Tag Archives: Park

Nature Walking

A friend once said that Singapore is small enough that one should be able to look through a guidebook and say, “I’ve done that.” Covid19 has done a lot to my sense of self and the way I understand the world, both large and small, but it has also forced me to live as much as I can here in Singapore. With 2021 mere hours away, the clock ticking is more obviously than usual.

It took almost two hours and multiple forms of transportation to reach Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, located so far north in Singapore that there are views of the skyline of Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Sungei Buloh contains extensive mangroves, mudflats, forests, and ponds, and is important for migratory birds. There are only a few walking trails and we covered the entire reserve in just a couple of hours. The protected nature of the area means that we saw plants, birds, fish, and animals in abundance. Some of these are normal Singapore creatures but other I’d never seen before.

Before we have a closer look, this is what Sungei Buloh looks like:

As a child, I remember mangroves mentioned in books but I don’t think I knew what that meant until moving to Singapore. We learned that 13% of Singapore used to be mangrove forests, and less than 0.5% of that remains today. (Source)

As always, I really enjoyed the flowers. I will miss tropical flowers when I leave this part of the world.

Mudflats were also relatively new to me and I’d never seen a mudskipper before! There were plenty of these little guys around, as well as mud snails. He/she/it is roughly in the centre of the frame.

We also saw mud crabs, another animal I’d never heard of. You might have to zoom in on the individual images to see them and I recommend doing so – they’re pretty cool.

The insects were not to be missed and the spider webs were amazing, large constructions. There’s only one photo here but I tried (and failed) to take others.

Watching the herons and egrets fishing reminded me of growing up on the Erie Canal and Genesee River in Rochester, New York.

Additionally, we saw an otter (not pictured but also pretty common in Singapore),bats, tree snake, a few monkeys, and a number of monitor lizards, including one in a tree. Again, you might have to zoom in on individual images if you’d like a closer look.

Finally, we searched in great anticipation for crocodiles but the water was quite high and we didn’t have much hope in finding one. As it turned out, though, we did! We weren’t sure if it was a crocodile or a log but I managed a photo before it disappeared beneath the surface of the water. The park rangers and other visitors nearby assured us is was indeed a crocodile. Can you spot it?

A quick climb up an observation tower gave us really impressive views. It’s a wonder, in ways both good and bad, that this island, that the world, used to be so wild. And I wonder at the costs, both known and unknown, of taming it.

Since we had already come all the way out to Kranji to visit the wetlands, my friend suggested going a little further south to Kranji Marshes. Unlike Sungei Buloh, most of the marshes are conservation areas not accessible to visitors, though there are ongoing plans to expand the walking paths. Kranji Marshes is part of Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network and it turns out there’s a shuttle bus that connects multiple locations of this park network, but we didn’t know that until the shuttle bus pulled up just as we were leaving. We took a bus and a taxi to get there but were glad for the shuttle on the way back. (Note to self: Read the transportation signs at each visitor centre.)

The plants were different there, which was interesting because it really did feel like a different place, which I wasn’t expecting. While we didn’t see too many birds, I know this is a popular spot at dawn for birdwatchers.

I especially liked the plants growing in and around all the little ponds. It reminded me of the summer camp I attended as a child, which had a pond for fishing and a swamp for canoeing and kayaking.

The marshes are known for upwards of fifty species of dragonfly and while we didn’t see fifty, they were everywhere and in so many bright colours. The same can be said for the butterflies.

We also saw different flowers than we had earlier, and what was possibly some kind of fruit.

And as before, the view from observation areas were stunning and thought provoking, especially in contrast to the obvious signs of human presence.

While it was quite the journey to get there, I recommend a visit. Everything that is part of the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network is free and there’s that handy shuttle bus to take you around because it’s too large to walk. Pack a camera, sunscreen, bug spray, apples, almonds, bottles of water, and you’re good to go.

If nothing else, Covid19 has been a reminder to get out and play in my own backyard. While I hope for a better, more peaceful year ahead, I cannot forget that I have now gone places that I perhaps never would have seen. This is a reminder to live in the world, rather than letting the world pass us by, because we never really know what the world will be like tomorrow.

Exploring Coney Island

It’s always important to get outside. We know this, and it seems to be increasingly part of collective awareness because there are currently so many restrictions on movement. I am so, so grateful that we’re still able to get out and about in Singapore and I am taking advantage of this simple freedom as much as possible.

Over the weekend, my social cohort and I met early in the morning to take the MRT all the way to Punggol, the northernmost terminus of the North-East Line. From there, we caught the 84 bus to Punggol Waterway Park, is exactly what it sounds like. We were greeted by a turtle pond!

We walked along the path next to the water until we reached the bridge to Coney Island, also known as Pulau (“island” in Bahasa Melayu) Serangoon. Click here to read about the history of the island, which opened to the public in 2015 after ownership changed hands repeatedly beginning around the 1930s.

While much of Singapore looks like this . . .

. . . Coney Island felt like a whole world away.

We heard birds that we don’t hear in the city and saw different flowers, which I really enjoyed.

There were neat mushrooms, too!

It was great to smell the sand and the sea and the sand felt different here than it does in other parts of Singapore.

We walked the length of the island and then turned back to head back to Punggol Waterway Park. It was very hot and we were glad we’d ventured out in the morning. Except for a toilet, there are no amenities on Coney Island so if you’re planning to spend some time there, make sure you rent bicycles before crossing the bridge and stock up on snacks! There’s plenty to eat and drink along the promenade leading to the bridge but nothing but trees and beach once you’re on the island. Trees, beach, and groups of old men fishing.

Since we’re surrounded by glittering skyscrapers, it’s easy to lose sight of what Singapore used to be. And it’s the juxtaposition of the two landscapes that I love.

Travel Guide: Bratislava

Bratislava marked the end of my winter adventure through Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia (with a brief stop in Italy). By the time I got there, I was used to the cold and the short daylight hours and I was also very glad to meet up with a friend the day after I arrived.

One of the important things I learned on this trip is that driving in Europe requires a vignette, basically a road pricing sticker that includes road tax and can vary based on roads driven and distance. The cost of a vignette is quite reasonable but the fine for not having one is rather steep. Turns out I’d been pretty lucky because I didn’t learn this until I’d been driving around for five days. After buying an online vignette for Slovakia, one of the few countries that allows this, I took back roads out of Maribor back into Austria. As I drove through a vineyard on a road with one and a half lanes, a border official waved and that was it. I do very much like this about Europe. Shortly afterwards, I stopped to look around.

The winding, twisting, narrow roads led into small towns with winery after winery, each clearly visible on the surrounding hills. Thinking of the lives that had been built here gave me pause.

Getting to Bratislava was simple but getting into Bratislava was a little more complicated and I marvelled at how people had navigated before technology. I was more than happy to park the car and leave it for the next two days. Getting around Bratislava on foot is very easy and there’s extensive public transportation.

I was staying across the street from Bratislava Castle, the grounds of which are open at all times. I walked through it that afternoon and again the following morning.

Bratislava Castle was first built in the ninth century but the current version was rebuilt beginning in the 1950s. Today, there are museums that are open to the public, as well. I was more interested in the garden . . .

. . . and the churches and other buildings located just down the hill. There were real signs of life and ideas here, which I always enjoy seeing.

I took a quick walk through town to get my bearings, surprised at how very few people were around. I was also surprised at the number of hipster establishments that didn’t seem to match the atmosphere. The streets were really quiet and the sky, no longer the bright blue of Slovenia, gave the city a feel of being tucked into winter. Although I couldn’t tell you why, I got the impression that Bratislava could be a very stark place and it did not feel like anywhere I’d been before.

The UFO bridge certainly added to that impression.

But then I stepped inside a brewery (and then another one . . . and then another two the next day) and I found all the people. They were laughing and talking and joking and almost no one was looking at their phones. This was very, very different from what I see in Asia and I felt suddenly warmer for being around people who were interacting with each other and the space around them.

The following day was one of walking and wandering. I met up with a friend and it was great to have the company and to share this new experience. We walked through the old town and quarters of grand buildings . . .

. . . through the city to visit the Blue Church . . .

. . . and took a short walk from the Blue Church to the site of Bratislava’s only remaining synagogue.

Earlier that day, right next to St. Martin’s Cathedral in the old town, we’d seen an exhibit on the street about the synagogue of Bratislava that, despite protests by the community, had been torn down in the 1960s to build the UFO bridge. Bratislava has a long and extensive Jewish history and there were historical markers about it around the city, including a museum dedicated to Jewish culture.

We also walked across the Danube River . . .

. . . and found ourselves in a park that must have been a relic of Bratislava’s communist history. Imagine the stories these benches and trees could tell! Or the last people to sit here. Who are they? Where are they?

Just across the street from the Presidential Palace, we saw another relic of communism – a fountain that had once clearly been a showpiece but was also in disrepair.

Another notable element of walking around Bratislava was the graffiti tagging everywhere. I felt a real lack of reverence and desire to be heard and I liked that attitude very much. Things that have been needn’t always be. And Bratislava was a little bit of everything.

The next morning, it was time to go but I really wasn’t ready to leave just yet. Instead, the last day having a car made it possible to visit Devín Castle, a stone castle located 10km from Bratislava. It was built in the thirteenth century and was then destroyed by Napoleon’s army in the early 1800s. The sun had come out again but the wind was really strong. It was easy to see why this castle had been built up on a windy hill at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers.

Thanks to a photo exhibition, I learned that the Iron Curtain had run directly in front of the castle to separate Bratislava from Austria across the river. I knew that the Velvet Revolution, the history of which Bratislava is very proud, had toppled communism here but I didn’t know that the Iron Curtain was a physical structure. In school, we’d talked about it as a concept, not as something tangible. Learning about that was really powerful and reminded me again of how much I don’t know.

After the cold wind, the obvious choice was to stop for some hot wine once more before the last part of the journey, which would again follow Austrian wine roads because they’re so much prettier than the highway.

And then all too soon, the car was dropped off and I had far too much time to kill at the airport. As is my habit, I drank a hot chocolate and reflected on the roads travelled. I had seen parts of the world that I’d never really imagined seeing and I honestly felt the growth in myself as a person. When I moved to Malaysia in 2014, I never would have known how to go about a trip like this. And here I was with all clothing in my pack worn twice like it was nothing. It has been a long road to get to this point and that I cannot forget.

Sometimes the world feels right to me and over the last few weeks it had. There is solace in that feeling. There is solace in knowing there are places out there where the world feels okay. Thank you, world.