• Katherine Pan

My Fascination with Abandoned Places

Updated: Jun 7

In primary school, I stumbled upon the One North Explorers website. The website featured abandoned buildings and paranormal activities in Singapore. The thought that abandoned places exist was fascinating and captivating. After all, Singapore is a land-scarce country and new developments can be seen daily. Singapore was no country for old buildings; hence the discovery sparked a strong sense of curiosity and adventure in me.


I loved understanding how the derelict buildings has aged throughout these years and its history. However, I was too young to explore these hidden gems and protect myself from danger. Thus, I spent many days searching and reading up all the articles that were available online. As I got older, my appetite for these perilous adventures only grew.


Despite my interest in the matter, I have never visited any abandoned sites in Singapore. Reasons include trespassing, failing structural integrity, and being unable to find companions. To compensate for my lack of adventure and guts, I decided to share my interest on my website. In this article, I will be featuring my favorite abandoned places that have amazed me as a child.


Istana Woodneuk

(Source: https://stateofbuildings.sg/places/istana-woodneuk)


One of the rare abandoned buildings that still stand today, Istana Woodneuk was built by the 21st Sultan of Johor in 1935 for his fourth wife. The building and the land that it sits on still belongs to the royal family of Johor. However, the palace has not been maintained since 1986 and was left to rot since then. In 2006, a major fire occurred in the Istana. The fire destroyed the building’s structural integrity and its striking blue roof. Today, the second floor of Istana Woodneuk is exposed to weather elements.


Often confused with Istana Tyersall because of its proximity, the two buildings could be differentiated from its roof. Istana Woodneuk had a blue roof while Istana Tyersall had a red roof. Istana Tyersall was also built by the 21st Sultan of Johor but was razed by a fire in 1905. To replace the destroyed building, Istana Woodneuk was built.


A colourised postcard from the early 1900s showing Istana Tyersall. (Source: https://www.roots.sg/learn/collections/listing/1193937)


The aftermath of the fire in Istana Woodneuk, shot 13 years later. (Source: Wu Ruiqiang on Google Maps)


The remains of the blue roof after the fire (Source https://lostnfiledsg.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/istana-woodneuk/)


The Istana was built on a small hill in Tyersall Park, which is one of the most valuable lands in Singapore. If you have read or watched Crazy Rich Asians, you would recall that Nick Young’s grandmother, Shang Su Yi, stays in her mansion located in Tyersall Park. The commercial value of Istana Woodneuk and the surrounding land is estimated to be a whopping $4.7 billion despite the fact that it is in such an appalling state after the fire.


Besides being the Sultan's residence, the palace was a military headquarter and hospital during World War 2. It was subjected to bombing by the Japanese and an estimated 700 lives were lost. After the war In 1948, the palace was returned to the Sultan and it has remained as the Sultan’s property.


As Tyersall Park is owned by the royal family of Johor, compensation was made when the Singapore government acquired a segment of the land. The amount was $25 million when the acquisition was made in 1990 ($25 million is the amount before adjusting for inflation). Further acquirement of land was made in 2004 and 2009 for the expansion of the Singapore Botanic Garden. It is open today to the public as The Learning Forest.




The remains of the Istana today. (Source 8 megapixels interior photography on Google Maps)


(Source: https://amyscrypt.com/istana-woodneuk-haunted-mansion-singapore/)


From these pictures, it is evident that the Istana had radiated elegance and extravagance during its heyday. However, the invasion and eventual fall of Singapore to the Japanese in World War 2 changed the face of its history. The fact that the mansion is heavily graffitied and extremely dilapidated makes it even more mesmerizing and fascinating. Combined with its rich history, it is my favorite abandoned location in Singapore.


Further readings:

https://stateofbuildings.sg/places/istana-woodneuk

https://mothership.sg/2019/02/istana-woodneuk-how-to-go-guide/

https://thesmartlocal.com/read/istana-woodneuk-guide/

https://remembersingapore.org/istana-woodneuk/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtpxKlqyaP4&feature=emb_title (This video does a great job of showing the audience around the mansion)

Istana Tyersall: http://api.sg/the-story-of-tyersall-house/



Tang Dynasty City (Demolished)

The entrance to Tang Dynasty City (Source http://www.anniebees.com/Asia/Asia6.htm)


An overview of Tang Dynasty City (Source http://www.anniebees.com/Asia/Asia6.htm)


Did you know that Singapore once had a periodic theme park? The name would be unfamiliar to younger Singaporeans, as Tang Dynasty City was closed in 1999. It was later demolished in 2008. Tang Dynasty City was located at Yuan Ching Road in Jurong and its size was 30 acres, or 23 football fields. It was modeled after the Sung Dynasty Village in Hong Kong and featured the spirit and culture of the Tang dynasty. It was a theme park and a movie town, as it was built to lead to the development of Singapore’s movie industry.


A map showing the different attractions at Tang Dynasty City (Source: https://stateofbuildings.sg/places/tang-dynasty-city)


The theme park was a joint-venture between Asia Television and Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. Singapore had envisioned filming periodic dramas and movies at Tang Dynasty City and one notable example is Legend of a Beauty. I did a quick Google search and was able to find the entire series on meWatch but skipped watching it. Various attractions at the park included a courtesan house that had a menu of girls at its entrance, traditional tea houses, and an underground palace. There were also replicas of famous landmarks such as the Terracotta army; Daming Palace, built by the emperor as a summer resort for his father and Huiqing pool where Chinese beauty Yang Gui Fei was known to spend most of her time bathing in.


A postcard showing a scene of visitors visiting Tang Dynasty Village (Source https://lsmpostcard.blogspot.com/2011/12/postcard-tang-dynasty-villagesingapore.html)


High admission prices, lackluster attractions, and the Asian Financial Crisis led to the closure of the theme park as it could no longer sustain itself. It was left abandoned until 2008 when JTC decided to demolish the park.


Out of curiosity, I asked my parents about the Tang Dynasty City. It turns out that they have visited the theme park while it was still operating! They even brought along my older brother to visit the park, but I doubt he recalls anything. My mom thought that the park was a good idea for its time as Singapore lacked attractions in the 1990s. On the other hand, my dad found it to be boring and unimpressive.


Nature has overtaken the buildings (Source https://www.lomography.com/magazine/26047-tang-dynasty-city-singapore)


Photographed by One North Explorers during a visit in 2006. (Source: https://www.urbanexplorers.asia/2010/10/journey-to-west-no-more.html)


(Source: https://www.urbanexplorers.asia/2010/10/journey-to-west-no-more.html)


An aerial view of the theme park after it was left abandoned (Source https://lsmpostcard.blogspot.com/2011/12/postcard-tang-dynasty-villagesingapore.html)


I thought that Tang Dynasty City was a captivating piece of Singapore's history as it was built to spur the growth of the film industry. Interestingly, the golden era of cinema in Singapore was from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Most of us would be familiar with the names of Shaw Theaters and Cathay Cineplex. Did you know that the two companies used to produce their feature films in Malay during the golden era? When Singapore and Malaysia separated, this led to brain drain and the closure of the filming studios.


As Tang Dynasty City slipped into decline, a Singaporean film titled Money No Enough was released in 1998. This film would go on to pave the way for local production. Money No Enough was so successful that it showed in cinemas for 5 months and box-office takings of over $5.8 million (This figure is from The Straits Times. I am not sure if it has been adjusted for inflation). I grew up watching local production and one of my most memorable movies was I Not Stupid. I am grateful that Money No Enough opened the doors for commercial films produced in Singapore, as I can now look back at my childhood and smile at the fond memories I had.


Further reading:

https://www.urbanexplorers.asia/2010/10/journey-to-west-no-more.html (This was the website where I first stumbled upon Tang Dynasty City. It features shots of the interior and exterior of the park taken at night, as the group specialized in paranormal activities)

https://stateofbuildings.sg/places/tang-dynasty-city

Golden era of Cinema in Singapore: https://www.roots.sg/learn/stories/golden-era-of-singapore-cinema/story

Money No Enough: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/entertainment/money-no-enough-brought-the-entire-singapore-film-industry-to-a-whole-new



Tanglin Hill Brunei Hostel

The hostel before it was abandoned. (Source: https://stateofbuildings.sg/places/tanglin-hill-bruneian-hostel)


Tanglin Hill Brunei Hostel was built in 1958 to house the rising number of Brunei students in Singapore. Brunei was lacking a proper education system and qualified teachers. Hence, the brightest minds were sent to Singapore to study. Eventually, Brunei purchased a piece of land at Tanglin Hill to build a hostel for her students. The hostel also housed Brunei government officials who were on training programs. Students living in the hostel celebrated Bruneian holidays and festivals to remember home.

Over the years, Brunei's education system made improvements and there was no need to send her students abroad. The hostel was abandoned in 1983 due to the falling number of Brunei students. Since then, the hostel has been left untouched and it is currently owned by the Brunei Consulate.


The porch of the hostel. It is the first building that greets visitors upon entry. (Source: http://theeverlastingproject.blogspot.com/2014/07/exploration-tanglin-hill-brunei-hostel.html)


The main building. (Source: https://stateofbuildings.sg/places/tanglin-hill-bruneian-hostel)


(Source: https://urbicideurbex.tumblr.com/post/173926197543/tanglin-hill-brunei-hostel-singapore-1958-1983)


The interior. (Source: http://theeverlastingproject.blogspot.com/2014/07/exploration-tanglin-hill-brunei-hostel.html)


(Source: https://remembersingapore.org/tanglin-hill-brunei-hostel/)


Tanglin Hill Brunei Hostel reminded me of when I lived alone in my university dorm. It felt awesome to be away from my parents without having to answer for my actions. Nothing could compare to the taste of freedom. Yet, freedom came at the expense of spending time with my family. It can feel lonely and depressing coming back home to an empty room after a long day of school. I believe the Brunei students finishing their studies in Singapore felt the same. Being thousands of kilometres away from home, it is inevitable that one may feel lonely. Despite the distance, homesickness can be relieved if there was a community one can go back to. Although the hostel is dead and left to rot, it is kept alive in the memories of the students it had welcomed.


(Source: https://urbicideurbex.tumblr.com/post/173926197543/tanglin-hill-brunei-hostel-singapore-1958-1983)

(Source: https://www.fivestarsandamoon.com/2014/05/the-brunei-hostel-took-my-5-senses-away/)


Further reading:

https://remembersingapore.org/tanglin-hill-brunei-hostel/

https://stateofbuildings.sg/places/tanglin-hill-bruneian-hostel

http://theeverlastingproject.blogspot.com/2014/07/exploration-tanglin-hill-brunei-hostel.html


Conclusion


As a child, I spent my days either in school or at home and did not venture out much. It felt unbelievable and surreal to learn the existence of such places beyond my small world. My friends did not understand why I was attracted to the idea of visiting derelict sites as it was unusual. After all, teenagers tend to be interested in pop culture and everything else besides forgotten buildings. Despite the lack of understanding from my friends, I was not discouraged. Abandoned places signify much more than dumps and places of vandalism to me. They represent a piece of Singapore's history that has been forgotten and buried by time. It also represents the state of Singapore's society then.

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