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Sembawang Park
Photograph: Shairazi/ NParks

The ultimate guide to Sembawang

Sembawang's history as a former naval base means that there’s plenty of stories, and sea views, to be discovered

By Fabian Loo
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The town of Sembawang gets its name from the Sembawang tree – an apt reference, considering that the neighbourhood used to be filled with plantations in the 1800s and 1900s. This historically rich area is also home to the country’s former naval base, and till today, reminders of its maritime past can still be found in building designs, and even in road names. If you take a little tour around Sembawang, you'll notice that most roads are named after Royal British Dockyards and warships. Besides its stoic history, this quiet neighbourhood in the north is also filled with underrated finds just waiting to be explored.

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DO

sembawang hot spring park
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Sembawang Hot Spring Park

Things to do

The hot spring in Sembawang is a peculiar attraction in Singapore. First discovered back in 1909, it was popular among villagers who believed that the water had healing powers. Now, after undergoing a revamp, the reopened Sembawang Hot Spring Park is where visitors can learn about the history and geology of the place, reminisce about the old kampung days by strolling through the fruit trees and edible plants, and of course soak their feet in hot waters at the pool or the wooden basins provided. A tip: remember to pack your slippers.

Sembawang Park
Photograph: Walter Lim

Sembawang Park

Attractions Beaches Sembawang

Sembawang Park's beachside locale is perfect for a lazy weekend picnic. While fishing is a popular pastime here, many can be seen crowding around barbecue pits and picnic tables sprinkled along the coast. Alternatively, flap out your chequered blanket and have yourself a feast here at one of the country's last remaining natural beaches. Also within its grounds, located at the end of the park, is the historic Beaulieu House, a neoclassical building with ornate finishing. Look out for a playground with a battleship-like structure – a nod to the park’s history as a former naval base.

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Sembawang Public Library
Photograph: National Library Board

Sembawang Public Library

Things to do Sembawang

Located within Sun Plaza Shopping Centre, the Sembawang Public Library offers a comfortable spot for curious minds to explore the world, and in particular the storied history of Sembawang. The library is outfitted with nautical motifs – again, as a nod to its history – and features an image of the scenic Sembawang Jetty. Archival images of the old neighbourhood can also be accessed, while the children’s reading nook comes with shipping container-inspired spaces. 

EAT

JJ Thai Cuisine
Photograph: JJ Thai Cuisine/ Facebook

JJ Thai Cuisine

Restaurants Thai Sembawang

Think of JJ as a Thai zi char. It has all the usual offerings of traditional zi char restaurants – soups, vegetables, noodles and rice, chicken and pork, and more. Having moved from a humble hawker stall at Bukit Merah to a fully-fledged restaurant at Sembawang, it still sees hoards of loyal customers queuing for up to 2 hours every weekend. Its must-tries include steamed lemon seabass ($22), handmade prawn cake ($10), and minced pork stir-fried with basil leaves ($8).

 

Woody Family Cafe
Photograph: Woody Family Cafe

Woody Family Cafe

Restaurants Italian Sembawang

As its name suggests, this forest-themed eatery comes surrounded by trees and plenty of lush greenery. Inside, the Peranakan eatery comes dedicated with a mishmash of memorabilia from various eras – posters of old-school singers, Chinese lanterns, and fairy lights that drape from the ceiling. Thankfully, the menu has a decidedly clear theme: classic Peranakan plates, with highlights that include nasi ulam ($14.90), babi pongteh ($14.90), and sambal sotong ($15.90).

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East Bistro
Photograph: East Bistro/ Facebook

East Bistro

Restaurants Chinese Sembawang

East Bistro draws a quiet crowd for those looking to feast on freshly made Hong Kong dim sum and other Chinese cuisines. The restaurant is helmed by chef Tony Wong, whose storied resume includes being the former head chef at Lei Garden. To ensure the food stays affordable, the restaurant also does not charge service charge and GST.

White Restaurant
Photograph: White Restaurant/ Facebook

White Restaurant

Restaurants Chinese Sembawang

The White Restaurant specialises in frying up plates of white bee hoon – a dish that shares equal placing in Singapore’s list of iconic food. This made-in-Singapore dish is a unique rendition of noodles, stirred up in a thick gravy that comes tossed with pieces of seafood. Equally popular is the restaurant’s other zi char offerings.

SHOP

Sembawang Shopping Centre
Photograph: Capitaland Mall

Sembawang Shopping Centre

Shopping Sembawang

This shopping centre near Sembawang and Yishun MRT caters mainly to the residents of the area. Main tenants include Giant supermarket, Daiso, Popular bookstore, and Food Junction. There is also a water park and dry jungle gym on level three of the mall, with features of mist machines, water guns, and slides – but the park remains temporarily closed in view of safe distancing measures.

Gin Thye
Photograph: Gin Thye/ Facebook

Gin Thye

Restaurants Bakeries Mandai

This traditional Teochew bakery, established since 1964, is one of the last few remaining ones that bake up age-old pastries. On its menu are lesser-known bakes, such as the da lao ping and fu jian tang, or Hokkien sweets. Next-generation owner Lawrence Lim has also introduced newer treats of durian mochi as part of the line-up. But Gin Thye’s best-seller is still its wedding biscuits – a traditional, customary treat that is fast losing relevance in today’s modern society. 

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