Singapore by MRT: The North South Line, Jurong East to Yio Chu Kang

The plan:

Continue my adventure of visiting every MRT (subway) stop in Singapore, watching the island change from one stop to the next. This time I rode western and northern half of the North South Line (less formally known as the Red Line). The name “North South” is a bit misleading, since the whole thing is more in the shape of a question mark, but you can use this line to get all the way from the Straits of Johor to the Singapore Strait.

The stops:

Jurong East

Jurong East is notable for three things: (1) office buildings, (2) shopping malls, and (3) an ice skating rink (which is in a shopping mall). Unless you want to shop, it’s not the kind of place you go for aimless wandering — there’s not exactly a lot to see.

But Jurong East is the “northern” terminus of the North South Line, a major bus exchange, and an East West Line interchange, so it’s one of the busiest stations in western Singapore. It’s also one of the most interesting looking:

Butik Batok

Like many of the stops along this portion of the North South Line, Butik Batok lets out onto a small mall that is surrounded by condos and HDBs (Housing and Development Board apartments).

The buildings are a bit more spread out here than in some areas, so it’s not clear what you might visit other than the mall. But the view from the station platform is one of the best:

I should note that while we tend to talk about the MRT as a subway, all of the rail and the stations from Jurong East around to Ang Mo Kio are above ground (with the exception of a few tunnels). So there’s a lot to see while you ride.

Bukit Gombak

As with many neighborhood centers at this time of year, Bukit Gombak is all decked out for Chinese New Year. Happy Year of the Ox! They have animal lanterns out for every year, so I was able to celebrate with the dog (in this case, a very strange-looking breed).

On one side of Bukit Gombak station sits a local mixed-use shopping, community club, and residential complex, which you can see above. On the other side is a 3,000-seat public stadium that includes a football pitch (soccer field) and a track. Just a bit beyond it, sitting at the heart of Bukit Batok Town Park, is Little Guilin, a cliff-face said to resemble a granite rock formation in China:

Choa Chu Kang

A “new town” developed in the 1980s, Choa Chu Kang is densely packed with HDBs and the occasional condo. This is the kind of place in Singapore where you feel like buildings just go on forever.

The MRT station at Choa Chu Kang also connects directly to the LRT (Light Rapid Transit), a bus interchange …

… and, of course, a shopping mall (in this case, one with the strangest and most whimsical Lego Chinese New Year celebration I can imagine).

Choa Chu Kang also gives its name to the largest cemetery in Singapore, but that’s a surprisingly long way from the center of town.

Yew Tee

Yew Tee is actually a subzone of Choa Chu Kang, so it is equally packed with buildings.

The station itself, long and low-slung, is typical of many of the stations along this part of the line.

Fun fact, “Yew Tee” means “oil pond” in Teochew (a Chinese dialect) because the Japanese stored oil in this area during their WWII occupation of Singapore. Also in the fun fact category: this rather large critter was the only wildlife I encountered on this MRT journey.

Kranji

The only apparent reason for there to be a stop at Kranji is to give people access to the racetrack at the Singapore Turf Club …

… where I’m pretty sure they still have yet to take down their Christmas decorations (for context, I’m writing this in mid-February).

Other than this, Kranji lets out onto wide open fields and, some distance away, a giant water reclamation plant. But it’s really not a stop you’d want to visit unless you want to play the ponies.

Random fact: Kranji has more fare gates that any other stations in Singapore, because this place can get pretty busy on race days.

Marsiling

Along with Kranji, Marsiling is one of the few stops on this part of the North South line with no mall attached. But unlike Kranji, Marsiling is densely populated — HDBs are jammed cheek by jowl, and there’s even a single giant HDB tower.

Because there are no malls here, people do their marketing in small storefronts and at shops that spill out onto the busy sidewalks.

There aren’t any particular sights at Marsiling, but on a Saturday morning, it’s a great place to observe the hustle and bustle of Singapore. And as a bonus, you can watch fruit vendors chopping jackfruit.

Woodlands

Woodlands is a busy station, with people from all over northern Singapore coming to shop at Causeway Point (a large shopping mall) and taking advantage of the multiple transportation options centered here. Woodlands is the site of a massive bus interchange, and in addition being a stop on the North South line, it is currently the heart of the new Thompson-East Coast line (the Brown line). Of course, there are only three stops open on the Thompson-East Coast line right now, but more are planned for opening in the next few years.

Other than that, there’s not much to see at the Woodlands stop. But on a clear day, you can see Malaysia from the train platform (just squint and focus on the tall buildings in the background)!

Admiralty

Along with Marsiling, Admiralty is technically a neighborhood of the Woodlands. The station sits smack in the middle of lots of HDBs, but what’s notable here are the beautiful plantings — palms along the roadway …

… and plumeria and other flowers growing along the under-the-MRT-tracks park connector:

When you hit stops like Admiralty, you’re reminded of Singapore’s goal to be a City in a Garden.

Sembawang

Sembawang feels a lot like Admiralty in many ways, if slightly busier and more crowded. But the main street in front of the station is still notable for its landscaping.

Sembawang sits at Singapore’s northern tip, and it’s home to both commercial dockyards and naval vessels. The HDBs here reflect the seaside location, with wavy architectural decorations, portholes, and nautically themed mosaic benches:

If you walk really far — and this takes some commitment — you can see dozens of elegant black and white bungalows built by the British for their military personnel:

Most of these black and whites are now leased from the Singapore government by the navies of the US, Australia, and New Zealand — so they’re still used to house military families.

Canberra

Canberra is the newest stop on the North South line; it just opened in 2019. So the station looks all spiffy and shiny.

The station is meant to have a nautical theme and look like a ship from the outside, but I’m not sure I’m convinced.

There’s still a bunch of construction going on around the Canberra station, and the whole place feels pretty sleepy. You can go to a mall and condos right across the street, and you can see HDBs in the distance …

… but for me, the major attraction was the bright white gopuram of the Holy Tree Sri Balasubraminar Temple.:

Yishun

The Yishun station (you can see it above) lets out onto the Northpoint Mall on one side and a slew of HDBs on the other.

If you walk 10 minutes north (about equidistant between Yishun and Canberra) you’ll find yourself at the impressive Darul Makmur mosque …

… and if you walk 10 minutes east, you’ll get to Yishun Park & Dipterocarp Arboretum.

As a side note, Yishun gets a bad rap: if you Google “Yishun,” the first thing that comes up in the “People Also Ask” section is “Why is Yishun dangerous?” (The depressing answer is: “numerous murders and suicides.”) My friend who lives in Yishun calls it “the Florida of Singapore.”

Khatib

There’s nothing in particularly exciting at Khatib; it’s mostly one row of HDBs after another marching off in every direction. But I appreciated this stop for four things: (1) the SASCO@KHATIB cafe, where I enjoyed a much-needed iced tea; (2) the first station art I’d seen all day (it’s dusty and inaccessible, but at least it’s art);

(3) this row of bird cages I found as I wound my way through the HDBs (which reminded me of my journey to the Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club);

and (4) the fact that so many of the HDBs have murals on them.

Yio Chu Chang

It’s a long ride from Khatib to Yio Chu Kang — in fact, it’s the longest distance between any two MRT stations in Singapore. Apparently, an Asian outpost of Disneyland was supposed to be built in the middle; but it went to Hong Kong instead, leaving us with some great views out the train windows over the Seletar Reservoir.

Once you get to Yio Chu Kang, you might wonder what to do there. The station is surrounded by lots of fencing and construction, and the station itself is pretty grim and depressing.

If I’d been handing out awards, this would have won “least favorite stop of the day.” But I did make my way around the many barriers to walk to the Yio Chu Kang ActiveSG Sports Hall, which is a fascinating building.

Inside, you can play ping pong, badminton, or — as advertised by NILA the active sporting mascot — pickleball!

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