Not keen on Formula One or gambling resorts? Neither is Gnarfgnarf. Here are our picks of biodiversity hotspots and party hotspots...
At the founding of Singapore in 1819, evergreen rainforests and mangroves covered most of the island. Singapore has been largely built. Today, visitors ought not go looking for old growth primary forest... at less than 0.2% of the land area, trees between buildings will be hard to spot. Singapore's population density as a country is the third largest in the world but far behind other Asian megalopolises as a city proper. Reservoirs and public gardens account for 42% of the island's land use, while more than half is built up. Unless they are interested in amusement parks, visiting tree huggers should give guidebook recommended night safaris, plastic beach resorts and other zoos a miss. In addition to jogging at Singapore's pleasant Botanic Gardens, East Coast and a string of other smaller parks, the keen environmentalist may find some few green shoots of nature where the merlion once roamed.
For a couple of local dollars, a beatup bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal takes you on a ten minute ride to Pulau Ubin. On weekdays you share your ride with the occasional school trip, on weekends with cyclists. No concrete buildings, no urban development, no tarmac roads, no cars. "Granite Island" provided construction materials until the 1970s when its quarries were closed. The hundred odd inhabitants of the Kampong, the local Malay villages, care not for fancy cars, golden cards, designer attire or large mansions. The villagers probably own less than elsewhere in the glittery city. No electricity grid, no piped water... While we certainly appreciate the island's ecosystems, accessible cycle paths and sceneries, Pulau Ubin fast disappearing uniqueness is its unhurried and leisurely pace against the backdrop of a fast moving Singapore context. Just a stone's throw from some of the most financially valuable real estate in the world, the island is tempting a great many developers. An MRT line has been in the drawing boards. "The Last rural corner of Singapore"... How long will Pulau Ubin stay this way?
Kranji Express and Bus 925C to Kranji Reservoir
Opening Hours: 7.30 am to 7.00 pm Monday to Saturday: 7.00 am to 7.00 pm on Sundays and public holidays
Admissions: Free except weekends and holidays (SGD 1)
Singapore is a small island, and the "Bamboo River" Wetland Reserve's 130 hectares remain puny when compared to other Southeast Asian protected areas. Some way out of the city into the Singapore countryside (yes, there is farming in Singapore!). The reserve has been recognised internationally as an essential stopover for migratory birds. Some 170 bird species have been inventoried. The rangers have also done a great job at making tangled mangroves and mudflats easily accessible with boardwalks. Bird watchers will appreciate viewing platforms and children will be excited to spot the crocodile warning signboards (there may be more of them than the actual beasts). Smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) can occasionally be seen frolicking and Malayan water monitor lizards (Varanus salvator) will pull their tongues at visitors. Anyhow, mud skippers and crabs abound.
MacRitchie Reservoir Park
Buses 130 and 132 to Little Sisters of the Poor
Opening Hours: 7.00 am to 7.00 pm, 9.00 am to 5.00 pm for the Tree Top Walk (closed Mondays)
Completed in 1868, MacRitchie Reservoir is Singapour's oldest. The secondary forest around the reservoir protects the catchment area. Boardwalks take visitors on leisurely stroll around the water, or on scenic trails through the forest. The trails are well marked with a profusion of indicative signboards and ideal for a bit of safe adventure in the jungle. The 250 meter long aerial suspension bridge ("the Tree Top Walk") offers close up views of the forest canopy. The longest walks will keep hikers who do not mind mosquitoes busy for a good half day.
Buses 65, 75, 171, 184, 170, 173, 852 and 961.
Opening Hours: 8.30 am to 6.00 pm
Located at the centre of the island, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is Singapore's last 160 hectares of old growth forest. Surrounded by roads and condominiums, the reserve's long tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) have nowhere to jump but still cling to an habitat rich in biodiversity. Five walking trails take visitors through primary rainforest dominated by dipterocarp trees.
Singapore is a good place to party. Yuppy folks in their severe work gear hit the many bars, pubs and dance-spots throughout the week to ease the stress and pain of a meaningless rat race. Students in their post and pre-exam delirium do the same before they face the reality of the job market. No good reason for visitors not to. The ambiance is generally unaggressive and jaded. As in most places in Asia, there is no need to fight for the barman's attention because service remains thoroughly efficient. People may try to be cool as anywhere else, but the most hectic point of a night out in Singapore is lining up for a taxi to get home. Herewith our Gnarfgnarf suggestions of worthy nightlife and party spots...
Take a cab here and you will see a group of former British Army barracks in a relatively lush environment. Bars and restaurants have replaced military drills in this up and coming would be happening nightspot. Like nearby Holland, Dempsey Hill is more on the expatriate side. However, it is relatively chilled and tamed, bordering on the Sunday morning family lunch. Start with a bit of pampering at the appropriately named House, Barracks and Camp Spa. The buildings include a spacious yoga, greenhouse and cafe. Big enough for a battalion of aching and overworked shoulders. Samy's Curry has grown from a south Indian mom and pop's shop in the 1950s to a Singapore institution. Check out their fish head curry, chicken masala and yummy veggies. Finally, keep ambling to Red Dot's microbrewery. Try their Monster Green, a beer laced with spirulina, and see for yourself whether it tastes better than it looks.
Jiak Kim Street
Jiak Kim Street is more expensive than Mohammed Sultan Road but worth the fun for one night in Singapore. Zouk, a still happening funky dance complex caters to students and yuppies, and sometimes boasts of cool DJs from beyond Singapore (ooh!). Supposedly house was introduced to Singapore at Zouk, but it may just be an urban legend. Visitors can strut their stuff on an equal footing with wannabe usual. Velvet Underground, next doors, caters to an older more intimate crowd but competes to be equally cool. Phuture would like to snatch hip hop artists, but is shamelessly mainstream fun.
Boat and Clark Quays
This little street by the Singapore River is home to a good number of al fresco eateries and pubs. Great atmosphere and fabulous view of the skyline as you dance or eat the night away. Busy looking yuppies (it is impossible to avoid them in Singapore) have their corporate lunches here during the day. Things change in the evening. Sleeves rolled up and ties loosened, executives like to have a beer or a coffee or some stronger stuff after a hard days' work (although they can't handle alcohol either).
Take the cute little bum boat across to Clarke Quay. This is a larger quay and is home to some trendy restaurants, bars and clubs. Just take your pick. If one night isn't enough, come back the next day! Good live music in the open courtyard and good stall foods in the alleys for those who want a snack with their beers! Go to Hu'u Bar for a really cool atmosphere, the only acid jazz bar in Singapore. Located at the Singapore Art Museum, this hotspot is popular among funky types. Check it out and see if you fit in!
Nature and Biodiversity Hotspots
Boat and Clark Quays
Mudskippers, found in Singapore's mangroves, are amphibious fish that can use their pectoral fins to walk on land... they move around in a series of skips on mud. Mudskippers' gill chambers retain air to allow them to breathe onland, acting like a scuba diver's oxygen tanks...>>