Previously: Discovery Island, Disney World.
In Singapore, in the well-to-do district of Tanglin, there’s a ruin hiding right in plain sight: The abandoned Tanglin Hill Old Brunei Hostel. True, you can’t approach it directly — it’s hidden behind a fence — but it’s there, if you know to look for it. If you know to look beyond what’s visible from the road. If you know to peer between the trees. If you know that sometimes, you don’t actually have to go too far off the beaten path to find the things that time has forgotten and left to their own devices.
Tanglin is an affluent area. Absent any public housing apartment blocks or complexes, it instead plays host to extravagant single-family homes, bungalows, and condos, along with a variety of foreign embassies and the headquarters of the Singaporean government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A drive down the road labeled Tanglin Hill on maps takes you past all of these buildings — but at 7A Tanglin Hill, you’ll see not just gated driveways, but an entire fenced-off area loaded with “Private Property” signs and warnings that the location is under constant video surveillance.
Behind that fence is the Old Brunei Hostel.
It isn’t a hostel anymore, of course. But it’s still there. Just… sitting there. Unoccupied. Gradually falling into ruin.
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When I say “hostel,” though, I don’t mean hostel in the sense that we typically think of them now — the kinds of low-budget accommodations favorited by students and backpackers as they travel around the world as cheaply as they can during university breaks or gap years. (Goodness knows I stayed in enough of those during my own student years.) In this case, “hostel” does mean a student residence — but something more akin to a dormitory or boarding house than a cheap place to crash temporarily for a few days or weeks when you’re traveling for fun.
Education policy in Brunei underwent a huge overhaul after the country gained its independence in 1983; however, in the roughly three decades prior, it wasn’t uncommon for boys — typically those considered the country’s best and brightest, who earned high marks and scored well on exams — to be sent to abroad for their studies starting at the age of 12. These incoming students required housing, of course, so a number of residential facilities were constructed to fulfill the need — and the Tanglin Hill Old Brunei Hostel, also known as the Asrama Kerajaan Brunei di Singapura (AKBS), was one such facility.
Standing upon land purchased by the Bruneian government, the hostel was initially completed in 1958, providing lodging, meals, laundry, textbooks, and allowances for the students living within its rooms. Later, trainee government officers were also housed at the hostel, which, along with a rising student population from not just the Islamic stream, but also the English and Malay streams, necessitated the construction of an additional dormitory block.
According to the recollections of those who resided there, life at the hostel was much the way it was at many boarding schools all over the world at the time. About 200 students lived at the facility at any given time; there were 24 rooms spread out over three floors, with roughly five students occupying each room. Initially, each student had a cabinet to store their things in, although later, they were given larger wardrobes. They were also given about $30 of pocket money or allowance every month.
The students’ days were run by routine: They’d start each morning rising with a bell, eating breakfast, and preparing for the school day; then, they’d be transported to their various schools, either on buses arranged for them by the government of Brunei or via public transit, depending on the age of the student. Following the completion of their classes, they’d be returned back to the hostel, where they would do their homework, play sports, and even compete in a yearly house championship.
But ultimately, the Tanglin Hill hostel was only open for 25 years. In 1983, Brunei gained independence after having been under British colonial rule for roughly a century. Its first day as an independent nation was Jan. 1, 1984 — and in the immediate aftermath, one of the many, many areas of governance that received retooling included educational policy. With the development of a much more robust education system, the need to send students abroad for schooling diminished — and, as a result, the need for residences like Tanglin Hill Old Brunei Hostel diminished, as well. Indeed, the hostel was closed down in 1983 and has remained shuttered ever since.
Over time, though, something else has happened to what used to be the Old Brunei Hostel. It’s developed something of a… reputation.
Some visitors to the former residence — especially at night — have reported feeling cold spots despite the warm climate, sensing some kind of sinister force lurking in the area, and even seemingly spotting shadowy figures hiding in the darkness or orbs appearing in photographs. One investigation even claimed to have found evidence of a Pontianak or jinn living somewhere on the abandoned campus.
For what it’s worth, I suspect that the hostel’s allegedly haunted reputation is mostly a result of its outward appearance: It looks as if it should be haunted, so people have begun thinking that it is haunted. But there’s nothing in the history of the place that would lend itself to the alleged development of a haunting: The students weren’t mistreated; the facility was never used as a prison or hospital during times of conflict; in fact, life at the hostel seems to have been largely a positive experience. Knowing this — that the former residence was mostly a happy one — and given that so many alleged hauntings are pegged to traumatic events occurring at or near the places in question… well, the pieces don’t quite add up here in a way that would equal “haunting” to me.
Of course, that assumes that an allegedly haunted place has to have a reason for being haunted. Depending on what you believe, that… may not necessarily be the case.
For me, though, the Old Brunei Hostel is more interesting as an abandoned location than it is as a haunted one, which is why I’ve filed it under our Abandoned feature, rather than our Haunted Globetrotting one.
The hostel is still owned by the Brunei government, which goes some way towards explaining why it’s cordoned off to the public. What goes further towards that explanation is that it’s likely not structurally sound anymore, and therefore not safe. So, as always: Don’t trespass. But if you’re in the area, you can drive by, if you like.
You can even peek through the fence.
Just don’t expect to find any students about.
And don’t stay too long.
The ghosts — literal or figurative — may not like it if you do.
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[Photos available under CC BY-SA 2.0 and CC BY 2.0 Creative Commons licenses; see individual photos for specific credits.]