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Rediscovering Local Attractions: Hougang – One of Singapore’s Oldest Neighbourhoods

Block 316 with its iconic rainbow mural at Hougang Avenue 7

With travel bans and social distancing still in place, it can be quite boring and suffocating to stay in our house all day. Why not opt for one of the Singapore local attractions? Why not enjoy a change of scenery right in your neighbourhood and discover facts and hidden stories that you might have missed while breezing through life?

If you’re wondering where to go in Singapore today, you can even embark on a refreshing new adventure with your family and friends through the Singapore heritage trails provided by the National Heritage Board that are sure to let you see your neighbourhood in a new light every time you walk down the street

As one of Singapore’s oldest neighbourhoods, Hougang is full of interesting quirks and ‘treasures’ for you to discover. First of all, have you ever wondered why Hougang is commonly pronounced as Au Kang, which is different from how it is spelt?

Au Kang in dialect actually means “at the back of the river” in both Teochew and Hokkien, and is a reference to Sungei Serangoon at the end of Upper Serangoon Road, where many Teochew-speaking inhabitants settled.

Hougang Heritage Trail Maps and Suggested Routes
Hougang Heritage Trail Maps and Suggested Routes (Courtesy of National Heritage Board)

While this old Teochew pronunciation has endured and the Teochew community continues to have a strong presence, much has changed. A strong, diverse mix of other communities and cultures has also developed and continues to accentuate the colourful character of one of Singapore’s oldest towns.

From tales of crocodile and pirate attacks to Singapore’s first fast-food restaurant in a housing estate, the new Hougang Heritage Trail, remains one of the best Singapore local attractions. Consisting of 18 heritage sites with 10 trail markers, it uncovers a treasure trove of lesser-known stories of an area steeped in history.

Through historical landmarks, important community institutions, as well as the personal memories and contributions from the community, the trail charts the journey of Hougang from a rural area with vast plantations and fruit orchards to a modern, thriving heartland estate.

A Neighbourhood Of Diverse Faiths And Communities

Many of Hougang’s places of faith have origins dating back to the early kampung days. In the 1800s, the steady arrival of Catholic Teochew immigrants from China who came to Singapore eventually led to the establishment of religious institutions such as the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hougang
Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Courtesy of National Heritage Board)

Located at the end of Hougang when it was first built, the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the oldest place of worship in the area. With a growing congregation in the late 1890s, the mission constructed the present-day Neo-Gothic building, complete with pointed arches and ribbed vaults.

Paying homage to its rich culture and past, the church continues to provide religious services in Teochew today.

Hougang Tou Mu Kung
Hougang Tou Mu Kung (Courtesy of National Heritage Board)

Hougang Tou Mu Kung began as a shrine in Lim Loh village in 1902, and is the oldest temple in Singapore dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods. The Nine Emperor Gods were popularly worshipped in Malaya, especially among Chinese labourers working in tin mines, as they were believed to be efficacious in warding off epidemics and diseases.

The temple was gazetted as a National Monument on 14 January 2005, and remains well known for its grand celebrations during the annual Nine Emperor Gods festival, which is also one of the Singapore local attractions.

Masjid Haji Yusoff mosque in Hougang
Masjid Haji Yusoff (Courtesy of National Heritage Board)

Masjid Haji Yusoff was built in 1921 and is the oldest mosque in Hougang.  It became such a prominent landmark that the Chinese name for the section of the road near the mosque was Sembahyang Tng (a combination of the Malay word for “prayers” and the Hokkien word for “pavilion” respectively).

The mosque now serves as a hub for the Malay-Muslim community living in the Hougang and Upper Serangoon areas.

Developing Into A Modern Housing Town

Besides paying homage to its rich past, Singapore local attractions such as the Hougang Heritage Trail also traces the transformation from rural Au Kang to a new housing town with modern schools and bustling markets.

Don’t forget to support local with these traditional businesses that have literally weathered the ups and downs of Singapore in its developing years. To help you decide on where to go in Singapore today, these businesses include Ah Seah Teochew Porridge, Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory, Cheong Ann Watch Maker, Serangoon Lian Hin Tailor, and Chinese antique furniture and accessories store and Just Anthony.

two men who work for Cheong Ann WatchMaker in Hougang
Cheong Ann WatchMaker

Opened in 1947 along Upper Serangoon Road, Cheong Ann Watch Maker specialises in clocks and gramophones and is now run by the second and third generations of a Hokkien family.

In the 1980s, as Cheong Ann saw more demand towards the sourcing of collectibles, the business evolved from providing mainly repair services to selling antiques and collectibles. The family also expanded its network from Singapore to Malaysia in its efforts to acquire vintage timepieces.

Where to Go in Singapore Today?

For a meaningful ‘learning trip’ with your family and friends, explore Singapore local attractions: the Hougang Heritage Trail’s companion guide and map are available in four languages, and can be downloaded from NHB’s heritage portal.

Printed copies of the guide will also be available at NHB museums, as well as the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (Hougang Office), Hougang Community Club, Punggol Community Club, Paya Lebar Kovan Community Club, The Serangoon Community Club, Aljunied Community Centre, Eunos Community Club and Kaki Bukit Community Centre.

Click HERE for more information on the Singapore heritage trails provided by the National Heritage Board.

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Yin Yan Teo

Yin Yan Teo

I am a student with a passion for writing and I am currently pursuing a diploma in Mass Communication at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film & Media Studies. I am also the youngest intern at Singapore’s #1 public relations agency, Golin/Harris Singapore.


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