A Walk Through The Old Neighbourhood – Old Woodlands Town Centre

Situated just before the Woodlands Checkpoint, the Old Woodlands Town Centre is the last point in Singapore before one crosses over to Malaysia. A resting point for many, it is now a sleepy old neighbourhood, paling in comparison to its glory days during the seventies and eighties, when it was the regional town center of Woodlands.

In the early seventies, kampong in Woodlands were cleared as plans to develop the area as an industrial and residential estates were laid out. By 1972, Woodlands welcomed the completion of its first 1,300 housing units. The establishment of Woodlands Town Centre followed and became the focal point for the residents and workers.

During its heydays, the Old Woodlands Town Centre was bustling with activities both for locals and the visitors from Malaysia. Retail shops selling textiles and electronic goods were popular. The hawker centre, kopitiam and prata houses were filled with people, and more choices in food were offered with the arrivals of fast food restaurants such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and MacDonald’s.

One of the highlights of the Old Woodlands Town Centre was the intense competition among its money changers, who offered one of the best exchange rates between Singapore Dollar and Malaysia Ringgit.

With many low-rise brown mosaic-tiled buildings lined up with retail shops, the concept and design of the Old Woodlands Town Centre is similar to that of the Bukit Merah Town Centre and Bedok Town Centre. Like its cousin in the southern part of Singapore, the Old Woodlands Town Centre started to lose its shine and attraction after the mid-nineties.

The size of Woodlands expanded rapidly as hundreds of residential flats sprung up. In 1996, Woodlands MRT Station and its underground bus interchange opened at the Woodlands Regional Centre, which replaced the Old Woodlands Town Centre as the central hub of the new town. Three years later, the seven-storey shopping mall Causeway Point was completed.

The original Woodlands Bus Interchange, established in the early eighties to serve the residents in the northern part of Singapore, was thus replaced by the one at the Woodlands Regional Centre. The old one was converted a bus terminal, providing short intra-town services for travellers between Singapore and Malaysia. The services were soon discontinued and the space became a temporary parking and pick-up points for Malaysian buses ferrying the workers.

Today, the Old Woodlands Town Centre is considered part of the Marsiling Estate.

During the peak of his business empire in 1980, departmental chain giant Lim Tow Yong opened a branch of Oriental Emporium at the Old Woodlands Town Centre. It became a paradise for many, as thousands would flock here every weekends to enjoy shopping, dining or catching a blockbuster at the Woodlands Cinema.

The Shaw Brothers-owned Woodlands Cinema was a popular choice for the residents in the north from the late eighties to early 2000s. Shaw Organisation was the first to introduce the concept of cineplexes in Singapore, offering movie-goers different types of films under one roof. With the success of Prince and Jade at Shaw Towers in 1988, Shaw Organisation began to convert their neighbourhood cinemas into cineplexes. Republic, Oriental, Changi and Woodlands were part of the conversion plan.

Like the old town centre, the popularity of Woodlands Cinema declined in the late nineties and was later outshone by the newer and more dynamic Causeway Point’s Cathay Cineplex at the Woodlands Region Centre. It finally ceased its operation in the mid-2000s and has been left vacant since then.

Located at the end of the Old Woodlands Town Centre is an unique underpass that links to the Lookout Tower of the Woodlands Town Garden (opened since 1982). Underpasses are rarely found in new towns nowadays, due to construction costs, safety and drainage issues.

The design of this underpass differs greatly from a “conventional” one. It is three levels deep into the ground, and equipped with, beside a normal staircase, a large spiral pathway that provides excellent convenience to the cyclists. Today, however, it seems to be under-utilised.

Beside this unique underpass, there is another old underpass located at the nearby Admiralty Road.

Two blocks of high-rise flats stand opposite the Woodlands Town Garden. Resembling nothing like typical HDB flats or condominiums, they are actually the former housing quarters for the staffs of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), which had its base in Singapore between 1952 and 1997.

In 1998, the site was taken over by an asset development company and the blocks were available for lease to locals and expatriates. They became known as the Marsiling Apartments.

With little upgrading, the Old Woodlands Town Centre has largely retained its appearance for the past four decades. As a town center, it may have lost its appeal and in certain times, look like a deserted ghost town. But it still serves as an ideal resting point for travellers on both sides of the Causeway, or for anyone who yearns for a quiet meal in an increasingly crowded Singapore.

Published: 21 May 2012

Updated: 21 June 2012

This entry was posted in Nostalgic. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to A Walk Through The Old Neighbourhood – Old Woodlands Town Centre

  1. zen says:

    “Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), which had its base in Singapore between 1952 and 1966.”

    this statement is incorrect, RMN only moved back to Malaysia in 1997. (see http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1309&dat=19970810&id=pJxOAAAAIBAJ&sjid=HBUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3061,1080158)

  2. singapour says:

    wow.. i missed that big mcdonald outlet integrated playground & garden with pond.. simply beautiful :D

    • frugalistar says:

      I missed that place too! Basically this is the area where I grew up in..Sure did bring back all the memories..

    • frugalistar says:

      The best part of the Mcdonald playground had got to be the carpeted ‘slope/hill’!

      • othman says:

        I still remember my son fell from the “hill slope” My family was there on the opening day. Remember the centre portion was a open garden, wooden bridge and fish pond.

      • frugalistar says:

        I’m glad all that was part of my childhood!

  3. Anonymous says:

    On a similar note, AMK New Town/New Crown cinema was recently torn down. Just drove past it this afternoon. Wonder if Woodlands suffer the same fate eventually.

  4. yuene says:

    I remember all of those places–although I lived in Woodlands (or to be more precise, Marsiling) for only 4 years (3 of which where I was too young to remember much), I attended one of the churches in that area for over 20 years, so I got to see the changes happening over a long period of time. I’m kind of surprised that you didn’t mention the old bus terminus at Marsiling Road though, it was a secondary hub for the area, and for a long time after it closed, the HDB shophouses around the area suffered as traffic dropped drastically.

  5. There used to be a departmental store converted from a basement carpark north of the current carpark at woodlands TC.
    It too had colorful drawings on walls of the sloped entrance where customers walk in. (used to be in/out for cars)
    The aircon was quite stuffy though… personal experience during mid-late 90s.

  6. ok, now they want to redevelop the area:
    Block 1A to Block 6A at Woodlands Centre Road – had been selected for the selective en bloc redevelopment scheme. (http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_814808.html)

  7. Catherine says:

    Do you remember having to pay a non- returnable deposit when applying for a Singtel home telephone line?

  8. Fangface says:

    I’ve stayed in Woodlands since the late 70′s, grew up there too. Before the old macdonalds, there stood another cinema called ‘Straits cinema’ if im not wrong. It was a white coloured building , but was in operation for only a couple of years, then left abandoned.
    There was also another KFC outlet, located right up above the Oriental Enporium. To get there you need to take the long staircase, located opposite the old macdonalds up. They were using creamic plates back then!
    For those who remember the mid eighties, several shophouses in the area were set ablaze by arsonist, killing a few people.

    • Mikey says:

      Yes there was a fire.
      During the late 80s to early 90s… those shopowners of the Bus Interchange were extremely arrogant.
      The figures they made were shocking (even in today terms even without inflation adjustment) so u can imagine how rock & roll the crowd was (Locals + Malaysian)

  9. Total says:

    The unconventional underpass mentioned actually link to the Woodlands Town garden which has a lake. There was a floating restaurant made of wooden structure resembling traditional kampong house, but was demolished. If “Remember Singapore” has got the picture of it, kindly have it published.

  10. Alicia says:

    I miss the old macdonalds where they have a super spacious indoor playground! My favourite hangout place when i was still a kiddo! These days, the playground are no long so fun like we used to have.. :) The cinema tickets are handwritten and the seating paper are also marked with a crayon! Full of fond memories! I miss woodlands old town centre! Thanks for putting this post up!!!!

  11. Clouds says:

    As a singaporean, my opinion towards this developments is that I’m really disappointed. Rebuilding it to ANOTHER HDB flat. Haven’t we had enough HDB flats? I’m utterly disappointed with the movement of the government. They could had try to IMPROVE on the situation and not DESTROY the situation.
    I no longer feel rooted to SG like I used to, reading the newspaper published on 7June2013 just make me feel even more drifted from SG. And the government said they want SGreans to be more ROOTED. How to? Teach me. I feel like I’m in a foreign country! No wonder SGreans wants to migrate..

  12. CC says:

    As a Malaysian student who travel to and fro Singapore to school everyday, there were many memories of the old Woodlands town center. I used to buy cloth there too for mum to make new CNY clothes or for home economics classes, as well as fruits for home every now and then. Although not often, I get to enjoy some food at the hawker center there once in a while with friends. It was always very tempting to stop at KFC to have a bite with the aluring aroma, and I often drool over the ice cream sundea pictures over McDonald’s… but I hardly had the pocket money to spend nor was there time while rushing home before the peak hour traffic starts. Many a times amongst the morning peak hour traffic jam, and travellers rushing to work and school at the bus interchange, the bright lights from the coffee shops and people taking away packets of breakfast before work were usual scenes. In the afternoons and evenings, getting through the TC to the departure side of the old Woodlands immigration & customs was a must every school day, and the TC often offers shelter from the afternoon/evening rain… In my memories of those days, the TC was full of life.

  13. Tree Planting Day at the Woodlands Town Garden 1982







    (Photo credit: Ministry of Information and The Arts)

  14. Benny Chong says:

    wow. i miss the mac with the huge playground. usually will buy one hamburger and get plain water.
    After playing, will get another one.

    i only went to the woodlands garden for a few times though. i remember there is a playground near the fish shop. dunno if it’s still there. used to buy fishes from there.

    and the shaw cinema. Was it $3.5 per show? Used to share one seat with with friend to save cost. And then find empty seat when shows starts..

    i cant remember what else is there besides shaw cinema and mac. any idea?

  15. Carrie says:

    I remember the huge slope in macdonald’s too, kids used to hold birthday parties there! :) we would sit on the macdonald’s paper and slide down~

    There was a KFC, huge Emporium selling little trinkets and a big hawker centre. It was so lively and bustling!

    Woodlands Town Garden and the underpass are completely deserted now, they stink of urine when I last visited in 2007.

    Thanks for this post, brings back amazing childhood memories! :)

    • Michael says:

      WOw Carrie, nostalgic feeling at 4am?
      i past by the garden at abt 9pm on sat nite. very dark. dun think it safe at that hours.
      too little lampost

      • Nana says:

        Unfortunately that underpass was used by drug addicts. They will just sit down there and zone out. But the one nearer to the mosque still quite safe tho it has limited lights.

    • SY says:

      I remember the little “hill” in macdonald’s too. Used to roll down whenever I get a chance to play there. hehehe…

  16. Nana says:

    There used to be a huuugeee Popular bookshop on the second level, right?

    • Michael says:

      It’s Big Bookshop. Not popular…. Or is it popular left n let Big Bookshop took over?

    • HafizJoe says:

      It was Big Bookshop! 2nd floor at the buidling that Sheng Shiong occupies presently. Ah memories of buying stationaries and presents for friends there. I learnt wrapping presents there lol.

  17. Nelson Yeo says:

    There used to be a AnW. Missed them!

  18. SY says:

    Watched Titanic in the woodlands cinema with my family with my baby sister in my mother’s arms. My first ever movie in the cinema. My late grandma stayed very close to the old woodlands custom. Everything seems so nostalgic, especially the old bus interchange. My childhood…

  19. qy says:

    Any idea if the centre is still open? What about the KFC there?

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