Wild Dogs and Pythons, A Bukit Brown Cemetery Adventure

Singapore is my second home in South-East Asia. I love to come back to this city over and over again because my sister lives here and it’s a fun place to be. As I come so often to this city, it is no surprise that I manage to have some friends and it’s always great to catch up with them while I’m in town.

One particular friend who is a student in Singapore, asked me to trade our dinner meet up for something more interesting: a cemetery visit. Being a cemetery enthusiast that I am, I smiled and agreed to her plan. The cemetery she wanted to visit is called Bukit Brown cemetery. It is an old Chinese cemetery in Singapore where many well-known Singaporeans were buried, including successful businessman Ong Sam Leong (1857-1918) whose grave is the largest at this cemetery. The first grave dated back to 1833 and it is the largest Chinese cemetery there is in Singapore, and possibly outside of China. However, for many years the cemetery has faced many issues, including exhumation as to provide new roads.

Today, the cemetery is facing a big problem. Many parts of the cemetery in the past has disappeared due to road work and now more are about to be evicted due to the expansion of Singapore’s MRT and the building of a new highway. Many organizations have tried to save this heritage cemetery and regular tours are held for the public to visit and learn about this cemetery. Sadly, during the day I visited there were no tours scheduled so we decided to go on an adventure by ourselves to see this cemetery, before it was too late.

Just as I expected, we got totally lost. We took a bus and stopped at one station by the highway. As we walked towards a smaller street, we realized we were going the wrong way, so we decided to ask someone. The person told us that the Bukit Brown cemetery was far and that we had to take another bus several stops from where we were standing. He also told us that the cemetery is huge (even in that street we could see some graveyards).

So we took several stops and found ourselves at the Macritchie reservoir. An uncle told us that the cemetery was actually just across the street. He was right. We could see graveyards and overgrown bushes, in front of it was a notice sign for exhumation. There were white pegs placed next to the tombstones, these were the ones marked to be exhumed. We also found out in the map that the entrance of the cemetery was quite far away. We decided not to enter from this side since there weren’t really any pathway anyway.

After walking for 30 minutes, passing 4 bus stops, we finally found the road we were looking for and actually found ourselves on the other side of the highway from our initial stop (sigh!). My friend told me to follow the road and informed me that we shouldn’t enter the entrance gate as there was exhumation in process and instead find a forest-like path way. I saw that the work to build this new highway was already underway, fences were built to cover the graveyards and we could only see a glimpse of it.

As we found the forest-like path way, we thought we have finally found our treasure. We were so happy that it took us a while to realize just how serene, as in a creepy serene way, the path was. Trees were surrounding us in both sides and we could feel ants biting our feet. We kept on going further in and finally found some graveyards. There were some very simple ones with just Chinese inscription on it, and some was more lavish and big with paintings and old incense. We were getting excited and couldn’t believe what we have found. A moment later a car passed by, somehow I was relieved that this place was not so dead after all (hah! I know the irony!). We confidently walked further into the forest and was happy to see some people gathering in front of us. I noticed that none of these graveyards had white pegs on them, I assumed these ones were not getting exhumed, or not yet anyway.

I was clicking away with my camera when I heard barking from inside the forest. I could see a dog from afar but wasn’t really bothered by it. A split second was all it took, and all of the sudden 6 wild dogs came out of the forest, barking aggressively and chasing after us. Knowing the nature of dogs, we stood still. I was gripping my friend’s hands so tight and was shaking. After some seconds, they decided to let us go and they went back to the forest, still barking while we could finally let out a relieved sigh.

We approached the people in front of us, who looked as bewildered as we were on what just happened, and started talking to them. Initially we wanted to spend more time in the forest, exploring and seeing more graves, but one of the uncles told us it was a dead end and that we have to be careful as there are pythons inside the forest and very dangerous! I was shocked, never in my life would I imagine the words wild dogs, pythons and dangerous to be spoken about in Singapore!

It is always good to listen to the locals. We nodded and agreed to stay away from the forest. However our surrounding was amazing: old chinese graveyards, one with newly burnt incense, filling the air with its intense smell. Most of the graves had similar architecture, half circular with a centre tomb. There was a magical vibe which instantly replaced the cold chilling atmosphere as I turned to the other side of the graveyard where I could see pretty pink flowers hanging by one of its huge trees covering some of the graves. It was a very pretty view.

Believe it or not the dogs were still barking, though now they sounded pretty far from us. We decided to ask one of the uncles if they could take us back to the main road. One uncle said he couldn’t as he was working on his broken down car (what a place for a car to break down!), so we turned to another uncle who looked as if he was already on his way out. He agreed.

Talk to strangers while you’re on the road and never be afraid to approach them! Inside the car, there were 2 aunts who asked why we were at the cemetery. They told us it was very dangerous to be coming here by ourselves and she told us to bring some guys next time! As a feminist, I couldn’t even get angry by their comment as they were so sincerely concern about us and just wanted us to be safe.

Back to the main road, I did not regret my time exploring the road less travelled of Bukit Brown cemetery. There was a certain sadness hanging over me knowing that this cemetery might not exist in the next 20 years. I hope that they can still maintain some parts of the cemetery, just to keep the heritage alive. I have to admit it was one of the most scariest cemetery travel I have ever experienced, but no regrets, I got to see the most amazing Chinese graveyard at a cemetery filled with history and struggle.

If you are a cemetery enthusiast, I recommend this place and I do recommend the tour instead of getting lost like us. I hope you get to see the beauty of this place before it disappears altogether.

How DEW travelled there

Take the 52 bus and alight at the bus stop opposite SICC then walk towards Sime Road. To get to where I was is a little bit complicated, please do contact me if you need detailed directions!

29 Comment

  1. it looks pretty similar to Chinese graveyard in Indonesia ya. Unfortunately this place is not well maintained. I wonder if the younger generations began to forget their ancestral graves

    1. Iyap Deb. The cemetery is huge and it is true that it’s not well maintained, many of the graveyards are hundreds of years old and I really hope that it doesn’t just disappear, I think it’s part of Singapore’s heritage too.

    2. Shirley Nicholl says: Reply

      Thought you might be interested in my visit to this cemetery. After a visit to Bukit Brown I thought like you that maybe there was a lack of care. Further research revealed that each Spring there is a ritual called Qing Ming when families visit to clear the grave site and re-paint the inscriptions. Unfortunately the tropic climate for the rest of the year means it looks uncared for until the family visit again.

  2. It’s a very interesting story hidden behind this place. Weren’t you scared at all when visiting this cemetery?

    1. Was a little scared but I wasn’t alone. Just really wanted to see this cemetery before it goes away. Really interesting!

    2. Shirley Nicholl says: Reply

      I visited on my own and would suggest that you look for the Bukit Brown volunteer guided tours as I encountered a pack of wild dogs and it was quite scary. I just kept them in my sight and slowly backed up and left the area. I really did not feel they would let me pass.
      Despite the dog experience it was a very interesting place but I will hope there is a our available on my next visit!

      1. Hi Shirley! It’s interesting to read your similar experience at Bukit Brown. And thanks for the explanation for the cemetery being uncared – I guess it is expected since it’s a very old and big cemetery. I did look up for a guided tour but unfortunately it wasn’t scheduled for when I was there. Would love to repeat the experience with a guide and get full knowledge of the place though!

  3. Aggy, Loved this story. I love how you call the men “uncles” and the women “aunts.” I would have loved to go to this cemetary when I was there in January, but I didn’t know about it at all. Lovely photos!

    1. Thanks so much Corinne! In Singapore they are always calling the men “uncles” and women “aunties”, I got used to it after a while 🙂
      I also only heard of this place after my 8th visit! It’s a great heritage place, too bad most will be exhumed soon 🙁

  4. Lovely photos and great story! I was going to ask what’s up with the uncles/aunts, but I see you’ve explained it, I find it pretty nice 😀 Gah, the dogs. I know I’m not supposed to run, but every time I see one barking and coming towards me, it’s like my feet have a mind of their own and want to get out of there asap. You must have had no problem in Bucharest with them 🙂

    1. Thanks Vlad! Yep, it’s common in Singapore to call a man “uncle” and woman “auntie”. Yea having 5 dogs at home helps! I was pretty calm and collected in Bucharest hahaha

  5. Wow! I’ve been to Singapore so many times, but I never knew about this cemetery. Fascinating stuff, Aggy. Glad you escaped those dogs and didn’t come across any pythons. Love the photos 😉

    1. Thanks Kavitha! Truly is an amazing finding isn’t it, but I have to be honest it was one of the most scary thing that I had done to see a cemetery!

  6. Looks like a great cemetery to visit. I will definitely check to see if there are any tours happening when I visit Singapore next year.

    1. Hey Katie! I hope you do get to see Bukit Brown cemetery next year, hopefully some parts will still be there. Let me know if you’ve managed to see this place 🙂

  7. Wow! This is such an unusual and beautiful place 🙂 I’ve always been oddly fascinated with cemeteries so I’d totally visit during my next trip to Singapore!

    1. Always happy to hear when other people are fascinated in cemeteries, so manya stories there! I hope this cemetery doesn’t disappear altogether!

  8. Glad you had no regrets visiting Bukit Brown. We are group of volunteers who run public guided walks on weekends. Check out the weekly schedule of walks on bukitbrown.com or join this FB group where walks are generated as event pages. “We guide rain, shine or exhumations”

    1. Hi guys! So happy that you’ve come to my blog and read about this post, I would love to come back to Bukit Brown with you! I will definitely be checking if there are any tours available when I come next to Singapore 🙂

    2. oops sorry forgot to put the link for the FB group of Bukit Brown enthusiasts https://www.facebook.com/groups/bukitbrown/

  9. I love cemeteries and I find them peaceful with tons of history. I love how you decided to go with another one despite taboos.

    1. This cemetery is so interesting I couldn’t resist! Indeed, they are a great place with so much peace and stories to tell in each tomb.

  10. Oh my God Aggy, If I was there, maybe I can barely moved my feet. I’m afraid to dog, did I just read 6 wild DOGS? =,=.

    1. Yep 6 dogs – or maybe more! – yeap it was quite scary, even for me who own 5 dogs. But certainly was an interesting adventure!

  11. I like to visit cemeteries, too. I admire your bravery in going on your own, but I would definitely take the tour of Bukit Brown after reading about your adventure, especially about the wild dogs! It’s a shame that graves are being moved for roads and other reasons. I wish there were other ways to make progress without upsetting those who are resting in peace.

    1. Singapore’s land is very small and this graveyard is very large, there are many debates on the removal of this cemetery and I do understand both sides. However, it is upsetting that they are removing parts of this cemetery and wish they don’t have to do so. Still, I hope they keep at least a part of the place.

  12. This reminds me of the Chinese cemetery I saw in Melaka in Malaysia, it’s so similar, I guess they must all follow the same style 🙂

    1. Oh where in Melaka? I saw a Dutch cemetery in Melaka though. Yep, chinese cemeteries have the same style, the same in Indonesia too 🙂

  13. […] a few times. Not to shop or cafe-hop but to explore interesting parts of the city like its ancient Bukit Brown Cemetery with my friend Sohini and her sister. Then with another friend Pamela, we went biking and trekking at Pulau Ubin. We also did a weekend […]

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