Bukit Chandu

   - darkometer rating: 4 -
Reflections at Bukit Chandu, to give it its full official name, is an 'interpretive centre' in Singapore about WWII, more specifically the British Malay Regiment that defended this site on the Pasir Panjang Ridge against the invading Japanese troops in the Battle of Singapore.    
More background info: in general see under Singapore.
In Malay “Bukit” means 'hill' and “Chandu” means 'opium', so it's 'opium hill'. Apparently the name does indeed derive from a former opium processing/packing facility located at the foot of the hill.
The British forces did not only include Brits and ANZAC soldiers (i.e. Australians and New Zealanders), but also Indians and Malays. This memorial site acknowledges the contribution of Malay troops to the British defence effort when Singapore came under attack by Japan.
The fighting at Bukit Chandu was part of one of the final, decisive phases in the fall of Singapore: the Battle of Pasir Panjang on 13/14 February 1942.
Bukit Chandu was in an important location on the top of the range with views over to the city in the east and to the Alexandra district to the north, where many British military installations such as ammunition depots were located.
As Bukit Chandu came under attack from a 13,000-strong elite Japanese force, the Malay commander of the defenders of the 1400-men “C” group of the Malay Regiment stationed here, Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, apparently distinguished himself, firstly by seeing through a Japanese deception attempt (when they advanced disguised as British Punjabi soldiers), and secondly by his resolve to defend the hill “to the last man”.
Short of sufficient supplies and ammunition, the defenders ultimately didn't stand much of a chance. Eventually it came to desperate hand-to-hand fighting with heavy losses on both sides, but in the end the attackers prevailed. Adnan Saidi himself was brutally killed by the Japanese. But he was given much posthumous praise by General Percival for his last stand “heroism”.
Yet, all it achieved was but a short delay in the Japanese advance. Only a day after this battle, Percival surrendered and the years of the Japanese occupation of Singapore began.
Today's memorial and interpretive centre, called “Reflections at Bukit Chandu”, was established in 2002 inside a restored colonial bungalow at the original battle site.
What there is to see: The pretty bungalow that the memorial museum is housed in is worth a look from the outside first, including a battle mural on the front wall facing the pond, and a few pieces of military hardware, as well as a bronze sculpture group of a Malay mortar team.
Inside is a very audiovisual-heavy exhibition with several videos and sound-and-light-show installations dramatically illustrating various parts of the Battle of Singapore, and especially the Battle of Pasir Panjang. Owing to the noise levels and flashing lights the Bukit Chandu battle theatre is officially not recommended for children, pregnant women and visitors with heart problems. Yet it is all a little bit cheesy, really, and not as scary as it may sound.
In addition to all the audiovisuals there are also static dioramas and displays of various artefacts as well as photos and documents and a gallery of paintings produced by survivors/eyewitnesses.
One interactive element upstairs is the “Well of Reflections” where four screens are arranged around a well-like hole in the floor with a view downstairs. You can listen to stories on telephone headsets installed next to the screens.
There's a mock-up of a prison cell as well, complete with a starved-looking dummy inmate, as well as various weapons like rifles, machine guns and bayonets.
The coverage of the exhibition goes beyond just the Battle of Pasir Panjang and also includes the build-up to the war, the initial landings of the Japanese on the Malaysian peninsula and the period of occupation.
All texts and labels are in English, and partly come with translations into Malay/Chinese as well. Gallery 1 comes with an audio guide as well, and you can buy the script for 0.50 S$ too. The latter is available at a counter that also sells various souvenirs ranging from T-shirts and postcards to fridge magnets and model hand grenades.
Note that it can get very busy when large tour groups turn up. This happened during my visit and I therefore altered the sequence of galleries, doing Gallery 1 at the end rather than the beginning, namely after the throngs had cleared there.
Location: atop the hill of the same name, close to the end of Pepys Road, a cul-de-sac that winds all the way up from sea level and the coastal highway to the crest of the ridge, to the west of the centre of Singapore. The address is 31-K Pepys Rd S.
Google maps locator: [1.2796, 103.7942]
Access and costs: a bit off Singapore's public transport grid, but easy to get to by taxi or, less easy, on foot; free
Details: The nearest public transport would be the buses that stop at the bottom of Pepys Road (e.g. line 10 from Downtown). From there you'd have to walk up, and it's a steep, winding road with no proper pavement/sidewalk. I decided to take a taxi – coming from Labrador Park it was a quick and cheap ride. From the city centre it would obviously cost more. If you happen to be driving here yourself, then you'll find free parking at the museum.
A scenic alternative is to do it all on foot, especially along the Southern Ridges system of paths, bridges and elevated walkways that runs all the way west from Mount Faber (with cable car access to the HarbourFront Centre and MRT) towards Kent Ridge Park; Bukit Chandu is on the hillside shortly after HortPark.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closed Mondays except when it is a public holiday.
Since December 2016 admission has been free (it used to cost S$2)
There's an audio guide available in English (as well as Malay, Chinese and Japanese).
Time required: about one hour to an hour and a half in total. The various videos and sound-and-light installations have an accumulative running time of about half an hour alone.
Combinations with other dark destinations: nothing in the immediate vicinity – but see under Singapore.
I went to Bukit Chandu following a visit to the Labrador Nature Reserve, where several remnants of an old coastal battery can be found that played a role in the Battle of Singapore in WWII. From Labrador or its MRT station best take a taxi – or face a sweaty walk along a steep and winding road up the hill with no pavement for pedestrians.  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Bukit Chandu is connected to one of the best ways of experiencing the green side of Singapore, namely along the “Southern Ridges” string of forest paths, bridges and canopy walkways which leads eastwards all the way to Mount Faber that's overlooking the HarbourFront. From here you can either take a path downhill to the waterfront and the city, or take a cable car across the water to Sentosa Island with its many leisure and entertainment facilities.
See also see under Singapore in general.
  • Bukit Chandu 1 - buildingBukit Chandu 1 - building
  • Bukit Chandu 2 - sculptures outsideBukit Chandu 2 - sculptures outside
  • Bukit Chandu 3 - insideBukit Chandu 3 - inside
  • Bukit Chandu 4 - overviewBukit Chandu 4 - overview
  • Bukit Chandu 5 - light-and-sound battle showBukit Chandu 5 - light-and-sound battle show
  • Bukit Chandu 6 - visitors sit on fake ammunition boxesBukit Chandu 6 - visitors sit on fake ammunition boxes
  • Bukit Chandu 7 - cellBukit Chandu 7 - cell
  • Bukit Chandu 8 - insightsBukit Chandu 8 - insights
  • Bukit Chandu 9 - minature surrender tableBukit Chandu 9 - minature surrender table



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