Even in a tiny nation like Singapore, there is a north-south divide.
The southern part of Singapore is where we find our downtown core. 4.34 km² of land that happens to be the beating heart of our financial, commercial and political interests.
As for the north, forests, farms and probably Yishun comes to mind. One could wish that if only Stamford Raffles had come to Singapore via the Johore Straits, things might have looked a tad different today.
Nonetheless, there is more to the north than we give it credit. So here are five things to do this weekend in the last frontier of Singapore.
1. Pay tribute to our war heroes at the Kranji War Memorial
Peaceful and serene, it is hard to imagine that the area surrounding the Kranji War Memorial was once the backdrop of fierce fighting for the Battle of Singapore.
Today, the memorial is a reminder of the devastation of war and serves to honour the men and women who died in the line of duty during World War II.
And having just commemorated Total Defence Day on February 15, there is no better time to pay a visit to pay tribute to our war heroes and remember how far Singapore has come.
Since you are in the area, it is only a hop and skip away from some of the best farms in Singapore.
2. Go on a heritage trail around Sembawang
Sembawang might be known to some as the black hole trapped somewhere between the regional centres of Yishun and Woodlands.
But rewind a century, and Sembawang was home to a vibrant community of coastal villagers and British officers stationed near the naval base.
To ensure the heritage of the area does not get forgotten, the National Heritage Board has curated three different trails which allow us to reminisce the formal splendour of Sembawang.
Admire the beauty of the neo-classical Beaulieu House, check out the historic Sembawang shipyard, have lunch at the Sembawang Strip (a predecessor to Clarke Quay in the 1950s) and end the day with a soak at Singapore’s only hot spring.
There is much to do in Sembawang.
3. Feed some turtles at the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum
Who would have thought that such a quirky museum exists in Singapore?
Started by Connie Tan and her father as a passion project, the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum has over 1,000 life species of turtles and tortoises on its premises.
At the museum, you can pet and hand feed some of its residents, such as the Malaysian Giant River Turtle, Indian Star Tortoise and Pig Nose Flying Turtle.
Since the museum is part of the ORTO leisure complex, you can also indulge in wholesome activities like Longkang Fishing and prawning as part of your visit.
Perfect for a slow (ha-ha) Saturday.
4. Transport yourself to Japan (sort of!) without leaving Singapore
The early bird gets the worm, literally.
Now, if you are able to haul yourself out of bed and get to the Senoko Fishery Port in the early hours (2 am onwards), you will be rewarded with the freshest seafood in Singapore at some of the lowest prices.
After all, Singapore’s version of Tsukiji Market is the wholesale mecca where our fishmongers and zi char uncles get their hands on crabs, prawns, stingrays, clams and sotong.
But more than cheap seafood, what you get to enjoy at Senoko is its bustling energy as customers haggle noisily for the best prices and baskets of fish change hands faster than you can say “sambal stingray”.
5. Go stargazing and be on the lookout for UFOs
Fancy looking out into the night sky to discover galaxies far, far away?
Well, Woodlands Galaxy Community Club comes with an observatory where you will be able to go stargazing using one of those giant telescopes typically seen in doomsday movies.
Weather dependent, the observatory is open every Friday. Tickets cost $1 each, and you can click here to book them.
Long-term plans for northern Singapore
Land use in Singapore is a delicate matter, which is why the Government regularly develops concept plans to guide the development of Singapore.
When we have limited space but multiple competing land-use demands, how do we decide what goes where?
This Government takes a balanced and long-term approach when planning for Singapore’s land use.
Balancing economic, social and environmental considerations, this Government aims to provide a quality living environment that offers growth opportunities and jobs for the people, and safeguards our clean and green landscape.
As part of the master plan, there are plans to transform northern Singapore into one with ample greenery and abundant opportunities not far in the future.
The upcoming Khatib Nature Corridor will provide ecological connectivity between the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the future Khatib Bongsu Nature Park.
Other potential ecological corridors have been identified in Lim Chu Kang, Kranji and Seletar.
Sembawang Shipyard will be redeveloped into a mixed-use waterfront lifestyle precinct once operations move to the new Tuas Port in 2024.
Selected buildings will also be repurposed to bring new life into the area. We have seen how shipping containers have become a big part of the hipster aesthetic, so would Sembawang be a new hangout for the Gen-Z? We’ll just have to wait and see.
One thing is for sure, Singapore’s limited land size demands comprehensive and integrated planning to meet the needs of the current and future generations.
And the big plans for the north, will make this area of Singapore much more exciting than ever before.
Images via: Commonwealth War Graves, NParks/NHB, Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum, Celia S/Foursquare, Woodlands Galaxy CC/Facebook