Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is Singapore’s last patch of primary rain forest. When it was first accessed by British colonialists in 1827 it took them many hours to hack and climb their way through miles of jungle and swamp to the modest 163m summit of Bukit Timah Hill, the highest point in Singapore. Today the ascent is much easier, and walkers are rewarded by the chance to see plants and animals that have largely disappeared from the rest of the island.
Exploring Bukit Timah
When you arrive at Bukit Timah take some time to look around the Visitor Centre at the entrance. This includes displays showing the ecology and wildlife of the area, as well as relief maps of the walks. You may also have the opportunity to chat to one of the friendly and helpful reserve guides.
A number of waymarked walks lead off from the Visitor Centre. Most visitors start with the path to the summit, an easy although occasionally steep climb with shelters along the way. The summit itself has been cleared but don’t expect much in the way of a view other than an endless expanse of forest!
From the summit path you can take one of the colour coded jungle trails that lead you deeper into the forest with more opportunity for spotting wildlife. But be aware that these paths can be challenging to walk: steep and uneven in places with protruding tree roots and muddy patches in places (the rain in the tropics can be torrential).
|The path leads into the jungle|
A longer path takes you to the Dairy Farm Nature Park which includes a wetland area with abundant bird life.
Flora and fauna
As you walk take time to listen to the sounds of the forest around you. Not just the breeze in the trees and the cracking of twigs and dry leaves, but also the birdsong and, if you are lucky, you may also hear the croaking of frogs or chattering monkeys. The forest is home to more than 800 types of plant and 500 species of animals. Attempts are made to keep it in its natural state so that, for instance, a fallen tree is likely to be left to rot and to provide a habitat for plants and insects.
|Monkeys hide in the trees|
Because the trees form a dense canopy there are few flowers in the rain forest, although there are orchids if you look hard enough. However amongst the trees there is a vast profusion of climbing palms, ferns and vines, as well as ground growing gingers, to be seen.
Sadly, the native tiger is no longer found in the forest but there are still many animals to be observed. Visitors are most likely to encounter monkeys (long-tailed macaques) rooting through the foliage for food, but you may also see scorpions, lizards, or flying lemurs. Squirrels and anteaters are most visible in the morning or early evening. There are many types of snake, some of which are poisonous: most of these are elusive but if you do spot one be sure not to get too close.
|An iguana clambers through the undergrowth|
Birds are more likely to be heard than seen, but there are many species in the forest, including parakeets, drongos and mynas. Look out, too, for insects such as large colourful butterflies and giant ants.
Getting to Bukit Timah
You can get to Bukit Timah by taxi or private car although parking is limited. Alternatively take the bus number 170 or 171 from Queen Street Bus Station (nearest MRT stations Little India or Bugis) and get out on Upper Bukit Timah Road, at stop number B03, opposite the Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. From here, walk straight on and cross the main road by the overpass, then walk up Hindhede Drive to the Visitor Centre. (For the return journey do not cross back over the overpass but use the bus stop on the main road.)
The reserve is open from 6 am to 7 pm and there is no admission charge. It is best to visit in the early morning or late afternoon, when it is not so hot, there are fewer visitors, and there may be more chance of spotting wildlife. Sturdy shoes are recommended if you are going to follow the jungle trails.
Take plenty of water (you can fill up at the visitor centre) and a good insect repellent. If you take your own food you are asked to ensure that you do not leave anything behind and that you do not feed the monkeys. Better still, look forward to a meal in one of the many small restaurants in the road behind the bus stop where you arrived.