View of the boardwalk along Changi Beach.
Changi is probably best known for its award-winning airport, but it has so much more to offer, including remnants of a rich colonial past, plenty of food options and a rustic beach.
By Joanne Poh
Mention Changi, and thoughts immediately turn to the thrill of a holiday for which one inevitably departs from Changi Airport. Visitors to the area are often enchanted by the balmy serenity of Changi Beach, fringed with palm trees.
But to the residents of Changi, this area on the eastern end of Singapore, bordered by Tampines and Pasir Ris, is as full of promise as it is idyllic. With its stunning sea views, it is easy to forget that Changi is also a major aviation hub and has earned the moniker of the Central Business District of the East.
A dark past
The name Changi was in use as early as the beginning of the 19th century, although the origins of the word are still open to debate. Some believe the name Changi was derived from the Changal tree, which used to grow in the area. Others attribute it to the changi ular, a variety of shrub, or the chengal pasir, a type of tree.
The area was, in the early 20th century, swathed in mangrove swamps and thick forest, above which the hills that were later christened Battery Hill, Fairy Point Hill and Temple Hill towered.
As late as 1927, less than a century ago, the area was sparsely populated with a tiny village, several bungalows, a temple, sago and coconut plantations and some very basic amenities such as a police station and hotel.
After 1927, Changi was developed into a military base, with remnants of this period in the area’s colonial past still standing today. However, when the Japanese landed during World War II, they bypassed the eastern border of Singapore altogether, landing instead on the west coast.
Today, many stately colonial buildings such as the old Command HQ and the bungalows at Aloha Changi are a testament to Changi’s past.
Changi’s status as an aviation hub was born in the wartime years, when scores of prisoners of war were forced to build an airstrip in the area by the Japanese occupiers. The airstrip was later taken over by the British Royal Air Force after the war, and finally passed on to the Singapore Air Force in the 1970s.
The famous Singapore Changi Airport was built on the site of Changi Air Base, taking over from the previous international airport at Paya Lebar, which was in turn converted to a military air base. Extensive land reclamation works were undertaken beginning in 1975 to accommodate the airport, which has since expanded into one of the world’s biggest and best airports.
For teenagers and thrill-seekers in Singapore, Changi also has an unsettling link to the supernatural world.
The grounds of the former Changi Hospital are often explored in the dead of night by intrepid ghost-hunters and urban explorers, and has even inspired a low-budget film. The abandoned hospital’s claim to fame comes from its use during the Second World War as a prison camp and a hospital for Japanese soldiers.
A scenic place to work
Despite any lingering eeriness that can be traced to its wartime past, the Changi of today is more business-like than ghostly.
Thanks to Changi Business Park, which was opened in 1997, the area has been transformed into an aviation, business and technology hub.
Some distance from the hustle and bustle of Changi Business Park lies Changi Village, which is very popular with residents thanks to its quietness and proximity to the sea and Changi Beach Park.
Melvin Loh, a lawyer living in the area, describes Changi as “nice and quiet” and, despite being on the eastern end of Singapore, “accessible to the city centre”. He says, “The area near Flora Road and Flora Drive (off Upper Changi Road North) is next to the expressway entrance and exit, which makes getting to town easy.”
His favourite spots include The Coastal Settlement on Netheravon Road, a restaurant-cafe-bar swathed in greenery, and Chock Full of Beans, a trendy cafe with a reputation for cutesy latte art.
For many visitors to the Changi area, the main draw is Changi Airport, which attracts not just holiday makers and business travellers, but also Singaporeans whose idea of a fun weekend is slipping down the world’s tallest airport slide, shopping and dining at the airport’s dizzying array of options, and checking out planes on the tarmac at the airport’s Terminal 1 Viewing Gallery.
But avid plane spotters know that it’s not at the airport, but at Changi Beach Park where the best views of planes taking off and landing can be enjoyed. Plane-spotting isn’t the only reason to visit Changi Beach, which has maintained a rustic atmosphere and offers an idyllic backdrop for a barbecue or a spot of camping.
The Changi Point Coastal Walk, a 2.2 km long boardwalk, is another scenic experience boasting unparalleled views of the waterfront. It also offers easy access to the ferry terminal from which bumboats depart for Pulau Ubin.
A dazzling future
A few new developments have graced Changi’s shores in the last few years.
PropNex property agent Edmund Ee identifies Grandeur Park Residences as a noteworthy residential development in the area.
The 99-year leasehold condominium by CEL Development is located a stone’s throw from Tanah Merah MRT station and is expected to receive its temporary occupation permit at the end of 2021.
The units contain smart home features such as Wi-Fi cameras with motion detection capabilities and night vision surveillance which enable homeowners to monitor their property on the go. Residents can also control lighting, window and door sensors and energy management using their unit’s smart home system.
Residents have a lot more to look forward to in the coming years. Ee anticipates better parks and sports and recreational facilities in Changi’s future.
“Existing parks like Changi Beach Park will be refreshed with new pavilions, paths, shelters and playgrounds. On top of this, new attractions and a refreshed Downtown East will attract families and friends who wish to enjoy leisure time together,” he says.
On the commercial front, Ee is just as optimistic. He says, “Changi Business Park will continue its expansion as a vibrant business park and hub for employment. The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) will offer potential tie-ups and collaborations with businesses in the park, while providing cutting-edge educational opportunities.”
But the most exciting development in Changi is surely the opening of Changi Airport’s newly-opened Terminal 4 and Project Jewel, a mixed-use complex that will connect to Terminals 1 to 3 and feature a range of retail, dining, leisure and hotel businesses when it opens in late 2018.
Ee says, “The opening of Project Jewel and Terminal 4 at Changi Airport will put Singapore in the spotlight as having the world’s best airport and attract new tourism and hospitality and employment opportunities.”
Did you know?
– Changi Airport’s new Terminal 4 was built on the site of the previous Budget Terminal, and is an impressive seven times the size of the latter.
– Jewel at Changi Airport will contain the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, taking over from the current record holder at Gardens by the Bay’s Cloud Forest.
– Changi Beach looks beautiful by day, but it is also the spot where many Chinese and Japanese were executed during and after the Second World War.
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