By Rebecca Wurd, on December 13, 2016

Balestier Heritage Trail Part II: Playing ‘Local Tourist’ Exploring Singapore History

Did you know that Singapore played an important role in Sun Yat Sen’s revolutionary movement in China? I had no clue! I only discovered this over a weekend exploring the Balestier Heritage Trail. Can’t say I’ve had any excuse to visit Balestier before, it’s actually quite interesting if you pay attention. Particularly if you enjoy history and a bit of nostalgia of old Singapore.

Following the map provided at the front desk of Ramada Hotel at Zhongshan Park, I walked my way down the trail discovering things I didn’t know about Singapore’s history, admiring old buildings and eating lots. (You can find out more about fatty bom-bom adventures to be had in Balestier here.)  Here’s a few things to explore along the Balestier Heritage Trail.

The Balestier Heritage Trail: Exploring History

The Balestier InsiderCourtesy of Ramada Hotel

1) Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

It rained the day I was exploring, so I was glad to start off inside the colonial-style mansion that houses the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall.  There are markers like this along the trail that tell you a little about each site.

balestier-heritage-trail-sysbalestier-sun-yat-sen-memorial Sun Yat Sen sharing my umbrella and hanging out 🙂 sun-yat-sen-umbrella

The colonial style villa was built by a Cantonese merchant, and later a wealthy Teochew businessman who invited Dr Sun Yat Sen to stay in 1905. Dr. Sun stayed here several times and used it as base for his revolutionary activities in Southeast Asia.

3 uprisings that took place between 1907-1908 were organised from this very villa.

Ownership changed several times over the years, before finally becoming gazetted as a national monument. Unfortunately, most of the original artefacts were destroyed during WWII. But there are still interesting collections.

I was fascinated by…

The tiny shoes that women had to wear back in China when feet-binding was a practice.

Tiny shoes for feet binding

An old printing press machine and teeny tiny letterings

Can’t imagine how tedious (and skilled) it used to be to print anything!

sunyatsen-printingpresscylinder-printing-pressPrinting press tiles at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

This one piece of art

I personally really like the style of classic paintings, where it’s about masterful brush strokes that capture yet elevate the human form and emotion. Like Botticelli’s and Michelangelo’s.  I’ve never seen one like this with so much I can relate to, that strikes a chord of nostalgia and ‘my people’ — because in Singapore our people is really a mix of cultures isn’t it? They’re represented in this massive painting hanging in the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall.

painting-1 painting-2 painting-3 painting-4  sunyatsen-painting

There’s lots to read if you want to know more about the revolution timeline, key personalities around the region, and even the birth of schools like Singapore Chinese Girls School and ACS High. Here’s a few more highlights.

Artillery shellsartillery-shells

Shoes for bound feetbound-feet

Photos of early batch of students and teachersold-chinese-schools

Old stopwatchold-stopwatch

Opium pipeopium-pipe

Revolutionaries’ uniformssoldiers-uniforms

Replica of the flags embroidered by Dr. Sun’s wife for the revolution (I hope I remembered that right!)sunyatsen-embroidery

A cool multimedia wall




2) Burmese Buddhist Temple

Sasanaramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple is the only Buddhist temple outside of Myanmar built in traditional Burmese architectural style. I was struck by the gleaming gold details and the towering size of the statue of Buddha.

burmese-buddhist-temple balestier-burmese-temple buddhist-temple-balestierburmese-temple-blessing

3) Traditional Architecture and Nostagialiciousness

Shophouses, terrace houses, temples etcetera.balestier-heritage-trail balestier-terrace-houses balestier-trail-buildings balestier-buildingsbalestier-peranakan-buildingssun-yat-sen-swing burmese-temple balestier-market temple


4) Traditional Trades

This old-school bakery that supplies fluffy loaves of bread to shops.


Lam Yeo coffee trader

No ‘skinny tall latte’ lalala here. My order went like this, after I looked around and saw some pretty exotic beans

“Uncle, I only want a little bit, can onot?”

“Can. What kind of beans you want?”

“Uhm. Something Singaporean older generations would like, for my parents.”

“Okay sure, here you go”. 

Out comes the weighing scale and plastic bag. Super cheap. And the whole shop smells of heavenly coffee aromas.


Manufacturing watchamaycallit

Actually, I don’t know what you call it. But this uncle was beating some tins into shape. And i spotted those old coffee pourers that they use in coffee shops with master pouring skills!



And that was my little weekend adventure, walking off all the Chicken Rice and nyonya kueh I ate along Balestier Road, and the delicious buffets at Ramada Hotel. I missed the Shaw Malay Studios unfortunately, but it was still good fun.

Here’s a map of things to explore along the Balestier Heritage Trail if you’re plotting this as one of the fun things to do in Singapore looking back at the past with rose-tinted glasses. If you’re enjoying a staycation at Ramada Hotel or Days Hotel in the Balestier area, like I did, you can pick the map up from the front desk.

Happy exploring!