A Day Out In The Neighbourhood: Toa Payoh

Soak up the nostalgia as you explore this mature estate.

By Chris Ong        20 January 2022

Before we take you on a trip through the lorongs (Malay for lanes or alleys) of Toa Payoh (Hokkien term for “big swamp”), here’s a brief 101 on its history.

It’s the granddaddy of public housing towns in Singapore built by the HDB, with the first flat construction having starting at the end of 1964; before this, Toa Payoh was a village district with an enlivened kampong-community spirit.

After which, the milestones that came after included housing the athletes and officials of the 1973 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (now known the Southeast Asian Games or SEA Games) and the relocation of the HDB headquarters to the town centre in 2002.

Now, it’s seen as a much-coveted mature housing estate that’s both accessible and centrally located, with a busy town centre and tranquil suburban residential areas. Plus, it’s got all of the interesting spots listed below that ought to give you an idea of what makes a true-blue Singapore heartland.

(Look out for our last instalment about the locales of Mount Faber. And, just in case you missed them the first time round, catch up on what the nabes of Tampines, JurongPunggol and Yishun have to offer.)

1. SAFRA Toa Payoh clubhouse

It’s hard to miss this: It’s known as the SAFRA clubhouse with the elliptical honeycomb facade, with a McDonald’s outlet prominently situated at the front, and the first SAFRA clubhouse ever (it opened officially on 19 February 1975).

Over the course of its 46-year history, it has undergone a couple of renovations and is still a key edutainment hub for families with kids and the young folk in the area.

It is a must-visit if you and your family or friends want to have an active day out. There are indoor squash courts and badminton courts, a SuperBowl bowling centre, and an EnergyOne Gym.

But the best sports facilities here might just be the Lagoon Billiard Room and the swimming pools. The former is said to be Singapore’s first tournament hall with a seating gallery, is enabled with state-of-the-art live recording and even comes with a sports bar. It also boasts 9 high-standard international snooker tables flown in from the U.K. and 8 American pool tables flown in from the U.S., making this a top go-to for cue sports enthusiasts.

Meanwhile, the latter facility has a pool with a view. By that, we mean a pool that’s built with glass windows installed at the side. That means visitors walking through the lobby or courtyard can see the “merfolk” in action in the water. What the kids will enjoy are the mini fountains and water jets at the water feature park and wading pool. (Note: the water feature park and wading pool are currently closed until Safe Management Measures in light of the Covid-19 situation are lifted.)

Also for the kids: the Kidz Amaze indoor playground that comes with an Infant and Toddler Development Play Zone (it’s the first in Singapore!) and a focus on a Learning & Discovery theme, so your little sprites can indulge in both play and their curiosities at the same time.

Or if you’re looking for activities that are a little more different, then you can also check out the instructional classes offered by Z Fencing, Taekwondonomics and aikiForest Aikido.

Photo: Z Fencing

Fuel up before or after with some yummy nosh at AXSolute Bistro, Suki-Suki Thai Hot Pot, Siam Kitchen, Ya Kun Kaya Toast, ASTONS Specialties, Jubilee Garden Restaurant or the aforementioned McDonald’s.

Lastly, here’s a time- and money-saving hack: You can even get an affordable trim at the kcuts salon near the lobby area, between your dining and fun activities!

293 Toa Payoh Lorong 6, 319387, www.safra.sg/clubs/toapayoh, www.facebook.com/SAFRAToaPayoh; www.instagram.com/safratoapayoh

BONUS: SAFRA members enjoy up to 25% off F&B, facilities, services and activities at SAFRA Toa Payoh.

2. Toa Payoh Orange Dragon Playground

Photo: Roots.gov.sg

This is the iconic Dragon Playground that was (and still is) an Insta-pic sensation on our local Instagram accounts. But why would a mere kids’ playground be so special?

Firstly, it was one of the early playground designs by the HDB, installed way back in 1979, as the improved version of a larger dragon-shaped experiment built in the then Toa Payoh Town Garden (this predecessor was later removed in the tail-end of the 90s).

Secondly, it is one of only two remaining large-sized playgrounds with this design (the other’s at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3), with two smaller ones with similar designs found in Toa Payoh Lorong 1 and MacPherson.

And, finally… because it’s in the shape of an awesome dragon!

Constructed out of terrazo and mosaic tiles with a spine made of colourful steel rings that young adventurers could clamber through, the play structure is built on a sand pit, as opposed to the rubbery grounds of most playgrounds – including the other 3 dragon-shaped ones – found today.

In fact, this one appears even more emblematic and symbolic of what playtime was like back in the 80s, as it’s been left untouched in a large patch of cleared land. Pay a reverential (and playful) visit to this retro Singapore “cultural landmark” that’s just a stone’s throw away, across the street from SAFRA Toa Payoh.

Toa Payoh Lorong 6. Head across the street from SAFRA Toa Payoh, with the nearest block of flats being Toa Payoh Apex, Block 264, Toa Payoh East.

3. HDB Hub, Toa Payoh Bus Interchange and Toa Payoh Shopping Mall

In the Toa Payoh Central vicinity visiting HDB Hub for matters relating to housing? You might as well look around the area to see what’s up “in town”.

At the HDB Hub building itself, there are some secret spots for some quick meals or coffee breaks found on the ground floor (you just need to search around for a bit): Delifrance, Subway and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. You’ll also find a variety of shops from Popular Bookstore to Eu Yan Sang and GNC.

If not, you can always loiter a while within Toa Payoh Bus Interchange, just to “soak” in a little of Singapore’s infrastructure history – it’s the nation’s first air-conditioned bus interchange, officially opened in 2002. Some finds here: several small-scale stores and bakeries on the 1st level, and a sizeable Popular bookstore on the 2nd level of the interchange.

Make your way out of the interchange and the Hub, and you will hit rows and rows of shophouses that make up a shopping arcade (pop by for a BBT break at Gongcha) and several interconnected strips of retail. There are no mega retail malls here unlike those found in newer estates, but these shophouses make for an even more interesting experience.

There are lots and lots of neighbourhood-y shops, as well as bigger name stores. Expect to see a semi-circular Courts Toa Payoh building, numerous bubble tea shops, several popular old-school coffeeshops and fast food bigwigs such as KFC, McDonald’s and MOS Burger. Make like a tourist and wander the day away here!

480 Lorong 6, 310480, Toa Payoh, HDB Hub; Toa Payoh Central; Toa Payoh Shopping Mall

BONUS: SAFRA members enjoy 10% off at Gongcha, bonus gifts at Eu Yan Sang and up to 15% off at GNC.

4. Toa Payoh Town Park

It may be close to 5 decades-old, but this park’s still a beauty. Once popular with dating couples and families, and even as a venue for weddings, Toa Payoh Town Park now serves as a chillaxing oasis opposite the bustling town centre, what with its old-world charm that’s both calming and inviting.

Left largely as how it was since it was first completed and christened as Toa Payoh Town Garden circa 1972/1973 (the name change happened in the early noughties), the 4.8-hectare park retains features that very few small-sized parks of its kind offer today.

The park has a landscaped pond fringed with Weeping Willows; hexagonal-design stone bridges and islands built across the water; rustic gazebos; a small cascading waterfall; and wildlife in the form of small fishes, tortoises and dragonflies.

Two features stand out in particular. The first is its 25-metre Observation Tower that’s been accorded conservation status in 2009 by the URA (unfortunately, it’s closed off to the public).

The second is a circular building that houses dining amenities. It’s now home to Oasis Taiwan Porridge restaurant, a 46-year-old food institution, that’s nestled in an idyllic spot at a corner of the pond. And it’s the perfect way to end a leisurely walk through the park, feasting at the restaurant on homely Taiwanese-style fare such as Braised Beancurd, Pomfret with Bean Sauce and Lean Minced Meat marinated with golden brown Salted Egg Yolk.

Junction of Toa Payoh Lorong 2 and Lorong 6, opposite Toa Payoh Bus Interchange and HDB Hub

5. Toa Payoh Public Library

Photo credit

Here’s another building of historical interest, for architecture and history buffs, as well as bibliophiles. Formerly known as Toa Payoh Community Library and Toa Payoh Branch Library, Toa Payoh Public Library is Singapore’s second oldest public library. Officially opened in February 1974, it sits within a three-storey building that was once used for housing the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games Secretariat for the 1973 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games in Singapore.

As such, unlike other modern public libraries in Singapore that are found inside shopping malls or other buildings, this one stands supreme as a 4,125 square-metre building by itself, within the heart of Toa Payoh Central.

Visit this landmark for its historical value and for a mid-adventure reading break at its Newspapers & Magazines lounge, Programme Zone, Children’s Section, Teen Zone or Activity Zone.

6 Toa Payoh Central, 319191, www.nlb.gov.sg