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Singapore's History: Abandoned HDB estate


It's hard to imagine there being isolated and abandoned places in Singapore.

Small and starving for land, it's not altogether conceivable that there would be hidden places that have lain abandoned for years.

And yet, there are.

Huddled behind bushes and located off the beaten path is Kampong Buangkok.

Reminiscent of a simpler and harmonious life, the kampong's existence dangles on a thread - its future in constant danger of Singapore's rabid urbanisation.

Perhaps it is ironic that while a living relic of our past faces an uncertain future, an abandoned HDB estate in Lim Chu Kang languishes.

The estate has been abandoned for many years and is only used by the Singapore Armed Forces occasionally for FIBUA (Fighting in Built-up Areas) training.

It was built in 1979 and named after Mr Neo Tiew, a man who was popular at that time among the locals and the British for his contributions in developing Chua Chu Kang.

The estate was small in comparison to its modern counterparts. Perhaps, as products of a simpler time and a smaller population, the three flats are only 3-storeys high.


A wet market and an old playground are also in the estate, although both, like the flats, have certainly seen better days.

The estate went en-bloc in 2002 with all its residents moving to Jurong West. It has lulled in partial disuse since and is encircled by fencing to deter people from entering and accidently interrupting a live firing exercise.

But if you do enter enter the estate, the first thing you'll notice is how deathly still it is.

Once home to a healthy population of Singaporeans, Neo Tiew Estate is as silent as a cemetery; the only sounds coming from the birds in the sky and the crunch of dried leaves under your feet.

The buildings are intact although their facades are faded and peeled off.  Recently, the entire estate was given a fresh coat of paint but the interior of the blocks offers up a new-old look at it.

The roofs are unstable, the walls have massive holes in them and the interior wall paint have caked and peeled off.

There are cracks and fractures on the walls and floors and even the old style of ceramic tiling, known for its longevity and durability, show extreme signs of neglect.

The fixtures have all been removed so no water and electricity runs through the estate. The pipes that remain are barren, rusty husks.

Around the estate, the grass has grown wild.

What were once sandpits and walkways are now covered with overgrown plants that have voraciously taken back the land.

The playground is rundown and filled with cobwebs and the sandpit has long since been reclaimed by nature.


The skateboarding area is completely covered with grass while weeds, moss and mould creep and crawl on the pavements and buildings.

Like the empty pavilion which was once a wet market, the coffee shops, barbers' and provision stalls are vacant units with nothing left to differentiate one from the other.

Whether you're standing in the estate or viewing the pictures online, the feeling of foreboding and loneliness is palpable.

How this estate can appear so Singaporean and yet feel so alien at the same time is both conflicting and intriguing.

But there is a more important question.

Why are valuable plots of land going unused by the general public while historical remnants like Kampong Buangkok are faced with the threat of extinction?

Yet, like Kampong Buangkok, Neo Tiew estate is a unique symbol; one that is bathed in antiquity. Removing or rebuilding it would only further sever another thread to our short history.

Perhaps using it for military training, however occasional, is a much better way of preserving the estate without allowing it to lapse into utter and total disuse.

After all, a relic survives the decades far better when there is little to no human contact.  In time, perhaps we will be given the chance to appreciate the things that came before.

For more pictures on abandoned places in Asia, check out our Pinterest board!

Written by: Christopher Chitty

If you liked this article, here's a few others that might interest you; 

Singapore's History: Tang Dynasty City

Kampong Buangkok: Singapore's last kampong

5 Abandoned cities in the world

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