I was flying solo this weekend and decided that this presented the perfect opportunity to embark on an ambitious outing. Pocket travel guide in hand I scoured its pages for ideas of things to do that didn’t cost any money and where I was unlikely to have to interact with real people (I mean, who wants that on their day off?!). I settled on a trek through Southern Ridges, the collective name for the National Parks that run across the southern and eastern part of Singapore. The Southern Ridges are made up of Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, HortPark, Kent Ridge Park, Labrador Nature Reserve and East Coast Park, a route that comprises 10km of open spaces and strange architecture. Knowing my own aversion to exercise and physical activity of any kind I wasn’t sure that I’d make it the whole length, but setting off on Tuesday afternoon with a picnic and a far too sunny disposition I aimed to make it from the base of the Marang Trail at HarbourFront MRT to Kent Ridge MRT, roughly in the middle of Kent Ridge Park. My sojourn covered around 7km and to my great surprise I actually made it, plus around half a kilometre at the end where I got lost in Kent Ridge Science Park, but I’ll come onto that later.
The Marang Trail meanders up the side of Mount Faber, through impressively maintained jungle, and emerges near to the peak with some spectacular panoramic views of the South China Sea and Sentosa. I was warned, by a lot of deliberately placed signs on my up the Marang Trail, that I might encounter some monkeys and if this happened I was not to make eye contact or acknowledge their existence, or something, in case they went all Planet of the Apes. From the number of warnings I presumed Southern Ridges was literally teeming with monkeys, but sadly I didn’t see a single one. I suppose this is probably a good thing, knowing my luck I would have probably been attacked by a monkey and then this post would be about my trip to the hospital to get a rabies shot.
Despite my disappointment at the lack of primates the Marang Trail was a great introduction to my walk. I could’ve done without the fact that it was essentially a big hill, but the scenery was beautiful, as were the views at the top, and it was easy to forget that I was still in the middle of a city.
Post lunch stop (I couldn’t exhaust myself too much before stopping for food, obviously) I decided to forgo the detour to the peak of Mount Faber, as my goal was to traverse as much of Southern Ridges as possible and I thought there might be more people up there – the horror!
The next stop on my journey was Henderson Waves, the highest pedestrian footbridge in Singapore, connecting Mount Faber Park to Telok Blanagh Hill Park. I don’t know why, but something about the name Henderson Waves made me presume that it was simply a path connecting the two parks that featured a lot of wavy sculptures. This is probably a lot less realistic than what it actually is, but I was still a little disappointed when I realised that it is just a bridge. Don’t get me wrong though, ‘just a bridge’ does not do Henderson Waves justice. In fact, it’s one of the most strangely designed bridges I have ever seen. The walkway undulates like a wave, which is, I presume, where it got its name, and one side features a series of wave-like recesses where you can sit and look at the freeway below. There is a view, a good view in fact, of the harbour and the sea,but you’re mainly distracted by the major road underneath you, which is unfortunate. I was suitably impressed by the design of the bridge, but what was slightly less impressive was the fact that quite a lot of the slats creaked and wobbled when you stood on them. This was not a good thing to happen on the highest pedestrian bridge in the country, and I felt like I was on a very rickety old pier that’s seen better days, probably not the effect the designers were going for.
Thankfully I survived the dodgy bridge and made it onto the next leg of my trek. I have no idea where or what Telok Blanagh Hill Park was supposed to be but whatever it was I missed it, and went straight onto the hilltop walk. Since I’ve been in Singapore I’ve noticed how badly everything is signposted, so it was a constant surprise to me that I was so clearly directed at each stage of my walk. That is, of course, except for the Hilltop Walk where the arrows pointed me on the most ridiculous mini-detour where I walked past a handful of fairly tall trees optimistically named ‘the forest of giants’. After I had navigated my way back on track I was greeted by some more steps and the Hilltop Walk.
I think that this walk is supposed to be full of flowers and a beautiful sight in the middle of the city, but they are currently doing some maintenance and gardening works, so apart from the elegant white steps and the pagoda at the top the rest of it was just grass, muddy brown flowerbeds and orange cones, which was a shame. However, the view from the top was, again, pretty spectacular and with a little imagination it’s not hard to see that it’s normally quite a sight.
Singaporean signposting failed me completely at this point, and I spent 5 minutes getting funny looks as I wandered around in circles trying to decide which way to go to the Forest Walk. I finally decided on the big old hill behind me and committed to going down it, luckily it was the right decision because I would not have been happy if I’d had to go back up. I wasn’t expecting much from the Forest Walk, the rest of my trek had been nice but nothing spectacular, so I was expecting more of the same. But, oh boy, was I wrong.
The Forest Walk is a long raised walkway that winds through a perfectly preserved snippet of jungle from the top of a hill down towards ground level. Walking along it was like being in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature that has remained untouched for thousands of years. This feeling in itself was surreal as I was still in the middle of the city, and could see HDBs and the CBD through the trees. I have no idea how long I meandered along the walkway, but it was a while. It’s very cleverly designed in a number of stepped levels, so you spend some time going back on yourself as you get closer and closer to ground level, before it straightens out and emerges into a clearing where a large array of exotic and endangered birds have their habitats. For a country that loves to destroy and rebuild being able to experience this pristine piece of nature just a stones throw from the city was quite something.
I don’t want to say that the walk was all downhill from here (although it was, literally, all downhill for quite a while after) but the Forest Walk was my personal highlight. It ended with another architecturally interesting bridge, crossing another main road, Alexander Arch. Luckily for my nerves this one didn’t creak or wobble and I made it across in much higher spirits than I had been on rickety Henderson Waves.
Next up came the strangest part of my trail, HortPark. The only way I can really try and describe HortPark is that it’s what I imagine Chelsea Flower Show would look like in its off-season. HortPark is not so much a park as a series of gardens, designed by an array of people to be a series of different things. I felt a bit like I was trespassing when I entered as by the gate there is a grand looking conference hall and an outdoor area that would look more at home in a posh office. Walking around HortPark the gardens seem to be arranged in a slightly haphazard way, and I think I passed a few by completely. There are vertical gardens which are commonly used to offset the carbon emissions of big buildings, a children’s garden that I had an overwhelming urge to play in, a cultural garden, as Asian garden, fruit and vegetable gardens and countless others stuck together in the most random of manners. There was also something called ‘the prototype glass house’ which just seemed to be a series of greenhouses designed to look like a large, strangely shaped box. The place was practically deserted which was eerie and I couldn’t help feeling that it would be a good place to set a low budget horror film.
There was only one more phase of my walk after HortPark, Kent Ridge Park and the Canopy Walk. By this point my legs were growing weary and I was seriously considering when it would be acceptable to finish my trek, but I had set myself a goal and I was not going to shirk on it at the last hurdle, so up I trudged towards Kent Ridge and the Canopy Walk. The weather was turning by this point and it was only when I made it up onto the canopy walk, which stretched through the treetops by Kent Ridge, that I realised that being that high up on a windy day was perhaps not the smartest of ideas. The path was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, with brilliant views and some interesting World War II history to learn about (always my favourite topic, obviously), but it’s slightly disconcerting to be picking your way along a plank bridge in the middle of the canopy when all the trees around you are swaying wildly and you feel that, if something horrible was to befall you at this moment it’s likely no one would know.
Anyway, by the time I came to this realisation it was too late to do anything about it, so holding my head high I had to just power on towards survival. At the end of the bridge of doom I came across Reflections at Bukit Chandau, an interactive museum telling the tale of the Japanese invasion of Singapore. It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a while, and I was tempted, but I had done an awful lot of walking by this point, and I only had about 45 minutes until the museum closed, so I decided it was an attraction to save for another time. Instead I decided to brave Kent Ridge Park in the hope that it would be smaller than it looked and that I would eventually come across the MRT. In hindsight I should have probably gone the other way towards a much closer, more obviously located MRT, but I was not going to let my epic journey be cut short by my own laziness, so I struck out into Kent Ridge and onto the last leg of my journey. I would love to be able to tell you that it was interesting and so completely worth it, but it really wasn’t, especially as there was quite a lot of gardening work going on in the park. Instead of a nice quiet stroll through some peaceful greenery I walked as calmly (read hastily) as I could past a man who just casually had a machete lying on the path, and between a load of parked lorries and lounging workmen, until I ended up briefly on the mountain bike trail and more permanently in Kent Ridge Science Park. Don’t ask me how I ended up in the middle of the science park, which was more like a posh trading estate, but before I knew what had happened I’d left the tranquility of nature and entered into the mad rush of a Tuesday home time. And this, ladies and gentlemen, was when I got lost. Not spectacularly, I might never see civilisation again, lost, but slightly and annoyingly lost at the point when I was ready to go home. After wandering around wondering where on earth I was and why there was no longer any kind of signposting I stumbled upon the MRT station, and thanked my lucky stars that Singapore is so ridiculously small.
Well reader, I somehow survived my epic quest, and am now back on flat land, ready for my next adventure and potential near-death experience.
Until next time.
Leah Out X