Five types of people you’ll meet in Balestier

By Ruth Loh Xiu
/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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Balestier is a sub-zone of the Novena planning area, known for its quirky, eclectic character. Nestled right next to its more reserved and upmarket main planning area Novena, and mere minutes away from Orchard Road by car, Balestier is one of those unpolished and ever-so-slightly seedy pockets of Singapore beautifully cobbled together from different walks of life.
Take a stroll through this — admittedly — mildly congested, busy part of central Singapore, and you’ll soon come across five types of folk who frequent the vicinity.

1. Home renovators

BALESTIER - Singaporeans going through home renovations may be familiar with the names Lian Seng Hin and Hafary
Singaporeans going through home renovations may be familiar with the names Lian Seng Hin and Hafary. Photo credit: Ruth Loh Xiu
A quick drive through Balestier Road will have you thinking the patron saint of toilet bowls and faux-crystal chandeliers undoubtedly dwells here. Two of Singapore’s most popular tile purveyors, Hafary and Lian Seng Hin, each cap one end of a short stretch of shophouses, while interior design companies and lighting stores line up along the road from top to tip, jostling for attention. If you’re looking to remodel your new pad, you’ll probably be frozen into indecision at the onslaught of possibilities that hits you from the get-go.

2. Durian lovers

BALESTIER - Combat Durian is well-known islandwide
Combat Durian is well-known islandwide. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth
Combat Durian, always exceedingly popular, has its roots in Balestier. Plenty of durian-hunters milled about the piles of spiky fruit on a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon, while a couple more durian stalls lurked down the road, largely ignored. If you get sick of the queue at Combat, you can always pop into one of the quieter stalls farther along Balestier Road.
BALESTIER -  Like most durian-sellers in Singapore, Combat sells mangosteens too
Like most durian-sellers in Singapore, Combat sells mangosteens too. Photo credit: Ruth Loh Xiu

3. Aficionados of local goodies

I fainted of hunger at Balestier, said nobody ever. There’s Balestier Market, the famous Founder Bak Kut Teh at 347 Balestier Road that has brewed bak kut teh (meat bone soup) for more than 40 years and boasts Hong Kong movie stars among its customers; and Loy Kee Chicken Rice at 342 Balestier Road, chopping chicken since 1953 and thriving near Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice.
A special mention goes to Loong Fatt, a favourite among those who delight in this exceptionally flaky pastry stuffed with bean-paste filling. Closed on Sundays but open every other day, it’s known for its plump and generously filled tau sar piah. There’s a second tau sar piah stall a few shops down, so if you accidentally travel to Balestier on a Sunday for Loong Fatt’s goodies and find it closed, you can still get your pastry fix less than 20 steps away.
BALESTIER - This shop is mere metres from Loong Fatt’s doorstep
This shop is mere metres from Loong Fatt’s doorstep. Photo credit: Ruth Loh Xiu
There’s also the traditional and longstanding Sweetlands Confectionery & Bakery at 10 Kim Keat Lane, which has turned out perfectly brown loaves of bread for more than half a century.
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4. Culture and history buffs

BALESTIER - Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall has beautifully maintained gardens
Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall has beautifully maintained gardens. Photo credit: Ruth Loh Xiu
Balestier has a famed heritage trail that includes the Shaw Malay Film Studios at 8 Jalan Ampas, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall at 12 Tai Gin Road, and a stunning selection of gorgeously designed shophouses at the junction of Balestier Road and Jalan Kemaman (these were developed in 1928 and restored in 2000). Shaw Malay Film Studios was known as Malay Film Productions Ltd and first opened in 1947. It produced many hits but closed down in 1967 after imported films and television shows displaced local Malay movies. Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was once the eponymous revolutionary’s Southeast Asian base as he made plans to overthrow the Qing Dynasty — which he succeeded at — and form the Republic of China. It was designated as a national monument in 1994 and given its current name in 1996.
BALESTIER -  Stunning shophouse facades line Balestier Road.
Stunning shophouse facades line Balestier Road. Photo credit: Ruth Loh Xiu
There are wonderfully constructed places of worship featuring beautiful architecture, including Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple at 249 Balestier Road, Maha Sasana Ramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple at 14 Tai Gin Road, Novena Church at 300 Thomson Road, and colonial pre-war terrace houses at Pegu Road and Martaban Road to stop by and admire. There’s a gloriously long read made available by the National Heritage Board for culture geeks to peruse over a cup of craft coffee.

5. Last-minute movie-goers (who want to catch blockbuster films on opening weekend)

BALESTIER - Shaw Plaza, at 360 Balestier Road, is home to Shaw Theatres Balestier
Shaw Plaza, at 360 Balestier Road, is home to Shaw Theatres Balestier. Photo credit: Ruth Loh Xiu
Shaw Theatres at Balestier Plaza is pretty comfortable with cool air-conditioning and cushy seats, but, puzzlingly enough, has a track record of being one of the last movie theatres in Singapore to fill up when there’s a blockbuster in town. It’s a curious phenomenon. Maybe it’s the ambience. Maybe there’s no MRT station next door. Whatever the case is, this is a good spot to try booking last-minute tickets at when the next Avengers rolls into our island.
Note: Shaw Theatres Balestier will close for renovations from Aug 15 and re-open in 2021, so there’s still time to catch a final movie if you’re looking for an uncrowded cinema!
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