Treasure hunt: Upper Serangoon

Get to know the Upper Serangoon neighbourhood and discover a Taiwanese bakery, retro café Kombi Rocks and a half-way house, among other fascinating tidbits

Serangoon MRT

Healthy lifestyle
Take Exit E out of the MRT station to the street and you’ll find yourself at a taxi stand outside of shiny mega suburban mall nex, which opened in 2010. Turn left and follow the sidewalk along Serangoon Central heading north, past Serangoon’s former bus interchange (now an empty shell). If you’re feeling peckish, duck into Block 261 on your left and snag a piping hot, fluffy bun at tiny Taiwanese bakery, Baker Talent (#01-111, $0.95 each) for the journey ahead. After walking for about five minutes, you’ll reach the junction of Boundary Road. Cross the intersection and turn left past a block of flats to arrive at Serangoon Community Park, a leafy oasis popular with joggers and families. Walk to the middle of the park and you’ll reach an amphitheatre.
Q: What are the four shapes on the floor of the amphitheatre?

Vintage vehicles, retro café
From the middle of the park, turn right and head east towards Blocks 212 and 213. Walk in between the two blocks until you see a kopitiam on your left. Keep to the left and take the overhead bridge to get to the other side of the road. Continue east down Yio Chu Kang Road (Serangoon Stadium should be on your right). Walk past the Crab Party Place on your left and continue down the road to number 66, where you’ll be greeted by the sight of gleaming Volkswagen Buses and Beetles parked along Kombi Rocks.

The modern-day, somewhat hippie incarnation of the historic Koon Kee restaurant was first opened in 1971 by sailor-chef Lim Koon Kee. Now under the management of his youngest son, the venue was rebranded last year as a retro diner, which serves Thai-Asian food and rents out its fleet of mint-condition VW Kombis and vintage memorabilia collection.
Q: According to a newspaper article on the restaurant’s wall, what was Koon Kee famous for, back in 1988?

Fifth milestone
Continue down Yio Chu Kang Road and get into the Chinese New Year groove as you walk past rows of young potted plants laden with bright orange kumquats (a common feature in homes during the festive period) outside Highland Centre. After about 100 metres, you’ll hit Upper Serangoon Road, where there’s a particularly heritage-rich stretch, known to residents colloquially as the Gorh Ko Jio (Fifth Milestone, in Hokkien). To the right of the junction is Lim Tua Tow Road, once a bustling thoroughfare and residential hub in the 1950s. 
Q: According to a signboard next to the post office explaining the history of the area, what were two activities that Lim Tua Tow Road was notorious for in the 1950s?

Parade for the gods
Turn left at the intersection and head north-east along Upper Serangoon Road past the post office. You’ll soon come to the Hougang Dou Mu Gong (779A Upper Serangoon Rd, daily 9am-8.30pm), a single-storey Chinese temple built in 1921. Even today, on the Double Ninth Festival (the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, which usually falls some time in October), the main road outside the temple is transformed into a riot of lights and colours, as a procession is held to honour the nine emperor gods.
Q: Read the information board outside the temple gates. What is believed to be the best day for devotees to pray for favours?

Crocodile rock
From the temple, walk to the other side of the street and find 790 Upper Serangoon Road. This white colonial-era building housed the farm for nearly 70 years, which bred crocodiles and ran a skin-processing factory right next to the residential home. Until its closure mid last year, it was the oldest crocodile farm in existence in Singapore, notably providing crocodile leather to major international brands including Prada and more.
Q: How many of the farm’s signboards are still visible from outside its main gate?

The hanging gardens
Continue north-east along Upper Serangoon Road for another five minutes or so. There are several other interesting buildings of note along this stretch, including the Masjid Haji Yusoff Mosque (2 Hillside Dr) and the Girl’s Brigade headquarters located right next to it. Look out for The Helping Hand (819 Upper Serangoon Rd, 6283 2204) on the left side of the road, a Christian half-way house for rehabilitating ex-drug addicts set up in 1987 – the site’s former occupant was Sin Min School, which was built in 1945 after World War II to educate the rural Chinese. It now also doubles as a furniture gallery where you can buy handmade wooden pieces made by the reformed ex-addicts.
Q: Wooden chairs and other assorted furniture are hung up on trees near the entrance of The Helping Hand. How many pieces of furniture are there?

To get home
Continue north-east along Upper Serangoon Road for another five minutes – you’ll come across St Paul’s Church Kindergarten and an SPC petrol station – to reach Kovan MRT.