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.


  1. Interesting! Singapore has changed so much over the years. Hope you had a good workout.
    Ride safely cos Singaporean drivers don't take very good care of cyclists on the roads.

    1. hi !
      Yes it was a good workout, especially on the uphill stretches !
      Agree, one must be careful on the roads.
      In fact i dont actually cycle on the busy roads, staying mostly on the sidewalks when i leave a connector...cant go fast then but its safer.
      Also wear a helmet and make sure you have front/back lights, and wear light coloured T-shirt if out after dark.