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Off the beaten track

Off the beaten track in Singapore

Clive Wedderburn March 3, 2016

Recently I was lucky enough to spend a week in Singapore visiting my partner Steph who works there. Knowing very little about the place and its history I went with an open mind and looking for adventure.

When I sat down on the plane for the long journey, I started to flick through a guide book and I was amazed to see there was much more to the place than huge skyscrapers, Singapore Slings and shopping.

I was whisked from airport to hotel by a wonderful taxi driver (who spoke no fewer than 5 languages). I was given a quick and informative rundown on the history of the country, the best bits, and his food experience recommendations. By the way, the taxi drivers all hail from Singapore so their knowledge is first class and law means they will not over charge you no matter how naive you may be.

What I discovered in Singapore was an island full of cultural diversity, amazing food, friendly people plus all the adventure that I crave. Here are a few of my out-of-the-city highlights.

Pula Ubin island

Having spent breakfast plotting my route to get to the tiny island of Pula Ubin, I set off with little more than a camera, a small map, a bottle of water and sun cream. The journey would take me about 2 hours, and I'd be travelling by metro, bus and bumboat. Exciting!

After a hugely easy, cheap and pain free journey I arrived at the small ferry port in Changi village and sat with a couple of tourists and a group of locals waiting for a 12th person to arrive before our boat would leave for the island. The boat trip was a very reasonable $2.50 for a return ride.

As the boat moored up on the small pontoon at its destination I was greeted by a rocky shoreline and imposing jungle appearing before me. The best way to explore is by bicycle which are cheap to hire and there are several different vendors available on the island, but you can also go on foot if cycling isn't your thing.

Do ask for a bike with a padlock as there are a few areas where bikes aren't permitted but there are places where you can lock them up. Thus, with a slight sea breeze on my back, I set off on my adventure.

As it was a weekday the island was quiet, and I began to feel a sense of isolation as the jungle rose up around me. There were weird and wonderful noises coming from the trees, sending my imagination into overdrive as I wondered what lurked inside the undergrowth. The various routes are well signposted and there are resting points dotted about with information on the birds and animals to look out for in the vicinity.

As I cycled through some stunning mangroves, I was shocked to come across a very large monitor lizard ambling through the undergrowth in front of me. As it skittered off I realised I was having a great time and was eager to explore more. My route took me deeper into the jungle where I came across a small family of monkeys messing about in the trees. I'd never seen monkeys in the wild before so this was a real treat.

All in all, I spent a good 4 hours cycling around, enjoying the diverse wildlife and scenery of Pula Ubin (and near total absence of human traffic) before heading back for a well–deserved beer and light lunch at a little snack bar on the island.

On the return boat ride back I got off at the outskirts of Changi village to visit the Changi Museum, which provided an emotional insight into the lives of prisoners of war between 1942 and 1945. If you have an interest in this period of history it is well worth a visit, and as an added bonus entry is free.

Singapore Zoo

For much of my time in Singapore I had been left to my own devices, but Saturday was my partner’s day off so Steph and I decided to spend an afternoon in Singapore Zoological Gardens.

It’s a rainforest zoo set in 28 hectares of Singapore’s forested central catchment area and is, quite frankly, huge. You could easily spend an entire day wandering among the animals, many of which are swinging in the branches above your head – monkeys and to some extent orang-utans— it’s a nice touch that some animals are allowed to roam freely in natural habitats. The zoo is very child friendly, as you’d expect, with guided tours in golf buggies, jungle breakfasts and learning zones where you can discover the secrets of the local environment.  

On the plus side, even though it was a Saturday and because of its size there weren’t hoards of visitors everywhere. We also noticed how the jungle sounds of chattering animals was amplified by the rainforest, lending a lovely audio quality to the experience. It is by far my favourite ever zoo and I’d highly recommended it.

Southern Ridges walk

I'd been told about this walk by a friend I know in Singapore. It stretches about 9km across Singapore and has a thrilling mix of connecting bridges, walk ways, parks and jungle trails.  I'd recommend tackling this early in the morning or in the late afternoon when it's a little cooler. I foolishly started slap-bang in the middle of the day — but it did feel like I had the entire walk to myself. It isn't fantastically well signposted but if you print off a simple map or follow signs to the next connecting park and you shouldn't have any issues. 

Each park had its highlights and diversity. The canopy walk connecting Telok Blangah Hill Park and Alexandra Arch was fantastic; just under a mile of raised walkways through tree tops offering a bird’s eye view of the trees and the city in the background. Hort Park has many themed gardens to meander through, offering a place for city workers to rest and shade, plus the famous Henderson Waves. The highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore is a fantastic bit of architecture and is made up of undulating steel. Rest within the ‘ribs’ and look out towards the ocean and harbour. 

I ended the walk at Mount Faber — you can get a cable car down to Sentosa Island from this point.  I opted to walk down towards HarbourFront MRT station (metro) and found a great hawker centre offering refreshing smoothies and a range of delicious food. 

MacRitchie Reservoir and nature trails

Continuing the theme of heading out of the city I embarked on another adventure, this time to MacRitchie Resevoir, which became of my favourite days out in Singapore.  The Park offers a selection of nature trails that wind through tropical forests and along boardwalks that run around the edge of the huge reservoir. Paths are well signposted with distances clearly shown, plus there are showers and lockers for those like me who like to enjoy a jungle run. 

The humidity was immense but I was so distracted by the sights and sounds of the forest (monkeys, birds, turtles, lizards etc) and the beautiful views across the reservoir that I soon forgot the heat and really enjoyed myself.

My goal was to reach the 250m long suspension bridge that offers spectacular views way above the jungle canopy. It was certainly worth the effort and I highly recommend it.  There are plenty of places to unwind and take in views of the reservoir. The park is easy accessed via the MRT and the bus drops you off right outside. 

I had an amazing time in Singapore — so far away from the hustle and bustle even though the city was just a short metro journey away.