Toa Payoh Heritage Trail: Uncovering Gems Around The Satellite Town

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We know modern day Toa Payoh as a bustling HDB town, home to the iconic Dragon playground and where the first HDBs were built and HDB Hub is, and it is now the subject of a refreshed Toa Payoh Heritage Trail from the National Heritage Board.

Did you know apart from being first in showcasing public housing, Toa Payoh hosted Singapore’s first major international sporting competition?

The refreshed Toa Payoh Heritage trail uncovers many little known gems about this town.

The best way to learn more is to embark on an urban walk around Toa Payoh. Here are eight things we learnt along the refreshed Toa Payoh Heritage Trail.

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Toa Payoh Heritage Trail: Uncovering A Trail of the Past

1. Meaning of Toa Payoh

Toa Payoh looked vastly different in the past, its name “big swamp” translated from Hokkien and Malay points its history to how it used to be a swampland and squatter district, engaging in farming and rearing pigs.  

This changed when land was cleared for plantations and then the development of public housing.

2. Three Routes to Discover 15 Sites

There are three routes to take in Toa Payoh as part of the refreshed heritage trail. Which you decide to take will depending on your interests. The three are Of Public Housing & Shared Spaces, Of Faiths & Beliefs, and Of Community Institutions & Common Spaces.

The various routes cover a total of 15 sites including of notable HDB blocks, factories, and places of worship.

The Of Public Housing & Shared Spaces trail focuses on the architectural development of HDB blocks, communal spaces and town planning. Of Faiths & Beliefs trail showcases temples, mosques, churches that represent the diverse communities in Toa Payoh, while the Of Community Institutions & Common Spaces trail casts the spotlight on institutions and spaces in sporting, cultural and social domains.

3. First in Many Areas

Since Singapore loves to be first, Toa Payoh perhaps epitomises the desire to always chart the path.

Toa Payoh MRT was one of the first five MRT stations to be opened in 1987. It was also the first town that employed the Neighbourhood Police Post system and the first to host the Southeast Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games in 1973.

In addition, Toa Payoh was where Singapore’s first NTUC Supermarket opened its doors to counter inflation and supplier profiteering.

4. Toa Payoh Town Park – A Historic Backdrop

Toa Payoh Town Park – A Historic Backdrop

A quaint park with weeping willows, a waterfall, look-out tower, ponds, stone bridges is probably overlooked by many.

Located right next to the busy expressway and across HDB Hub, Toa Payoh Town Park paved the way for the introduction of green spaces in other public housing estates.

Look-Out tower, Toa Payoh Town Park

The 25-metre tall Look-Out Tower is probably the most prominent landmark in the park. It came from an era where space exploration was all the rage and was one of several towers to be built with a space theme.

The Look-Out Tower was accorded conservation status in 2009. It certainly felt like we were transported to a different era at this park, which used to be popular with couples taking wedding photographs in the 70s and 80s.

5. HDB shapes

Look closely and your might spot the bat-shaped HDB block from 1969. Toa Payoh acted as a testbed for different architectural styles and features of public housing since it was the first town designed and developed by HDB. The longest curved block can still be seen in Toa Payoh.

6. VIP Block & Driveway

VIP Block & Driveway

The “VIP” block at Block 53 has played host to many dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II, then-Australian Prime Minister John Gorton and President Benjamin Sheares. No surprises to how the block got its monicker.

Blk 53 used to be the tallest HDB block in the estate at 19 storeys high. It features a unique Y-shaped design and a rooftop viewing gallery. You can get a panoramic view of Toa Payoh.

VIP Block Driveway

It even had a driveway for the motorcades arriving, now transformed into a garden.

7. Host to International Sports Event

Toa Payoh hosted the 1973 SEAP Games and the games village was where Toa Payoh Central is today.

Four HDB point blocks were used to house athletes from participating nations and then sold to the public fully furnished with the conclusion of the games. The stadium, swimming complex and sports hall across the road were also training and competition venues.

8. Toa Payoh Dragon Playground

Toa Payoh Dragon Playground

The mystical creature in Toa Payoh is probably the most photographed, its iconic terrazzo-clad dragon’s head is distinguished by bold lines and geometric features. The rarely-seen sand playground was a popular haunt of the children in the area.

Many of the playgrounds of the 1970s were designed by architect Khor Ean Ghee who was told to turn local culture into playgrounds.

Toa Payoh – Much Heritage to Discover on the Trail

Toa Payoh – Much Heritage to Discover on the Trail

Discover little-known facts about Singapore at the Toa Payoh heritage trail. You would certainly feel like a tourist in your own country if you look a little closer and walk a little more to uncover the lesser-known stories of Toa Payoh’s landmarks and locales.

Download Toa Payoh Heritage Trail’s companion guide and map from

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