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Things to do in Sembawang: History, Hiking and Houses

Recently I’ve been working on a commissioned project to uncover interesting spots in Singapore‘s heartland areas, and one of the neighbourhoods that I explored and really surprised me was Sembawang. Located in Singapore’s north and probably most famous for the Sembawang Hot Springs and Sembawang white beehoon, I was intrigued by how much history and nature you could find there. So for other Singaporeans like me who never took the time to explore our own country, here’s a look at some of the cool things to do in Sembawang.

History of Sembawang

I never used to think of Sembawang as a historical place as most of Singapore’s historical landmarks tend to be concentrated down south near the Singapore River. Also, Sembawang is considered a non-mature residential estate in Singapore – I noticed the HDB blocks here are generally quite new looking.

But a large part of the historical relics found here today are because Sembawang was once home to the Singapore Naval Base, which was later converted to the current Sembawang Shipyard. Built by the British forces in Singapore at the end of WWI and christened ‘Gibraltar of the East’, you can see the historical influence in the architecture and road names around Sembawang today.

Black and White Bungalows

Singapore’s colonial-style black and white bungalows are a far cry from the neat rows of HDB blocks that most Singaporeans live in today, and Sembawang is one of the last remaining clusters where you can see this iconic architecture in all its glory. Built by the British in the 1920s to house the higher-ups at the nearby Sembawang Naval Base, these bungalows can be found in the estates on either side of Admiralty East Road – note that the road names here are all of Commonwealth countries or cities.

Sembawang Black and White BungalowsSembawang Black and White Bungalows
A typical black and white bungalow has white walls, black wooden timbers and red-tiled roofs. The black and white-striped roller blinds are also quite iconic.

The cluster south of Admiralty East Road at St John’s Road, Montreal Road, Canada Crescent, Lagos Circle, Durban Road, Kenya Crescent, Canada Road and Pakistan Road has some sprawling green spaces with large compounds well spaced out. The sheer size of these bungalows is quite something to behold. There are people still living in these houses today.

North of Admiralty East Road, you can find more Black and White bungalows at King’s Avenue, Queen’s Avenue, St Helena Road, Cyprus Road, Malta Crescent and Gibraltar Crescent. Here there are more trees and foliage that hide the bungalows. 128 King’s Avenue is Woodlands House – this house belonged to the Commodore Superintendent of the Dockyard, recognisable by the small red arch bridge on its lawn which was built by Japanese POWs after WWII. This area is also connected to Tuah Road which where Carpark 2 of Sembawang Park is located.

There are more bungalows at Wellington Road, Auckland Road and Falkland Road that I didn’t detour into.

You could walk these roads for a closer look at the houses, but I drove and it wasn’t crowded on a weekday. Not sure about the weekends, but some of the roads are quite narrow so make sure not to block any of the entrances/roads because this is still a residential estate after all.

WWII Relics: Machine Gun Pillboxes / Air Raid Shelters

Amidst the compounds, you’ll spot occasional random half-buried concrete structures in the ground covered with grass. Some of these are machine-gun pillboxes, built as defensive structures by the British forces probably in the lead up to WWII. It is likely that those pillboxes in these area were built for the defence of the nearby naval base.

I’ve had a reader comment below that these structures aren’t pillboxes but are actually air-raid shelters shared by various bungalows in the vicinity to hide in in the event of bombing, which is also quite plausible especially for those structures without the windows. Many of the bungalows have their own shelters as well. Whatever they are, these structures have been sealed up and are buried half-underground these days so you can’t enter them.

One of the places that I want to check out in future is Old Admiralty House along Old Nelson Road as it is under construction and being integrated into the future Bukit Canberra. This house on the hilltop is a gazetted national monument and belonged to the Commodore Superintendent of the Royal Navy Dockyard back in the day, and was also at various points in history a clubhouse and even a school.

Heritage Tembusu Trees

The particular Tembusu tree that appears on Singapore’s $5 bill is located at the Botanic Gardens, but here along Lagos Circle, you can see 3 other Tembusu trees that have also been awarded heritage status by NParks. I’m not much of a tree expert, but I can appreciate how absolutely massive these trees are, ranging between 20-30m tall. I love are the weird way the branches happen so low in the tree. Tembusu trees are native to Singapore and apparently produce very hard wood.

Nature in Sembawang

Did you know that Sembawang is named after a tree? The Sembawang tree aka Mesua Ferruginea is a tree that grows by rivers and while they used to be quite abundant in the area, there aren’t that many left in Sembawang. You can find them in Sembawang Park though – the lone tree in Carpark C1 is a Sembawang Tree, as are some other smaller ones that have been planted in the park’s premises.

Sembawang Park

Sembawang Park located along the northern coastline right next to Sembawang Shipyard. From the fishing jetty which was quite busy when I visited on a weekday, you get a closer view of the humongous ships in repair at the shipyard right next door, quite a different view from the down south where you mostly see these container ships at a distance, parked neatly in a grid.

Sembawang Park Fishing Jetty Pano
Panoramic shot of the fishing jetty. Sembawang Shipyard is to the left, Sembawang Beach is to the right
Sembawang Park Shipyard View
A closer look at the shipyard.

Right in front of the jetty is this conserved black and white bungalow called Beaulieu House that used to house the senior staff who worked at the Naval base, and was later turned into its current incarnation as a seafood and western food restaurant with a great view of the sea. It was closed in the afternoon when I visited, though most of the reviews I’ve seen online say the food is good though a tad on the expensive side.

Sembawang Park Beaulieu House
Beaulieu House is now a charming restaurant

Also nearby is this increasingly rare sand playground in Singapore – this one is dominated by a large battleship that pays tribute to the areas history as a shipyard and naval base.

Sembwang Park Battleship Playground
The Battleship Playground at Sembawang Park

Sembawang Beach

Most Singaporeans think of East Coast Park when they think about Singapore’s beaches, or head down to Sentosa where we have nicer beaches thanks to imported sand, but did you know that Sembawang Beach is one of the few natural sand beaches left in Singapore? I’ll admit I never knew there was a beach up here. It was very uncrowded on a weekday and actually looks pretty nice.

I’ve not tried this for myself, but this half-day kayaking tour that starts from Sembawang Beach [Klook affiliate link] does look like a fun way to see the beach from a different perspective.

Sembawang Park Beach
Sembawang Beach on a weekday is nice and uncrowded

The main beach area is right next to the fishing jetty, and we decided to walk the length of the beach and see where that would take us. There are a bunch of waterfront apartments here along Kampong Wak Hassan and a small park along Irau Drive – must be a nice seaview but I wonder if it gets crowded on weekends. We decided to follow the beach as far as we could go.

Sembawang Beach Irau Drive
Taken from the lawn in front of Watercove Ville. See the trees to the right? There’s a rough path down the slope there that leads to the beach which is how we continued our walk eastwards

On a weekday afternoon this place was pretty deserted save for the lone intrepid fisherman or two. It also seemed to be low tide then so there was quite a lot of beach to walk on. Nature lovers would probably enjoy scouting around the intertidal area and do some birdwatching, but we kept walking on to see where the beach would lead.

Sembawang Beach Eagles Point
On Google Maps this place is marked as Eagle’s Point though there aren’t any signs indicating it around here.

After walking along the beach, we reached a more grassy area and then… boom, suddenly civilisation – a PAssion Wave building where they conduct water sports activities from.

Sembawang Beach Green Path
Grassy path leading to Jalan Mempurong

Jalan Mempurong Gateway

The coastline is truncated by Sungei Simpang Kiri, a canal that leads inland and according to Google goes all the way to the Sembawang Hot Springs. The opposite side of the river bank was marked as a protected area by the Singapore Police Force – Google shows it as the Simpang SAF training area. I spotted a very jubilant group of wild dogs dashing around the beach there.

Sembawang Jalan Mempurong Canal
View of the canal – the coast is behind us, Jalan Mempurong is to the right

I’d actually intended to drive over to Jalan Mempurong as this road looked pretty isolated on the map and I wasn’t expecting to be able to walk here, but it really isn’t that far or difficult. It took about 45 minutes for a very leisurely stroll from Sembawang Beach to Jalan Mempurong, and about 25 minutes if we’re just looking at the walk from Irau Drive.

To my surprise, there was a mosque here as well – Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang – just a short distance from the entrance to PAssion Wave. It has a nice garden and a very quaint Kampung feel to it. Remember Singapore has a pretty interesting article about the history of this mosque and the many kampungs that used to populate this area. Also cool: Mempurong means herring, a fish commonly found in these parts.

But what I was really interested in was a little further down from the mosque in the grass clearing – this random looking gate in the middle of nowhere apparently belonged to the seaside bungalow of the late Cycle & Carriage MD back in the day. While the house is long gone, this lone doorway remains surrounded by trees. The Long and Winding Road has a pretty good historical writeup about this gateway.

Sembawang Jalan Mempurong Gateway
Jalan Mempurong Gateway – looks like it leads to another land…
Sembawang Jalan Mempurong Gateway Me
Doin’ it for the ‘gram!

Sembawang Hot Springs

One of the more unusual natural features that you can find in Sembawang are the Sembawang Hot Springs located next to Sembawang Airbase off Gambas Avenue. Singapore’s only accessible natural hot spring. It’s been converted into a nice little park where you can have a foot soak surrounded by greenery, and the ever-present whirring of helicopters from the neighbouring airbase. Bring your own pail so you don’t have to squeeze at the main pool, and some raw eggs if you want to cook them here!

Read my post about Sembawang Hot Spring Park for more details.

Sembawang Hot Spring Park Pool Upper Layer
Once a mere tap in the ground, Sembawang Hot Spring is now a quaint park with foot bath for some soaking

What to eat in Sembawang

Sembawang White Beehoon

One of the famous foods that have come out of Sembawang is the Sembawang White Beehoon, a seafood vermicelli dish stepped in a light (‘white’) gravy. The original restaurant who created this was called You Huak Restaurant but eventually changed its name to White Restaurant because that’s what they were famous for. They have several outlets now, but I visited the original outlet at Jalan Tampung, just across the road from Sembawang Shopping Centre.

Sembawang White Beehoon Restaurant
There are a bunch of eateries and other services around here as well as private houses.

Besides the beehoon, the restaurant serves up lots of other dishes like a typical zhichar restaurant. Since I was on my own that day, so I just ordered a small portion of the White Beehoon (S$6) and washed it down with a Lime Juice (S$2.50). It’s definitely not very cheap – the small portion was enough for one person, I’d actually thought it might have been a bit small and was considering ordering more, but it turned out to be sufficient after sitting for awhile. It was very savoury despite looking pale and felt like my type of comfort food, and I slurped up all that gravy.

Sembawang White Beehoon
Small portion of the Sembawang White Beehoon came with egg, cuttlefish, 2 prawns and here’s what I love best – NO BEANSPROUTS OR EXCESSIVE VEGGIE.

After my meal, I popped into Just Because Creamery which is a cute cozy cafe at the Victory 8 building for some chocolate truffle ice cream to cap my meal. There are a bunch of other food options around here if you’d rather not queue – Sembawang Traditional Claypot Rice is also quite well-known if you prefer burnt claypot rice over noodles.

Location: 22 Jalan Tampung, off Jalan Legundi and opposite Sembawang Shopping Centre.

So people of Sembawang or other visitors, what other cool things did I miss out on? Tell me in the comments so I can check it out in future! In the meantime, check out my Sembawang Hot Springs post or other cool and unusual things to do in Singapore:

Steven Tan

Monday 4th of October 2021

You also missed out the old rubber tree of Sembawang

Chen Chee Meng

Sunday 6th of June 2021

Hi Jaclynn, the "WWII Relics: machine gun pillboxes" are not what you thought. They are air raid shelters for residents of the Black & White Bungalows. A few bungalows shared 1 shelter. There are many shelters within the bungalow compounds if you explore the Naval Base area. These were sealed up in the 1970s.

Jaclynn Seah

Sunday 6th of June 2021

Thanks for letting me know! Will update accordingly :)


Monday 22nd of March 2021

Hi Jacelynn, I just chanced upon your site while searching for a guide on the wall murals in Ang Mo Kio. I have yet to look through all the interesting tabs herein, but had a read on the AML murals and this one on Sembawang (my backyard) and the details you've curated are fantastic. Thanks for sharing, particularly useful for folks like me who love exploring all the nooks and crannies around our little island. :)

Jaclynn Seah

Monday 22nd of March 2021

Thank you for reading May, appreciate it and have fun exploring Singapore! I'm still discovering new things all the time myself :)


Friday 18th of December 2020

The world war 2 footprints was one of the best reason why you should travel in this place. Looking back to history makes us feel think how far we've become today.