The surrounding area is an urban planning area known as Bukit Timah Planning Area under the Urban Redevelopment Authority and is part of the Central Region, and lies 10 kilometres from the city's central business district, the Central Area.
This area is often referred to as Bukit Timah, and is also known as District 10/11/21. The area has a substantial number of bungalows (single family houses and duplexes) as well as condominiums.
Bukit Timah, which literally means "tin-bearing hill" in Malay, was already identified on the 1828 map by Frankin and Jackson as Bukit Timah. The hill was depicted on the map towards the northwest as two hills at the eastern source of the Kranji River. Since the interior of the island was not fully explored at that time, the location and name of the hill for the map probably came from the Malay community. According to once source, Bukit Timah has nothing to do with tin. The original Malay name for the hill was Bukit Temak, meaning "hill of the temak trees", referring to pokok temak, a tree that grew abundantly on the slopes of the hill. However, to the western ear, Temak in Malay enunciation sounded like Timah, hence Bukit Timah. Some say that timah is an abbreviation of Fatimah, a popular Malay girl's name.
In December 1843, a carriage way road was completed leading up to the hill. A small hut with chairs was constructed for visitors. The hill was viewed then as an "excellent sanatorium", as the air was "cooler and fresher than the plain, producing an agreeable exhilaration of spirits".
Bukit Timah is known as eyam malai (tin hill) in Tamil, being a literal translation of the Malay name. For some, it is synonymous with the Singapore Turf Club, where members and paying visitors flock on race days. This course is closed to the public, unlike the former course (now Farrer Park) where the general public enjoyed watching the king's sport for free.
Bukit Timah Road is one of the earliest roads in Singapore. The 25-km long Bukit Timah Road, the longest road in Singapore, running north and south of the island, takes its name from this hill. The road to Kranji was completed in 1845. Apparently, the area was so infested with tigers that it constituted a serious threat to human life. In 1860, nearly 200 people were reported to have been killed by tigers in and about the gambier and pepper plantations. The first ride on horseback across the island was along Bukit Timah Road in 1840; it took four days and was made by Mr Thomson and Dr Little.
Bukit Timah Road is known as tek kha kang a ki in Hokkien, which means "the side of the stream in the tek kha (or Selegie Road) district". This only refers to the lower end of the Bukit Timah Road. The Wayand Satu and Bukit Timah village parts are differently called. The Hokkiens also refer to Bukit Timah as be chia lo bue, meaning "end of the horse carriage road".
Bukit Timah Road also witnessed the last defensive stand against the invading Japanese army. During World War II, when the British lost Bukit Timah to the Japanese, they knew they had little chance of winning the war as most of their food and supplies were stored there. On 15 February 1942, the head of the Allied forces, Lieutenant General A.E. Percival surrendered to Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita at the Ford Factory in Bukit Timah.
After the Japanese Occupation, the farms and plantations in Bukit Timah gave way to industrial buildings and high-rise flats. In the 1960s and 1970s, Bukit Timah was a major industrial centre. Today, these have been replaced with luxury bungalows, terraces and condominiums, making Bukit Timah Singapore's premier residential district.
The Bukit Timah area is a particularly prominent location with a high land value. The area of Bukit Timah has an extensive flora and forest compared to the parts of Singapore, and contains Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, which is partially responsible for its high land value.
It includes educational institutions such as Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road), Singapore Chinese Girls' School, Methodist Girls' School, Hwa Chong Institution, National Junior College, Raffles Girls' Primary School, Nanyang Primary School, Nanyang Girls' High School, Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School and Saint Joseph's Institution amongst others.
The nearby area houses many bungalows, traditionally expensive in land-scarce Singapore, as well as high rise condominiums. Many expatriates and well heeled Singaporeans tend to stay in this region. The rise in land prices has led to development of new condominiums. For example, the Copthorne Orchid Hotel in Dunearn Road is being redeveloped into condominiums for sale.
This region was later extended and Upper Bukit Timah (District 21) was formed. The Keretapi Tanah Melayu from Malaysia has a passing loop station here along its rail network from Johor Bahru to Tanjong Pagar.
Near the hill is the Bukit Timah Satellite Earth Station as well as several radio broadcasting antennae.