With the economy being what it is, I thought it might be a great idea to recommend alternative holiday locations that are cheaper. Hence this new 4-parter on Holidaying in Singapore. What better way to spend your vacation cheaply and meaningfully -- okay, cheaply -- than to spend it here in Singapore? Part Three covers the North. Enjoy.
Woodlands is the Northern-most town of Singapore, which prior to its acquisition of an MRT station, had the distinction of being known as the most "ulu" (Malay for "disgusting backwater") town in Singapore. Now, thanks to the MRT trains, Woodlands is known as the most "ulu" town in Singapore with an MRT Station.
It is the town closest to our Northern neighbours, Malaysia. All cars and trucks that need to travel between the two countries have to drive through Woodlands to cross the Causeway, that is a short two-minute drive over a small body of water, followed by a mere five-hour jam at both ends to clear customs.
Woodlands residents frequently travel to Johor Bahru, the Malaysian city just across the Causeway, to eat cheap seafood, buy porno vcds and buy cheap toilet paper.
Attempts to ease the traffic snarl in this town have been fruitless to date, given the Singaporean propensity for cheap toilet paper and the Malaysian worker's love of our strong currency, but hopes are high that the new link at Tuas, another northern backwater further West will ease the jams. Yeah right
Sembawang is a sleepy town that boasts the longest road in Singapore that is not a highway, namely Sembawang Road. Driving along this road is an exercise in trying not to sleep at the wheel.
To say that Sembawang is a rural backwater would be grossly unfair, as it has a famous shopping centre, called Sembawang Shopping Centre, that is approximately 15 million years old and is renowned for the Sembawang Music Store that people all over Singapore flock to to buy cheap CDs. This has abated somewhat in the recent years with the opening of other Sembawang Music branches in town and the arrival of HMV (Humungous Music Volumes - The T-Rex of Singapore Music Stores).
It is easy to miss this shopping centre driving along Sembawang Road, and if you drive past it by five minutes, you will literally end up in the ocean. That is how close to the coast Sembawang is ("Sembawang: The Coast is Close").
Bishan estate is one of the premier places in Singapore to live in an HDB flat. It is a place where the price of government flats has reached the height of silliness. It is what you might call the Nassim Hill of HDB Living, Nassim Hill being the most expensive _private_ estate in Singapore (The Singapore Edition of Monopoly replaces Boardwalk with Nassim Hill, so you get the picture).
Bishan is so hot an estate because it is where many so-called "Good" schools are located, like Raffles Institution (rhymes with Breakfast Constipation), a premier boys' school named after Raffles, the Englishman who came to our island many years ago (1969), saw a lion in the jungles and decided to open a Planet Hollywood here. A Light Beer and an MRT station were also named after him. Many of our ministers and top property agents studied in this school. I was not one of them.
RI (as it is fondly called, pronounced "rye") is remarkable because, despite getting the Cream of Singapore's students (you have to score 420 out of 400 in your 'O' levels to qualify to use its toilets), it manages to be the top school every year.
Parents who desire to get their children into schools like Raffles would sell their souls to the devil, and then use the money as a downpayment for a government flat in Bishan. Hence the ridiculous prices commanded by the residents here, who cash in on their flat's value and use the money to buy a private condominium in a cheaper part of Singapore, like Tuas.
Bishan is also desirable because it has a claustrophobic suburban shopping mall called Junction 8, that has many cineplexes (Golden Village Bishan 8) and shops the size of shoeboxes. Next to the mall, there is the asset-enhancing MRT.
Recently, condos have also sprung up in Bishan, with names like Bishan 8, so named in order for you to boast that you paid a lot of money to stay in a condominium named after a cineplex.
Bishan actually has a rich history. It used to a huge cemetery called "Pek Shan", the dialect version of the name Bishan. Seems like half of the Singapore deceased were buried here. Of course the bodies have all been exhumed before development took place (or so we've been told) but ghost stories of haunted MRT trains going through Bishan station at night still abound. If this paranormal phenomena interests you, it is covered in accurate academic detail in "Really Really True Singapore Ghost Stories Vol 326".
Ang Mo Kio
Ang Mo Kio (AMK) is one of the few estates in Singapore that survived " The Great Mandarinisation of Singapore Dialect Street Names" scourge of the Eighties. This is why it was not renamed "Hong Mao Qiao" or something silly like that.
AMK is considered a mature estate, which basically means that the government and the residents there can sell you a flat there for twice as much as a flat in a non-mature estate.
There are many amenities in AMK, as well as the MRT, and food is great. However, AMK suffers from a lack of decent cinemas and a mall, which is why it is considered a little rundown. Plans are underway to spruce things up by building nicer lift lobbies in some blocks, a masterful stroke of urban planning.
Still, it is a great place to stay, being near all the modern estates like Bishan. And there are a lot of buses that stop at the AMK Interchange. AMK is a place you would want to live in for its great food and public transport. If you drive a car, though, move somewhere else. The congestion at the Central Expressway exit into AMK is a major source of humour for morning radio shows.
There are many factories at Tuas. Oh, and an expensive new Causeway to Malaysia that nobody but drug smugglers uses. Did I mention the factories in Tuas?