Exploring Singapore’s heritage – the Dragon Playground

With Covid-19 narrowing options for travel, there is no better time to explore our own backyard more and today’s destination is the Dragon playground that has warmed the cockles of many hearts back in the 1980s to 1990s. 

One of the not-so-great impressions associated with land-scarce Singapore is how relentless we can be in ‘refreshing‘ our landscape but efforts by the community in preserving architecture have started to bear fruit and the often referred to ‘Dragon Playgrounds’ is one such example.

Located at Toa Payoh Lorong 6 (postal code S310028), this specific playground has been picked by New York Culture blog, Flavorwire.com as one of the 15 most amazing playgrounds from a worldwide shortlist and in fact, gave birth to many cultural references, with even LEGO part of it. 

 LEGO Dragon Playground – designed by a local outfit. 

A quick history: 

Once a common sight in the 1980s but later phased out from 1993 onwards due to safety concerns. Toa Payoh’s Dragon Playground is the design of Mr. Khor Ean Ghee from our Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1979. He was inspired by the looks of the oriental dragon. 

The state of the economy back then also necessitated easy to maintain and build designs and having sandpits and structures made out of steel and concrete was going to be a great choice vs the safer rubber mat design nowadays. 

This translated to a whole generation of children growing up together with the dragon playground, only to see it later disappear with re-development plans. In fact, the 1980s to 1990s era is generally associated with Singapore’s transformation from a third world to a first world country. 

A chorus of voices in the community led to the authorities relenting from its original decision to tear down all these playgrounds, declaring the Dragon playground in Toa Payoh a heritage area and to be preserved, and today the sole surviving one in its original form.

If you drop by there now in 2020, you will see that everything in the immediate vicinity has already been torn down and well, I believe ready to be redeveloped. 

Every kid will surely remember two things about the playground – the ‘dragon’s spine’ with its holes that can trap the small feet of kids who go a bit too fast and lastly, the sheer exhilaration of how high above ground one can go climbing the dragon’s body to it’s the head.

the body easily goes up to 2 stories high.

If you found these tiles familiar, it is only because this was one of the most commonly used building materials in the 1980s, and we can still find them around the island decorating shop fronts and in some cases, floors. Easy to replace, pretty, cheap and tough – what more can one ask for?

The area under the Dragon’s head? The perfect spot for one to hide from the sun in the afternoon haha.

The sand around the area also ensured potential fires were never an issue with how the kids of the 1980s played with paper lanterns and candles during our Mid-Autumn festival celebrations. Very lovingly pragmatic.

And of course, there is just this little magic in being able to tell the kids: “yes, papa used to play in this back then when I was a kid too”

How about you? 


  1. All of the images shared here were shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro3 and XF18mm f2 setup.
  2. All the images were edited from RAW to my preferences in LR CC Classic. 

Thank you for reading. 🙂 

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