Visiting the wilder side of Singapore

Having spent 2 years studying overseas, and done a fair bit of travelling, I have many a time talked at length about Singapore – our food, culture (especially about Singlish) and naturally, our wildlife/nature. The impression most people have (if they actually know we’re not part of China) is unsurprisingly, that of a vibrant and bustling city, of skyscrapers, megamalls, an amazing airport and supposedly draconian laws. I think though, that travellers should know that there is an alternative side to Singapore, though it may not be a backpackers’ haven.

We’ve got wildlife, and I personally think it’s easier to spot wildlife in Singapore than in some other more biodiverse places. We’ve got some nice, and fairly tranquil places, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And the best thing is because we’re so small and we’ve got great public transport and infrastructure, everything is at most an hour away from anything.

So here’s my top 5 places to visit in Singapore if you’re a nature lover/hiker. This list is definitely not exhaustive and there’s much more to explore in Singapore, but if you think I’ve missed out something that should be up, just leave a comment!

1. Pulau Ubin (Granite Island)

Sunrise at Chek Jawa

Sunrise at Chek Jawa

One of the most accessible offshore islands in Singapore, it still retains most of its rustic nature, and is a glimpse into what Singapore was like a couple of decades ago. Chek Jawa is located on the Eastern tip of Pulau Ubin, and a stroll along the board walk brings you through the intertidal seagrass habitat, mangrove ecosystem and coastal forest. Commonly seen wildlife include the Oriental pied hornbills, long-tailed macaques and wild boars.

An Oriental pied hornbill flying overhead

An Oriental pied hornbill flying overhead

Free guided walks at Chek Jawa by NParks, and the Naked Hermit Crabs.

2. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

One of the remaining patches of mangrove forest in Singapore, it’s also a site of international importance to migratory shorebirds, part of the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Site Network. A great place to see waders and migratory birds, there are also resident estuarine crocodiles, smooth otters, and lots of Malayan water monitors hanging about. It’s currently under construction works to help cope with the increased visitorship, so do check the website for more information and updates.

3. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve/Central Catchment Nature Reserve (Macritchie reservoir)

Macritchie reservoir (Central Catchment Nature Reserve) at dusk

Macritchie reservoir (Central Catchment Nature Reserve) at dusk

BTNR/CCNR hold some of the remaining fragments of the primary lowland dipterocarp forest that once covered most of Singapore. It’s also one of my first few forays into nature when I was with the Outdoor Activities Club in secondary school, and so will always hold fond memories of our hikes and adventures along the trails. BTNR is currently closed (from 15 Sep 2014) to allow the forest to recover, but the nearby Hindhede Nature Park, Dairy Farm Nature Park, and MacRitchie are still open to the public. Long-tailed macaques, Malayan water monitors, racket-tailed drongos and the Malayan colugo are frequently spotten in the area.

Free guided walks by Love MacRitchie.

4. Our Southern Islands, in particular Sisters’ Island

It's really amazing how we can get to the most amazing marine life in less than hour from the city.

The reefs at Kusu Island (another Southern Island) at dawn, with the city in the background.

Singapore is a city-island-state-nation-country, but we also have many smaller offshore islands, such as the above-mentioned Pulau Ubin. Earlier this year (July 2014), we got our first Marine Park, the Sisters’ Island. Unfortunately, it’s not the most accessible at the moment, as you would have to do a private boat charter from the nearby Marina South Pier. Once you’re there though, explore our diverse marine life, corals, nudibranches, sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea anemones, crabs, lots of gastropods, and even octopuses and sea horses! All without putting on a snorkel/mask or breathing compressed air (:

Happy New Year!

A Five-spot anemone shrimp on its throne of sea anemone.

Free guided walk by NParks.

5. Pasir Ris Park

A shore pit viper spotted on a guided mangrove walk by Naked Hermit Crabs. Photo by Sean Yap.

A shore pit viper spotted on a guided mangrove walk by Naked Hermit Crabs. Photo by Sean Yap.

This little tucked-away gem is where many kids play at the adventure playground, or go kayaking, but there is also a mangrove boardwalk within. The main reason why I’ve included though, is because my friends recently saw some Common palm civets there! Dog-faced water snakes, fireflies, mudskippers and tree-climbing crabs can also be spotted at the right tide/times.

Free guided walks by Naked Hermit Crabs.

To be honest though, even going to places right smack in the middle of the Central Business District such as the Singapore Botanical Gardens or the fairly new Gardens by the Bay, you will be able to find cool stuff.

Other countries have their wildlife crossing signs - so do we! Photo taken from: Otter Watch Facebook page

Other countries have their wildlife crossing signs – so do we! Photo taken from: Otter Watch Facebook page

Even our reclaimed beaches with imported sand hold some treasures. East Coast Park, one of the most popular beaches for Singaporeans to chill on weekends, recently (14 Sep 2014) saw some sea turtle hatchlings racing to the sea.

More videos on Singapore’s amazing biodiversity (:

This video compilation/documentary was conceptualised by David Tan, Eunice Soh and me, and put together by David Tan, from the National University of Singapore. He has a website on the birds of NUS here, and regularly tweets on the biodiversity of Singapore. The video features media contributed by naturalists and scientists who are all eager to share the wildlife of Singapore.

Another video I chanced across on Facebook at some point, it’s a nice compilation of Singapore’s biodiversity as well, by Solomon Anthony.

[Was intending to put up a Twitter feed for #SgBiodiversity but apparently I can’t do that. So go look it up yourself! There are also lots of videos/photos taken by various people who’ve spotted wildlife around Singapore on Facebook and other websites.]

While Googling stuff for this post, I also chanced about this website, UnTourist Singapore, which has lots of great posts on the less visited sites of Singapore. So Singapore isn’t just your typical metropolitan city, we’ve got lots of cool stuff for you to come and explore too!

“Blessed with abundant rain, year-round sunshine, and an average daily temperature of 27 degrees, Singapore is a very pleasant island to live, and visit.” – Sir David Attenborough, in Wild City

Check out Wild City, a 2-part documentary on the wilder side of Singapore, made by local production company Beach House Pictures and narrated by Sir David Attenborough

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