Treasure hunt: Jalan Besar

Hailed as the new 'hip' place in town, Jalan Besar offers plenty of interesting spots like the Thieves' Market flea and food joints that serve up delectable delights like Sungei Road Laksa, Windowsill in the Woods and Suprette
By Time Out Singapore editors |


Farrer Park MRT

1. The pearly gates

Leave Farrer Park MRT station at Exit H. Ahead of you is a magnificent set of white metal gates that once marked the entryway to one of Singapore’s most beloved amusement parks that reigned social calendars from 1923 to 1987, called the New World Amusement Park. It has since been converted into the City Green park (next to eco-friendly shopping centre City Square Mall), though back in the day, the amusement park offered attractions such as a Ferris wheel, joget dances with professional dancers called taxi-girls (where coupons were sold for a dance with the girls) and sideshows by talents like Queen of Striptease Rose Chan and Malaysian strongman Mat Tarzan.
Q: Looking at the gate from the front, there are several Chinese characters on the gate – what are they enclosed in?

2. Hindi music and art deco

Walk past the gates and cross the intersection to Kitchener Road, heading south-east. The street packs Hindi music lounges alongside vegetarian and Chinese restaurants, including an old-school Komala Restaurant (with its dosa mascot outside) and the Paul Bocuse-endorsed Hillman Restaurant, which specialises in Chinese cuisine (135 Kitchener Rd, 6221 5073; daily 11.45am-2.15pm, 5.45-10.30pm). Continue south-east along Kitchener Road until you hit Jalan Besar and turn right, heading south. Look out for Maude Road on the left, which is named after British General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude (famous for conquering Baghdad for the Allied forces in World War I), and features lived-in Art Deco exteriors commissioned during the area’s post-WWI industrial heyday. It now houses several KTV joints and a Singapore Pools outlet. Continuing down Jalan Besar, look for a block of high-rise flats on the right with shops on the lower floors in between the intersections of Desker and Rowell Roads.
Q: What’s on display on the second floor that’s a little far from its regular habitat?

3. Thieves’ landing

Continue going south-east on Jalan Besar. At Kelantan Road (not Lane, which comes just before), make a left and head south-east. If you’re here during the day, you’ll run into the Thieves’ Market in the small square at Larut Street, which earned its name because its vendors used to fence burgled and stolen wares back in the day. Now, the more legit Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods better represents the interests of the middle-aged men who peddle a mish mash of old vinyls, Ikea cutlery, electronic goods and the occasional typewriter. Haggling is encouraged if you’re planning to purchase something, and catch it while you can too – the nearby works have already diminished the land area the market lives in, and threatens to further do so in the coming years.
Q: Off to the east, you’ll see the Sim Lim Tower overlooking the area – what colours are the stripes on the building?

4. Royalty road

Continue along Kelantan Road, which turns left at the corner, and head north for a minute until you spot the Jin Shui Kopitiam at Block 27. If you’re hungry, we recommend the Sungei Road Laksa in the corner (#01-100; $2/bowl; Daily 9am-6pm), which still utilises a charcoal stove to impart a truly authentic taste to its light coconut milk broth. Continue walking straight as Kelantan Road turns into Jalan Berseh. At the next intersection, take a right on Syed Alwi Road, then a left onto King George’s Avenue (you should be heading north-east). The row of HDB blocks here houses canvas companies that supply banners and rain shelters for businesses around Singapore in its void decks. A cool sight to catch on a weekday afternoon is the groups of men working on industrial-use sewing machines on the wide stone pavements outside their cramped stores. Continue north up King George’s for a minute, then turn left at Horne Road, heading north-west (towards the right is Happy Table Tennis at 48 Horne Rd). Head back in the direction of King George’s, and walk down the alleyway between the hairdressing salon and carpark.
Q: The owners of the Werkz Photography and Raffles Studio (324 King George’s Ave) at the fourth unit on your left have a surprise for visitors – what do you see when you look up over their back door?

5. Footie, pie and a prayer

Return to Horne Road and turn right, heading north-west for about five minutes. Jalan Besar Stadium is on your left, which makes the area the centre of Singapore football. The stadium – built in 1929 – is currently home to the LionsXII, who competed in the Malaysian Super League, but there’s a bit of darker history to the place as well, with the stadium used as a sook ching screening site during the Japanese Occupation. Fortunately, we’re now in happier times, and the neighbourhood is also becoming a hotspot for coffee and cafés, such as in the case of recently-opened Windowsill in the Woods, which serves up some of the most popular pies in town.

Continue walking north-west along Horne Road – of note on this stretch is the Holy Trinity Church after Hamilton Road on the right, that interestingly incorporates Chinese architecture by way of the tiled roofs on the structure’s awnings and steeple. Walk on and turn right onto Tyrwhitt Road, heading north-east. There, you’ll find another hip coffee stop – the Papa Palheta-owned Chye Seng Huat Hardware. Just beyond that on the left (at the junction with Beatty Lane) is the Tibetan Buddhist Thekchen Choling temple. Named after the monastery that the Dalai Lama lives in exile in Dharamsala, the temple has a giant Mani wheel with instructions on how to use it to expel negative karma and increase one’s wealth, as well as cardboard cut outs of the religious leader in the main prayer room.
Q: There is a ‘no smoking’ sign on a pillar in front of the main prayer room. Who mandates that smoking isn’t allowed at this location?

6. Hotel, motel?

Continue walking northeast to the end of Tyrwhitt Road and turn left at Lavender Street, then make the another left at Jalan Besar, heading south-west. On your right is the Kam Leng Hotel, which housed tourists from all over the world since its opening in 1927, then was leased out to hardware stores when the business closed. Following a revamp by its new owners last year, the building’s interiors and exteriors have been given a facelift, but still bear the design characteristics constant with the area. While you’re here, check out Suprette, an American diner already famed for its burgers, but also worth visiting for its custom and reinvented cocktails.
Q: In a corner of Kam Leng’s lobby is a sign painted on the wall. What does the last line on the sign say?

Getting home

Continue walking south-west down Jalan Besar for about five minutes, then turn right at Kitchener Road and continue until you reach Farrer Park MRT station ten minutes away.

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