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Secret things to do around Singapore

From hidden hot springs to shrines hidden in forests, discover a side of Singapore you won’t find in the guidebook

Soak in Singapore’s only hot springs
Hidden in the grounds of the Sembawang Air Base is Singapore’s only natural hot springs, where three stations pump out jets of hot sulphurous water that is said to have healing properties. Don’t go expecting a luxe jacuzzi – you can either fill two buckets and pop a foot in each, fill a larger tub and immerse your whole body, or just lie on the concrete as the water shoots at you. Though it’s quieter than in its glory days – in the 1960s, gamblers used to come here for good luck before horse races – you’ll still likely find a handful of friendly regulars. Best of all, it’s free. Gambas Ave, between Woodlands Ave and Sembawang Rd. Free.

Discover a Shinto shrine in the MacRitchie forest
For a little slice of history hidden in the dense forest around MacRitchie Reservoir – geographical coordinates N 01° 20.900 E 103° 48.820, to be exact – Syonan Jinja is a Shinto shrine built during the Japanese Occupation of 1942-45. Go up the old steps today and you’ll only see some of the foundation and the stone remains of the shrine’s fountain. These remains are tricky to find, with the unmarked walkway signalled only by three rocks beside the Terentang Trail. You pass an old water tank on the way, which leads through thick foliage in parts. There’s a geocache (logbook to sign), adding to the sense of adventure. Enter from Reservoir Road. MRT: Caldecott.

See the last kampong
Hidden away up in the north-eastern suburbs, off a major road, is the Lorong Buangkok kampong, the last village of its kind away from Pulau Ubin, which was built in 1956. The collection of pastel-coloured wooden huts is more living history than anything else, as rumours are constantly circulating that it’s due for demolition. If you go, be respectful – residents often complain of people taking photos without their permission. Off Yio Chu Kang Rd, near the junction with Ang Mo Kio Ave 5. Buses: 70, 103, 854.

Go on an ‘agri-cation’ in Kranji
The farms of Kranji have been garnering an increasing amount of attention since the founding of the Kranji Countryside Alliance in 2005. The slick organisation has started family-friendly farm tours of four of the ‘farmpreneurs’ in the area and promoted new places to eat, like the Poison Ivy Bistro at the Bollywood Veggies farm, which serves fresh vegetables and curries. You can stay at the D’Kranji Farm Resort, Singapore’s self-styled ‘first and only Agri-tainment farm’, with 21 villas, a spa and restaurant serving homegrown produce. There’s even the Kranji Countryside Express bus from the MRT station. If it’s all a bit slick, just wander off by yourself – Kranji MRT is five minutes from an entry point to the old Jungle Line railway walk. For more information, see www.kranjicountryside.com.

Visit the German Girl Shrine on Pulau Ubin
The village life and bike paths make Pulau Ubin worth a visit anyway, but be sure to take a detour to the German Girl Shrine. Follow signs to the Ketam Mountain Bike Park, and take the left fork to get to the yellow hut located next to an Assam tree in the south-western open area of the island. This now-Taoist shrine commemorates the Roman Catholic daughter of a German coffee plantation manager. Lore has it that when the British rushed into the house at the end of World War I, the girl escaped through a back door, slipped and fell to her death in a quarry behind the plantation. Local labourers found the corpse, covered it in sand and offered prayers, flowers and incense. After Chinese workers gave her a proper burial on the present site, the German girl became a deity of sorts – worshippers from as far as Thailand have come to offer joss sticks and girly offerings to the Barbie doll figurine in the case. Ferries from Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Pulau Ubin run during daylight hours and cost $2.50 one-way. The ferry point is close to Changi Village bus terminal. Tanah Merah, then Bus 2.

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