Journeying to the East: The Ultimate Guide to East Singapore

Everything You Need to Know about East Singapore

In the Battle of East and West Singapore, the East Coast of Singapore recalls glamour and opulence. But East Singapore has plenty more to offer. After all, its history dates as far back as the 16th century. The region is the 2nd most densely populated among the five regions of Singapore, and has the smallest land area. Today, portions of its precolonial and colonial heritage remain intact, all the while modern developments breathe new inspiration into the region. It’s no wonder why East Singapore remains a dear choice for locals and visitors alike.

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A Brief History of East Singapore

The earliest record of its pre-colonial developments revealed fertile soil in swathes of East Singapore. There were coconut plantations in Changi in the 1800s, and then sago plantations sprouted up by the 1860s.  Tampines used to be a farming and fishing village with coconut palms, rubber and fruit trees, streams and ponds. Rural settlements and agricultural developments dotted across Paya Lebar

As the British began colonising the region, East Singapore saw the beginnings of its urban transformation. Changi became a popular spot for fashionable resorts. Meanwhile, Tanjong Katong became an early landmark of the colony as it marked the eastern boundary of the British settlement that Stamford Raffles established in 1819. Boat yards soon proliferated around Tanjong Rhu and Tanjong Katong at his behest.

The Beginnings of its Contemporary Allure

But there were other major players establishing their presence too. At Tanjong Katong, the moneyed Straits Chinese, Europeans and Jews built mansions, hotels and recreation clubs along the beach for weekend retreats. The area soon gained a reputation as a health resort and was peppered with residences.

Alsagoff and Company, established by an Arab family, acquired land adjacent to Geylang Serai in 1848. With a visionary spirit and a passion for expansion, the Alsagoff family founded the Alsagoff Estate, which later merged with a whopping 1,000-acre land in Geylang Serai owned by one of the co-founders, Ahmed Alsagoff. Talk about taking over the neighbourhood! As the family renamed Perseverance Estate, the entire property became the largest in the area between Geylang Serai and Jalan Eunos.

Another notable figure is Chew Joo Chiat, a migrant from China turned wealthy philanthropist. Before becoming a plantation owner, this savvy businessman made his fortune as a trader. Afterwards, he cultivates an exotic array of gambier, nutmeg, and coconut, reaping the fruits of his labour. He acquired a considerable amount of land in the Katong/Joo Chiat area in the first two decades of the 1900s, and became the “King of Katong”.

In 1910, Chew acquired freehold land on Confederate Estate Road measuring 12,070 sq ft (1,121 sq m) for $460. He also obtained extensive parcels of land around the Confederate Estate that extended to the seafront. In 1917, Confederate Estate Road was renamed Joo Chiat Road, as Chew allowed it to be used by the public.

Tumultuous Transitions

The communal riots of 1964 were a dark but pivotal part of Singapore’s history. Tensions had been simmering for years between the People’s Action Party (PAP) government in Singapore and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)-led Alliance government in Malaysia. After failing to secure any seats in the 1963 general election, UMNO launched a campaign in Singapore, accusing the PAP of oppressing local Malays and denying them special rights.

The PAP responded with a meeting to assure local Malays of their policies for employment, housing, and education. However, the Malays were not afforded special privileges. The riots began on July 21, 1964, during a procession celebrating the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, where confrontations between Malays and Chinese individuals led to communal violence throughout the island. Four people died, and 178 others were injured.

Another round of communal riots occurred on September 2, 1964, after the mysterious death of a Malay trishaw rider near Changi market in Geylang Serai. The police imposed an islandwide curfew, and the military provided assistance due to widespread rioting. The curfew was lifted on September 11th, and the military stood down the next day, followed by the police on September 14th.

The communal riots of 1964 had a lasting impact on Singapore. The incident highlighted the need for the government to address racial tensions and promote social harmony, leading to the development of policies and initiatives that continue to shape Singapore’s society today. You can see it in Singapore’s housing policies, where there are measures to ensure the diversity of races in every public housing estate. The country’s success in managing its diverse communities is a testament to the resilience and determination of the people.

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Flying to the Future

Today, East Singapore is marked by its dynamism and synergy with the global economy. The government embarked on ambitious development plans. Building new housing estates, industrial parks, as well as the accompanying infrastructure to serve the new developments.

Post-Independence, East Singapore quickly emerged as a key hub for manufacturing and light industry, with many multinational corporations setting up operations in the region. The Singapore government offered attractive tax incentives and other benefits to encourage foreign investment, which helped to fuel the region’s rapid growth.

East Singapore also evolved into a major transportation hub and logistics centre with the construction of several major expressways and the expansion of Changi Airport, the city-state’s renowned international aviation hub. As the region connects Singapore to destinations around the world, it became a perfect hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. Changi Business Park, for example, houses the offices of DBS BankStandard Chartered and IBM, offering them easy access to Changi Airport.

The region is also home to a thriving tech sector. Pasir Ris and Tampines Wafer Fabrication Parks are home to several prominent semiconductor fabrication companies, including GlobalFoundries, UMC, SSMC, and Siltronic. Additionally, IBM established a technology park worth S$90 million along Tampines Industrial Avenue.

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Living in East Singapore

Life in East Singapore can be diverse and dynamic as urban and nature fuse with the region’s heritage and culture. As is the rest of Singapore, the region is well-served by public transportation. There are bus interchanges along the East West Line of the MRT. The Downtown Line courses through the northern part of East Singapore before it terminates at the Expo MRT Interchange. Soon, there will be a new MRT line traversing the East Coast: the Thomson-East Coast Line. So plenty more neighbourhoods will enjoy breezy commutes to the rest of the island.

Public housing estates permeate the East Region, mostly along the East West Line. The more populous estates are in Bedok and its easternmost locales, like Tampines and Pasir Ris. In those locales, you can find plenty of Singapore apartment rentals within Housing Development Board (HDB) flats. 

But the past has shaped much of the residential neighbourhoods as well, especially for private properties. Joo Chiat and Siglap are still dominated by large, luxurious landed properties. You can also find luxury coastal condominiums along Marine Parade and Eastwood, where they boast panoramic views of the Singapore Straits. You can find similarly lush Singapore condo rentals in the northern part of the East Region as well. They line along the roads around Bedok North MRT and Bedok Reservoir MRT, as well as the roads opposite Tampines Quarry.

Education Institutions in East Singapore

Each town and housing estate has access to their own preschools, primary schools, and secondary schools. But the East Region has no shortage of tertiary institutions of all kinds, from ITE College East to the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and everything in between! Fresh graduates of Singapore’s secondary schools can get ready to expand their minds at Tampines Meridian Junior College, Temasek Junior College, Temasek Polytechnic, and Victoria Junior College.

The East Region is also home to a diverse range of international schools including Global Indian International School (GIIS), East Coast Campus, NPS International School, Sekolah Indonesia Singapura, Overseas Family School, United World College of South East Asia (Tampines Campus), and a special needs school called Katong School – all waiting to unlock your child’s potential.

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What to do in East Singapore

Whatever your interests and preferences, East Singapore is sure to delight and inspire. This is where you can unleash your inner explorer. Immerse yourself in the cultural mosaic of Katong and Joo Chiat. Bask in the warm glow of the sun-drenched beaches of East Coast Park. Indulge your taste buds with a smorgasbord of flavours, from Peranakan infusions to Western classics. And who says you can’t shop till you drop? From the humble heartland malls to the gleaming shopping centres at Paya Lebar and Marine Parade, there are plenty of options for your next fix of retail therapy.

Changi Chapel & Museum

Following the Battle of Singapore, the British army was defeated by the Imperial Japanese Army. Thousands of POWs were held captive at Changi prison camp for three and a half years. During their internment, the prisoners of war constructed several chapels, including one called St. George’s Church.

In 1988, a museum and replica chapel was constructed in Singapore next to Changi Prison, modelled after St. George’s Church. Following the expansion of Changi Prison in 2001, the chapel and museum were relocated 1 km away, resulting in the establishment of the Changi Chapel and Museum on February 15th of that year.

The museum currently exhibits 114 artefacts across eight galleries, comprising paintings, photographs, and personal belongings. These items were donated by former POWs and their families, and offer insight into the internees’ daily lives, challenges, and eventual release.

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Joo Chiat

Its colourful and vibrant history and heritage remain intact. Joo Chiat attracts locals and tourists alike with its eclectic offerings. Stroll along the narrow lanes and admire the intricate ornaments on the shophouse’s facades. Or indulge in the many culinary delights on offer, from Nanyang favourites to good old Italian food. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in the local culture, explore the vibrant art scene, or simply enjoy a leisurely afternoon of shopping and dining, Joo Chiat is sure to enthral.

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Changi International Airport

This is the region’s latest pride and joy. Changi International Airport has long been hailed as the best airport in the world. Even before the addition of Jewel Changi, residents of East Singapore would mingle at its shops and restaurants. Dancers would even meet up and practice at many of its indoor spaces. With the addition of Jewel, locals and visitors alike throng its multifarious offerings, from its stunning centrepiece–the Rain Vortex, to its 280 retail and dining options.

Nature in the Eastern Region

East Singapore holds its own when it comes to nature. There is a diversity of natural landscapes, from pristine beaches to lush islands, and beautiful parks too. Here are our top favourites:

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East Coast Park

East Coast Park is a beloved recreational destination for residents across Singapore, offering almost anything fun under the sun. The park was established during the 1970s as a component of a significant land reclamation initiative to enhance Singapore’s shoreline and offer essential recreational facilities for the expanding populace. Since its grand opening in 1975, the park has flourished into a favourite haunt among locals and visitors alike, beckoning all with the irresistible allure of the sea.

The park covers a distance of 15 kilometres and provides diverse activities for visitors of different ages and interests. East Coast Park offers a variety of activities such as picnicking, beach volleyball, kayaking, and windsurfing due to its expansive beaches, plentiful greenery, and scenic coastline, making it a popular destination. There are barbecue pits, chalets, and playgrounds, making it a suitable spot for family outings and social gatherings too.

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Pasir Ris Park

Step into the breathtaking beauty of Pasir Ris Park, where lush greenery, serene lakes, and stunning beaches await your every step. Spanning over 70 hectares, the key highlight is its carefully preserved six-hectare mangrove forest that you can walk through on the Mangrove Boardwalk. For avid bird-watcher, climb up the three-storey Bird Watching Tower, and observe birds in their full tropical glory.

But if you or the little ones prefer something a bit more active, you can have hours of fun at one of the largest playgrounds in Singapore. Whether you’re a cycling enthusiast, a jogging junkie, or a fishing fanatic, this park has got you covered. The park also features several barbecue pits and picnic areas, making it a popular spot for family outings and social gatherings.

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Pulau Ubin

 Its name literally means ‘Granite Island’ in Malay. The Malays also called it ‘Pulau Batu Ubin’. In Hokkien, the island is also known as tsioh sua, which means “stone hill”. That’s because the island’s rocks, called Jubin, had been used to make floor tiles. Even a few quarries were operating on the island until the mid-20th century.

But as Singapore modernised, the population of Pulau Ubin dwindled as people moved to the city. Yet, despite its declining population, Pulau Ubin has retained much of its traditional charm and rustic character, with several traditional kampongs and historical landmarks still intact.

In recent years, the island has become a popular destination for its natural and historical heritage. Visitors would come to explore, experience its unique culture, and learn about its rich history. 


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