Singapore Southern Ridges: Swinging through the Treetops
Our windowless cell is really messing with our body clocks. While we do get up at 9am in the morning, it’s midday before we actually leave the hostel. Tired of being productive and planning out the last of the trip, I take a break and watch some tv programs for a couple of hours. With the free wifi I’m at least all caught up on news back home. Yet again, I’m just about missing my sister as she flies home through Kuala Lumpur where we’ll be arriving on Friday. My other sister is bemoaning being the only family member not coming or going from somewhere interesting this week. The CEO of the company I work for is still in Ireland, so he won’t be home to meet up with us in KL either. I check in with my work colleagues and I’m not sure if it’s reassuring or depressing that not a lot has been changing while I’ve been away.
Copying the locals, we hug the shade and use air-conditioned passageways as much as possible as we head out for our fruit breakfast and pick up some muffins. We then settle in Starbucks for a couple of hours to do some writing until the shrieking from the group of women behind us drives us to map out a new route and explore another part of Singapore. Today we’re going to check out the Southern Ridges Walk. We’re not entirely sure about where we’re going or what it involves, but allegedly we’ll be able to find our way onto it somewhere around the Harbourfront MRT station. What could possibly go wrong?
An hour later as we start climbing a lot of steps behind the MRT station we’re wondering if this was wise. It’s 4pm and there’s still a lot of heat in the air. After one flight of steps we’re perspiring heavily and judging by my heart rate I’ve just finished the equivalent of an hour in the gym. However we’ve started, so we’ll finish. Or possibly just pass out trying. We’re already in need of another shower anyhow so we may as well get some exercise in. Many flights of steps later and we’re finally starting to see over the tops of the trees. We seem to have made it to the top so the going should be easier from here on in theory. We’re rewarded for all our efforts with views all around as we reach the top of Mount Faber Park. To the south you can see ships heading out into the sea from port, to the North the buildings of Singapore climb high into the smoggy sky as far as the eye can see.
From Mount Faber we follow the trails to Henderson Waves. This is a pedestrian bridge spanning Henderson Road to connect Mount Faber Park with Telok Blanagh Park. It’s also the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore. Designed to mimic waves, it’s an interesting wooden and metal structure with some great views across the city. From there we continue on to the Forest Walk. It seems Singapore has cheated somewhat when it comes to construction. You get the distinct impression that every time planners encountered a big hill they immediately slapped a park sign on it and simply built around it. Later on they decided to link up the green areas that were left, being inventive as they constructed paths that take you from one to the other looking down on the busy traffic below. Now these pathways give a unique perspective of the city, walking through lush greenery while buildings pop up out of the growth here and there as if they might possibly have grown there themselves.
It’s time to start heading back down towards street level so we choose the canopy walk which is a long stretch of walkways going through Kent Ridge park and on to Alexandra Arch. It’s quite fascinating following the metal walkways as they hug the tree line. You don’t often get to travel suspended at this kind of level through the trees unless you have tarzan rope-swinging talents. Despite the numerous signs warning us against feeding the monkeys, we’re disappointed not to encounter any evidence of them. We weave our way down slowly on the metal walks as the occasional group of joggers clang past. We finish the walk at Alexandra Arch, another bridge spanning one of the many busy roads around Singapore. At this point we’ve had enough of exercise and set out for the nearest MRT station.
Having experienced some of the nicer, greener sights of Singapore, we’re now reminded of the more industrial and unpleasant aspects. Smog hangs heavy in the air and we have a good distance to walk along one of the busy arteries in the road network. Heavy traffic is spewing a steady stream of exhaust fumes into the air. The pungent smell of sewerage emanates from vents nearby. By the time we reach a MRT station my throat is raw and it feels like I’ll never shift the exhaust fumes from my lungs. Reminding myself that I’m on a city island/country that’s only the size of Lake Taupo in New Zealand, it’s hard to imagine living with such a large population in a relatively confined space. To get away from it all means literally leaving the country.
If there’s one thing that today has taught us, it’s the benefit of good air-conditioning in a country like this. Singapore has an excellent pedestrian network taking this into account. In fact, it’s one of the most pedestrian-friendly places I’ve ever been. Quite often you can choose to go under, over, or cross the roads at lights. As we become more accustomed to our routes we’re managing to stay out of the heat for the most part. It’s hard to imagine wanting to spend any time in the city if it weren’t for the ability to hide away from the heat and humidity. I’m somewhat conflicted when it comes to Singapore. I still find myself longing for some fresh air, rolling green hills and blue waters instead of the oppressive heat, concrete buildings and muddy brown rivers. However, as a heavily industrialised city cramming so many inhabitants into a such a confined space, it’s quite impressive what Singapore has achieved. There’s a lot of foresight and planning in the way the city is growing.