Singapore by MRT: the Circle Line, Marina Bay to Bartley

The plan

Continue my adventure of visiting every MRT (subway) stop in Singapore. This time, I visited fourteen stops on the eastern side of the Circle Line (aka the Yellow Line). Missing a connection along the southern edge, the Circle Line does not yet run in a circle; instead, it forms a horseshoe around center of the island. This line also has an irritating spur that’s just three stops long, so that was on my agenda as well.

The rules

Get out at every stop and spend ten to fifteen minutes wandering around. Walk up (nearly) all escalators. Stop only for photos and snacks.

The stops:

Marina Bay


The name of this station is misleading, because Marina Bay itself is quite a ways away. You can just see the towers of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel far off in the distance:


There’s not much else to look at here — just a condo, a bunch of downtown office buildings, and this beautiful tree standing all alone in a grassy expanse:




This is stop actually takes you to Marina Bay — step outside, and the towers of the iconic hotel stretch out imposingly above:


Immediately across the street lie a huge shopping center and the bay itself — a popular locale for wedding photos.


Exit Bayfront Station in another direction, and you’ll find yourself walking toward Gardens by the Bay. If you take the bridge (rather than the mirror-and-mural tunnel), you’ll get this view of the hotel:

IMG_9687Of course, you can choose to skip going outside altogether and just head straight to the Shoppes at the Marina Bay — a mall so over the top that they offer sampan rides on a “canal” on the bottom floor.




Promenade sits at the base of two giant shopping malls, Millenia Walk and the cavernous Suntec City. I can’t say much about the malls themselves, but I do like that Millenia Walk boasts some exciting art — including Six Brushstrokes, one of the final pieces created by Roy Lichtenstein. Here are three of the six sculptures in that series, in which pop-art meets Chinese calligraphy:


There are a number of big office buildings at Promenade …


… and this is also the station with the best access to the Singapore Flyer:


Promenade has some of the more recognizable station art in Singapore: Dreams in a Social Cosmic Odyssey by artist :phunk.


From Promenade, you can decide whether you’re going onto the spur that includes Esplanade, Bras Basah, an Dhoby Ghaut, or whether you want to continue east and then north up the Circle Line. I had a terrible time figuring out how to get onto the spur line — I somehow ended up back at Bayfront multiple times. So if you’re trying to find the spur, be careful about it! If you make it, you’ll eventually get to:



The Esplanade Station has links to several major malls (Suntec City, CityLink, and Raffles City), direct access to the new (and already instantly recognizable) JW Marriott …


… the South Beach development (where they’re setting up for the holidays) …


… and the Memorial to the Civilian Victims of the Japanese Occupation of World War II (with the Raffles City Towers in the background):


Esplanade Station is irritatingly far from the Esplanade performing arts center, though you can see one of the theater’s domes on the far left here (looking like a scaly durian), with the rest of the downtown spreading out in the background:


Bras Basah

Bras Basah is Singapore’s arts hub, which means that it has all sorts of interesting buildings. In addition to the Singapore Art Museum (currently closed for renovations), it is home to the Centre 42 theater space …


… the Singapore Calligraphy Centre …


… Dance Ensemble Singapore …


… and The Theatre Practice, home of Four Horse Road:


You can find all sorts of unexpected art in this neighborhood, including c o o p, a “system of architecture kit-of-parts that empower individuals and communities to work together to build their own spatial needs and inventions.” Apparently, you can make swings, stairs, tables, rolling platforms, and solar gardens out of this building block system:


There’s even more art to be found at the old Catholic High School, which has been converted into shops, galleries, and studios offering classes in everything from Argentine tango to pole dancing. On the first floor, this building has a wonderful series of murals by Yip Yew Chong and Yuen Kim Cheong, painted on and around old classroom doors. For reasons I don’t understand, it also houses a pair of painted lions.

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And there’s real street art in Bras Basah, most of it of an edgier variety than you usually find in Singapore.

Bras Basah also has a rich religious tradition; among other places of worship, you can visit the Church of Saints Peter and Paul …


… and the The Maghain Aboth Synagogue (built in 1878, it’s the oldest Jewish synagogue in Southeast Asia):


There’s a lot to see in Bras Basah — so much so that I found myself distracted and went well over my usual allotted time in my wanderings. Oh, and at 35 meters underground, Bras Basah MRT station is Singapore’s deepest.

Dhoby Ghaut


Sitting smack at the end of Orchard Road, Singapore’s famous shopping mecca, and also the interchange for three MRT lines, Dhoby Ghaut Station is awash with people. It’s one of the busiest stations in all of Singapore and is filled with escalators.


There’s not much to do here except shop — the Plaza Singapura mall is directly above the station — or hope that you’re in town on one of the four public holidays a year when you can go next door to visit the Istana, the official resident of the President of Singapore.

Nicoll Highway


Once you hop back on the spur and return to Promenade Station, you can head back up the main section of the Circle Line to Nicoll Highway. There’s not a lot here — the station literally takes you out above a highway. But you can walk over to the Concourse office building (an architectural favorite of mine) …


… or walk a few more blocks to Golden Mile Tower, an early 1970s Brutalist wonder that’s home to our favorite movie theater in Singapore, The Projector.




One look at the station art tells you everything you need to know about this stop …


… because this is home to Singapore’s National Stadium:


The stadium the home of all sorts of events, most of them sports-related (though they also have monster truck jams, National Day celebrations, and concerts — U2 is about to play there). It’s also the centerpiece of a much larger sports-related complex, where you can do everything from taking dance classes and playing beach volleyball to dragon boating …


… and bike riding:


I enjoyed just sitting up on this over-sized park bench and looking out at the water:


Adjacent to the Stadium complex is the Kallang Wave mall, which rents out space to all sorts of gyms and studios. There’s even a climbing wall right in the middle:


But not everything is healthy at this mall; to celebrate a “sweet Christmas,” they have a “tree” made up of tiers of cupcakes:


I really like the look of the Stadium MRT station — it’s very dramatic:




This station feels very basic: low ceilings, dim lighting, white tiled walls with a row of orange tiles at the top. After the Stadium station, it’s like you’ve entered another world. This is true once you step outside, too — you’ve suddenly left new and shiny Singapore for the land of HDBs (Housing and Development Board apartments).


In my notes, I wrote “this feels like the station that time forgot in the land that time also forgot.” For the first time ever, I found myself wandering through abandoned HDBs:


But these abandoned buildings in the old Dakota Crescent Estate held a delightful surprise: the Dove Playground!


Designed in 1979 by Khor Ean Ghee (who also designed the iconic Toa Payoh dragon), this playground features tile work from a bygone era. Sadly, it’s showing clear signs of disuse — and rumor has it that the whole thing will soon be razed to make way for new housing.


So I took turn on the not-very-slidey slide and said a regretful farewell.


I also paid a brief visit to the Geylang River — which, as with nearly all of the Singapore rivers, has been corseted into a concrete canal.




We continue the line of boring stations here (this one had green and white walls). Dakota sits at the site of the original Kallang Airport, and it’s now pretty much a land of HDBs.


But the star that shines brightly here is the Old Airport Food Centre, one of the best-known hawker stalls in Singapore. Nondescript and overly warm, it has stalls so famous that people will line up for over an hour to eat things like noodles and soup.


I only had to wait five minutes for my out-of-this-world yummy char siu at Roast Paradise, and there was no line for my chendol (a shaved ice desert) at all.


Paya Lebar


Paya Lebar was the first station in Singapore designed as an interchange for an underground train (the Circle Line) and an elevated train (the East West Line). So you can see the trains running right overhead:


Paya Lebar Station is a good place if you like to shop — I found at least three malls here, all decked out for Christmas.


Otherwise, it’s a mixed bag of residences (I like the mosque at the bottom) …


… and light-industrial estates:




This was the sleeper hit of the trip. I didn’t have high hopes when I got off at this stop — when you emerge from the boring yellow-and-white station, the very first thing you see is this:


And for the first block out of the station, it’s all barbed wire, construction debris, and chain link fence — this is the heart of a true industrial area. But walk a block down Arumugam Street, and you run unexpectedly into three Chinese temples:


There’s a lot to see here from multiple religious traditions: Chinese Taoism, Chinese Buddhism, and Thai Buddhism. I spent well more than my allotted time here trying to take it all in.



Tai Seng


This station won the award for the most boring stop along the day’s journey. It started with the uninspiring white-and-blue tiled walls (echoing the same station pattern as the three stations before it) and continued with the row upon row of industrial and corporate headquarter-like buildings out on the street:


There’s really nothing to see or do here. The most excitement I found came from this sign:




This was the end of my Circle Line experience! I was glad to see some station art, this time in the form of Jane Lee’s The Coin Mat, which covers a giant wall and is made up of 164,800 one-cent pieces:


Bartley doesn’t have a lot of immediate appeal once you get above ground — the station just takes you out to a big road — but with a little walking, I did find things to see here. First of all, there’s Marist Brothers’ Maris Stella High School, which offers an unusual juxtaposition of a traditional Chinese gate with a cross on top.


Then there are the sprawling grounds of the Ramakrishna Mission, a Hindu society that supports everything from yoga classes to an elementary school to a boys’ home. Their central building, erected in 1952, rises grandly up on a hill at the top of the campus:


To my surprise, the central temple space is nearly entirely devoid of ornament:


Their school playground, on the other hand, is wonderfully well-equipped (yes, I did ride one of these guys):


And as a fun diversion as I wandered around the Mission grounds, this construction worker asked me to take his picture!


Otherwise, Bartley seems to be a mix of condos and landed estate homes.


I enjoyed a brief walk through this neighborhood, appreciating some time in the greenery after a day in so much developed space. I found mangos (some bagged to keep them from both birds and the risk fo falling) ..


… unripe papayas…


… and some lovely flowers for my journey’s end:


3 responses to “Singapore by MRT: the Circle Line, Marina Bay to Bartley

  1. Pingback: Three Temples of Arumugam Street | Traveler Tina·

  2. Pingback: Singapore by MRT: The Blue Line, Expo to Fort Canning | Traveler Tina·

  3. Pingback: The Singapore River Walk | Traveler Tina·

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