It’s not easy to find places to bury people in one of the densest countries in the world, but if you look, you can find wonderful old (and relatively new) cemeteries here. Some of these make great places for walking; others are better suited for a glimpse into Singapore history. Each is fascinating in its own ways.
1. Choa Chu Kang
The largest cemetery complex in Singapore, Choa Chu Kang Cemetery sprawls across nearly 800 wide-open acres. It’s a massive area that requires a commitment to a lot of walking if you want to see it all.
The graves here are divided by religion: Muslim (above), Christian (further divided into Catholic and Protestant), Bahai, Hindu, Jewish, and Parsi. It offers a fascinating overview of the many ways in which people honor the dead — including this remarkable gravestone in the Hindu section:
Sadly, large swaths of Chinese and Muslim graves are slated for demolition, and the destruction has already begun — so this giant cemetery is about to get much smaller.
2. Kranji War Memorial
The cemetery at Kranji honors men and women (but mostly men) from all over the British Commonwealth who died in the line of duty in Singapore and Malaysia during World War II.
There are nearly 4,5000 graves at Kranji, 850 of which hold the bodies of individuals who have never been identified.
This is a solemn place of remembrance and contemplation — it’s impossible not to stand here and feel grateful for the price that so many people paid for freedom.
3. Bukit Brown Cemetery
Bukit Brown is technically a “former cemetery,” since the government officially closed it many decades ago. But you can still visit tens of thousands of graves in this old public Chinese cemetery that lies just south of MacRitchie Reservoir.
Some of the graves are now tucked back in the woods, so much so that sections of Bukit Brown feel as much like a nature park as they do a cemetery (Google Maps describes Bukit Brown as offering “elaborate tombs in a lush jungle setting”).
Many people come here just to take walks, but if you stop and look, there are beautiful examples of statuary, bas-relief work, and Peranakan tiles everywhere.
4. Japanese Cemetery Park
The largest Japanese cemetery in Southeast Asia, the Japanese Cemetery Park is the burial site of over 900 members of the Japanese community who died in Singapore between the late 1800s and the early 1970s.
Tucked into a residential neighborhood in Hougang, here you’ll find the graves of prostitutes and sailors, monks and civilians, doctors and soldiers (it’s a complicated space; the Japanese built their honored dead here during WWII, and the Singaporeans buried executed war criminals afterwards). Elements of this cemetery will make you feel like you’ve left Singapore and traveled to Japan.
There’s even a mido, or prayer hall, donated by a Buddhist group in Japan.
5. Jalan Kubor (Old Muslim Cemetery/Old Malay Cemetery)
This tiny cemetery at the edge of Kampong Glam dates back to the 1820s, and it contains the graves of many of Singapore’s early Muslim citizens.
Jalan Kubor started out as three distinct burial areas — one for Malays, one for Indian Muslims, and one for royalty — but as space demands grew, those three graveyards became one. Some of the graves still look tended to …
… but most of this cemetery is a tumble of unreadable grave makers. Jalan Kubor has been slated for redevelopment since 1998, so its future is very much in question.
6. Burial Ground of Tan Tock Seng, Chua Seah Neo & Wuing Neo
I’m not sure how many graves you need to make up a cemetery, but this place sure feels like one.
Hidden on a hill in a small woodsy area at the edge of Outram Park, this gravesite houses the tombs of one of Singapore’s early traders and land speculators, Tan Tock Seng, and his son and daughter-in-law.
Multiple lions guard the site:
There are certainly more cemeteries in Singapore, but given how hard-pressed this city is for space, they are always at risk. Thousands of graves have already been exhumed, and dozens of cemeteries have been wiped off the map. Given the historical and emotional value of the few cemeteries that remain, I hope that the government preserves them!