Singapore is one of the world's most densely populated countries, but after a slow start the country has put a lot of effort into preserving the bits of greenery that remain, and the Southern Ridges are perhaps the most impressive result.
The trail consists of four parks stretching across the western half of Singapore, with impressive bridges allowing pedestrians to cross busy highways. Several parts of the trail are suspended high above the jungle, offering great views of the often surreal contrast between Singapore's ultra-modern buildings and the primeval greenery around the trail.
This is about as far from hardcore hiking as you can get: the entire main trail is paved or otherwise surfaced. In addition, the section from HortPark to Mount Faber not only needs no equipment, but is perfectly accessible by baby stroller or wheelchair. Most of the trail is even lit at night until midnight or beyond.
About the only equipment you will need is comfy shoes and an umbrella. Toilets, drink vending machines and rest shelters are scattered throughout the trail, and there are several full-service restaurants and cafes along it as well.
The trail is best visited early in the morning before it gets hot, or late in the afternoon after 5PM. The sunset from the bridges and other viewpoints can be stunning.
The Southern Ridges Walk can be accessed at numerous points. From west to east, the most common options are:
- Bus 175 from 1 Clementi MRT station to 2 After West Coast Link bus stop, opposite of West Coast Park.
- 3 Kent Ridge MRT station (exit B). Turn left as you come out of the station and the first street you'll come to is Science Park Dr. You're already on the 'suggested Southern Ridges Trail' as described below: you need to follow the street eastwards to get to Kent Ridge Park by the lake.
- Buses 61, 97, 100, 166 from HarbourFront MRT to "Opp Gillman Heights" bus stop, right next to HortPark.
- 4 Labrador Park MRT station is situaded in the middle of the walk, and closest to Labrador Nature Reserve.
- 5 HarbourFront MRT station (exit D) provides easy access to the base of Mount Faber and the stairway leading to the top.
The entire trail can be covered in 2½ hours if you hurry, but that wouldn't be much fun. The most scenic portion of the trail is the section between HortPark, in western Singapore and Mount Faber, the gateway to Sentosa in the south.
Anything wheeled, including bicycles and roller skates, is not allowed on most of the trail. Running or jogging is OK and quite popular. The parks get busy on weekends, but are quiet on weekdays.
West Coast Park and Clementi Woods
1 West Coast Park is very much a local park full of picnicking families, featuring a McDonald's if you want to tank up with junk food before you hit the trail.
To start your quest, cross West Coast Rd at Carpark 3 and walk along West Coast Link to enter 2 Clementi Woods, a quiet neighborhood park that hasn't been touched in 20 years. Follow signage towards the amphitheatre and Clementi Road.
The grandly named Kent Ridge Heritage Trail starts here, but the "trail" is for most part just the sidewalk next to roads running through the grounds of the National University of Singapore (NUS), across busy South Buona Vista Road, and then through Science Park I - a research, development and technologies hub. Signage is limited, so you may need to ask for directions, although there are a few maps and panels scattered about.
Kent Ridge Park and HortPark
At the end of the heritage trail right after the Science Park starts the 3 Kent Ridge Park proper. After an uphill climb along Vigilante road starts the 4 Southern Ridges Canopy Walk, a 280-m-long elevated walkway through the upper layers of the jungle, with signage pointing out plants of interest. After the Canopy Trail is 5 Reflections at Bukit Chandu, a small but well-done war museum in an old colonial bungalow, commemorating the Malay Regiment who fought here at the Battle of Pasir Panjang, the last major battle before the surrender of the British forces in Singapore during World War II. Several old pillboxes and pieces of military equipment dot the area. Once done visiting the museum follow a lengthy section down the hill, mostly down concrete steps.
Next is 6 HortPark, an unfortunate contraction of "horticultural park" and a buzzword-laden "one-stop gardening hub", with a resort-like main building with an open-air deck with great views, and a smattering of tiny garden plots with overblown names along the lines of "The Next Dimension in Greenery". The central pavilion is host to 1 Vineyard, an upscale French-Italian restaurant open daily for lunch and dinner, with vending machines, public toilets, and free exhibitions on the latest in gardening. There is also a series of glass houses that initially don't look too interesting but closer examination show that these are anything but traditional glass houses, each with particular climates for particular plants, and some of these are spectacular. It was the testing ground for the huge indoor climate-controlled Conservatory Complex in Gardens by the Bay.
Optional detour: Labrador Nature Reserve
Once you are on either side of the Alexandra Arch bridge, walk down to the road below, and follow Alexandra Road south for approximately 1 km. Upon reaching the West Coast Highway, you'll see the Labrador Park MRT station (Circle Line), behind which starts 7 Labrador Nature Reserve. The park offers close access to the seaside, mangrove, and good views on the harbour with its cargo ships.
Telok Blangah Hill Park
Next is 8 Telok Blangah Hill Park. From HortPark, the Alexandra Arch bridge crosses the busy Alexandra Road and immediately segues into the 1.3 km (0.81 mi) long 9 Forest Walk, one of the most impressive sections of the trail. Don't let the name fool you: the elevated metal walkway soars as high as 18 m above the ground, on level with the treetops, and those with fear of heights may want to opt for the ground-hugging (and much more punishing) trail below it instead.
About halfway through, the walk returns to earth for a moment, paralleling Preston Road and its impressive collection of "black and white" bungalows that were built for the officers of the British army and are now much favored by wealthy expats in Singapore. (They're private property, so no peeking inside.) The walk continues after Preston Road, eventually zigzagging its way up a steep hill.
The Hilltop Walk 1 km (0.62 mi) that follows is much more anticlimactic, although there is a bizarre, oddly Romanesque 10 Terrace Garden up a small hill that offers an almost-360-degree view of Singapore. A little later some exercise stations, an information kiosk, a vending machine and a public toilet can be found. If you need a snack or a break from the heat, 2 Alkaff Mansion to your left is a delightful colonial mansion that now hosts a cafe, a tapas bar and an upscale Spanish restaurant, with both outdoor and blissfully air-conditioned indoor seating.
11 Sembcorp Forest of Giants is a special collection of giant trees native to the region. The collection comprises over 600 trees that dominated the regional landscape before the advent of urbanisation. Also known as emergents - large trees that grow above the forest canopy - some of the 55 species selected for the collection can attain heights of over 80 m in the wild. As these giant tree species can take more than 50 years to mature and reach such great heights.
Next is another of the highlights of the trail, the 36-meter-high 12 Henderson Waves pedestrian bridge, connecting Telok Blangah to 13 Mount Faber Park. Shaped like an undulating caterpillar sculpted from wood and steel, the name is appropriate and the view of the sea beyond the jungle is stunning. The bridge is lit up with a light show from 7PM to 2AM daily.
Once over to Mt. Faber, one of Singapore's older parks, the unappetizing choices for the first stretch are to either follow along the paved roads next to cars, or to stomp off on the short, poorly signed little trails that all seem to lead back to the roads. The one point of minor interest along the way is the Danish Seamen's Church, a colonial confection of white and red that can be reached by following the paved road south.
But the main attraction for most is 14 Faber Point, home to the third and smallest of Singapore's many Merlions, decent views in all directions and an inexplicable abundance of tour groups ferried here on buses. A series of murals around the base of the pavilion offer a cheery and sanitized summary of Singapore's history.
Just down the road is the Jewel Box, containing the terminus of the cable car from Sentosa plus an assemblage of five expensive restaurants, all of them rather too fancy after spending a few hours stomping around in the tropical heat. You could do worse than sunset drinks at Moonstone on the top floor.
For more substantial fare, though, it's best to keep going further down. The Marang Trail branches off to your right, an unlit staircase that offers the shortest route down to HarbourFront. You can now choose from the dozens of restaurants in the Vivocity shopping mall, or chow down hawker style at the 3 Seah Im Food Centre, on the other side of the street right next to the bus terminus.
The walk is as sanitized as you'd expect in Singapore, and the trails are dotted with signs warning visitors that, out in the untamed forest, it's possible for a branch to fall. Don't feed any monkeys you may encounter, as not only will you encourage them to pester humans, but this is illegal as well.