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Tiong Bahru is a housing estate located within the Bukit Merah Planning Area, in the Central Region of Singapore. Tiong Bahru was constructed in the 1920s by the Singapore Improvement Trust, the predecessor to the Housing Development Board and an entity of the British colonial authority providing mass public housing in Singapore and is the oldest housing estate in Singapore. The main estate consists of 30 apartment blocks with over 900 units of two to five rooms. There are also high-rise Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats and condominiums along Boon Tiong Road, Jalan Membina and Kim Tian Road which surround the main estate.

Tiong Bahru
Subzone of Bukit Merah Planning Area & Housing Estate
Name transcription(s)
 • Chinese中峇鲁
 • PinyinZhōngbālǔ
 • Hokkien POJThiong-bā-ló͘
 • MalayTiong Bahru
 • Tamilதியோங் பாரு
 • Tamil Romanisationtiöng bāru
SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) flats in Tiong Bahru
SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) flats in Tiong Bahru

Tiong Bahru is now home to hipster cafes, wall murals, indie boutiques, start-ups, galleries, etc.[1]



The name Tiong Bahru means "new cemetery" (thióng 塚 – Hokkien for "cemetery", bahruMalay for "new").[2]


Prior to the 1920s, there were several cemeteries in the area. These cemeteries were new in comparison to the established cemeteries of Chinatown. Tiong Bahru Road was called "Burial Ground Road". In 1925, the area was declared unsanitary and designated for improvement. The Singapore Improvement Trust moved squatters, moved graves, and levelled the ground.[3]

The architecture of the estate is a mixture of Streamline Moderne and local Straits Settlements shop-house styles. The flats have rounded balconies, flat rooftops, spiral staircases, light wells and underground storage and shelters.

All of the streets in the estate are named after Chinese pioneers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, Chay Yan Street is named after the rubber plantation merchant and philanthropist, Tan Chay Yan. Peng Nguan Street is named after Lim Peng Nguan, an early settler and the father of the community leader Lim Nee Soon. Tiong Bahru was surrounded by the Sit Wah and Outram roads. Beyond were mangrove swamp and hillocks.

The blocks built in the early years were allocated to people displaced by the SIT projects, mostly civil servants. Prior to 1939, the Tiong Bahru Estate was affordable only to the rich. It was known as Mei Ren Wo ("den of beauties") as it was where wealthy men would keep their mistresses

Between 1936 and 1954, blocks with three to five stories were built providing approximately 2000 units. After 1945, a further two blocks were constructed. The estate's population tripled and it was no longer considered an exclusive place to live.

A corner of Tiong Bahru was called "bird corner". The owners of song birds such as Prinias, Robins, and Shrikes would gather at the corner to meet and chat over tea and coffee. The corner was disrupted by the building of the Link Hotel in the mid 2000s, although the bird lovers and their aviaries remain welcome.

In 2003, as a result of many years of discussion over the estate's heritage status as a pioneering experiment in modern urban housing and in its entrenched familiarity in Singaporeans' sense of place, twenty blocks of the pre-WWII flats were gazetted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for conservation. Included in the Tiong Bahru Conservation Area are 36 units of shop houses on Outram Road.

In 2010, the estate and its residents were the subject of the tenth of the Civic Life films by the Irish filmmakers, Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy. 150 volunteers from the estate and from across Singapore were involved. The film premiered at the National Museum of Singapore in October 2010.[4][5][6][7]

Tiong Bahru MarketEdit

Tiong Bahru market, completed in May 2006

In 1945, two house shops were sacrificed to build a wet market on the Tiong Poh Road. The market was named after the Fujian merchant and shipping magnate, Khoo Tiong Poh (1830 – 1892). However, the space in the market was too small to accommodate all the hawkers who desired a space.

In 1955, the Tiong Bahru Market (Seng Poh Market) was constructed under the auspices of the National Environment Agency after some hawkers moved to an open area on Seng Poh Road. The Seng Poh Road was named after Tan Seng Poh (1830 – 1879) of Perak. He was a Municipal Commissioner, a Justice of the Peace and a brother in law of Seah Eu Chin.

The market was constructed of stalls with a simple wooden frame and zinc pitched roofs. Meats were hung without refrigeration. The Tiong Bahru market catered to the residents of the Tiong Bahru, Bukit Merah and Henderson estates. Heritage street foods such as lor mee, chwee kueh, Hokkien mee, pao, porridge, and roast pork were available in the market as well as a diverse number of goods for sale from textiles to flowers and many besides. bartering for the best price was common.

In 1993 and 2004, improvements were made to the market including a watertight roof, brighter lights, a broader walkway and garden lights. In 2004, the market was closed for two years for rebuilding. Stall holders were relocated to a temporary site on Kim Pong Road during this time. Kim Pong Road was named after Low Kim Pong (1837 – 1909) a local merchant and philanthropist, and the co-founder of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce. In 2006, the new market opened. It was a concrete two storey structure with a wet market and retail stalls on the ground floor and upstairs, an area for hawkers. It remains a place of community heritage. There are tours of the market, surrounding blocks of flats and the nearby WWII air raid shelters. In 2012, the National Heritage Board created an exhibition near the Tiong Bahru market to commemorate the battle for Singapore. Some, especially older residents and vendors, miss the vibrant atmosphere of the old market. The Market has a regular 7th Lunar Month dinner and auction.


The estate has one shopping centre, the Tiong Bahru Plaza. Other facilities include a community centre opened in 1948; the 3.3 hectare Tiong Bahru Park; and Zhangde primary school. Alexandra Primary School and Singapore General Hospital are nearby.[8][9][10] A number of cafes, restaurants and boutique shops cater to western Ex-Pats and Singaporean hipsters. These compliment the traditional Kopitiams and Hainanese restaurants. The Qi Tian Gong temple on Eng Hoon Street is dedicated to the Monkey God. It has birthday celebrations on the 16th day of the 1st and 8th Lunar Months, which include lion, dragon dances, and performances of Chinese street opera.


The nearest Mass Rapid Transit station is Tiong Bahru MRT Station of the East West Line. Bus services 5, 16, 32, 33, 63, 64, 75, 120, 121, 122, 123, 123M, 175, 195, 851, 970 and NR5 travel along Tiong Bahru Road.

See alsoEdit

  • Alexandra
  • BooksActually
  • 118 a 255 episode Singaporean television drama (2014 – 2015) set against the backdrop of a coffee shop in Tiong Bahru.
  • 118 II (2016 – 2017)


  1. ^ "Hunting for inspiration at Tiong Bahru". Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Singapore HPS website. May 2005.
  4. ^ Guide to Tiong Bahru Lady Iron Chef website.
  5. ^ Yong Siak Street Singapore Actually. 1 August 2011.
  6. ^ Hipster neighbourhood Mother ship website. July 2014
  7. ^ So hip it hurts Asia one website.
  8. ^ Tiong Bahru Park website.
  9. ^ Tiong Bahru Community Centre Remember Singapore website 24 March 2013
  10. ^ Tiong Bahru community centre website

External linksEdit