Wet and wild: the forgotten Singapore

by Seb.King

With monitor lizards, crocodiles and exotic birds, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve provides a welcome contrast to the busy shopping malls of Singapore city centre

Think Singapore. Think skyscrapers and more shopping malls than you can shake a stick at? Think again.
Sungei Buloh national wetland reserve provides the perfect opportunity to experience the forgotten beauty of Singapore’s natural tropical climate first-hand. Water snakes, monitor lizards and estuary crocodiles, along with a fine array of various species of exotic birds, naturally inhabit the wetlands all year round. No shortage of excitement, I think you’ll agree.
The reserve itself spans an extensive 15.5 kilometres and is all safely accessible via boardwalks and planks. ‘Boardwalks? Planks? This all sounds a little too touristy for me,’ I hear the cynic within you say. Yet the majority of winding routes in the reserve are nestled gently into some of Singapore’s most delicate wetland, which would otherwise be impassable on foot. Unless, that is, you were a monitor lizard or a water snake…
If catching a glimpse of exotic animals in their natural environment is your thing, then for the expense of one Singapore dollar, Sungei Buloh will certainly not disappoint. By simply keeping to the wooden boardwalks I was lucky enough to encounter numerous species of large monitor lizards striding through the rainforest, seemingly undeterred by my curious presence. Even whilst I peered through one of the wooden observation huts across the Kranji Dam, a young iguana of about 40 centimetres in length was not afraid to come within arm's reach. At one point I was convinced that this friendly lizard was actually going to climb up my arm!
Close encounter
However, for me the real action came whilst sipping on my cup of tea in the floating Sungei Buloh café. The cafeteria itself was surrounded by water on every side, allowing for a breathtaking view of the neighbouring environment of mangrove trees, giant lilies, and some pretty humungous koi carp.
But when a young monitor lizard of about two feet in length swam into view from behind the dense vegetation, I began to lose interest in my cup of tea. Before I knew it, another monitor lizard (a mature male) burst out from the greenery in hot pursuit of its younger, smaller competitor. A first-rate battle for territory unfolded before my very eyes.
With the larger specimen ultimately winning the duel in the end, I sat absolutely flabbergasted at my own good fortune. Furthermore, whilst taking a breather out of a window in the Visitor Centre, I soon realised that a couple of two-metre-long monitor lizards were also keen on using this space for chilling out. It was then that it dawned on me: the Visitor Centre backed on to the cafeteria, and these large reptiles must have either been drawn by the smell of the cooking, or were waiting for the scraps to be thrown out of the kitchen. Let's just say I didn’t lean too far out of the window!
Tranquil trekking
Apart from encounters with reptiles, the tranquil pathways are lined with a diverse range of exotic fruits and flowers, such as the jackfruit and the sea poison tree. A halcyon ambiance, twinned with the various species of exotic orchids living high up within the branches of the trees, ensures that Sungei Buloh is a peaceful beauty spot.
At one particular point en route round the reserve it is possible to catch a glimpse of neighbouring Malaysia across the water. The high-rises of Kuala Lumpur seemingly arch out of the distant ocean, a small reminder of urban South East Asia.
Trekking across the wetlands, the iridescent shimmer of the mud was strangely compelling. Eventually it dawned on me that the blue, green and purple shimmering was actually moving. Safely tucked away under the shelter of the mangrove trees' stretching buttress roots were what appeared to be hundreds of small crabs. Their iridescent black shells swarmed in the thick black mud, creating the illusion that the wetland before me was indeed a glistening stretch of kaleidoscopic silt.
Looking closer still at the surrounding puddles in the wetland, I noticed mudskippers jumping readily out of the shallow water, their fish-like gills adapting to the air. By just taking 10 minutes to stop trekking and observe my surroundings, a once still picture had sprung to life. In an industrial country such as Singapore, Sungei Buloh provides the perfect retreat from the chaotic traits of contemporary urban life, mixing the powerful economic force of tourism together with the conservation of Singapore’s natural landscape.
How to get there

The easiest route is to board SMRT Bus 925 from Kranji MRT station and alight at Kranji Reservoir. The car park is a 15-minute walk to the Reserve. Furthermore, the Kranji Express operates a daily schedule from 9am to 5pm at the Kranji MRT station. Although the Kranji Express departs from the Kranji MRT station, it is a bus. 



Ever since breaking my leg by falling off a 12-foot roof one rainy day in 2004, mobility is something I have learnt not to take for granted. After nine months in a full length cast I decided I quite liked my legs being intact, and that I should make the most of them. The manner in which different environments bring about different emotional reactions to different cultures has always fascinated me. For instance, why is it that despite sharing the same planet humans are strangers to their own kind? Travelling around South East Asia in the summer of 2008 allowed me to investigate why culture and society is still a potent coherent for national identities today. From fellow backpackers to members of hill tribes in the Lao rainforest, civic and ethnic nationalism is essentially part of what ‘we’ are. Even if I considered myself as a global citizen, freely travelling from country to country I would never escape the assumptions of others. Accents, languages, appearances, dress senses all converge to give others clear indications of who ‘we’ are, even if we are consciously unaware of it. True, you don’t need to travel the world to be aware of different cultures at work, hell; you probably don’t even need to leave your street. But until you’ve ventured outside your nationalistic boarders one cannot truly understand what exactly it is to be seen as the alien in a foreign country. It makes a mockery of extreme ethnic nationalism, instead highlighting the discourse that the world is there to be travelled, there to be shared, and people no matter what country they come from are they are there for each other. The latter may sound clichéd and sickly, but if the world is full of imaginary lines and walls, why do we persist in making them a constant reality?