Thursday, December 25, 2014

An Experiment: SMRT Bus Road Trip

I've always used public transport to get from one place to another and despite disruptions that happen from time to time, I find Singapore's public transport system successfully gets the job done for most of us. The public transport system (Bus and MRT) are mainly operated by two operators, SBS Transit (established in 1973 as the Singapore Bus Service) and SMRT (established in 1982 as Trans Island Bus Service or TIBS). As SBS Transit bus services are commonly seen in Singapore compared to SMRT bus services like in my estate, I wanted to challenge myself by travelling around the Singapore city using just SMRT buses and I call it the SMRT Bus Road Trip. Why? Because it's something that I've always wanted to do. Here's my experience of this so-called 'experiment'.

*The author of this post is in no way affiliated with SMRT Corporation

Rules and Regulations for the SMRT Bus Road Trip

Before I get started, I have set up some simple rules to begin the experiment. First of all, which is quite obvious, I'm only allowed to ride on SMRT buses not SBS Transit buses. That also means no riding on the MRT and taxi even if they're operated by SMRT as well. Thankfully, Serangoon MRT Station is just a 10 min walk from where I live and there is an SMRT bus service from the MRT Station to the city. So I'll start off with that.

Another thing is that, I have to make sure that I have at least $10 in my EZ-Link card because you may never when is the next time you have to top up your card. One last thing is that I must make sure that I spend up to 45 minutes at each destination so that I can get a Transfer Rebate when transferring to another bus service because otherwise, I may spend a longer time outside and that I may get charged. Also, 45 minutes is plenty of time to explore most of the places I'm going to visit because I've visited most of the places featured in this article before. With all that, it's time to officially start the SMRT Bus Road Trip.

First Trip: Serangoon MRT Station to Lorong 1 Geylang on Service 853

(Onboard bus service 853)

First of all, I wanted to go to the National Library. Usually, I ride on one straight bus service to the place from my house but the bus service is operated by SBS Transit. Since I'm not allowed to ride on a SBS Transit bus service, I had to walk to Serangoon MRT Station to ride on SMRT bus service 853 to Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal.

First Destination: Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal

As I have no direct bus from Serangoon MRT Station to the National Library as 853 doesn't pass by the National Library, I had to stop at Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal, which also happens to be Service 853's terminus. Upon reaching the terminal, I waited for another SMRT bus service to transfer so that I can head to the National Library. Although the bus terminal was pretty ordinary-looking, here are some interesting facts that I would like you to know.

Back then, orange Japanese buses called the City Shuttle Service (CSS) were bus services that travelled from Singapore's estates to the Central Business District at an affordable price compared to getting there by car in which you had to pay additional fees. It was operated by the local trade union called NTUC and after a while in service, the services were under the Singapore Shuttle Bus (absorbed by SMRT in the 1990s). The service were introduced because of Park & Ride (a scheme where car drivers parked their cars at designated car parks and hopped on to the CSS bus services).

(Former CSS Office turned SMRT Taxis Driver Recruitment Centre. Demolished as of now)

The bus terminal used to be the holding area and office for these buses and a few years after the end of CSS bus services in 2007, the CSS office was demolished to make way for road widening works at Sims Avenue. Now, the bus terminal is mainly for SMRT and SBS Transit buses to park and for passengers to transfer to various bus services available from the terminal.

Second Trip: Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal to Middle Road on Service 980

 (Onboard bus service 985)

After waiting for sometime, I hopped on to bus service 985 to head to the National Library. To get there, I had to alight at a bus stop along a road called Middle Road. The journey time from my house to Serangoon MRT Station to the bus terminal to Middle Road took one and a half times longer than the usual straight bus I'm normally used to. But it's okay because it was quite an interesting experience as I've always wanted to check out the places where the two bus services pass by. After a short 10 minute bus trip, I've finally arrived at the National Library.

Second Destination:  National Library

Once I was there, I took a tour around the National Library and as I'm quite a regular visitor of the National Library, I've always enjoyed heading to the basement public library and the upper levels of the library which contain the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library named after a famous philanthropist. The new National Library is bigger and taller than the old one at Stamford Road and has a wide variety of interesting books that can be borrowed and reference materials.

At the Reference Library, you can view archives of past Straits Times newspapers using a technology called the 'Microfilm' and check out temporary exhibitions right at each level of the Reference Libraries just right outside the main entrances. At Level 1, there's even a Halal cafe that serves Western and Asian fare at affordable prices and sometimes, exhibitions and events take place at the Plaza near the cafe. Want to find out more? There's an article about that National Library that I wrote in late 2012 here.

Third Trip: National Library to Millenia Walk on Service 960

(Onboard bus service 960)

Usually, I would hop on bus service 133 from the National Library to Suntec City but as it was an SBS Transit service, it break the rules of the experiment. Luckily, there was bus service 960 at the same bus stop that has a similar route to Suntec City. However, I realised that the bus service passes by Suntec City but did not turn left to Temasek Boulevard and stopped at the bus stop outside Suntec Convention Centre. Instead, it went straight to the Pan Pacific Hotel/Millenia Walk bus stop which was also the terminus for the bus service. Although I did not enter Suntec City, it was close enough.

Third Destination: Millenia Walk (originally Suntec City)

The Marina Centre downtown area is a great alternative to the Orchard Road shopping belt. Plus, there aren't as much people as compared to Orchard. There are three inter-connected malls, Suntec City, Millenia Walk and Marina Square so you won't have trouble going from one mall to another. An additional bonus is that the three malls are connected to two MRT stations, Promenade and Esplanade on the Circle Line.

However, it's not recommended to go here during massive diversions especially during National Day or the F1 season because taking the bus and the MRT during those times are a nightmare. Otherwise, it's a great place to check out with your friends and family. There was an article which I wrote about the Marina Centre area right over here. (some things have changed since I last wrote that article).

Fourth Trip: Millenia Walk to Marina Bay Sands on Service 106

(Onboard bus service 106)

After walking around the semi-quiet Millenia Walk shopping mall, I went on my fourth SMRT bus trip. This time round, I headed to the Shenton Way Bus Terminal. Unfortunately, the wait time for service 106 was actually quite long so I had to endure waiting and at the same time, watched other (SBS Transit) services passed by heading to the destination that I was heading to. It was seriously tempting to just hop onto an SBS Transit bus service but I have to be patient so as to not break the rules of the experiment.

BONUS: The view from the Benjamin Sheares Bridge

As the Benjamin Sheares Bridge was near the bus stop where I waited for SMRT service 106, I stumbled upon a staircase near the open field which led me to the Benjamin Sheares Bridge. Don't worry though, it's not hazardous or anything, it is meant for people to walk. I got this awesome shot of the junction of Temasek Boulevard and Temasek Avenue and a bird's eye view of Promenade MRT Station. Cool view, isn't it? If you walk further, you'll be walking right beside the cars that pass by and you'll eventually reach Marina Bay Sands and Gardens By The Bay.

Fourth Destination: Shenton Way Bus Terminal

Although Shenton Way looks like an ordinary terminal, it used to be called Prince Edward Bus Terminal due to its location at Prince Edward Road beside the former Singapore Polytechnic building (now known as Bestway Building). It was shifted to its current location in the early 2000s and now, it's used as a place for passengers, especially office workers during the rush hour, to transfer to the many bus services available. Some services don't terminate here at certain times due to low ridership after peak hours.

(Building facing Shenton Way Bus Terminal)

Although it's a relatively quiet place, there are two interesting and historical places of worship located outside the bus terminal. One is a temple known as Hock Teck See Temple and another is a mosque on top of a hill called the Haji Muhammad Salleh Mosque. There are articles on the web that talk about those interesting places of worship which you can check them out by clicking here for the temple and here for the mosque which give pretty interesting historical insights of the places of worship mentioned.

Fifth Trip: Shenton Way Bus Terminal to Great World City on Service 970

My next destination was Great World City, a shopping mall located near the Tiong Bahru area. The shopping mall, although it was big, was difficult to get there because it was not located near an MRT station (the nearest being Tiong Bahru but was still quite a distance). There were plenty of bus services though from the Tiong Bahru MRT Station and from the Orchard area so you may need some planning in order to get there. The distance from Shenton Way to Great World City also took quite a while so it's a great opportunity for me to take a short break in a comfortable bus ride.

Fifth Destination: Great World City

Once I have reached, Great World City, it was time for me to check out the great offerings and shops that were available in the shopping mall. I entered a shop called Kedai KueKue which sells 'Kueh' which are desserts and cookies savoured by people in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The place a wide selection of cookies and it's a great place to go to if you're sick of the same Western chocolate chip cookies. Great World City was quite big and there's even a cinema and despite the location, it was still a fairly popular mall especially among the private housing residents living nearby.

(Selection of cookies found at KedaiKueKue at Great World City)

There used to be an amusement park called Great World Amusement Park in the 1920s which was where the name Great World City came form. It was one of three "World" amusement parks with the other two being New World and Gay World Amusement Parks. All three were unfortunately shutdown thereafter in the 60s and now, Great World has been reincarnated to a fairly popular shopping mall. You should read more about it through this Infopedia article. It's a great read about the history of Great World and the other "World" amusement parks.

Sixth Trip: Great World City to Singapore Botanic Gardens on Service 75

(Onboard bus service 75 while sitting on a foldable seat at the wheelchair bay)

For my next trip, I headed to the Singapore Botanic Gardens using bus service 75. Although it was slightly crowded coming from the Central Business District and the Orchard area right after rush hour, I managed to get a seat (the foldable seat at the wheelchair bay). As it was getting dark and didn't really know where to alight, I had to seek help from my smartphone's maps application to get to SBG.

After reassuring myself, I finally alighted after a short trip from Great World City with full confidence. While walking to SBG, I asked myself why the walk from the bus stop was a long one and I realised I had alighted one bus stop earlier than expected. There was another bus stop right before the junction of the Napier Road and Cluny Road (which is where the entrance of the Singapore Botanic Gardens was located) after walking for about five minutes. It was dark anyway so I couldn't really see properly and it's a common mistake that almost everyone makes. At least I didn't land myself at another part of Singapore.

Sixth Destination: The Singapore Botanic Gardens

I have been to the Singapore Botanic Gardens quite a few times in my lifetime (some of the times was because of school trips while some were family and friends outings) and the place still looks as wonderful and beautiful as it has always been. It was not really a good idea heading to the Botanic Gardens at night though as I can't really see that much and it was this close to being pitch black.

The Swan Lake was really pitch black though. Look at the picture above. Nonetheless, there were still some people talking a walk and went for a night run but if you want to visit the Gardens, it's best to visit in the day time. (an article about the Botanic Gardens can be read here).

Seventh Trip: Singapore Botanic Gardens to Raffles City/Raffles Hotel on Service 106

(Onboard bus service 106 on a bendy bus)

I was this close to reaching home but in order to get home, I had to travel to where I started which was Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal. I hopped on to bus service 106 (for the third time) from the bus stop located right outside the Singapore Botanic Gardens and travelled all the way to the bus stop opposite Raffles City shopping mall.

Along the way, I passed by Orchard Road and I took this opportunity to soak in the sights and sounds of the bright shopping malls along the Orchard Road shopping district (Orchard Road looks more magnificent during the annual Orchard Road Christmas Light Up).

Seventh Destination: Raffles City and Raffles Hotel

For the eighth destination, I didn't really visit the attractions. Instead, I walk past them as it was getting late and I wanted to go home. As I had to transfer to a bus service along Beach Road after alighting, I walk past Raffles City shopping mall, a famous shopping mall located outside City Hall MRT Station and Raffles Hotel, a historical luxury hotel famous for their excellent service and Singapore's national cocktail, the Singapore Sling. How I wish I had the money to stay in this luxurious hotel.

Eighth Trip: Raffles Hotel to Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal on Service 961

For my ninth bus trip, I hopped on service 961 to head back to Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal to transfer back to the first bus service that I rode on, service 853. As the bus was heading to the bus terminal, there were some interesting things that caught my attention along Beach Road, the road the bus I was on passed by.

There were numerous steamboat restaurants outside the row of shophouses, a Korean market called Lotte Mart (although I don't think it's affiliated with the South Korean conglomerate with the same name), an office building with a striking signage, The Concourse and Haji Lane also known as Singapore's hipsters paradise. It even passes by Kallang Riverside Park, a park along the famous Kallang River which I hope I can talk about at a later date. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures for the places that I've mentioned but you can find them all along Beach Road with the nearest MRT station being Nicoll Highway on the Circle Line.

Eighth Destination: Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal

I don't think I need to elaborate further about Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal though because I've already mentioned most of the bus terminal right above. While waiting for my last bus trip to finally go home, I took a photo of the bus terminal at night to have a day and night picture of the same location. And as I took that photo, I recalled all the great experiences of the places I've visited during the whole SMRT Bus Road Trip.

Ninth Trip: Lorong 1 Geylang Bus Terminal to Serangoon MRT Station on Service 853

(Onboard bus service 853 back to where I started)

I rode on service 853 back to Serangoon MRT Station to finally head back home and since I still had to follow the rules and regulations of the bus trip, I can't hop on to a bus service from the MRT station to my house as the bus service will be an SBS Transit bus service. But it was okay because I'm used to walking back home from Serangoon MRT Station and it was quite a short distance anyway.

Overall Thoughts on the SMRT Bus Road Trip Experiment

Overall, the SMRT Bus Road Trip experiment was really one of the best experiences I have ever done and it's also one of the most interesting "exploration" experiments I've ever done as well. Living in an estate with primarily SBS Transit buses running, it was quite an experience challenging myself to ride on just SMRT buses and viewing interesting sights and sounds of the attractions and places I've visited during the Road Trip.

Will I recommend this to everyone? Yes, although that depends on where you live and the places you wish to head to. It took a while for me to plan the routes so it all depends. Will I do this again? Definitely and I may try different variations of it but the rule of just sticking to SMRT buses only will still apply. Perhaps next time, I should try using just free shuttle buses. That would make another interesting "exploration experiment". These public bus road trips will certainly spice up your explorations around Singapore but here's a warning, make sure you have sufficient funds for your EZ Link card before starting your trip.

More Information

Route Info for Service 853

Route Info for Service 980

Route Info for Service 960

Route Info for Service 106

Route Info for Service 970

Route Info for Service 75

Route Info for Service 961

SMRT Buses Website:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You got your service number wrong. 985 does not go to National Library. I think you mean 980 as you alighted at Middle Road. I doubt you know what you are talking about


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