What to expect at NHB’s refreshed Toa Payoh Heritage Trail

Attractions include Toa Payoh Town Park, Toa Payoh Block 53 and the iconic Dragon Playground.

Maisy Phua

Self-proclaimed fashion icon, pomeranian mom and Paris Hilton fan.

Published: 24 March 2023, 9:52 AM

Toa Payoh is known to many Singaporeans for its HDB Hub, where spirited young couples eagerly visit to collect the keys to their first flat. However, there is much more to discover at this old estate.

Toa Payoh means “Big Swamp” in Hokkien. “Toa” means big, and “Payoh” means swamp. True to its name, the town used to be mainly forests and swamps, until it was subsequently developed into farmlands, then into a bustling residential area.

The Toa Payoh Heritage Trail was updated by the National Heritage Board (NHB) in hopes to better preserve and celebrate the shared heritage of Singaporean communities for the purpose of education, nation-building and cultural understanding.

Participants can rediscover Toa Payoh through three thematic routes on the new Toa Payoh Heritage Trail; Of Public Housing & Shared Spaces, Of Faith & Beliefs and Of Community Institutions & Common Spaces.

The entire trail boasts a total of 29 sites and attractions.

The trail, Of Public Housing & Shared Spaces will span over 4.5km, or 1.5 hours on foot. This trail explores the architectural development of HDB blocks, communal spaces and town planning.

Highlights include Block 53, also known as the “VIP Block”, Toa Payoh Town Park and the Toa Payoh Dragon Playground.

One of the first HDB Blocks to be built in Toa Payoh Town in 1967, Block 53 features a unique Y-shaped design and rooftop viewing gallery.

The old residential building was dubbed as the “VIP Block” as it played host to many foreign and local dignitaries, like then-Australian Prime Minister John Gorton in 1968 and Queen Elizabeth II from the United Kingdom.


When flats in this block were first sold, a three-room unit with a floor size of 650 sq ft carried a price tag of $7,500. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MAISY PHUA


Participants can also look forward to revelling in nature at Toa Payoh Town Park, which paved the way for the introduction of parks and green spaces in subsequent public housing estates in the 1970s.

The park boasts an impressive 25m-tall Look-Out Tower, as well as ponds and a series of stone bridges, gazebos and pavilions. 


The park was a popular choice for wedding photoshoots in the 1970s and 1980s, with the Look-Out Tower having been featured in thousands of wedding photographs from the era. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MAISY PHUA


If you ask any Singaporean, they will most likely be able to identify the iconic Dragon Playgrounds. However, while many of these playgrounds have been replaced in the 1970s and 1980s, Toa Payoh’s Dragon Playground has stood firm as one of the last.

As such, this particular Dragon Playground has become a popular and beloved landmark for Singaporeans, young and old.


Many of these playgrounds of the 1970s were designed by Khor Ean Ghee, a HDB architect with no prior training in building playgrounds. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MAISY PHUA


Participants venturing on the Of Faith and Beliefs route can expect a 6km journey that will take two hours via public transportation. This trail showcases the temples, mosques, churches and institutions that represent the diverse communities in Toa Payoh.

For the Of Community Institutions & Common Spaces route, participants will travel 1.5km, which is approximately half an hour on foot. This trail focuses on the institutions and spaces that continue to play an active role in the sporting, cultural and social lives of Toa Payoh residents.

Deputy Chief Executive of NHB Alvin Tan believes that the beauty of heritage trails is that it combines educational material with physical activity. He hopes that this would appeal to youths.

“If they grew up in Toa Payoh, they can learn what it was like in the past, and that might help them relate better or even start conversations with older family members. I think heritage trails are a good platform for youths to learn more about Singapore,” he added.

Interested participants can download the Toa Payoh Heritage Trail’s companion guide on NHB’s website.

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