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Exploring Singapore’s Last Kampong

With international tourism a shimmering mirage in the distance, Singapore has had to reinvent itself for the domestic market. The Little Red Dot is certainly not a bad place to be ‘stuck’ but having lived here for 3 years, we’ve done most of the big-ticket items. Then Miss Mayhem received a school assignment that suggested we visit one of Singapore’s last ‘kampongs’.

What’s a kampong?

A kampong (or kampung), is a traditional village. To be honest, I had no idea there were any traditional kampongs remaining in Singapore. Turns out there’s one on Pulau Ubin (a short boat journey away) or Kampong Lorong Buangkok on the mainland. I didn’t feel comfortable about just taking Miss Mayhem to traipse through the village. Out of respect for the residents and in pursuit of some Singapore history, I found a company who have recently started offering Kampong tours.

Letsgotour have pivoted their business to include a ‘This Is Home’ series. The ‘Kampong Experience’ is available daily at 9am and lasts for two hours. This is a private tour of up to 5 pax. The tour is not cheap, coming in at up to $250 for 4-5 but I can honestly say it was one of my favourite Singapore experiences.

Visiting Kampong Lorong Buangkok

Our guide Rachpal, met us at the entrance to Kampong Buangkok and was immediately engaging and friendly (important when you have children in the midst). She pointed out interesting characteristics, such as the villages unique overhead electricity wiring and explained its history. The land was acquired in 1956 by Sng Teow Koon, a traditional Chinese medicine seller. At the time there were only 6 houses and he started renting out land to people to build homes. The land has been handed down to his children, one of whom, Ms Sng, still lives in the village. We had the pleasure of meeting Ms Sng and she was kind of enough to share her freshly cut sugar cane with us.

Rent in the kampong is maintained at a low price and that, coupled with a desire to lead a more laidback, traditional life, has led to a huge waiting list for the 26 houses. Rachpal pointed out the differences in each building style, from the Chinese lanterns for the Chinese families, to the small kampong mosque.

The kampong is awash with colour, from the brightly painted houses to the red zinc roof and lush jungle fronds. I can see why life here would be attractive, such a contrast to the huge HDB blocks looming in the distance. Our tour culminated in an empty house that Ms Sng has reserved for education purposes. Rachpal gave us traditional snacks of Milo and iced gems (much to Miss Mayhems delight). Then she taught us some kampong games including 5 stones and chapteh.

On way out, we were lucky enough to find Ms Sng chopping up sugar cane with her neighbour. In addition to the sugar cane, it turns out the neighbour makes ice pops. As we refreshed ourselves with the delicious soursop and rosewater ices, it was interesting to reflect on the ‘gotong royong’, aka ‘kampung spirit’. It was an honour to spend the two hour tour learning about traditional village life. In this digital world where we have lost the ability to connect with our local community, I can see how attractive this neighbourhood camaraderie is. It is a testament to Ms Sng that she has chosen not to sell off what would be a significant chunk of land, to preserve this small slice of traditional village life.

You can visit Kampong Buangkok on your own. However, I highly recommend paying for a tour. This way you can learn the tales of the kampong, in addition to feeling like you aren’t encroaching too much. The mozzies are out so wear long sleeves and pants and be mindful of the signs that prohibit photography in certain houses.

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