Kampong Lorong Buangkok is Singapore’s last surviving village with an existence dates back to the late 1950s. Sng Teow Koon, a traditional Chinese medicine seller, purchased the land in 1956. Originally a swamp, the land was rented out to Malay and Chinese families to build their houses. Kampong is the Malay word for village.
Made up of 26 single-story wooden houses, which were once ubiquitous across Singapore, Lorong Buangkok has seen a boom in local visitors after borders shut due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 30 wooden houses with tin roofs are spread around a surau (small mosque).
According to Reuters, 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). 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.
Until the early 1970s, kampongs like Lorong Buangkok were ubiquitous across Singapore, with researchers from the National University of Singapore estimating there were as many as 220 scattered across the eponymous island, BBC reports. Lorong Buangkok is the last of its kind on the mainland. The 1980s was a period of urbanization in Singapore. The country went from an agricultural to industrial economy. Houses were replaced with high-rise flats and sprawling skyscrapers.
Several traditional villages were torn down to create living spaces to accommodate the demographic explosion the country experienced. Over time, the rural kampongs became almost extinct. Some village residents opted for a life with flushing toilets and running water; they relocated into apartments built by the government. An estimated 80% of Singaporeans in apartment complexes, many of whom continue long for the “kampong spirit”, a term used to depict the culture of trust and generosity that existed in those rural locations.
One reason Lorong Buangkok has managed to continue existing, the BBC reports, is because the surrounding area isn’t as desirable for commercial, industrial and residential development as elsewhere in Singapore. Once surrounded by a forest clearing and farms, it is now flanked by an enclave of private gated housing and a cluster of flats that overlooks the low-rise settlement.
According to Singapore’s National Library Board, the 12,248-square-meter plot of land, approximately the size of three football fields, belongs to Sng’s children. The land was inherited by his two sons and two daughters after his death in 1997. His youngest daughter, Sng Mui Hong, is the current landlord and the only child among the Sng siblings living in the kampong. Her siblings have moved to public housing estates.
In 2007, the media reported that the land was valued at S$33 million. However, Miss Sng has maintained that she would not sell the land, and said that the residents were like family to her. In keeping with her father’s wishes, Miss Sng has kept the rent low, which ranges between S$6.50 and S$30 a month. For tenants who are short on money, she accepts fruits and rice as payment in kind.