exploring Southwest to Central

A route to show that the ulu Southwest has more to offer to runners and city explorers than the Southern Ridges plus provide an alternative way to connect the West with the city-state’s more central areas. The point of this route is to show a number of interconnected options, each offering something unique. Unlike the Southwestern coastal route this (much longer – approx. 95k) one couldn’t even be done as a single loop without any repeating sections (it would  require running a 12k sections from Lakeside MRT via Bukit Batok to just North of the Pandan reservoir twice). It has multiple MRT entry/exit points and you can figure out your own preffered combination of what you want to explore. Have fun out there!

Route specs: approx. 94k and 1700 altitude meters

The above track was made by merging several tracks I made with my handheld. If you zoom in, you’ll see that its accuracy has some limitations caused by the GPS loosing connection etc. So at detailed level it may not always be accurate but for those who want to download it be  my guest: GPS-track of the Southwest to Central route.

route sections

Lakeside MRT-Jurong river-NTU-Jurong eco garden-NTU-Pioneer-Boon Lay-Lakeside MRT (22k)

We start with a loop West from Lakeside MRT station to the NTU campus and back. This 22.5k loop is eminently runnable, with just a couple of obstructing road crossings, has going off-pavement options, and a couple of worthwhile sites to take in. Immediately South of the station a park connector following the Jurong river takes you to Jurong Central park (I’ve once seen a family of otters who live in Jurong lake in this river). When the river splits into a South and West going arm, go West (a concrete trail and a grass option, take your pick), navigate the Pioneer Rd crossing and stick to the water (in the weekends Indian migrant labour barbers set up ‘shop’ beneath one of the large trees – a veritable little India sight in industrial West Jurong), cross Upper Jurong Rd to stay with the water (again concrete track – on the left – and grass  on the right options). Follow the quiet HDB neighbourhood road to a footpath giving access to a pedestrian overpass across the Pan Island Express way into the NTU campus.

The campus’ roads have hardly any traffic, are lined with footpaths, 4k of which on this route are a soft-surface running track, great runnable ups and downs, and various foodcentre/toilet opportunities. My route tries to make the most of this quiet green haven, including the sights of the Chinese Heritage Centre, and the architecturally interesting Hive building. and the loop through the neighbouring Jurong Eco-garden with are the lungs of a Cleantech campus, houses the last of Singapore’s dragon kilns and has some beautiful pottery art work on display.

 

 

 

The way back to lakeside, weaves its way through HDB heartland, passing two more MRT stations (Pioneer and Boon Lay – both East-West line with Boon Lay being an alternative starting point for a shorter – 16k – loop to NTU campus), a Chiese temple and a sports centre, and retracing your steps along Jurong river after Jurong Central park.

Lakeside MRT-Bukit Batok-Pandan river-Pandan reservoir-Jurong Town Hall-Jurong Lake Gardens-Lakeside MRT (30.5k)

The next loop goes East from Lakeside MRT, is again eminently runnable, green, and doesn’t have to be a loop. It offers a longer and a shorter possibility to make this a route to continue toward the Central Singapore.

It first takes in my own HDB neighborhood, hits the Pan Island Expressway (PIE) and follows that through a green corridor (crossing Bukit Batok Rd by an overpass) until an overpass getting you into Bukit Batok (6k of near uninterupted, traffic-free running, with a canal and/or greenery separating you from the Expressway and HDB estates on the other). Bukit Batok West market & foodcentre makes for a good break should you need one. The route continuous through HDB country via Bukit Batok Central park, circles East, and then goes South, first making some altitude meters through the neighbourhood park, Before hitting a park connector, and after re-crossing  the PIE, following another one, lining the Pandan river.  All of the 4.5 PCN kms to a fork in the Pandan river are  traffic-free through industrial Jurong.

The options here are to cross the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) by foot/cycle bridge to do a Pandan reservoir loop or stay on the North side of the AYE and follow the Western arm of the Pandan river (on a park connector) to Bueno Vista.

The first option follows the South-going arm of the river (Chinese temple, always worth having a look at!) to the reservoir and circles the 6k around it on a graveltrail that makes for a great running surface, similar to the popular running route around Bedok reservoir. For those of you into serious training, this is a greatly undervalued resource. There is a toilet block in the Northwestern corner and on the two food centres in the HDB neighbourhood across the road to the North. It’s worth to watch the reservoir for wildlife: I’ve come across an otter family here.

You can choose to do this loop and then return to the fork in the Pandan river to continue the route to the East (Bueno Vista), or cut through the HDB neighbourhood, cross the AYE via another footbridge, then a footbridge across the Jurong Town Hall road to get you to Jurong Town Hall, an impressive brutalist building that’s been given heritage status by the Singapore government. You can stay off-road until just before a footbridge between Genting hotel and the Jurong Library, to go to Jurong East MRT station, a possible entry/exit point, or continue on the park connector (or beyond the brutalist Science Centre, again off-road) to get to the Jurong Lake Gardens. These are splendid, with lots of variety (a lotus pond, bonsai garden, sculpture gardens and plenty more), and the possibility of maybe 6k off-road running, and great views from the six-story pagoda in the Chinese garden (for those into training: the route passes the pagoda twice, its staircase is great for running, make use of it both times!).

Unfortunately, these island gardens are closing soon (end of May 2019) for renovation but you can replace this green immersion by the newly reopened Jurong Lake Gardens. For more route info and thoughts about this, see here.

The lakeside MRT borders the gardens and is the end of this approx. 31k loop. One way to shorten the loop is to just have a look at the Pandan reservoir but cut out the 6k circle around it.

 

 

 

Pandan river fork-Bueno Vista-One North Park-Wessex estate-Commonwealth MRT-Skyville@Dawson-Alexandra Canal-Singapore river-Raffles Place MRT (19k)

Let’s get back to the option of following the Pandan river East to Bueno Vista, 5k through a traffic-free green corridor on a park connector. You’ll pass a rail bridge of the former Jurong branch of the Malayan railway. If you climb the bank you’ll find some more remnants. The best way to get to Bueno Vista MRT station (an obvious entry/exit point) once the park connector ends is to follow Commonwealth Av for a couple of hundred meters until you come to the underpass. From there into the One North park  unfortunately requires navigating one of those car-centric, traffic-light controlled double-crossings that makes life for anyone wandering the streets of Singapore sometimes very frustrating; make use of your waiting time to have a good look around. This innovation district has some really spectacular buildings.

From the park more are visible, its last bit is a couple of 100 meters of boardwalk, then having crossed a quiet street, you’ll enter the utterly delightful Wessex estate of colonial Black and Whites. My route takes in near all of the estate before crossing the rail corridor into an early HDB neighbourhood (interspersed with some pre-war buildings) close to Commonwealth MRT station, the next entry/exit point for this route. The Tanglin Halt food centre is a great place for a break. The MRT station has a an overpass after which you can enter the football field to get to another early HDB neighbourhood overlooking it. On the left of the football field is the Ministry of Education Heritage Centre, worth a visit if you’re interested in the development of Singapore’s education system end facilities, housed in a former first generation post-indepence primary school.

From this neighbourhood, cross  Queensway by pedestrian overpass, then go into and Far East Flora to get to very quiet Ridout Rd, and admire how the rich live. Soon a concrete footpath lining remnants of British army days (who lived and worked here until 1973) brings you to a graassy area hugging Margaret Drive. You can stay on the grass, passing the backs of first Public Health Centre (still to be renovated) and the first branch of the National Library (renovated already – worth to have a quick peek inside for its small historical exhibit), until after St Andrew’s nursing home you head for the road, and take the footpath opposite to the Alexandra park connector and turn West. The very first complex on your left is the famous Skyville@Dawson HDB complex. You have to take time to explore! The art, the huge sky-terrace on the 47th floor connecting the towers (yes, there is the lift, but for those of you looking for a really good work-out: the stairs will bring you there too), and the stupendous views in all directions. This is the first of two such viewpoints on this route, and the differences between the perspective each provides is amazing. The complex also has a good foodcentre on the groundfloor.

I am a great admirer of Singapore’s public housing, and fast development from basic and cheap pragmatism to innovative attention to architectural detail and planning for livable neighbourhood. 80% of its populations lives in Housing Development Board apartments (of which 90% owns them), stunning. With (rather minimal) variation of colour schemes, detailing and estate lay-out, HDB has managed to create recognizably different neighbourhoods. Exploring HDBs is as much a unique attraction of the red dot as anything else. For a nice photo essay about its history, see here.

 

 

 

From here it is a delightful straightforward nearly road crossing free 6k through Alexandra Canal Linear Park, the subsequent park connector along Alexandra Canal, and Singapore river to Raffles place MRT, another obvious entry/exit point. About mid-way there is a foodcentre/toilet on the North bank.

Raffles Place MRT-Chinatown-Singapore General Hospital-Tiong Bahru-Red Hill-Queenstown-Commonwealth MRT (22.5k)

This (and the next) part of town is so dense with sights and so well-described by readily available resources, I will not even try to come up with my own.  These parts of the town (centre) can be visited time and again, and will offer something you hadn’t noticed before every time. It is impossible to properly take it all in when running, much deserves a closer look, a proper visit, and engaging with some background information. So this run is just a way to immerse yourself in the unlimited diversity, the layers upon layers of history, the constantly changing events and happenings, that the core cityscape has to offer. It cannot replace a ‘proper’ visit., which by extension has to mean ‘many’ visits because those can only cover relatively small bits of it all, smaller, the more in-depth you explore.

The one thing that you should do for sure when running this part of the route, is regularly stop for a quick look around you. Running’s unique advantage over walking is that you have to opportunity to see so much, maybe impressionistic, but all as part of one ‘experience’. To make the most of that USP you have to regularly stop and deliberately immerse yourself in the cityscape that surrounds you. It is the only way to let the incredible diversity of the build environment and its human  inhabitants get trough to you.

The next 12.5k is even ‘worse’, Chinatown. chock-a-block with sights. My route basically circles three times through this stamp-sized bit of town, aiming to give you what a run can do that a walk cannot, provide a nearly tactile feel for the large number and the large diversity of shophouse heritage, the pulsating density of big old-style shopping complexes and food centres, all sorta next to ech other, and integrated in brutalist HDB complexes, unexpected quiet corners, some interesting colonial era, post war modernist and award-winning modern architecture, countless places of worship and more.

The first circuit goes from Raffles place, past Market street hawker centre, into Telok Ayer Street the sights of which (Nagore Dargah, Tian Hock Keng Temple)  deserve a proper visit , then Amoy street with another large foodcentre, Chinese temple and a beautiful mural (back wall of Tian Hock Keng), an alley to the back lane, and up the Ang Siang Hill for a pedestrian shortcut to busy South bridge Rd. Follow partially pedestrianized Smith street opposite to its end, find your way across busy New Bridge Rd/Eu Tong Sen St via the first floor overpass in the corner Department store on the left – the first of the many colourful shopping centres in this neighbourhood. Before the route enters the best known of these, the brutalist People’s Park Complex, it first takes a diversion onto surprisingly quiet Pearl Hill, past colonial era police barracks, iconic Pearl Bank Apartments (probably to be demolished in the future), and great views of People Park Complex and its stunning HDB block (32) at the back.. Back off the hill the route weaves through the complex and the adjacent People’s Park Centre, Not runnable, way too busy, but totally worth it. before re-crossing New Bridge Rd/Eu Tong Sen St by overpass and crossing the small Hong Lim park to get a good view of the architectural landmark Parkroyal on Pickering that you just passed, and the much older but equally interesting Furama City hotel.

 

 

 

Then its on with the second circuit around this area, with first weaving through an Art Deco shophouse neighbourhood, then following popular heritage and restaurant street Circular Rd to find your way into and around the largely pedestrianized, partially covered streets of shophouses between Church street and Croos street, then across the busy South bridge road by footbridge (straight ahead another integrated HDB, shopping centre, foodcentre complex) turning left for some more of Singapore’s best known places of worship, Masjid Jamae and the Sri Mariamman temple. Then follow the Hindu shrine lining Temple street, then Trengganu St to the Temple of the Tooth square. You can visit the Temple now or during the third circuit, but visit it you have to do. It’s unlike any other Buddhist temple in Singapore, or anywhere else. Find your way to the Keong Saik Rd through through another of the colourful shopping/food centres/HDB complexes (appropriately named the Chinatown complex), turn left and go counterclockwise around the Hindu temple on the streetcorner and into the lane which is another quiet green oasis, the Duxton Plain Park, the site of a former railway line, already dismantled before the WWII. Before the underpass, take the stairs into Bukit Pasoh Rd, an often forgotten gem and close to my heart because I stayed there during my first visit ever to Singapore in what was then the cheapest Chinese hotel we could find and what is now a classy Boutique hotel – still called the Majestic, but a ‘New’ added to it. Back to the park and via teh underpass to the Pinnacle@Duxton, that you (should) visit on the next circuit, on through the little park across Yan Kit Rd (make sure to not miss the temple and the Clan Association buildings left and right), and on to Tanjong Pagar Rd (good food centre on the first floor above the ground floor market). Cross Tras Link park opposite the plaza and follow shophouse-lined Tras St. to  Maxwell Rd. Make sure to look back before turning into Tras St because the PS100 building (Oasia Hotel signage) and the Taoist Seng Wong Beo City God Temple may entice you to make a small detour first.

 

 

 

The third circuit through this fascinating neighbourhood cannot start with anything other than a quick visit to the Urban Redevelopment Authority‘s (URA – Singapore’s urban planning agency) city gallery. After this last traverse you will not have covered/seen all of Chinatown’s layers upon layers of  cityscape, far from it, but you’ll have a more comprehensive sense than many guidebook following visitors . From URA the route takes the most straightforward shophouse lined cut-through (Erskine Rd – notice the umphtieth large and popular food centre opposite URA, I just cannot get my head around their number in these 5 or 6 square kms…)  to the Temple of the Tooth (didn’t enter and explore it last time? Do it now). Then take a shortcut to the Hindu temple on Keong Saik Rd up the stairs to the peaceful Kreta Ayer Community Centre (interesting murals both at the stairs and in the leafy backyard) and then take the Keong Saik road rather than its park back lane. The route makes one last detour to include thoroughly gentrified and pedestrianized Duxton Hill (and its abomination of a parking lot – the hip and wealthy need their vroom vroom close-by), returning via Duxton Rd and up to the Pinnacle@Duxton, an award-winning 7-tower, 50 storey HDB highrise with a publicly accessible skygarden (entrance: ground floor G-block, SGD 6 and a CEPAS, e.g. EZlink card). On the way to the management office you’ll pass a worthwhile outdoors history of Chinatown exhibit. The views from the sky terrace are totally different from those you’ll get from Skyville@Dawson (or from the Marina Bay Sands CE LA VI sky bar – which is part of another route that links to Raffles Place MRT station) and stunning.

 

 

 

From here, cross Cantonment Rd via the footbridge and find your way through the ‘mature’ Everton Park HDB estate to explore the Western-most bits of Chinatown shophouses (Everton/Blair Rd) before crossing busy Eu Tong Sen/New Bridge Rds by footbridge and wind your way through the Singapore National Hospital campus to a footbridge across the Central Expressway into  Hipster art deco Tiong Bahru estate.  I  love this neighbourhood because its pre-war Singapore Improvement Trust (HDB’ predecessor) architecture is utterly distinctive, and the post-war 1950s neighbourhood to the North of it is also delighful. The market/foodcentre is thriving, and the neighbourhood has some Singapore landmarks like BooksActually (and the city-state’s only Francophone bookstore)

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