There’s a gritty, unpolished side to Singapore that lurks well beneath its glitzy surface – a side that most will never venture to. We explore abandoned areas, buildings and the places that are hard to get to, from WWII bunkers to forgotten landmarks so you can see them for yourselves. So if you think everything in Singapore has been discovered already, you best put on those trekking shoes and get out there in the wild (and natural) side of Singapore and do the discovering.
Said to have water with magical properties, Seng Chew Quarry in Bukit Gombak is a product of the mining heydays in Singapore. Only thing is that it isn't as prominent (and as accessible) as the other quarries in Singapore. Though it is not completely a restricted area, it is mostly undeveloped and can be dangerous. The hidden quarry is located behind a residential block of flats in Bukit Gombak. Wear proper non-slip shoes because you have to climb steep hills before you find a huge drain at the top. Follow the drain and Seng Chew is just a short walk away from. Beware of the mosquitoes and mud but the views are worth the climb.
Mandai Track 15 may not be the easiest to get to – and the trail itself is not a loop – but the sprawling route is especially popular with mountain bikers. The trail itself begins at Mandai Road near the Singapore Zoo, and ends at the Chestnut Trail and carpark. Though there is a main path carved out for you from all the bike riders and trekkers, there are plenty of side footpaths that you can explore that will take you to the reservoir side and more.
Located just opposite Bedok Reservoir, Tampines Quarry is a former sand quarry – now filled with rainwater. Though hidden, it is favourite spot for fishing, racing remote-controlled boats, biking, picnics and droning. There might be a fair bit of bashing to do to get to the lake's edge, but look out for anglers making their way in for alternative entrances to the park.
If you're willing to go off the main path, bash through some super tall ferns and wild grass and get slightly scratched by thorny plants and stems to find the secret Keppel Hill Reservoir, you will be greatly rewarded. There's nothing like a challenging hike and the beautiful and in this case, elusive views at the end. Formerly used as a private reservoir in 1905 and then a swimming hole from the 1940s, the body of water was totally left out on official maps of Singapore from 1954. Start your trek on Keppel Hill Road before slipping into a man-made path which leads to the reservoir.
The hidden WWII bunker at the foot of Mount Faber is located behind the Seah Im carpark. Built into a slope, the entrance leads to a tunnel that’s connected to the elongated bunker. As it’s dark in the bunker, bring torchlights to guide your exploration of the bunker. Those who have a fear of geckos, however, be wary as long disuse has turned the bunker into a nesting ground for the reptile. Tree roots have also grown through the ventilation holes on the walls. The Seah Im bunker was most likely an air-raid shelter as its entrance is similar to that of an air raid bunker in Cartagena, Spain, used during the Spanish Civil War.
The black-and-white colonial houses in the Wessex Estate near Portsdown Road sit amid lush greenery. Head to the picturesque neighbourhood for a quiet stroll and then wander into Colbar – short for ‘colonial bar’ – that was once a canteen for the British Army. With its vintage photographs and décor, the diner is a relic from the past that invites guests to step back through time. The blocks of walk-up apartments and semi-detached houses were built in the ’40s and previously used by non-commissioned British officers and soldiers. Today, the houses are mostly residential, with a small enclave of artists who use them as studio space.
Near the western edge of Sentosa, Tanjong Rimau beach can be accessed via the edge of the compound occupied by Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa and by descending the rocky slope to the beach. During the low tide, you can spot many marine creatures such as corals, starfish and crabs along the coastline. Walk along the tidal pools, mangrove trees and caves nearer the coastline and look out for the pitcher plants on the cliffs. If you head towards the Tanjong Rimau beacon, you’ll be able to see Labrador Nature Reserve across the waterway. When walking along the beach, be careful of stonefish – their spines on their dorsal fin are venomous.