Singapore’s last village proves nostalgic tourism hit in pandemic

Local tourists tour Kampong Lorong Buangkok, the last remaining village in Singapore

Hidden between the skyscrapers of Singapore’s urban jungle sits Kampong Lorong Buangkok – the only surviving traditional village in this modern city-state of 5.7 million people.

Made up of 26 single-story wooden houses, which were once ubiquitous across Singapore, the “kampong”, the Malay word for village, has seen a boom in local visitors after borders shut due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Most kampongs disappeared during Singapore’s rush to urbanise, but being stuck at home has left locals like 48-year old Jenn Lee, a day trader, craving for a bit of nostalgia to share with her son.

“I think it’s good that he does know that (there) is something like that here, it’s not just overseas like Malaysia, or Thailand, or the Philippines,” Lee said.

Singapore authorities have been trying to support local tourism through campaigns and have given citizens cash vouchers for staycations.

Tour operators argue there is plenty to discover in the country of only 724 square kilometres (280 square miles).

Kyanta Yap, a guide at Let’s Go Tour: Singapore, said their weekend visits to the kampong that cost S$200 ($147) for a group of up to three people, or S$250 for four-five, have been nearly fully booked since September.

“We try to reinvent ourselves, so most of the industry, we try to come out with domestic tourism packages,” said Yap.

Tourists get a chance to wander around the kampong, learn how to use a traditional coal-fired clothing iron and chat with residents about what they are growing in their gardens.

“Initially … we were very uncomfortable, because tourists would start to come and look at us,” said 52-year old resident Nassim, who now enjoys showing tourists around his yard.

The village also boasts some of the lowest rents in usually pricey Singapore. A landlord said some individual kampong rooms cost as little as S$6.50 per month.

Average rental for a three-room state-subsidised apartment in Hougang, where the kampong is located, was S$1,650 earlier this year. Renting a room costs from around S$500, websites show.

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