Johor Bahru, Malaysia May 2018: Anyone looking at Googles satellite imagery of Singapore will undoubtedly notice areas of grey, green and rustic red. Generally one can consider to grey to represent hi-rise residential and industrial areas, green to represent areas not yet bulldozed and rustic red to represent areas of townhouse estates. Its these red areas that potentially could be of some interest. A little research might reveal some of Singapore’s hidden gems that are really off the beaten tourist path. One such area to look at is Joo Chiat, 3 1/2 miles east of downtown and according to Google the area retains Some of Singapore’s originality, some of that old style charm that existed across the Island before the proliferation of mass hi-rise housing. So, Joo Chiat is today’s destination as another escapade into Singapore from Johor Bahru begins.
The Johor checkpoint is as always a trouble free process, but the Singaporeans at Woodlands are getting a little jumpy! This will be my third border run in as many days and they want to know what I’m upto! A brief explanation that Singapore is too expensive and that’s why I’m commuting from Johor seems to satisfy, for now at least. so, its Woodlands to Bishan and finally Dakota on the MTR then bus 16 or 33 to Joo Chiat Road, a journey of about 1 1/4 hours according to Google.
Wikipedia has a comprehensive article on the Joo Chiat neighbourhood, including a detailed rundown on its long and interesting history – for urban stompers like me, worth a read (here). Briefly, life here began as a spice and coconut plantation early 1900’s and when the market for spices diminished the surrounding lands became prime development areas for those looking to escape the overcrowded downtown. Today as one wanders around their is plenty of evidence remaining of how the area developed, a time line evident in its architecture. From 1930’s shop houses to the characteristic art-deco era of the 1950’s and of course a little more upto date with some swanky villas along the Oman Road. So, what started out as a cart track between spice plantations is now the Joo Chiat Road, lined either side with a colourful and vibrant array of period architecture along with plenty of traffic, just to give the place a modern touch!
As one thinks about lunch, another food court appears just around the corner, quite a common occurrence on Singapore Island!. Looks as though this building might have served as an indoor market once upon a time, but today its just teaming with an array of food, on two floors. Modest cuisine at modest prices, £2 to around £5 per meal price range here, with fish being the most expensive items. And so with lunch out of the way one is free to stroll around the neighbourhood taking in the charm and character of Joo Chiat, named after the original land owner Mr. Chew Joo Chiat, back in the early 1900’s. Ornate facades, intricate motifs and ceramic tiles complete with the colourful architecture give this neighbourhood a vibe and vibrancy I haven’t experienced anywhere else in Asia, pretty unique and well worth a visit.