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The Katong and Joo Chiat Trail

By: markhsx on 08 Feb 2012
Address:
East Coast Road and Joo Chiat Road, Singapore

The Katong and Joo Chiat Trail takes you to the heart of one of Singapore's most treasured and beloved enclaves – Katong, part of the Joo Chiat neighbourhood and centred on where Joo Chiat Road meets East Coast Road. This guided introduction will highlight sites of interests and heritage markers along the streets in the area.

 

Traditionally associated with the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) and Eurasian communities, Katong is a melting pot of Singaporean cultures and a treasure trove rich in history and picture-perfect architecture of shophouses and villas. Amidst the looming modern developments and high-rise apartments, Katong continues to exude the charm and beauty of Singapore's yesteryears.

 

This area is particularly well-known among Singaporeans as a food stop and for offering a delightful range of cuisines. A trip to Katong is first and foremost a food trail that will take you through traditional kopitiams (coffeeshops), Peranakan dining institutions, and multi-ethnic eateries. To best capture and indulge in the colourful and magical charm of Katong, start your trail in the morning, as the aroma of freshly-baked bread hints at the feast for your senses up ahead.

 

* Stops with Heritage Markers

The nearest MRT stations are Paya Lebar [EW8/CC9] and Eunos [EW7].

Bus nos. 15, 16, 33, 155 take you to Joo Chiat Road and Joo Chiat Place;

Bus nos. 10, 12, 14, 32, 40 and 155 serve East Coast Road.

 


View The Katong and Joo Chiat Trail in a larger map

 

As shown in the map above, the various sites of interest in this area have been arranged into a walking route from the Introduction Marker of Katong/Joo Chiat to Joo Chiat Complex, with the first part along East Coast Road and the second along and around Joo Chiat Road. The walk would take around three and a half hours to complete. Each site of interest is listed below with a brief description of the site's history and significance.

 

1. Introduction to Katong/Joo Chiat *

 

Katong has its beginnings in the early 19th century where coconut plantations and attap-roofed kampungs (villages) dotted the landscape. Joo Chiat Road was a simple dirt track running through the plantations to the sea in the 1920s. It was named after Chew Joo Chiat, the “King of Katong”, a wealthy philanthropist who owned large plots of land in Katong.

 

In the 1920s and 1930s, many communities moved eastward out of the city centre to make Katong their home. This resulted in bungalows, shophouses and places of worship being built, a reflection of the multi-cultural and varied community living here. Up to the 1950s, the area was an idyllic seaside retreat for the wealthy. To retain its rich architecture and heritage, over 700 buildings in the area have been conserved.

 

2. Conserved Terrace Houses off East Coast Road

 

These single-storey terrace houses stand beside a former sea wall, near where the beach used to be before land was reclaimed. The living area was built on raised ground to protect against the rising tides. An eclectic mix of traditional local architecture, infused with Western influences, is seen in the elaborate fascia boards and decorative plaster motifs.

 

3. Church of the Holy Family *

 

The Church of the Holy Family, a pre-World War II parish church, was a focal point for the Eurasian community of Katong. Its dates back to 1902 - the original chapel was built in 1923 and held the first Christmas mass in Katong in 1936. Today, it continues to serves the local Catholic community. Re-built in 1999, the front sculptures have been retained from the original church structure.

 

4. Chin Mee Chin Confectionery

 

This beloved coffee shop encompasses a bakery where hot kaya (a traditional jam made from eggs, sugar and coconut juice) buns and delightful sugar rolls are sold freshly baked. One of the last remaining Hainanese coffee shops of old, Chin Mee Chin remains popular and still retains an authentic 1950s ambience. The rich strong coffee is the perfect accompaniment to the atmosphere and taste of a piping hot traditional breakfast here.

 

5. Katong Antique House

 

A veritable museum of Peranakan artefacts, the Katong Antique House showcases family heirlooms and antiques collected by its genial owner, Mr Peter Wee. An appointment with Peter will allow him to immerse you in stories from his grandfather’s days. Check out the intricately woven kasut manek (beaded slippers), charming furniture and wedding costumes from a unique culture.

 

6. Former Grand Hotel

 

Peek into the legendary Grand Hotel, built in 1917 by Moona Kader Sultan, a wealthy Indian cattle merchant. Originally a complex of four houses known as, the luxurious gardens were split into two with the construction of Still Road in 1973. This grand dame retains much of her Victorian splendour with charming turrets, ornate façade plaster decorations and breezy bay windows.

 

7. Former Joo Chiat Police Station

 

This Police Station was built in 1928 to serve the burgeoning Joo Chiat community. The building's architecture is similar to many government buildings built at that time. It was said that Singapore's most infamous once frequented this former lock-up for triad gang members.

 

8. Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple

 

One of Singapore's oldest Indian temples, Sri Senpaga Vinayagar dates back to 1875, when an early Ceylonese Tamil pioneer built a small attap-hut like temple under a Senpaga tree, where a statue of Lord Vinayagar, the Elephant God, was said to be found. While the temple complex was re-built after World War II, the main shrine remains unscathed. The 21 metre high Rajagopuram (royal tower) makes it one of the tallest Indian temples in Singapore.

 

9. St Hilda’s Anglican Church

 

The St Hilda’s Anglican Church, built in 1934, is designed after a simple English parish church style, featuring a conical tower built in the Victorian tradition; notice the beautiful stained glass in the chapel. Today, St Hilda’s has a tightly-knit community of parishioners, serving whole households from grandfathers to their grandchildren.

 

10. Nonya Laksa Stalls


A trip to Katong would not be complete without tasting the famous Katong laksa, a tangy, spicy dish! Several stalls along this stretch of East Coast Road have been engaged in Singapore’s infamous ‘Laksa Wars’ for years, where the point of contention is the source of the original, authentic Katong laksa. Nonetheless, the laksa at 328 Katong Laksa is good enough to have been ranked number one on Lonely Planet's list of things to do in Singapore and second in Asia!

 

11. Former “Red House” Bakery

 

The former Katong Bakery & Confectionery, also affectionately known as the “Red House” Bakery, was famous for its Swiss rolls and curry puffs. The“Red House” Bakery was the first in Singapore to bake three-tier Western-style wedding cakes in the 1920s.

 

12. Former Tay Buan Guan Shop, now Rumah Bebe *

 

The faint TBG print on the shopfront of 113 East Coast Road is the only sign of its once bustling former occupant, the Tay Buan Guan department store. Established in 1948 by Tay Leck Teck, it stocked a range of products unavailable elsewhere, and was one of Singapore’s best-loved stores.

 

This shophouse now houses Rumah Bebe (Bebe’s House), a Peranakan heritage store and museum. Try on a custom-made kebaya or a batik sarong, or catch a beading demonstration. Cooking classes and ready-to-cook spices are available for those who want to cook nonya-style meals back home.

 

13. Joo Chiat Community Club

 

Once a humble wooden hut with simple facilities such as a library, boys’ club and basketball court, the Joo Chiat Community Club has since been extensively renovated. Today it remains a meeting point for the Katong community.

 

14. Former Joo Chiat Maternal and Child Health Clinic

 

Further down Joo Chiat Road is a prominent red building, the former Joo Chiat Maternal and Child Health Clinic. Established in 1907 to counter Singapore’s high infant mortality rate, the clinic began to focus on treating a nation devastated by the Japanese Occupation after World War II.

 

15. Shophouses along Koon Seng Road *

 

Katong's colourful Peranakan culture and influence can be seen in two rows of pre-war shophouses here. With exceptionally ornate designs and exquisite details, these are outstanding examples of Singapore’s architectural heritage showcasing a fusion of Eastern and Western influences.

 

16. Eurasian Community House *

 

The Eurasian community has played an integral role in the history of Katong and Joo Chiat, with their unique blend of European and Asian culture. Their love for music and merry-making in the early days lent an air of revelry to the area. View an interesting exhibition on Eurasian culture at Ceylon Road’s Eurasian Community House, which opens daily.

 

17. Kuan Im Tng Temple *

 

This Chinese temple was built in 1921 and has been renovated twice. Its ornate façade and front doors are flanked by circular windows, surrounded by yellow, white and blue mosaic symbols of the Eight Immortals. The roof ridges are adorned with statues of dancing dragons, with the celestial pearl, symbolising prosperity and good fortune. The prayer hall is dedicated to Guan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy), Confucius and the Sun and Moon Gods.

 

18. Masjid Khalid *

 

The serene Masjid Khalid (Khalid Mosque) was built in 1917 as a place of worship for Indian Muslims. Recently renovated in 1998, it remains a gathering point for Joo Chiat's Malay community. Savour thirst quenchers such as chendol or ais kachang at nearby food stalls.

 

19. Joo Chiat Complex

 

This complex features an intriguing array of Malay textiles and foodstuff, to complement the popular Geylang Serai Market and Malay Village just across the street. From here, it's a short walk to the Paya Lebar MRT Station.


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