Adventures At Home: Let's Rediscover Orchard Road
STORY: Nicholas Yong
24 August 2021
Mention Orchard Road and confirm everyone sure thinks about shopping, shopping, and more shopping. Maybe someone will mention the iconic ice cream uncles or the beautiful Christmas lights.
In my case, it’s not really about bae dragging me to LV but more of me being broke spending on my hobbies (especially my extensive football jersey collection).
But don’t suaku okay. Orchard Road actually has rich history sia, especially if you follow NHB’s Heritage Trail.
For example, some of us might not know how Orchard Road got its name. If you thought literal "orchards", you guessed right – but did you know that these were gambier plantations? Fun fact: Gambier (a fast-growing shrub) was found to be a great source of tannic acid, which was used in the tanning of leather goods.
In the 50s, this entire place was empty, even pantang because of the Teochew cemetery here (now where Ngee Ann City and Atria are today).
One person saw what this place could become – the founder of Tangs, Tang Choon Keng or CK Tang, who set up Tangs Plaza as the first shopping mall in Orchard Road in 1958.
The rest of course, is history.
We followed the trail and found many more things to do at Orchard Road, apart from the shopping.
Visit the (secret?) movie museum at Cathay
While The Cathay has been a mainstay in Orchard, entertaining Singaporeans since 1939 (yes, even your ah gong ah ma went there to paktor), did you know that it also houses a well-hidden movie museum?
Suffice to say, you’re going to discover a bucketload of movie memorabilia through the decades. Think: old-school cinema chairs, movie posters from bygone years, and vintage projectors.
Bring your parents lah, they’ll have a field day walking down memory lane!
Good news: It’s free. Bad news: No photography, so don't anyhow try to sneak in an Insta-story.
Head to #02-16 to find it.
Go butterfly spotting
Along Orchard Road you’ll find plenty of green spaces, from the Istana park all the way to the Penang Road Open Space opposite Concorde hotel (this is part of the NHB’s Orchard Road Communities and Cemeteries trail).
Here, you'll find the Orchard Butterfly Trail created by the Singapore Nature Society back in 2010.
See if you can spot some of the 50 butterfly species here.
Paktor at Singapore Botanic Gardens
This was the paktor spot back in the 50s and 60s – families met here to discuss arranged marriages, and later, it was a venue for young couples to go on secret dates.
Best places to jalan-jalan include the Swan Lake Gazebo, the Burmese Banyan tree, or the octagonal bandstand where you might chance upon wedding photoshoots (this is where you might feel bae’s steely and hopeful gaze on you).
There are a few makan spots too, like The Garage, Casa Verde, Halia, and, when you really want to spoil bae, Michelin-starred Corner House.
Also check out the National Orchid Garden to see the iconic VIPs (very important plants) – there’s the Aranda Lee Kuan Yew, Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana, and this just in, the Papilionanda Kamala Harris.
Wine and dine at Cuppage Terrace
After a long day out, what better place to unwind at Orchard Road than at Cuppage Terrace.
From indulgent omakase at Tsubaki By Shunsui, to mouth-watering Indian food at The Curry Culture, and the great food selection at Wine Connection – there’s something for everyone here.
The 17 Malacca-style terrace houses here were built between 1905-07, and incorporate full-height French windows distinctive to that era as well as a five-foot way on the ground floor.
There's also a colourful mural for your IG feed, which brings us to...
Your Insta-walk checklist here:
Just opposite Somerset 313’s Orchard Road entrance are these traditional 1930s shophouses, many of which retain the trademark pintu pagar (a Baba Malay term for the fence-like doors in traditional Peranakan terrace houses), and colourful wall tiles and panels.
The area’s eclectic mix of colours are definitely IG-worthy. You can even pause for drinks at No.5 Emerald Hill.
Orchard Road Presbyterian Church
The oldest church in the area was completed in 1878, and still has services today in English, Mandarin, Indonesian and German.
Visitors are allowed when there are no services but do ask the staff before entering.
Did you know the YMCA building next to the church has the coveted address of 1 Orchard Road – it also had Singapore’s first public swimming pool in 1919.
Goodwood Park Hotel
The hotel has its roots serving the rich and famous since 1861, and notable guests include Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Nobel laureate William Golding (don’t think he’s related to Henry Golding), and actor Jackie Chan.
It was the first hotel in Singapore to have an indoor swimming pool!
Can book staycation here too.
Happening history sia
If you’re interested to explore the rich history of Orchard Road, you can follow NHB’s Orchard Road Heritage Trail. There are three suggested routes you can take to discover the hidden gems of Singapore’s shopping paradise:
- Orchard Road’s Historical Gems, 2.2km: 40 min; on foot or 30 min; walk and bus.
- Communities and Cemeteries, 3.6km: 1 hour 15 min; on foot.
- From Orchard to Garden, 4.7km: 2 hours; on foot or 1.5 hours with a bus ride.
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