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Seletar: A heritage tour

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A visit to Singapore’s Seletar area, home to a lush spread of trees, reservoir and charming houses, plus a still-in-use air base dating from when the British Royal Air Force (RAF) was stationed here, is like a step back to the British colonial era.

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Seletar’s roll-your-own heritage tour — best suited to aviation enthusiasts as well as history buffs — could start at the 1929-built Seletar airport, which is used by the Singapore Armed Forces occasionally and now caters mainly to private planes and students learning to fly. It also provides support to aviation and logistics companies.

The Seletar Airport is used for both military and civilian aircraft.

Built in 1929, Seletar airport is still in operation today.

Take a stroll beyond the airport, and see the the Republic of Singapore Flying Club. You can walk near the fringes of the Seletar Reservoir, and view a stretch of road flanked on both sides by the Seletar Reservoir, which divides Seletar from Yishun residential district.

Yishun Avenue 1, the road that links Seletar to the Yishun residential area, is flanked by the Seletar Reservoir on both sides.  To the right lies Malaysia.

To the right lies Malaysia.

Behind the airport lie vestiges of the RAF time in Singapore. Look out for 152 Hangar, Seletar’s only remaining hangar from that era, which was built to fit two Supermarine Southamptons, a popular British military biplane from the 1920s-30s. You will also pass the old homes and quarters of the RAF officers and the officers’ mess.

The 152 hangar which dates from the times of the British Royal Air Force.

152 Hangar, which dates from colonial times.

A typical RAF serviceman’s stint in Singapore was about five years, so to create a home away from home, the streets in Seletar were named after streets in Britain; road signs like Hyde Park Gate and Oxford St remain today. Legendary institution 398 Canteen Piccadilly Road, a genuine kampung-style coffee-shop serving workers in the area, is where you should stop for a refreshment. Built out of a zinc shack, it’s difficult to predict how long places like this will last as Seletar develops.

You'll find a Birdcage Walk in Westminister in London, and you'll find one in Seletar too - albeit an 'Old' one.

Spot the British street names.

People live in the Seletar aviation compound; you’ll see large, high-ceilinged black and white bungalows that once served as RAF officer facilities and living quarters. Today, they are rented out to well-heeled local and expatriate families, many of whom have parents and grandparents who were part of the aviation community here in the past. These are residents who appreciate being close to nature and are willing and can afford to go the distance for it — Seletar is far from everywhere else and it is almost impossible to live here without a car. But the bungalows are large, the air is fresh and the roads are clear for cycling.

A black and white bungalow which used to serve as RAF quarters and is now rented out.

One of Selatar’s black and white bungalows.

Many bungalows such as the former officers’ mess lie empty, but fortunately, the government announced in 2013 that they will be gazetted for conservation, possibly housing offices, schools, restaurants, spas and sports facilities, while maintaining their colonial charm.

Exploring Seletar takes around half a day on foot, but if you have access to a car or bike, it would be easier. Stop by one of the many roti prata shops on Jalan Kayu.

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