On this Tiong Bahru walking trail discover art deco buildings, a bustling wet market, nostalgic murals and more.
How to get to Tiong Bahru
To get to Tiong Bahru take the MRT to Tiong Bahru MRT station, on the Green East-West line. This walking trail starts from Tiong Bahru MRT, and the best exit to take is A. If you take exit B you’ll have to cross the main road at the top. There are also many buses that stop at Tiong Bahru MRT station.
Tips for Tiong Bahru Walking Trail
- Some shops in Tiong Bahru are closed on Mondays
- Tiong Bahru Market is busiest on weekends mornings – many of the produce stalls close after lunch, but the hawker centre stays open.
- To shorten the walk end at Stop 6, Tiong Bahru Bakery.
- For a longer walk, continue to the Singapore River after the last stop, Tan Boon Liat Building.
- Early mornings or late afternoons are a good time to enjoy this walk to avoid the heat of the day.
Attractions on the Tiong Bahru Walking Trail
On this walking trail you’ll see the main sites and attractions of Tiong Bahru:
- Horseshoe Block 78
- Tiong Bahru Flats Architecture
- Tiong Bahru Market
- Dancing Girl Sculpture
- Monkey God Temple
- Tiong Bahru Bakery
- Bird Corner
- Graves of Tan Tock Seng
- Tan Boon Liat Building
This walk does not include Tiong Bahru Park, which could be added as an additional extra at the very beginning of this walk and would make the route 1.5 km longer.
History of Tiong Bahru
Before 1900, Tiong Bahru was mainly an area of farmland and cemeteries, with a very low density of buildings. Clusters of buildings, including rubber factories, then sprung up around road junctions. In 1882, the Singapore General Hospital was moved to its present site. The high ground – above malarial swamps and with a fresh breeze – and plentiful water supply, large amount of space yet proximity to the city centre made its current location on Outram Road seem ideal.
Over the next few decades, a village grew up surrounding the hospital called Kampong Tiong Bahru (New Cemetery Village). It was not a very sanitary place and the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) decided to redevelop the area by building modern apartment blocks. Nearby hills were excavated and the soil was used to raise the swampy low ground of Kampong Tiong Bahru to have better, more healthy drainage. In 1936 the new flats were completed, and the neighbourhood has only grown since then.
Tiong Bahru Walking Trail Route
This walking trail starts from Tiong Bahru MRT station. Try and exit from A. There’s a nice bakery just outside the exit in case you are already hungry!
Directions: From Tiong Bahru MRT head east along Tiong Bahru Road.
Directions: After 240 metres turn right down Kim Tian Road. Continue 200 metres down this road and you will reach Kim Pong Park. Go through this to the first stop on the walk, Horseshoe Block 78.
1. Horseshoe Block 78
The Horseshoe Block, or block number 78, is one of the most distinctive examples of a whole complex built in art deco style. It was built in 1939-1940, just as the Second World War was beginning.
Because of the threat of war, the Horseshoe Block also contains an air raid shelter. This is not open to the public, but there are information boards outside the entrance, which can be found in the inner courtyard of the block. Apparently, over 1,500 people can fit inside. To find out more about the Second World War in this region, try reading The Battle for Singapore*, a long and detailed yet interesting account of the Japanese invasion down through Malaya and into Singapore.
Directions: After looking around the Horseshoe Block, head up Kim Pong Road just opposite the main entrance to the Horseshoe. Continue down the road for a hundred metres before heading right to walk through an estate of art deco flats.
2. Tiong Bahru Flats Architecture
Most of these Tiong Bahru flats were built shortly after the Second World War. You can see many features associated with the architecture of Tiong Bahru such as five-foot ways (covered walkways around the outside of the buildings) and spiral staircases (fire escapes, but also great space-savers and aesthetically interesting). There is also a large amount of greenery so it feels more like a park or garden rather than the middle of a large city.
Architecture of Tiong Bahru
Many of the buildings in Tiong Bahru were constructed just before or shortly after the Second World War in late Art Deco style. These buildings emphasize clean, elegant lines and uncluttered facades. Many have designs aimed to evocate ideas of modernity – planes, trains and cars – and you can see elements of steam engines and aeroplane wings if you peer close enough (and have an open mind). In fact, this specific type of architecture is called ‘Streamline Moderne’, associated with good aerodynamics and fast travel.
The blocks of flats also incorporated typical Singaporean elements, such as the ‘Five-Foot Ways’, traditionally associated with shophouses and providing a covered shelter for residents to walk from one end of the block to the other. Tight spiral staircases are something else to look out for.
Directions: You can weave in and out of these buildings and will soon reach the Tiong Bahru Market.
3. Tiong Bahru Market
Key Information: The hawker centre is open every day 7am-midnight, while the market opens early morning and winds down around lunchtime. In Covid times, some of the hawker stalls do not open on weekdays.
The hawker centre in Tiong Bahru is renowned as one of the best in Singapore, especially for local food. You can find many classic Singaporean dishes such as chwee kueh (steamed rice cake popular for breakfast), chicken rice and wonton mee (noodles).
The origins of Tiong Bahru market start in 1945 when two adjacent shophouses started selling fresh produce. A few years later a new, bigger market made of wood was constructed. In 2004 the old market was knocked down and completely rebuilt, though maintaining the art deco style of the surroundings and adding to the architecture of the neighbourhood.
Directions: After wandering around, leave by the main entrance to the market and head right, down Seng Poh Road. Turn almost immediately left on Seng Poh Lane to check out the Caged Bird mural.
Tiong Bahru Murals
There are three murals in Tiong Bahru painted by Yip Yew Chong, a local street artist, all of which you can see on this walking trail.
Caged Bird depicts how locals used to hang their birds outside so they (both birds and people) could talk to each other. You’ll visit Tiong Bahru Bird Corner later on this walking tour. Pasar Tiong Bahru mural shows a typical, colourful street scene from years gone by. Home is a fun mural showing the inside of a simple apartment.
You can find out more about the artist and his murals here.
Directions: Just after the mural, turn right at the corner to wander along an atmospheric back lane. Just after the next road crossing you will see another mural on the wall to your left.
The Pasar Tiong Bahru Mural shows a street scene from the past. Shortly after this, you’ll pass the Tiong Bahru community centre. The original community centre here was actually converted from a building that used to be an air-raid shelter.
Directions: Continue down the street and take the first right, opposite the community centre. It looks like the road is blocked by a gate, but you can walk around the side of it. Once through the gate, you are opposite Seng Poh Garden and the next stop.
4. Dancing Girl Sculpture
The Dancing Girl Sculpture is hidden in the small Seng Poh Garden. Locals come here to relax and enjoy the greenery. The sculpture was made by an artist from Sarawak (Lim Nang Seng) and is meant to represent a young girl performing a harvest dance. Lim Nang Seng also designed the famous Merlion Statue.
Directions: Leave the gardens and walk left on Moh Guan Terrace/Guan Chuan Street. You will recognise the building opposite as being part of the Horseshoe Block 78.
Look out for the characteristic outdoor spiral staircases on your right-hand side, at the end of the Horseshow Block.
Directions: Follow the road further down and around as it turns the corner, and then pop down the first left, Eu Chin Street, to see the Home mural.
You’ll also see lots of nice art deco buildings along this stretch of road, all with red diamond numbers, white paint and some brickwork details set off by skinny palm trees.
Directions: Return to the main road and continue 220 metres until you reach a triangle junction with some greenery, and you’ll see the red awning of the next stop opposite you.
5. Monkey God Temple
Tiong Bahru Qi Tian Gong Temple, more commonly known as Monkey God Temple, was founded in 1920 and began as a small traditional palm and wattle hut. Over the years the temple mutated in form until renovations in the early 1990s led to the current construction.
Monkey God Temple is a Taoist Temple dedicated to the Monkey God from the book Journey to the West by Wu Chen-en, a very famous 16th-century Chinese novel (If you’re interested in reading it it’s not too long, is sometimes called Monkey King in English translations, and is available from Amazon*). The temple houses many statues of the Monkey God and was perhaps the first temple in Singapore to worship him. Nowadays there are many others too.
In the book, Journey to the West, the Monkey proclaims himself ‘Great Sage, equal of Heaven’, and is seen as representing positive character traits such as genius, bravery and resourcefulness. One of the other popular Godesses, Guanyin (or Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit), picked the Monkey for his journey and is apparently the only one who can control him.
Great Socks to Keep you Going
A good pair of socks can make or break your hike. In the Singapore climate, go for something synthetic or thin wool for the best moisture wicking, and avoid cotton. Considering the hot climate, short socks are preferable. For longer walks you may want socks with good padding. I really like the padding of short no-show Balega socks:
Balega Blister Resist No Show Socks For Men and Women on Amazon*.
Check out the complete list of hiking gear needed for Singapore:
Directions: Opposite the temple walk down Eng Hoon Street and in a little way you’ll see the typical green awning of Tiong Bahru Bakery.
6. Tiong Bahru Bakery
Tiong Bahru Bakery (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) is a delicious bakery, particularly famous for croissants. It is now an island-wide chain, but as the name suggests, it started right here in Tiong Bahru. This first outlet began in 2012, making French pastries and breads. Tiong Bahru Bakery also serves coffee and drinks so you can sit down here to relax from walking for a while. The cafe and shop are open 7:30am–8pm every day.
Directions: Continue up the street and you’re opposite the market again. Turn right on Seng Poh Road and cross busy Tiong Bahru Road. This corner is Bird Corner.
7. Bird Corner
This road junction used to be the main focus of the neighbourhood, with busy roads, a temple where locals gathered to worship (now knocked down), and the busy bird corner where people hung their birds and chatted over coffee.
The bird corner started when a cafe owner noticed that a pet shop opposite attracted many customers by displaying colourful birds outside. The cafe owner copied the idea and created a structure for bird owners to hang their birds just outside his cafe. Soon many bird owners fathered at this coffee shop to have a drink and meet their friends while their birds chatted to each other nearby.
In 2003 the original bird corner was closed during building works. It opened again in 2008 but now nobody hangs their birds here and it’s just empty, a poignant reminder of how constant rebuilding and construction can destroy communities and social life.
Directions: Continue 200 m further along Seng Poh Road and you will see a Shell petrol station and a pedestrian bridge across the road. It’s not a pedestrian-friendly area, so watch out for the cars. Walk over the bridge.
8. Graves of Tan Tock Seng
Tan Tock Seng moved to Singapore from Malacca in 1819. He became a trader, learnt to speak English, and began a partnership with a British trading firm leading him to become very rich. He donated some of his money to good causes, such as a paupers hospital and Thian Hock Keng Temple (seen on the China Walking Trail route).
Chua Seah Neo and Wuing Neo, relatives of Tan Tock Seng, also have their graves here. Tan Tock Seng wasn’t actually originally buried here, but his remains underwent reinterment and the graves here were dedicated in 1882. The graves faded from peoples memory, but came back to light in 1989 and have been well-tended ever since.
Directions: Head back across the bridge, from where you can already see the tall blue building of the next stop. Turn right and then soon left into the car park and the entrance to the mall.
9. Tan Boon Liat Building
Tan Boon Liat Buildings houses a unique shopping mall (Website) that looks like an HDB (Housing and Development Board) flat, containing shops mainly selling high-quality furniture and home decor. The outside looks unpromising, but don’t be put off, the inside is quite delightful and full of surprises. It’s open 11am-7pm every day.
I particularly enjoyed looking at the beautiful wooden furniture and the views from the top of the building. To get there you have to take slightly old and creeky lifts which feel like they might break down any moment. The views are worth it though.
Directions: This is the last stop on the walking tour. Both Outram Park and Tiong Bahru MRT stations are about 1 km away, or you can take a bus from nearby.
FAQS – Tiong Bahru Walking Trail
Tiong Bahru is known mainly for its art deco architecture and hipster shops and cafes.
Tiong Bahru means New Cemetery. The name comes from a blend of languages, with Tiong being Hokkien for ‘to die’ and Bahru being ‘new’ in Malay. The old cemetery, just next to Tiong Bahru, disappeared when Singapore General Hosptial was on top of it, and the new cemetery also disappeared with time to become the housing estate you see today.
To get to Tiong Bahru, take the MRT to Tiong Bahru MRT stop. It’s on the Green East-West line. Many buses also stop just next to Tiong Bahru MRT station.