Riding the 117: Punggol to Sembawang

I’m used to riding the bus in Singapore to get from point A to point B, but on Saturday, some friends and I hopped on the 117 to take a look at the northeast corner of the island. This was one of five routes listed as the “most scenic” in Singapore by the Straits Times — and while I’m not sure that I agree with that particular assertion, it was a diverting way to spend a morning.

The ride starts here, at the undistinguished Punggol Interchange. Not all that long ago, Punggol was a farming area known for seafood, orchids, vegetables, and pigs. Now it’s a residential town with condos and HDBs stretching out as far as the eye can see:

After four or five stops, the bus crosses the semi-wilds of Sungei Punggol …

… and moves into Seletar. First a giant rubber plantation and later a station of the British Royal Air Force, Seletar is still home to the colonial bungalows that once would have housed the famlies of the RAF.

The Seletar area is still best known for flight, and it’s currently home to the Seletar Aerospace Park.

But this isn’t a huge airfield — it’s mostly used for maintenance, repair, and a youth flight school — so we only saw a couple of planes overhead.

Once the 117 finishes a loop around Seletar, it heads over the Yishun Dam, which separates the Lower Seletar Reservoir (left) from the Straits of Johor (right):

As you ride over the dam, you can see Malaysia off in the distance:

At this point, the bus starts a long trek through Yishun, which used to be a patchwork of pineapple, rubber, pepper and gambier plantations. Now the farms and orchards are gone and you pass one HDB (public Housing and Development Board apartment complexes) …

… after another …

… after another:

They’re not everyone’s thing, but I’m a big fan of HDBs — I love their varied architecture, colors, and artwork.

Midway through the Yishun leg of the journey, we got out to stretch our legs and check out ORTO, billed as “Singapore’s First 24 Hour Multi Recreational Leisure Park.” It seems that you can do everything here, from paintball and drift karting to prawing and “freshwater sport fishing” in a manmade lake.

I was really hoping to get to visit the Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum, also on ORTO’s grounds — but sadly, the line was really long (it appears to be a popular Saturday morning destination for the under-10 set). The building is also looking a little run-down:

After a tour around the park, we admired a few stunning trees …

… and got back on the the 117. From here, the bus route joined the North-South line of the MRT for several stops.

Eventually, we moved from Yishun into Sembawang — where the landscaping grew more lush …

… and the HDBs just as prolific:

Closer to the coast, Sembawang is mostly known for its naval facilities — several Commonwealth countries and the US still rent naval bases from Singapore here. Like Yishun, this area was once home to pineapple, rubber, and gambier plantations. But the central part of Sembawang is now all residential and commercial — and the Sembawang Interchange is also the end of the 117 route:

We alighted here and walked through some purple (purple!) HDBs …

… to get to the Block 334A Eating House. While the rest of our meal was uninspiring, we had some super-delicious rojak, an Indonesian salad made from these and a few other ingredients:

I’m definitely up for doing another adventure like this one — sitting up at the front of a double-decker public bus is a great way to play tourist at a fraction of usual tourist pricing!

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