'Ulu' place now a leisure haven

'Ulu' place now a leisure haven

Horse riding, "farm stays" inside wagon-like chalets, beautifully landscaped parks set amid lush foliage and a silver ribbon of a river.

It sounds like a portrait of a northern holiday spot or even a scene out of a childhood Enid Blyton book, but the description is of Punggol, which has shaken off a past steeped in pigs and poultry to become one cool town.

Housewife Jubell Thong, 39, a Punggol resident of 12 years, loves to take her two children, aged four and six, on her pedalling adventures along the meandering trail in Punggol Waterway Park.

"I really like this area, it's family-friendly and gives us an option to stay outdoors," Madam Thong told The Straits Times as she stopped for a breather during a solo excursion to the park on Wednesday morning.

Just six or seven years ago, many residents complained that Punggol was like the Sembawang of the north-east: "ulu" (remote), unglamorous and quiet with few residents. These days, Punggol is shaping up to be a leisure destination and has seen its population double from about 42,000 in 2007 to at least 83,300 living in flats as of last year.

Not bad for a former farming area also known for fishing and fruit trees - Punggol was, after all, most likely named after a Malay word that means "hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to bring them down to the ground".

Its transformation had quickened after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the "Punggol 21-plus" masterplan to make it one of the first waterfront public housing projects in his 2007 National Day Rally speech.

Punggol would have features such as facilities for water sports, gardens and parks with jogging tracks, and eateries for al fresco dining, Mr Lee had said.

Many leisure amenities capitalising on Punggol's natural charms have since sprung up.

The cycling trail that Madam Thong loves, for example, is part of the Punggol Waterway Park - a green lung in north-east Singapore. Running through it is the 4.2km Punggol Waterway, which links rivers Sungei Serangoon and Sungei Punggol.

"The park is relaxing and you can enjoy nice views," said sales representative and Punggol resident Andrew Ng, 47.

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