Singapore is for shopping, eating and knocking back Singapore slings, right? Well, sure.
But this vibrant Southeast Asian city state also has natural beauty, evoking the days when it was lush jungle with the occasional tiger.
It was this – the Singapore beyond the skyline – that we were keen to experience on our recent trip. But when we told friends we were staying a week, they were baffled that it could be anything more than a stopover.
“What can you do in Singapore for a week?” they asked.
The answer: A lot.
A government ‘City in a Garden’ masterplan ensures there is still real jungle beyond the concrete variety. There are urban walks too, but on our visit we opted for the green bits.
Here are the highlights.
Good for: History buffs and rail aficionados
The revitalised Rail Corridor is popular with locals and visitors alike. Photo: Lim Wei Xiang
This trail opened in 2012, with a major upgrade in 2019 and more to come.
It was all the rage for socially distanced exercise during the pandemic.
It is 24 kilometres running north to south (or vice versa) along the old Kranji-Singapore line, established in 1903. It linked Singapore and Malaysia and some old rail line is still there, particularly on historic railway bridges.
Walk the whole corridor or just a sector – north, central or south.
We chose central, starting about 9am from the old Bukit Timah Railway Station, walking north sharing the trail with dog walkers and Singaporeans out for morning strolls. Some sections are jungle-lined and signs warn you to watch out for wild boars. Gulp.
MRT stations bookend sections and you can easily slink off to the closest. It is well signed with historical displays at rest stops.
It’s easy walking over flat terrain. Cycling is also popular.
Bukit Timah Hill Nature Reserve
Good for: Monkey spotting and bird watching
Visitors to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve take a well-earned break overlooking a quarry.
This forest walk is popular and accessible. Take the MRT to Beauty World Station and follow the signs to this 163-hectare oasis. Here long-tailed macaques rule, along with exotic birds.
There are trails of varying degrees, all well signed. We walked to the summit (a towering 163 metres) which took about 30 minutes (it’s nice up there) and is strenuous at times.
Embarrassingly, on the way up we were passed by some local seniors, jogging. There’s no café, so caffeinate before you go.
Good for: Views of the city and sunsets
A bird’s eye view of the rainforest comes courtesy of the elevated walkway on the Southern Ridges trail. Photo: Lichtwolke
The best section is the 10-kilometre trail from Kent Ridge Park to Mount Faber with stunning views and the option of a cable car ride. Start late afternoon for a sunset experience.
There is clear signage and an elevated walkway through the forest canopy. The final 500 metres is a steep trek to the summit, but this walk is not difficult and is easily accessed.
Good for: Time travelling
Welcome to the land time forgot, just a 10-minute bumboat ride from Changi Village.
On this island there is no evidence you are still in Singapore. It has an old-fashioned kampong (village) atmosphere. Lizards and birds outnumber residents.
The coastal walk around Chek Jawa Wetlands takes you out over the water.
Spend half a day walking (or cycling) and the Chek Jawa Wetlands which skirts this small jungly island’s south-east coast is a must.
A one-kilometre coastal boardwalk takes you through the mangroves to the 20-metre high Jejawi Tower offering ocean views.
The ferry usually won’t go until there are 12 passengers, but there’s always the option of bribing the ferryman by paying for empty seats. It worked for us.
You can eat at Pulau Ubin Village or at Changi Village Hawker Centre before you catch your bus and MRT or taxi back to town.
Good for: Spotting monitor lizards and a spot of kayaking
The atmospheric stroll around MacRitchie Reservoir. Photo: Getty
One of the young doormen at our hotel cited this as his favourite getaway.
There’s a treetop walk across a 250-metre-long suspension bridge, the ubiquitous monkeys (do not feed them or make eye contact!) but here you will also see monitor lizards as you skirt the water’s edge on the 11-kilometre walking trail.
The walking is relatively easy and you can start and finish at the service centre, which has changing facilities and a café.
Kayaks can be rented if you want a break from walking.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Good for: Meeting locals and viewing exotic orchids
The Singapore Botanic Gardens have an impressive orchid collection.
A stroll around Singapore’s most famous sprawl of greenery is very social.
This urban oasis is gorgeously lush with easy, well-signed walking paths.
There are cafes and restaurants within the 3-hectare grounds where you can just stroll (power walk if you must) with other tourists and locals revelling in their little patch of paradise.
The famous National Orchid Garden has the largest showcase of tropical orchids on the planet, and make sure you visit Swan Lake and yes, there are swans.
There are numerous other walks and outlying islands to visit on your next trip to Singapore.
General advice for walking in Singapore
- Wear light clothing and take a sweat towel. Singapore is tropical and hot in the middle of the day so start early, or late. Take water, sunblock, mosquito repellent and a brolly for regular downpours. Also, a Chinese-style fan – no batteries required
- There’s no need to pack food. You’re never far from a street stall, café or restaurant. If you do take a snack, don’t even think about eating it when monkeys are watching
- Have your smartphone handy. In Singapore they are militant about using online maps. You will find maps at visitor centres but don’t bother asking for a hard copy
- Check the nearest bus stops or MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) rail stations before you set off. After most walks you can quickly decamp to the exquisitely frigid confines of the metro
- Don’t feel guilty about taking taxis – they’re safe and inexpensive.
For more information, head to visitsingapore.com