The hidden natural beauty of Singapore
By Bino Chua
11th November 2015
With all the glittering skyscrapers and air-conditioned shopping malls, it’s easy to forget that Singapore also has a quieter and more laidback side.
Most tourists to the Lion City do the usual circuit: visiting the three ethnic quarters, downing some sumptuous local food at hawker stands, taking in some breathtaking views at one of the city’s rooftop bars or simply chilling out with the family at an amusement park in Sentosa. But Singapore is also known as the garden city, where open spaces are valued. There’s nature aplenty - if you know where to look.
East Coast Park
I normally start off my Saturdays with a morning at East Coast Park. There, I can rent a bike and cycle the 8 kilometer cycling path with a clear view of the sea. I go past families enjoying their weekends, from kids flying kites, to families enjoying picnics on the well-manicured lawns. With the waves from the Singapore Strait brushing against the sandy beaches of the park, it’s hard to imagine that the steel towers of downtown Singapore are only a few miles away. I head over to a seafood restaurant called Long Beach if I’m feeling particularly peckish for a few chili crab and cereal prawns, sans the tourist crowds and with a view of the sea to boot.
To go further off the beaten path, I sometimes head down to Singapore’s southern islands, and I’m not talking about Sentosa here. I take a 40-minute ferry from the Marina Bay pier and alight at Kusu Island. It’s known for its tortoise temple and hilltop shrines. During certain times of the year, it becomes a pilgrimage site for those praying for prosperity or good luck. Kusu is especially popular as a pilgrimage site for those wishing to have children. The place offers a fascinating look at local legends which in turn is reflective of the Singaporean culture.
St. John’s Island and Lazarus Island
From Kusu Island, the same ferry continues to St. John’s Island, a wilderness which serves as a popular camping spot. There are two beautiful lagoons here with views of the Singapore skyline, best appreciated from a kayak. St. John’s is also connected to another isle called Lazarus Island which has some of the best beaches in the country. Forget about Sentosa’s Siloso Beach, this is the real deal. It’s also devoid of people. On any given weekday, you’re likely to have the entire beach all to yourself.
Bukit Timah Hill
Since I will probably never make a good candidate to scale Mt Everest, the next best thing is to head to Bukit Timah Hill and be able to lay claim to climbing to Singapore’s highest point. Never mind that it’s barely 163 meters tall – it is still the country’s tallest peak! But more than this, the surrounding area offers a good peek into a bona fide tropical forest. Singapore is also one of only two big cities in the world to have rainforests within its city limits. 40% of the country’s flora and fauna can be found within just 1.64 square kilometers of land. The climb is moderately steep but short. The real challenge here is avoiding the macaques which can become quite aggressive.
I would then cap my day by enjoying the sunset at Punggol Beach. It’s more for the atmosphere than anything else, with a view of the setting sun over Johor state in Malaysia in the distance. Punggol’s boulder-strewn beach is different to any other in Singapore and is often cited as a photographer’s paradise. On occasion, one can even find mussels growing here and it serves as a poignant reminder of all the unexpected things I manage to see within a day in Singapore.
About the author
Bino Chua is a part-time wanderer and a sometime travel writer / photographer. He is the author of travel blog, I Wander, which focuses on off-the-beaten path locales. He believes that Iran and North Korea are excellent places for a holiday.
Whether you're jetting away on a city break or following the sun to the beach get ready to travel with our expert tips and guides.
Preparing for your holiday should be exciting, not stressful.