this tip of North-Eastern Singapore. I left it for another day and proceeded along the coast, going around the Marina Country Club to eventually reach Punggol Jetty.
Just opposite, the view is of various industries along the Johor coastline. As it was already getting dark I didn’t stay around to explore more of the Punggol beach and jetty area, though there were lots of people hanging around.

Punggol Promenade
Beyond the jetty the trail continues as Punggol Promenade but it is unpaved. On that day it was wet and at places muddy. It was a very long ride along that part of the coast with no developments nearby. However, as along previous stretches of the Punggol Connector, one could see signs that something would someday be constructed not far away.
Eventually the promenade joins up with the Serangoon Park Connector and one completes a loop on the north-eastern tip of Singapore. From here, it was just a matter of reversing through the early part of the journey to get home.
One interesting observation from the Promenade: I noticed bridges to other lands but as it was dark I did not explore those then. On reaching home I checked to find that one of them leads to Lorong Halus and thus provides a short-cut between Punggol and Pasir Ris—an adventure for another day !

Making the loop around Punggol

The whole trip was about 40 km long and took about 5 hours. I managed to cover a larger distance than the Jalan Kayu trip, even though I took two makan stops, because I could go faster on the deserted park connectors.
There is much left to explore along this route, so I will be back!
(In fact, Singapore’s last remaining Kampung is apparently just near Gerald Drive.)

Friday, 4 January 2013

Destination Jalan Kayu

I chose this as one of my targets, in Oct 2012, not for the roti-prata, as some of you might think, but because that is where my primary school used to be---though in the end I did try the roti-prata; more on that later J
I chose a route from Paya Lebar to Jalan Kayu that I used to travel by bus in the old days. Indeed some of the SBS buses, 70 and 103, seem to pretty much run the same route even now! (In another posting I will describe an easier way to get to Jalan Kayu from the East Coast)
Sorry, I didn’t take any pictures but you can use the wonderful Google Street View [1] to see the current sights along the roads described below. I have also included links to some older pictures at other websites and blogs.
The Start
As usual, my starting point was Marine Parade. First it was down the Siglap Park Connector to Kembangan MRT. Along the way one passes various schools and the ``hidden” Telok Kurau Park (located at the end of Joo Chiat Place if you are coming that way). The Siglap Connector continues behind Kembangan MRT and leads you to Bedok Reservoir, but I will describe that adventure another day.
At this point I got off the connector and went west on Sims Avenue, heading towards Paya Lebar. To avoid traffic I prefer to cut into the private housing estate at Lorong Marican, and then Jalan Kechot, which brings me to Jalan Eunos. Crossing at the traffic light one continues along Eunos Crescent and then beyond to the Eunos Industrial estate: Taking Eunos Ave 5 brings you to Paya Lebar Road.
Cycling through an industrial estate on weekends is actually quite nice, there being almost no human or vehicular traffic, and one can take in the sights of some of the small industries there.

Paya Lebar Road
Turn right at Paya Lebar road, heading north. This road, like many others in Singapore, has been totally transformed compared to my memories of the 70’s. Now it is sandwiched between huge industrial complexes that have sprung up. The only landmark that I recall at the lower end of Paya Lebar Road is the former Geylang fire station, at the intersection of Sims avenue (PHOTO1) :It is Singapore’s second oldest and  has been conserved by the URA.
Heading north on Paya Lebar one comes to the intersection with Airport Road, so called because it leads to the restricted Air Base, which in the 70’s was the location of our main civilian airport before it shifted to Changi. In those days passengers alighted from the plane onto the tarmac and one could wave at them from an open balcony as they walked (PHOTO2,PHOTO3 ).
Cycling along Paya Lebar Road, some uphill stretches provide good exercise. Near the intersection with Bartley Road the shop-houses on the left look like they have been around since the old days. Bartley school is still around though the campus is new and it is now co-ed, again: In my memory it was a boys school in the 70’s, but I was surprised to learn from its website that it was co-ed when it started in the 50’s, then sent its female students to the newly formed Cedar Girls School in 1956.
Beyond that intersection there are more neighbourhoods that have survived modernisation. At the intersection of Upper Paya Lebar Road and Upper Serangoon Road there is an old (police?) camp that I recognise though it is not clear what it is used for now.

Yio Chu Kang Road
Turn right at the intersection then left, up along Yio Chu Kang Road (more uphill exercise), another road which has undergone a massive change in scenery. The Serangoon Sports Complex on the left is new to me, though beyond that many old housing estates, and some petrol stations, provide familiarity. (It seems to me that the petrol stations in Singapore last longer than most other landmarks.)
Keep going and you notice the HDB estates of Serangoon, Ang Mo Kio and Hougang, and the associated roads leading there: None of these estates existed in the 70’s, and as far as I can recollect the land there was mainly vacant or greenery.


The intersection with Gerald Drive starts to look familiar again. The housing estate on the left, Seletar Hills, has not changed much other than the usual expansion of some houses into multi-story units. The church and petrol station nearby are still there.
But some names have changed! Gerald Drive used to be called Jalan Woodbridge and led to the Woodbridge Hospital which used to treat and house people with mental health issues. I remember that sometimes the male patients used to “escape” and wander around the neighbourhood. They were recognisable from their distinctive uniform which included brown shorts.
The Woodbridge hospital has since moved further away to what is now called Buangkok (I don’t think that existed then either) and it has been renamed the Institute of Mental Health. (The name “Woodbridge” had a certain stigma attached to it so perhaps that is the reason for the name changes of the roads and Hospital).
Jalan Kayu
Keep going along Yio Chu Kang Road and you reach the intersection with Jalan Kayu, where there used to stand a Post Office and Polyclinic. They are both gone [2] but you can see some photos here.
In the old days both sides of Jalan Kayu [3], for a long stretch, were occupied by rubber trees as far as the eye could see (PHOTOS). The rubber plantations have been cleared and new farms and flats (Fernvale/Sengkang East HDB estate) occupy that land. All those branching roads on the right leading to the Sengkang estate obviously didn’t exist then. Instead there were narrow dirt trails leading to the interior of the rubber plantations. I will write more about the insides of the rubber plantations in my next post, so let us continue down the road looking for remaining landmarks.
It is not until I passed the Esso station on the left that things started to look familiar again: The original narrow Jalan Kayu, with shop-houses on the left and some residences on the right. There are many more restaurants now compared to those days, and I am not sure how many of the other shops are still doing the same business as in the days of yore. The “parking” space in front of the shop-houses was not as crowded then, and on Friday nights there used to be a very popular “Lelong” (night market) along that stretch (PHOTOS).
The church at the intersection of Lorong Samak is certainly a familiar landmark but on the left, where the concrete row of shop-houses now end (before Jalan Tari Lilin), a row of other shop-houses existed (maybe wooden), continuing till the edge of the then Jalan Kayu Primary School (JKPS).
JKPS is extinct. The gates of the school used to be near the exit to the TPE now . The lanes of the expressway run through what used to be the school field. Indeed the landscape there now is similar to the layout of the school then: Entrance at a high-level going downhill to the school building and then even lower down to the school field .(My memories of JKPS will be described in another post!).

The photo below (captured from Google Street View) shows the approximate location of the extinct JKPS entrance:
A roti-prata shop used to be very close to the school gates but now it seems to have moved further down the road (in the direction we just came from). In those days the roti-prata cost just about 10-20 cents, as I recall. It is now $1 a piece I think. I had no idea in those days that it was anything special and that it would one day become famous: Then it was just there, it was edible, and it was cheap.
Across the road from JKPS there used to be a Fish and Chips place and another row of shophouses (also probably wooden), all of which are gone now. Indeed, many of the original shops there used to cater to the British and other personnel who used to occupy Seletar Camp. The Fish and Chips then cost about 50 cents.
As I recall, some of those wooden shop-houses did not have modern toilet facilities and still relied on “night soil” men for clearing. The parking lot in front of those shop-houses was just an unpaved clearing with a teh-tarik hut at one corner. Sometimes some enterprising youths would promise, for a small fee, to “look after” a car that was parked there. (I wonder if the current parking lot there is the same location as the dirt lot in those days).

Getting Lost in Sengkang
Well, I had my prata and decided to head back home by a different route. I thought I could cut across the new (to me) Sengkang estate and maybe join up with Yio Chu Kang road again. I took one of the Sengkang avenues going east but got disoriented (No, I didn’t have a smart phone, so had no maps) . At one place I asked for directions but still didn’t seem to be getting anywhere I could recognise.
Finally I stopped at a bus-stop to look at the routes of the buses there and found one which was going somewhere I recognised and decided to follow that route. Eventually through many twists and turns I found myself on Hougang Avenue 3 which continues on as Eunos Link. But I thought, wrongly again, that I could save time by cutting through one of the Ubi Avenues.
When I cut through the very quiet and deserted Ubi Industrial estate, I arrived at the other end, to my surprise, at the same Paya Lebar Road I had been on earlier in the day: My mistake was in thinking Eunos Link was heading east and so I thought Ubi Avenue was heading south. It turns out that Eunos Link was mostly going south and so Ubi Avenue led me westwards again!
Anyway, I was on familiar ground again and so cycled on down till I found Tanjong Katong Road, then turned left onto Mountbatten/East Coast Road, cut through Joo Chiat Road and back to Marine Parade and home. (Explorations of the Katong/Marine Parade region will appear in a future post).
Overall it was a good trip although it drizzled on and off on that day, forcing me to take occasional refuge at some bus-stops when the rain got heavy. The adventure took about 5 hours (5pm to 10pm) round-trip, including makan time, and I covered an estimated distance of 30 km.
According to Google Maps you can walk from Marine Parade to Jalan Kayu in about 3 hours but I think that’s at a brisk pace, not a casual walk. Anyway I couldn’t cycle fast on most stretches as it was off the park-connector. However there were some downhill stretches that somewhat compensated the uphill ones I mentioned.

The map below (from Google Maps) shows a red-trail that approximately represents my outward journey and the black trail my wandering way back.

1. Google Street Views: Get on Google Maps and choose a road. Drag the “orange man” from the top left of the map and place him on the road you are interested in. That activates the street view. You can then use the orientation button on the top left to see different directions and elevations while the white arrows on the road allow you to move along that road.

Since the photos in Google Street View were taken some time ago, you can still see the Jalan Kayu Post office there though it is gone physically. 

3. You can read more about the Jalan Kayu area and see more photos at this blog.