Singapore: a city state of skyscrapers, shopping malls and Hawker Centres. It’s not a destination that many would associate with wildlife spotting. For most visitors, the wildest Singapore gets is a walk around the (excellent) Gardens by the Bay – an expansive green park alongside Marina Bay that is home to the famous Supertree Grove and is built entirely on reclaimed land.
I had 2 days in Singapore with my partner at the tail end of a work trip and wanted to try and find its wild side. Urban wildlife fascinates me and Singapore’s location just 85 miles north of the equator in South East Asia means it is home to some amazing tropical critters. Singapore’s natural environment has changed dramatically over the last 100 years, transforming it from an island of mangrove forest and jungle into a sleek, modern city state. Less than 5% of original mangrove forests remain and 63% of the coast is now artificial sea wall.
Wait, what is a mangrove forest? Mangroves are trees that grow out of the mud of coasts and estuaries to form mangrove forests. They love salty water and so only grow at the seaside. Mangrove forests are magical places – their roots get covered at high tide and provide a home for crabs and fish. The branches form dense, tangled masses in which birds, lizards and even monkeys hide. I love them and I was desperate to use my time in Singapore to see one.
Getting around in Singapore is easy peasy. You can buy a Singapore Tourist Pass for 1, 2 or 3 days and it gives you unlimited travel on buses and the subway (called the MRT). So, armed with my Singapore Tourist Pass, I headed towards Berlayer Creek.
Singapore’s MRT is clean, cool and incredibly efficient. You’re not allowed to eat or drink on board and it always seems to run on time. Just 20 minutes from my central hotel, I was disembarking at Labrador Park station.
From the station, it was a 30 second walk to join the Berlayer Creek boardwalk – a shady, well-maintained boardwalk that runs through the mangroves from the MRT station to the sea.
Along the route there are shaded viewing areas that jut out over Berlayer Creek itself, allowing you a bird’s eye view of what going on in the branches and water below. The contrast to the cool, white, futuristic MRT of just a few minutes before was stark – it was easily 30 degrees in the shade, highly humid and just so… well… green! I loved it. I peered over the edge into the creek – needlefish hung at the surface, their scales glinting in the midday sun. And then, a splash!
A Mudskipper! The weirdest, ugliest, most alien fish I have ever seen! Mudskippers are amphibious fish that can breathe out of water. Weirder still, they crawl along the mud using their modified front fins. This was the first one I’d ever seen in the wild and I was thrilled. Then I realised that there were two, seemingly just chilling in the shallow water. I watched a while before one decided it was time to move, hauling itself across the mud with all the grace of drunken walrus before plopping into a water-filled burrow. The other one was still sat in its spot with just its googly eyes visible above the muddy waterline. I loved them already.
Behind our backs, a bird began to sing loudly. We peered into the dense branches trying to find the source of the song, but it’s a bit like trying to spot a needle in a haystack. See if you can spot it!
I couldn’t believe I was so close to such a huge, bustling city. Here it was silent, apart from the birdsong, the trickle of the creek and the rustle of the leaves. Bliss! But keen to catch low tide, we carried on along the boardwalk towards the sea. There’s not much natural rocky shore left in Singapore and we’d read online that there was a small section at the end of the boardwalk…
It really was a small section, but full of life none the less! Within seconds I found a big fat sea slug on top of a rock and a bright blue crab that was just too quick for me to photograph. In amidst the rocks were fragments of coral, alluding to the coral reefs offshore. Yep, you read that right – coral reefs off Singapore! I’d love to don my SCUBA gear to experience these urban reefs first-hand on my next visit. Reading about Singapore’s seas as a whole surprised me – did you know that Sea Turtles nest on Singapore’s islands? Wow!
The midday sun soon drove us from the shore and back towards the shady paths of the adjacent Labrador Park. At first glance it felt like a typical, manicured park, but it wasn’t long before wildlife began to reveal itself…
As I stood looking at the view across to Sentosa Island from beneath the welcome shade, I realised I was standing about half a metre away from a lizard! With a bit of stealth, I managed to point my camera and grab a few shots before retreating to give him back his peace. As I did so, something huge fluttered past my face and into a nearby bush.
I hid behind a tree (as you do) and tried to catch sight of whatever-it-was. I inched closer and managed to grab a quick photo before returning to the path so as not to disturb it. I assumed it was a butterfly… but a big butterfly! It was as big as my hand and looked a lot like an upside-down Manta Ray. Upon my return to WiFi, an excellent butterfly checklist from Nature Society (Singapore) drew a blank. Had I discovered a rare butterfly??! My head full of glory, I proceeded to ask Twitter about my mega rare butterfly.
Had I discovered a rare butterfly? No, of course not. I was brought back down to Earth with a bump and told it is a moth. A Tropical Swallowtail Moth. Oops!
Tummies rumbling, we then headed to one of Singapore’s many brilliant Hawker Centres for an early dinner. This one is in the Tekka Centre in Little India, a slice of South Asia in the middle of Singapore. It is fabulous – as was the Mutton Masala and Kashmiri Naan I put away for less than $5 (about £3).
A Hawker Centre is a must-do on a visit to Singapore. They are a bit like food courts – central seating surrounded by different food and drink stalls, often serving cuisine from all around the world. A Singapore favourite is Satay, but we ate Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Turkish food (in 2 days). All of it delicious, all of it incredibly cheap.
To finish off our day we decided to go up to the SkyPark to watch the sunset and see the city with all its lights on. The SkyPark is an iconic building on the edge of Marina Bay – it looks a bit like 3 skyscrapers with a surfboard plonked on top, but from its observation deck on the 57th floor, you get the best views of the city and out across the sea to Sumatra (part of Indonesia) beyond.
From there we watched the sky fade from pink to inky black and the millions of city lights flick into life, including those on the famous Supertree Grove. An amazing end to an amazing day. If on your next visit you’re feeling a bit shopped out, why not check out Singapore’s wild side? I promise you won’t be disappointed!
How to do it
The Singapore National Parks Board website has helpful information on their parks and a fantastic selection of self-guided walks.
Wild Singapore has some excellent resources and information.
Wild Singapore Happenings is a list of wildlife-themed events.
Nature Society (Singapore) has some brilliant resources on Singapore’s wildlife and also runs events.