Singapore: Beyond the Southern Ridges
One thing I really like about Singapore is the focus on keeping the country livable despite the high population density, which includes maintaining an extensive park system nestled amongst the urban environment. We had a chance to appreciate this on the Southern Ridges Walk, a trail passing through a narrow band of parks near the southern tip of the island. You’re never far from the city, but hiking through a jungle with ultra-modern buildings in the distance is an experience of its own.
The Southern Ridges
The trail itself is an example of the creativity needed to squeeze every bit of value out of the limited space in Singapore. Originally, there were several parks all located near each other, but it wasn’t easy to get from one to the other so they all served separate purposes. About ten years ago, the city built some bridges and walkways to connect everything together, designating a trail that traveled through each park from one end to the other. Apparently, this increased the number of visitors at all of them significantly, without having to change much about the parks themselves. I know I probably never would have discovered this place if there wasn’t an established, popular route to tie it all together.
A view from the trail.
Unfortunately, because the parks predate the trail, it can be a little difficult to find your way around at times. There are signs marking the Southern Ridges route, but they’re sometimes far apart from each other, and there are often many branches leading to other parts of the parks that you may not be interested in. (While I’m sure the rest of each park is very nice, when you’re on a three-hour hike in Singapore’s humidity, you generally want to know you’re going the right direction.) The hardest part was finding the trail in the first place; after exiting the subway at the National University Hospital (and getting breakfast, because of course they had food there), we had to walk through a sort of business park, down a side path where the road ended, and up a bunch of stairs before finding anything that said we were in the right place. I’d done research beforehand to make sure I knew what I was looking for, and without that I’m not sure how we would have found anything.
After that, though, it wasn’t too hard to follow the route as long as we paid attention. The trail covers quite a few different places, including quiet neighborhood parks with picnic areas, raised walkways through the forest canopy, a horticultural park with a large variety of garden displays, and two amazing bridges (Alexandra Arch and Henderson Waves) that get you across busy roadways and connect everything together. There are a lot of great views along the way, though they’re mostly of the city, because you’re still in Singapore and never too far from some fascinating building.
Like this one!
Toward the eastern end, the trail climbs Mount Faber, which might sound intimidating but is actually one of the nicer parts—it isn’t very steep, and near the top there’s a building that houses a cable car station (to Sentosa Island), restaurants, a gift shop, and the first time we’d felt air conditioning in a while. This was a very welcome break, and allowed us to cool off for a bit before the last leg. We didn’t eat anything there—the restaurants were actually pretty fancy—but it also served as a reminder that even when hiking through the jungle in Singapore, you’re still going to run into food sooner or later.
From there, it was a pretty quick walk down the other side of the mountain. And in yet another illustration of the nature of the country, as soon as we stepped out of the forest, we found ourselves across the street from the biggest mall in Singapore.
I really enjoyed the hike, though it definitely isn’t something to do every day—while the terrain isn’t difficult, the weather is hot, and that’s something you have to prepare for. We did all right since we started early and it was overcast, though we probably should have remembered mosquito repellent, since Singapore’s generally effective anti-mosquito measures don’t extend to the forest. Fortunately we didn’t get dengue fever, because mosquitoes can give you that in Singapore! That might have put a damper on things.
That biggest mall I mentioned is called VivoCity, and it’s kind of ridiculous. Unlike the mostly vertical malls at Orchard Road, it has a sizable footprint—it can be difficult to chart a path from one side to the other—and it’s still five floors tall, counting the basement levels. Even after all the hiking, we spent a while exploring the mall, ultimately getting some laksa and duck rice at one of the food courts. (Having learned from 313@somerset, we didn’t eat at the first food court we saw, because we knew there would be more.) When we were done there, we boarded the monorail to Sentosa Island, which was our ultimate target for the day.
Sunset from Sentosa Island
Sentosa is Singapore’s resort island, featuring beaches, nice hotels (including one that’s available by invitation only and is presumably very expensive), and attractions including a Universal Studios theme park. We had a hotel room but didn’t actually do much on the island; we were pretty tired from the long walk and had plans the next day, so it was mainly a chance to spend the night somewhere different. It was a nice place and I wouldn’t mind exploring more of the island in the future, though it was all a bit manicured and artificial. Singapore itself feels kind of like a resort in the first place, and there’s a lot more to see and do in the rest of the country; Sentosa might be a better fit if you have kids or if you live in Singapore and want to take a vacation.
We did head out to the beach before sunset, which had some nice views (mainly of cargo ships, but that’s still interesting). I’m not much of a beach person so I couldn’t really judge, but apparently the water isn’t that great there due to the aforementioned cargo traffic, though it didn’t stop people from enjoying it. More notable to me was the sort of mini hawker center nearby, because of course there was. I think it’s pretty new, and a number of the stalls weren’t occupied yet, but we got some good satay and this lychee chinchow that was similar but not identical to ice kachang. I’d hoped to try roti john, a sort of Malay sandwich, but it was fairly late by this point and they were no longer available. That’s something I still need to track down over here somewhere.
Palawan Beach on Sentosa Island
One point of interest near the beach was the supposed southernmost point in continental Asia, though the claim is rather dubious. First of all, the point isn’t actually on the Asian mainland—it’s a tiny island connected by bridge to Sentosa, which itself is across a bridge from Singapore proper, which is across another bridge from the actual continent. So, “southernmost point that can be reached by bridge from Asia” might be more appropriate, except that isn’t actually true either, as it isn’t even the southernmost point on Sentosa Island. I don’t really know what they were going for with that designation, but it provides some nice views, at least.
Returning from the beach meant jamming ourselves onto, then extricating ourselves from, a very crowded monorail, and then it was back to the hotel. The next day, we returned to the city to continue our adventures.
Next time: One more big adventure!