Singapore by MRT: the Thomson-East Coast Line, Stevens to Gardens by the Bay

Singapore has just unveiled a huge chunk of its newest MASS Rapid Transit (MRT) project: The Thomson-East Coast line, aka the Brown Line.

The Thomson-East Coast line currently starts at Woodlands in the north, skitters down along the east side of the central catchment area, and then runs through a big swath of the downtown shopping and commercial districts. It will eventually terminate in the east, almost to Changi Airport — but for the moment, it’s only open up to the Marina Bay area. If you ride the southern half of the line, here’s what you can currently see stop-by-stop.

Stevens

By far the best part of this stop is the new Syllabus for Stevens Art in Transit piece, which features fake slate books with titles like “Mathematically Impossible Mammals,” “Writing Legibly,” “Suspicious Sonnets and Their Secrets,” “How to Be Truly Ironic,” and “Hiccups and Hickeys: The Dangers of Failed Romances.”

Beyond this, Stevens is a fantastically boring stop. I’ve found mini-adventures there by strolling in narrow Malcolm Park and visiting the even tinier CPIB Corruption Reporting and Heritage Centre, but beyond this, it’s condos and roadways as far as the eye can see.

Stevens does offer a connection to the Downtown Line, so if you need to head up to Bukit Panjang or out to Changi Airport, this is one option for getting to those places.

Napier

This station plays up its proximity to the Singapore Botanic Garden, which is a good move — the stop sits just across the street from the garden’s Tanglin Gate:

Beyond this, Napier provides access to embassies, high commissions, a major hospital, and Interpol, but nothing I’d call fun (just the opposite — the US Embassy here looks like an edifice straight out of the Cold War, and Interpol just sounds scary).

Orchard Boulevard

Let the shopping begin! Orchard Boulevard gives ready access to malls, hotels, and the Singapore “Tourism Court.”

This is the place to go if you want to empty your wallet at the far western end of Singapore’s best-known shopping mecca, Orchard Road. You can also scratch your head at PULSE, a station Art in Transit piece that features stylized pipes and shiny colors.

Orchard

Here we are: shopping heaven. Orchard is a world of endless malls, giant hotels, and shiny buildings everywhere.

Worried about getting too wet or too hot? Don’t fret: there are underground tunnels everywhere, so you rarely have to face the elements. And the MRT links right into that tunnel system; Orchard station has 13 exits, making it the MRT stop with the highest number of exits in the whole system. It also has station art that, while not especially attractive, does a good job of capturing the crazy look of Orchard at night.

Orchard also serves as an interchange for the North South Line.

Great World

Now we’re suddenly in the land of condos. Great World sits in the wealthy area of River Valley, and there’s not much to do here besides visit the Great World shopping center or go for a walk along the Singapore River.

If you have a few minutes (or a few hours), a walk along the river is a great way to spend a bit of time — you can meander all the way down to Marina Bay. Or you can spend time reading the advertisements in the station that hearken back to the day when Great World was one of Singapore’s busiest entertainment hubs.

Havelock

When I reached Havelock, my first thought was “this station is very beige.” So I was glad to find that, once we got outside, Havelock has a lot of history and culture (finally!). The first thing we noticed was the kind-of-awful, kind-of-wonderful Tan Boon Liat building.

Built in 1976 on the ruins of two burned godowns (storage warehouses), this blue monstrosity incongruously houses furniture stores and design studios of all sorts.

If you walk in the other direction, you find yourself the oldest housing estate in Singapore: Tiong Bahru.

This neighborhood is home to Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre, which has some of the best hawker stalls in the country (it’s so well known that the Havelock MRT station has a large, grammatically incorrect poster titled “Reminiscing Tiong Bahru”).

Havelock also gave us our first glimpse into Singapore’s religious life, from elaborate Giok Hong Tian Temple — one of the oldest temples in Singapore — to tiny tree-side altars.

Outram Park

This is where things really get interesting. If you take the correct exit — the one closest to Kiong Saik Road — you’ll end up in a riot of shophouses and murals and color.

Outram Park is a huge interchange — you can connect to both the Northeast and the East West lines here — so depending on how you exit the station, it’s easy to end up someplace boring like a sprawling medical compound or a giant police complex. But there’s also some really great adventuring nearby, and you might also stumble on some fun station art.

Maxwell

Now you’re at the entrance to Chinatown, with the renowned Maxwell Food Centre on one side of the street and the looming Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (above) on the other. This is where you go to eat, either at Maxwell or at Chinatown Complex (below, which is my preference) …

… look at murals

… and to admire all that Singapore’s Chinatown has to offer. Happy year of the rabbit!

Shenton Way

Wow, is Shenton Way boring. There is nothing here unless you like (a) tall, shiny financial buildings or (b) marshy grass. This station gets you to the Central Business District (CBD), and it’s pretty much skyscraper after skyscraper.

The one redeeming aspect of Shenton Way is the station art, “Everyday Singapore.”

Marina Bay

We thought Shenton Way was our most boring stop until we hit the wide open nothingness of Marina Bay.

In fairness to the Marina Bay stop, if you take a different exit, you can get proximate to the downtown buildings that are closest to Marina Bay itself. But the bay itself is still a long walk away.

We also very much disliked the station art at Marina Bay, though we were fascinated by the vastness of the station itself. What an escalator system!

Gardens By The Bay

This was our favorite stop of the journey! There’s so much to see here, from the southern end of Gardens by the Bay …

… to Marina Barrage (which includes both a place to fly kites and a museum run by Singapore’s national water agency) …

… to a water playground …

… to views out over the water …

… to cool historical maps in station:

It’s amazing how much this area has grown over time; the land that now hosts this station is all reclaimed, built up over time since the 1980s.

Theres more to come, so keep your eye out for the opening of more of this line in 2025!

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One response to “Singapore by MRT: the Thomson-East Coast Line, Stevens to Gardens by the Bay

  1. Great post right here! I’m excited to return to Singapore (my last trip there was in 2019, before the pandemic) and your virtual tour of the TEL made it even better.

    I’ve also read plans to connect the line to Changi Airport — fingers crossed!

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