View of Little Guilin, a scenic spot in Bukit Batok. (Photo: Michael Gwyther-Jones; Flickr)
Other neighbourhoods in the west of Singapore have become very crowded, but Bukit Batok remains a haven of peace.
By Joanne Poh
A stroll around Bukit Batok Central or one of the area’s subzones such as Guilin or Hillview reveals a peaceful residential area swathed in greenery.
With easy access to some of Singapore’s most luxuriant natural spaces, residents enjoy an escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life while still being within easy reach of the lively Jurong East commercial hub.
A turbulent past
Some say the name Bukit Batok means “coughing hill”. As quarrying used to be carried out in the area, the reference to coughing is an allusion to the blasts that were frequently heard in the vicinity.
The hilliness of the area is emphasised probably because the area was built upon norite, a type of plutonic rock that made Bukit Batok such an important quarrying location at the turn of the last century. Spectacular traces of former granite quarries can be found today at Little Guilin and Bukit Batok Nature Park.
Bukit Batok also played a significant role in World War II, being the site of the Battle of Bukit Timah from 10 to 12 February 1942, when British, Indian and Australian soldiers attempted to repel the Japanese invasion following their landing on Singapore’s western shores just days earlier.
The Old Ford Motor Factory, located on Upper Bukit Timah Road, was the site where the British officially surrendered to Japanese forces on 15 February 1942. The original building has been converted to Memories at Old Ford Factory, a museum run by the National Heritage Board.
In December 1975, works to turn the quarrying village into Bukit Batok New Town commenced, with the first HDB blocks being completed in 1985. 1987 saw the completion of HDB blocks in Bukit Gombak. In 1998, the area’s main shopping mall West Mall was opened.
Peace and quiet
The Bukit Batok today has not changed tremendously since the late 1990s when West Mall was opened. And that is how residents like it.
Charmaine Tan, a 32-year-old bank executive, is grateful that she got to grow up in the relative peace and quiet of the Hillview area.
“The Bukit Batok area is a lot greener than many of Singapore’s other neighbourhoods. There are lots of great spots where residents can take long walks, have picnics or sit down to an al fresco kopi without having to worry about being swamped by crowds,” she said.
She cites Bukit Batok Nature Park as one of her favourite places in the area. “In my opinion, this park is one of the most beautiful places in Singapore. The view of the quarry is amazing, and you can often see people meditating or doing yoga on quiet weekday afternoons. Little Guilin over at Bukit Batok Town Park is also very scenic.”
Recent hype in the area has been centred on the gentrified subzone of Hillview, where most of Bukit Batok’s private condominiums are located. New shopping mall HillV2 has been a breath of fresh air for the Hillview area’s residents, who appreciate the stylish offerings such as Dean & Deluca and Wine Connection Bistro.
Despite the decidedly upmarket feel of the Hillview area, Bukit Batok manages to retain a down-to-earth character that residents cling to in an increasingly fast-paced society.
Tan said: “There are many hidden gems in the area that only residents know about. At the Civil Service Club across the road from the bus interchange, there are a bowling alley and spa that are both open to the public. West Mall, our neighbourhood mall, has the advantage of never being too crowded. It houses a library, supermarket and cinema.”
For those residents who prefer the buzz of big shopping malls, Jurong East is just one MRT stop away, and even reachable on foot in under 45 minutes from Bukit Batok MRT station. Jurong Gateway and the Jurong Lake District are being developed into Singapore’s second Central Business District (CBD). The former is already a bustling commercial hub thanks to big shopping malls like Westgate and JEM.
The area has reaped the benefits of the new Downtown Line, with Hillview MRT station cutting travelling time to the CBD in half for residents who previously relied on feeder bus services to ferry them to stops on the North-South and East-West lines.
In addition to the Downtown Line, residents are also served by the Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak stations on the North-South Line, which connects swiftly to the East-West Line at Jurong East station in a couple of minutes.
An MRT ride from the Bukit Batok area to the city centre takes only about half an hour. In addition, there are various bus services like 77 and 171 that connect the area directly to the city centre, enabling residents to shuttle seamlessly between the energy of the city and the serenity of home.
Stirrings of the future
Recently, Bukit Batok’s first new launch in almost 15 years was announced. Le Quest, a development by Qingjian Realty, will be in Bukit Batok West Avenue 6, and is anticipated for launch in July 2017.
The development is slated to comprise 516 residential units, as well as commercial space spanning more than 6,000 sq m. On-site facilities such as a supermarket, childcare centre and F&B establishments will be a boon to residents.
Wong Xian Yang, Head of Research & Consultancy at OrangeTee, noted that new residential developments in Bukit Batok are few and far between, with the last major project containing more than 100 units, Kingsford Hillview Peak, having been launched in 2013 and currently sold out.
Other projects in recent years include Hills TwoOne, launched in 2013, and Laurel Tree, launched in 2012. Both are freehold residential developments. “All projects are more than 90 percent sold,” said Wong.
According to Wong, the Bukit Batok area is promising from the point of view of investors and homeowners.
He said: “As the Jurong Gateway District develops into the largest commercial hub outside of the CBD, there will be positive spillover effects for the surrounding regions, including Bukit Batok.
“Housing prices in Bukit Batok are relatively low compared to nearby areas such as Clementi or Lakeside. For example, the median transacted price for Kingsford Hillview Peak is around $1,326 psf in contrast with Lake Grande in Lakeside, whose average median transacted price is around $1,346 psf. Over in Clementi, The Trilinq is selling for around $1,388 psf. All three projects are relatively close to an MRT station.”
According to Wong, Bukit Batok’s star looks set to rise even further following the completion of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail, which is slated to open by 31 December 2026 and is likely to be in Jurong East.
Said Wong: “As the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail will drive up pedestrian and road traffic in the surrounding area, it might not be conducive to live too close by due to noise and congestion issues.
“This makes Bukit Batok appealing for residential buyers as there is sufficient buffer distance from the terminal of approximately 1.8km or more, enabling residents to enjoy the convenience of the future developments while remaining at a distance from the negative externalities that such a development may bring to its immediate vicinity.”
He summed up the appeal of the area in a nutshell: “Bukit Batok will appeal to buyers who are looking for a peaceful residential area while still remaining in proximity to an upcoming commercial centre.”
Did you know?
– There are wild durian trees growing in the Bukit Batok area, including Bukit Batok Nature Park, and illegal durian hunters often secretly pick the spiky fruit when the time is right.
– Bukit Batok inspired eminent Singaporean poet Edwin Thumboo’s poem “Evening by Bukit Batok”.
– Bukit Batok is home to a hidden disused quarry, Seng Chew Granite Quarry, that is said to possess magic powers. Car owners who wash their vehicles with the quarry’s water are said to receive winning 4D numbers.
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