Singapore Stories : Bukit Brown Cemetery, the abandoned Chinese Cemetery

Bukit Brown Cemetery is the home of over 200,000 spirits (if you count one grave per person, there are approximately that much tombs there, but some articles suggest that there are only 100,000 graves), making it one of the biggest Chinese cemetery outside of China.

Closed in 1973, this is the final resting place of numerous Singapore pioneers like Gan Eng Seng (named after the school), Chew Boon Lay and Chew Joo Chiat (oh you know this one), Mrs. Eu Kong (mother of Eu Tong Seng), to name a few. This is also the place where you can find the largest tomb in Singapore belonging to Ong Sam Leong and the oldest grave around belonging to Fang Shan.

Unfortunately, I came to know about this place too late to see it before the start of the ongoing construction. The untouched part of the area has overgrowths sprawling all over the tombstones, so it looks exactly like how you would expect an abandoned cemetery to look, but the nearby construction works takes away that feeling like you are actually exploring one.

Also, due to inclement weather (and the spookiness of the area), I decided that it was unsafe for me to venture too deep into the cemetery, so I missed out on visiting the graves of most prominent figures.

If you are ever planning to visit but none of your friends seem interested and you don’t want to go alone, consider joining a guided tour. The next guided walk is held next Saturday (at the time of writing), 27th December 2014, 9AM at Lor Halwa. You might catch me there!

The main cemetery gates. All the construction works going on really spoils the ambiance.
The main cemetery gates. All that construction works going on really spoils the ambiance.
Nobody really closes the gates, so you can come in here anytime you want.  Even at 3AM.
Nobody really closes the gates, so you can come in here anytime you want.
Even at 3AM.

Why should you go there?
Usually, I write this part at the end of my article but I figured that there would be no point advertising if you never plan to visit anyway. This place is certainly not made to be a tourist attraction (but tourists love this place anyway, with a Certificate of Excellence 2014 and 95% rating from Tripadvisor) and does not cater to all.

You might be too late to see Bukit Brown in its former glory, but there is nothing to stop you from coming here to visit as long as you are brave enough.

You are interested in off beaten paths and want to know more about historical sites of Singapore, or for this case, you want to see what the fight to ‘Save Bukit Brown’ is about or have some interest in it.
-You want to take photographs of the ancient graves and the surrounding nature. Also, for remembrance.
-You might have an ancestor buried here and you want to drop by for a surprise visit.

That’s it. These are the only reasons why you should visit Bukit Brown.
I have seen a couple of residents living in the area of Sime Road or the stretch of houses along Lornie Road coming to this cemetery to walk their dog or do some jogging but I can tell you there are much better places to do these activities, like the nearby Macritchie reservoir.
And certainly, I won’t say this is the place to bring your kids for some weekend fun.

I’m being serious about the second point. Bukit Brown cemetery is a unique place in Singapore for photography because where else can you find an abandoned cemetery that is so accessible? And, given the land constrains and rapid developments in Singapore, I say it is only a matter of time before this cemetery becomes another place we can only visit in our history books.  
There is even a Wikihow article on how to take good photographs of tombstones!

How to get there

Alight at BOTANIC GARDENS MRT/Farrer Rd Stn and take the following buses : 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855.
The stop you want to get off at is “Bef SICC”. Don’t worry if you missed the stop because the distance of the next stop isn’t very far and you can walk back to the overhead bridge.
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There is an overhead bridge which you need to cross over to get to the other side of Sime road. Basically, it is on the road opposite to the entrance of SICC.

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Walk in from Sime road and you will see a fork; one leading to Lor Halwa and the other leads to Kheam Hock road. Follow the path in to Lor Halwa and you will reach the cemetery gates (refer to first picture above).

Walk past the gate, turn LEFT and follow the road all the way. You start seeing the tombstones here, so you can’t miss it.
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While you’re at there…

TAKE NOTE THAT THERE ARE NO FACILITIES HERE (what were you expecting? A public toilet?), so do your business at the station before coming. Insect repellent is a must (the insects here are super aggressive and your face get stuck in cobwebs every few steps). BRING ALONG AN UMBRELLA because there is no shelter here and do you really want to get stuck in the rain in an abandoned cemetery? The nearest shelter you can get is the bus stop located about 200-300 metres from the cemetery gates. It is going to be a 800 metres to the nearest shelter if you are running from the middle of the place, with bends and deadfall all over the slippery road.

There is nothing much you can do here, really. Just follow the path at your own leisure while enjoying the lush greenery and peaceful atmosphere if you’re not bothered by the tombstones you see everywhere around you.
The graves of prominent figures are clearly marked with picket signs, so have fun trying to visit them all.

And beware of snakes hiding in the bushes.

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I did a bit of reading up on this guy and all I know was that he had some affiliation with Dr. Sun Yat Sen. You can read more about him in my ‘for more information’ section.

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My thoughts

I’ve never thought that I would ever be visiting Bukit Brown before I started this WordPress. I had this idea for writing Singapore Stories and I was searching for some inspiration. Then I came across Bukit Brown, which intrigued me because this place is a hidden gem, one of the off beaten paths that most people would never/rarely visit. What’s there for them to do here anyway?
Anyway, being a reader and a writer and up for an adventure, I just had to visit this place.
The history of this place simply excites me, and the tombstones which I saw today are actually pretty cool, architecture and all.

I’ve read about Bukit Brown once or twice in the newspaper way before and I am aware about the development of this area. I fear that it is already too late to save this place since construction works are already going on, the sanctity of this place already violated.
Still, it is worth giving this place at least a visit before the government exhumes more area for future development.

For more information

Maps of Bukit Brown
Residents of Bukit Brown
Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery – history and future developments

SIGNING OFF,

EUGENE GOH / MESSIER92

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