TOP 10 Things to Do in Balestier

Balestier might not be a famous neighbourhood, but it does carry a rich slice of Singapore’s history. Named after Joseph Balestier, the first United States consul to Singapore, it was once rife with agricultural activities such as sugar cane plantations started by Balestier himself. Balestier also has a collection of unique shophouses and pre-war terrace houses that will catch your eye, so read on and plan your exploration!

TOP 1 Admire the Shophouses

Balestier road is lined with unique two-storey shophouses that take on various architectural styles thanks to wealthy individuals and families that moved there since late 19th century. Check out the shophouses from 292 to 312 Balestier Road which were built in 1926 and have a hybrid architectural style consisting of European glazed floral tiles and elaborate festoons with Chinese elements such as flowers, birds and mythical beasts, a result of wealthy Chinese landowners engaging European architects who added Western features to the shophouses. The shophouses that are built later in the 1950s exhibit the Art Deco style, a popular style back then that uses clear geometric shapes and simple structural elements such as the vertical fins on shophouses at 230 and 246 Balestier Road. There are also conserved pre-war terrace houses along Pegu and Martaban roads that were built in the 1920s and 1930s and adopt the European neoclassical style.

 

TOP 2 Spend Some Time at Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (also known as Wan Qing Yuan in Chinese) is a museum set in a 2-storey colonial-style villa that lies a stone’s away from Balestier Road. Dr Sun Yat Sen is a key figure in the 1911 Revolution which subsequently led to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the birth of the Republic of China. To achieve this feat, much support is needed from overseas such as from overseas Chinese. Some prominent Chinese in Singapore who supported Dr Sun include Teo Eng Hock, Tan Chor Lam and Lim Nee Soon. In particular, Teo Eng Hock, the original owner of this 2-storey villa offered it to Dr Sun to be used as headquarters for his revolutionary activities. The contributions of Chinese in Nanyang (Southeast Asia) towards the revolution can be seen through the artefacts in the galleries such as photos, letters and personal items. You can also get a glimpse of Dr Sun’s daily routines and work in the villa through a hologram.

Address: 12 Tai Gin Road, Singapore 327874

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm (last admission at 4.30pm)
Closed on Monday

Website: https://www.sysnmh.org.sg/en

 

TOP 3 Drop by Maha Sasanaramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple

Maha Sasanaramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple is a temple located right beside the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. Originally established in 1878 by a Burmese at Kinta Road, it served as a place of worship for Singapore’s Burmese Buddhist community, and still continues to do so after relocating to its current location at the quiet Tai Gin Road.

The construction for the current temple was completed in 1991, with architecture that has both traditional Burmese elements and modern features. Intricate carvings made from Burmese teak adorn the distinctive tiered roof, and the white walls are decked with gold embellishments. A 3.3 metre tall Buddha statue carved from a 10-tonne marble block found near Mandalay in 1918 is the centrepiece in its main hall, and is said to be the largest marble Buddha statue outside Myanmar. The temple holds regular talks and events about Buddhism and celebrates both Buddhist and Burmese festivals.

Address: 14 Tai Gin Road, Singapore 327873

Opening hours: 6.30am – 9pm

 

TOP 4 Take a Break at Zhongshan Park

Zhongshan Park stands between Balestier Road and Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, and is named after Sun Yat Sen (his Chinese name is Sun Zhong Shan) in recognition of his revolutionary work. Once a sugar cane plantation belonging to Teo Eng Hock, a local Chinese merchant, it is now a sprawling park with ample sitting benches, water features and a field. Take your seat at one of the benches under the tree with a book in your hand, or have a ball game or two at the field. You can also chill at a nearby cafe or at the adjacent Zhongshan Mall.

Address: 511 Balestier Road, Singapore 329849

 

TOP 5 Visit Lam Yeo Coffee Powder Factory

Lam Yeo means Nanyang (Southern sea – commonly referring to Southeast Asia) in the Hokkien dialect. Founded in 1959 by Mr Tan Thian Kang and his wife Mdm Lim Chok Tee, Lam Yeo started off with Mr Tan selling coffee beans door to door. Over time, the business grew thanks to Mr Tan’s skills in selecting the best beans, roasting the beans and creating original blends. This led to the opening of Lam Yeo Coffee Powder Factory at 328 Balestier Road in 1960, and the shop has remained there since then. An aged signboard bearing the name “Lam Yeo” at the entrance of the shop and the old school feel of the shop bears testament to its heritage.

Today, it continues its legacy of providing quality coffee beans and its signature Lam Yeo Traditional Blends. Coffee beans that are more novel such as those from Brazil, Ethiopia and Colombia have also been added to appeal to the younger generation.

Address: 328 Balestier Road, Singapore 329760

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday 9am – 7pm
Saturday 9am – 5pm
Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays

Website: http://lamyeo.com/

 

TOP 6 Munch on Tau Sar Piah

Balestier road is home to many shops selling tau sar piah, a traditional Chinese pastry with crispy and flaky skin and bean or lotus filling. The most popular tau sar piah shop is Loong Fatt tau sar piah which has been in operation since 1948 and lies at the end of Balestier Road in a corner-lot coffee shop. Long lines of customers can often be spotted queuing for the delightful pastry which is freshly hand-made by staff and baked using traditional ovens to retain the signature taste. Thanks to their dedication, the tau sar piah you bought will be hot as it is fresh out of the oven, which makes every bite so satisfying.

Address: 639 Balestier Road, Singapore 329922

Opening hours:
Mon – Sat 7am – 5pm
Closed on Sundays

Website: https://www.facebook.com/LoongFatt639/

 

TOP 7 Refuel with Chicken Rice

A handful of established chicken rice shops have made Balestier Road their home too. The must-try local dish consists of fragrant rice cooked with chicken broth, ginger, garlic and pandan leaves, chicken which can be roasted, braised or steamed, a comforting bowl of clear soup and condiments such as soy sauce, ginger paste and chilli with lime. The contenders for the best chicken rice on Balestier Road include Loy Kee Best Chicken Rice, Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice and Bugis Street Chuen Chuen Chicken Rice.

 

TOP 8 Have a Taste of Bak Kut Teh

Bak Kut Teh is a popular soup dish that’s also a must-try dish in Singapore. Cooked from boiling pork ribs in a herbal peppery broth, it is a comfort food especially on rainy days. Bak kut teh is commonly served with a bowl of rice, fried dough fritters (you tiao), salted vegetables and beancurd skin (tau kee). Drop by Balestier Bak Kut Teh, Founder Bak Kut Teh, or 333 Bak Kut Teh (24 hours) to have a taste of this famous dish.

 

TOP 9 Make a Stop at Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple

Though Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple is a small temple, it is nonetheless a cultural relic with architecture that is rarely found nowadays. Its name “Goh Chor” was derived from “Rochore”, the name of the area during that time, while “Tua Pek Kong” is a deity whom the Chinese worship. Located along Balestier Road, it was built in 1847 by Hokkien immigrants who work at a sugar cane estate owned by Joseph Balestier, the first American Consul to Singapore.

The elaborate roofs are filled with colourful motives and sculptures such as dragons, phoenixes, birds, fish and flowers. A special feature of this temple is its “rounded” roof where the tip of the roof of the adjoining room is round instead of pointed, and vibrant rainbow colours are used. Another distinct feature is its red-painted plaster which resemble terracota wall tiles, a nod to traditional Hokkien architecture where red terracotta tiles or bricks are used for external wall decorations.

One of Singapore’s last surviving Chinese opera stages lies beside the temple. Built by Tan Boon Liat, a Hokkien businessman and philanthropist in 1906, it is still used to hold performances during festivals such as the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Address: 249 Balestier Road, Singapore 329708

Opening hours: 6.30am – 5.30pm daily

 

TOP 10 Step into Former Shaw Malay Film Production Studios

The former Malay Film Productions (MFP) studio pays is a testament to the Golden Age of Malay Cinema (1941 – 1967) where scores of movies were produced at the studio. Established in 1940 by the Shaw Organisation, it is the studio grounds where Malay films were shot and edited, including large-scale sets that replicate locations such as kampongs (villages).

The studio was forced to close during the Japanese Occupation. It reopened after the war and continued to produce quality Malay films shot by famous directors such as Jamil Sulong and starring actors such as P Ramlee. However, it was not spared by stiff competition from television and foreign films as well as rising labour cost. In 1967, it was closed as the Shaw Organisation relocated to Kuala Lumpur.

Address: 8 Jalan Ampas, Singapore 329508

 

 

Photo credits: Agoda/K Suites Balestier, Roots.sg, Maha Sasanaramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple, booking.com, On the Grid, Catersmith, Uncover Asia
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