Singapore vibrates with the thrum of commerce, wealth generation and relentless consumerism but there is a softer, more natural side as well. Beyond the shopping malls and shiny skyscrapers lies an oasis of green, with more than half the city comprised of parks and reserves.
It’s easy to write off this city-state-country-island nation as nothing more than a sterile launching point to visit the rest of Southeast Asia, but the lush gardens, colorful tropical flowers and one last vestige of traditional village life can be refreshing after battling through grimy, gridlocked cities and potholed, bone-jarring roadways in other parts of the region. It’s true that Singapore is a model of efficiency, a city on the move with a subway that snakes through subterranean tunnels while a complex network of coaches, cabs and cars conveys the populace of five million through their busy days. But no matter where you are in the concrete jungle you’re within easy reach of nature. Here is a trio of the best, in three different areas of the city.
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bayis the newest area to be developed in a city with no place to grow, having opened in Marina Bay in June 2012. Built on reclaimed land, this project advances the city planners’ objective of transforming Singapore into a “City in a Garden”. Flanking the Central Business District and dominated by the space-age Marina Bay Sands hotel/casino/shopping complex is a forest of Jurassic-looking Supertrees towering 25- over two cooled biodomes on the 101 hectare () complex. The vertical garden, comprised of 18 sculptural trees, supports orchids and other tropical plants affixed to their metal trunks, as well as the OCBC Skyway that provides panoramic views of the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, Marina Bay Sands and city skyline. The trees are more than decorative as they vent hot air from the conservatory domes, while photovoltaic cells collect sunlight to power lighting the trees at night.
The Flower Dome and Cloud Forest Dome support an extensive international botanical collection, including succulents, Baobabs, cork oak, palms, ferns, and of course, orchids. It’s easy to take a short stroll from the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands over to the botanical gardens, where visitors are transported to a futuristically soothing natural environment, rich with oxygenizing gardens, and because of the sheltered domes it doesn’t matter if an afternoon monsoon lets loose.
It doesn’t cost anything to walk around the grounds and it’s a reasonable S$5 to walk along the skyway. The entrance fee to the enclosed gardens is S$8-28 depending on age and residence status.
Singapore Botanical Gardens
Over on Orchard Road, lined with malls, restaurants and bars, is a quiet, leafy neighborhood that promises peace and serenity to settle shopping-frayed nerves. A short walk leads to the venerable Singapore Botanical Gardens, where the renowned National Orchid Garden is housed. If you appreciate the plantings in many other gardens in the city you can thank the tireless directors and staff who took an active role in greening Singapore, contributing to the diversity of plantings along roadsides and in other public spaces.
As soon as you enter the grounds of the expansive gardens the din of traffic dies down and you’re in another world. Creeks gurgle, brooks babble and waterfalls tumble down rocky embankments. Broad expanses of lush, green grass cradle babies’ first steps while children romp with well-behaved puppies, on leashes, of course. Bonsai, ginger, palms, bougainvilleas, bamboo, medicinal plants, herbs, spices, and fruit trees each have a dedicated focus in various parts of the garden. Be sure to pick up a map when you enter so you don’t miss anything.
The National Orchid Garden, the largest in the world, is a wonder of floral riches. Orchids have been a pivotal part of the garden since it opened in 1859. The orchid breeding program began in 1928, leading to more than 2,000 handcrafted hybrids. A riot of color graces the welcoming display of manicured plants while the intersecting walking paths meander through hillsides massed with rare and unusual orchids, though only 600 of the 1,000 species are on display at any given time.
There is no entrance fee to the main botanic garden but there is a S$1-5 fee, depending on age, to enter the National Orchid Garden.
In Part 2 (coming soon) we’ll explore a very different natural environment at one of Singapore’s last traditional villages at Pulau Ubin.
Gardens by the Bay
18 Marina Gardens Drive
Singapore Botanical Gardens
1 Cluny Road
Changi Point Ferry Terminal-Take a taxi or public transportation:
On the MRT transfer at the Tanah Merah Station to take Bus No. 2 to the Changi Bus Interchange. The Changi Point Ferry Terminal is about 3 minutes walk from the Changi Bus Interchange.
Several airlines provide air service from San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore's Changi Airport (SIN), including United, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airline and Emirate. There are no non-stop flights and often a combination of carriers is required with a minimum of one stop. Prices for airlines departing from SFO are currently starting at around $1,000 with one stop. Flight time is about 20 hours. Check Skyscanner for more information.
According to the U.S. Department of State a visa is not required for tourist stays up to 90 days. You must carry a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry.