Suppose you’re brave enough to venture outside Singapore’s sprawling metropolis and into its uninhabited rainforest. In that case, you might be lucky enough to find a long-forgotten remnant of British colonial rule: the Marsiling Tunnel. But, be forewarned; this is not a trek for the faint of heart.
However, if you are ready to descend into the pitch-black Marsiling Bunkers and wade through ankle-high sludge, you’re in the right place. This guide will help you plan your visit and fully prepare for your next Singapore adventure!
You may be wondering how these structures even got here. This question also baffled locals and historians when the tunnel was discovered in the early 2,000s. Some held sinister speculations that it was a torture chamber, while others wondered if it was a passageway or underground facility for the nearby mental hospital.
Luckily, the National Heritage Board began investigating the abandoned structures immediately after they were first uncovered. The first piece of evidence that was found was a 1945 map that suggested the Marsiling bunker and tunnel were an oil reserve for the British Naval Base. After a bit more searching, some declassified British Wartime Intelligence reports confirmed they were built in 1942 to store oil, but it was meant for the Royal Air force, not the British navy.
During World War II, the Japanese defeated the British and began occupying Singapore. The Imperial Army greatly expanded the storage capacity of the tunnel and bunker by more than 5,250 tons to make space for even more oil reserves. When the war ended, and the Japanese left the tunnels, vines and greenery concealed the structures, leaving them to remain hidden for decades before anyone would uncover them again.
Marsiling is in the northern region of Singapore, near the Causeway that leads across to Malaysia. The scenery in the area is very peaceful and green and is nestled against the waterfront. In fact, the Woodlands Waterfront Park used to be a part of the British Naval Base.
If you’re planning to do a self-guided exploration of the tunnel, you will need to choose a form of transit to get you to Woodlands Waterfront Car Park in Marsiling. The fastest and most straightforward option is by car. You’ll take PIE to Marsiling, and it will be about a 45-minute ride. However, if you do not have a rental and you plan to hire a taxi, this may be an expensive option if your budget is tight.
Public transport is a more affordable option to get you to the tunnel. However, it will take you double the amount of time it would in a car. If you’re coming from the city center, say Marina Bay, the bus and train combination will take you about an hour and a half. Most of the ride will be on the North- South Line until it arrives in Marsiling. There are quite a few additional bus transfers and walking required on the front and back end of the journey as well.
There are a few key essentials all adventurers must bring on their journey. The first is a light source. In fact, don’t bring just one, bring two. The best option is to invest in a headlamp so that your hands are free to support you in the slippery tunnel. Not to mention, a headset is much more reliable than a phone or a flashlight because it’s not likely to be dropped in the mud, leaving you without an alternative light to find it. Speaking of alternatives, pack backups just in case a battery dies!
Additionally, wear long sleeves and long pants to hike to the tunnel because the terrain is rugged. More coverage will also be beneficial in the tunnel itself because it is very cool underground and extremely muddy. You’ll want to wear shoes that you don’t mind ruining, and they should also be athletic. You’ll thank yourself if you have a clean set of clothes in your backpack to change into after you’re out of the mud.
Lastly, pack lots of bug spray, snacks, water, and plastic bags. The bags are to protect your electronics from the elements. The mud gets everywhere, so it is nice to have your phone safe and clean.
These spooky tunnels in Singapore remain a relatively new discovery. The trails are open to the public, but they are not privately owned and there are no official tours that are operated by the government. Therefore, they are free of charge and have no time restrictions. However, be on your way before it gets dark. It is a very remote area that will be difficult to navigate in the dark.
You will begin your journey at Woodlands Waterfront Car Park before making your way on foot to Marsiling Crescent (about a ten-minute walk). When you reach the field at Marsiling Crescent, you’ll be met with the trickiest part of the trek –finding the path. Trees line the open park on the northern edge, and there is a semi-established trail amongst those trees. Unfortunately, it is very easy to miss, which leads many adventurers to have to backtrack, which can feel quite frustrating. Once you find the trail, you are not far from the tunnel entrance, another ten-minute walk or so.
If you choose to enter the forest from the north near the Jetty, rather than the south along Marsiling Crescent, be prepared for much thicker foliage, uneven terrain, and quite a bit of bashing to get through the dense woods.
Once you finally spot the tunnel, prepare for your heart rate to speed up as you descend two stories underground into the Marsiling tunnel. You may think you’re prepared for the darkness, but your headlight will barely illuminate your surroundings. The trickling water will ring in your ears as your feet sink further and further into the cold, dark mud.
You won’t be alone in the tunnel either. Many explorers report seeing massive geckos protecting their nests in the depths of the darkness. They also reminisce about the eerie, handwritten notes and handprints along the walls of the tunnel. Some are cautionary messages stating, “warning, sinkhole.” To heed the advice, you could find yourself chest deep in the murky mud! Finally, the ominous staircase at the end of the tunnel will lead guests up and back into civilization.
The Marsiling Bunker is less muddy and easier to locate. If you explore the tunnel first, you’ll need to backtrack to Woodlands Waterfront Carpark and walk about ten minutes to Admiralty Road. There, you’ll find stone markers indicating the path to the bunker. The path will lead you uphill, but it can be treacherous at times due to erosion. There are sturdy ropes tied to trees to help you navigate the uneven terrain.
About a ten-minute walk later, and you’re at the bunker! It is much more visible than the tunnel and has a large opening that is not concealed by vines and greenery. With that being said, it is still spooky and likely filled with critters.
Whether you explore the bunker, the tunnel, or both, your safety is of the utmost importance. Wear sturdy, tight grip shoes to prevent slipping and falling. Make sure you have enough of a light source that you won’t get lost if your light burns out. Finally, travel with a partner and consider taking a tour if you are an inexperienced adventurer.
One of these top-quality experiences is a tour of the Marsiling bunker. Over the course of four and a half hours, your group of four to twelve people will be led by experts through the underground, past the jungle fauna, and through the thick, sticky mud.
The tour comes complete with complimentary drinks and snacks and high-quality headlamps. A bonus is that your guide will also serve as a photographer. Think about how enjoyable the experience will be, knowing your special moments will be captured without having to navigate a camera while adventuring.
For an added twist, purchases the nightfall expedition to add an entirely new level of excitement to the trip!