Exploring the Parks of the Garden City
- Written by Christine Flor
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Singapore has long been known as the Garden City, and for good reason. The moment you leave Changi Airport you’re welcomed by verdant plants that, more often than not, are in bloom due to gardening magic. Even Orchard Road, the heart of the shopping district, is lined with trees and shrubbery. If you can’t get enough of the greenery, here are some of the best parks and gardens in Singapore for you to explore.
Not to Be Missed
If you only have time for one park, then head for either the Singapore Botanic Gardens or Gardens by the Bay.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
The Singapore Botanic Gardens was inscribed as Singapore's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in July this year, after starting the inscription bid process in 2010. This historic garden has been at the forefront of botanical research since the 1800s, and many Singaporeans have fond memories picnicking in the grounds as children. Check out the Gardens’ rich heritage at the Botany Centre, which serves as a visitor information centre, or enjoy the sight of graceful swans at the Swan Lake. Bonsai, cactus and orchid enthusiasts should not miss the Bonsai Garden, Sun Garden and National Orchid Garden. The National Orchid Garden itself has over 1000 species and 2000 hybrids on display, and is the only part of the Gardens that is ticketed. Of course, there’s the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden as well, ensuring that the young ones aren’t left out.
If you’re feeling hungry after all that exploring, there are numerous restaurants and food kiosks to sate those tummy rumblings. Take your pick of everything from local dishes to fusion cuisine or international fare!
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay, on the other hand, is a marvel of modern architecture. The sight of the eye-catching Supertrees greet you the moment you arrive, while the Dragonfly and Kingfisher Lakes hide a whole different world of aquatic life beneath their serene surfaces. The Heritage Gardens are inspired by Singapore’s three main ethnic groups and colonial past, and display information on Singapore’s history. The newest attraction, the Sun Pavilion, houses the largest cacti and succulent collection in Southeast Asia! With over a thousand plants hailing from as far off as Madagascar, Mexico, Argentina, Kenya and Brazil, amongst others, the Sun Pavilion is situated in one of the sunniest locales of the Gardens.
Of course, the cooled conservatories are a must-see. The ticketed Flower Dome and Cloud Forest display plants from all over the world in cool and dry, and cool and wet climates respectively. The beautiful Flower Dome has rotating seasonal exhibits, while the Cloud Forest’s stunning plant walls display epiphytes (plants that grow harmlessly on other plants) to their best advantage.
Back to Nature
Small as Singapore is, there are pockets of wilderness that are open to the public. If you want to get in touch with nature, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, MacRitchie Reservoir Park and Chek Jawa Wetlands are perfect places to explore.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is one of the largest patches of primary rainforest left in Singapore, and was declared an ASEAN Heritage Park in October 2011. Popular with hikers, it is unfortunately currently undergoing extensive repair and restoration works as extensive visitorship has taken its toll on the reserve. Repair and restoration is expected to last until late 2016. However, the reserve is partially open and visitors can access the summit of Bukit Timah Hill, the highest hill in Singapore, through the Main Road on weekends. Do note that the reserve remains close on weekdays until further notice.
MacRitchie Reservoir Park
MacRitchie Reservoir Park, on the other hand, is fully open to the public. With hiking trails, a newly improved pontoon for kayakers and an upgraded canoe shed, both land and water activities are popular here. Stroll along the banks of the reservoir to enjoy the serenity of the reservoir, or gear up and head into the wilderness to discover the highlight of MacRitchie Reservoir Park – the TreeTop Walk. Hidden away in the surrounding forest, the TreeTop Walk is a 250m long suspension bridge, and the highest point is 25m above the forest floor. This gives you an absolutely unique view of the tropical forest canopy. Getting there can be a bit of a challenge, but the easiest way would be to enter from the car park at Venus Drive. Beware the cheeky monkeys that might come after your food!
Chek Jawa Wetlands
The Chek Jawa Wetlands are located on one of Singapore’s offshore islands, Pulau Ubin . Way off the beaten track, Chek Jawa is an intertidal flat where six major habitats meet and mix. Upgrading works on the Boardwalks and Jejawi Tower were completed earlier this year, making it more accessible for visitors while conserving the unique environment. Guided tours that highlight Check Jawa’s heritage and bio-diversity are available. You can register on the NParks website
Just a Little Ways Off
If your schedule doesn’t allow for traipsing off to offshore islands, there are still parks on the main island that are easier to get to but still offer something different for your holiday photos.
Chinese and Japanese Gardens
Head to Lakeside MRT Station, where the tranquil Chinese and Japanese Gardens await. Nestled in the western part of Singapore, these Gardens are connected to each other by a bridge. The Chinese Garden was designed by Taiwanese architect Prof. Yuen-Chen Yu, and is modeled on northern Chinese imperial style architecture and landscaping. Beautiful pagodas and stone bridges, in harmony with the lake, create a peaceful getaway from the bustle of the city. The exception to this is during the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Lantern Festival, periods. The Chinese Garden then bursts into life with giant decorations and lively festive activities. The smaller Japanese Garden, on the other hand, maintains its peace and tranquility all year round. The Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum here is another point of interest, where visitors can see rare turtle and tortoise species that have been rescued.
Punggol Waterway Park
Punggol Waterway Park is a relatively new development that hasn’t quite caught on with the rest of Singapore yet. A fantastic spot to chill out and cycle, its picturesque waterfront locale also makes it a favourite spot for wedding photoshoots. There’s also a Recreation Zone for kids to splash around and play in, so pack an extra set of clothes for them and head on down. You can also rent a bicycle and wend your way to the Lorong Halus Wetland, which is along the eastern bank of Serangoon Reservoir. A popular site for bird watchers and photographers, you can spot some amazing wildlife here. To get to Lorong Halus Wetland without a bicycle, take the MRT to Punggol Station before transferring to the LRT line. Get off at Riviera LRT Station.
Of course, this list is nowhere near exhaustive. There are plenty of existing parks and gardens not covered here, and exciting developments are afoot! Jewel Changi Airport, for example, is currently underway and it is all set to create Singapore’s largest indoor garden with a towering rain vortex and light and sound shows. There are also plans to develop a 150km Round-Island-Route that will link major cultural, natural and historical attractions all around the island with parks, park connectors and intra-town cycling networks. The Urban Redevelopment Authority is now deliberating proposals that will transform the Rail Corridor that passes through Bukit Timah into a public space that will incorporate its unique biodiversity and landscape. Stay tuned as Singapore undergoes more changes to create and conserve green spaces for everyone.