Tropical Hikes Amidst the Bustling Lion City

Nikita Das | July 20, 2022 | Life

Above and beyond the atas (singlish) bunglows, esteemed schools and monkey neighbourhood, stands tall the Bukit Timah Hill and Nature Reserve at a mere 182 meters (597 ft). Mere, it seems until you huff your way to the summit realising it’s no ordinary cup of tea. Let’s step back a little and put some context to the place we are climbing onto.

When one thinks of Singapore, what comes to mind is a bevy of skyscrapers dotting the turquoise skyline, meticulously planned pedestrian pathways, pockets of greens and blossoming flowers across the city. A place adorning superlatives of being most immaculate, planned, entertaining and a cities connoisseurs love.

Not so much a place for ‘hikes and trails’ one would think. However, by virtue of its location on the equatorial belt, Singapore has a multitude of parks and nature reserves as well as secret hidden spots from forested hills to scenic reservoirs and swampy wetlands. It is a haven for the intrepid hiker. While there are hiking and cycling trails to get you out of the urban gridlock and back to nature, spread across the city like the Southern Ridges, Jurong Lake Gardens, Clementi Forest, Labrador Nature Reserve, Thomson Nature Reserve to name a few, I navigate through roughly three to four hiking trails around Bukit Timah Nature Reserve that one can mix-and-match to create a day’s worth hiking expedition when in Singapore.

The Summit

It’s not the Himalayas, but it certainly gave my calves a stiff workout as I made my way to the summit. Even for an endurance training athlete and Ashtanga Yoga practitioner like me, the climb was an arduous task. It’s a steep incline uphill but the sweat takes a backseat as you walk amidst the rich and diverse ecological systems surrounded by an astonishing variety of flora and fauna, typical of the humid tropical climate. As I walked past these buttress roots of the endangered Keranji species of trees and 150 year old Seraya trees, I realised almost all Singaporeans, some double my age, zipping past me with strong strides and stronger lungs as I gasped for breath. It was amazing to see some people back-climbing their way up giving a completely new perspective on total mind and body workout. My back-climbing trial lasted barely 50 meters but I could feel the after-affects days later.

The forest has been a botanical collection ground for more than a century and various first known species of Malay plants have been discovered here. There is also a wide range of over 800 native plant and animal species. There were information-boards on the pathways where we read about the flying lemur or Malayan colugo, the Singapore fern or the monitor lizard and reticulated pythons, but didn’t end up sighting any on the trek.

The shortest trekking route to the summit is labelled ‘The Red Walking Trail’. It is just over one km and follows the road heading northwest from the visitor centre. It takes about 15-20 minutes depending upon speed and the choice of pathway or stairs. A similar cycling trail of 7km is clearly demarcated, where the walking trail does not intersect with the hikers trail (else it is a whopping $200 fine for the hikers) and is a mountain bikers dream-come-true-terrain to ride on.


Spread across 440 acres of forest land, one can easily lose way – but different exits to connecting roads and lanes make it a worthwhile discovery walk. Once you reach the visitor centre going past Simpang Hut, you can branch into different exploratory routes. One direction to explore was the Dairy Farm Quarry (follow the sign that says ‘Wallace Trail’). It’s a rustic trail with a loop of around 6.5 km. Unlike most quarries that are turned into lakes, this one is filled with Earth after its granite quarrying operations were stopped. Another exit we explored was the IG worthy ‘Singapore Quarry’ opening into a lake resplendent with turtles and dragonflies. It is nestled right between Bukit Timah Reserve and Dairy Farm Nature Park. With its imposing cliff walls and crystal green limestone quarry water, it is a sighting paradise for both the seasoned ornithologist and lay bird-watchers alike. Minutes of meditative silence and one can spot kingfisher birds to tiger shrikes to even the rarest of barred eagle-owl at these quarries.

Way Out 

One can never lose their way in the Nature Reserve, as every exit will lead you to a nearest bus stop, taxi lane or an MRT. The closest exit is a ten minute walk from Bukit Timah Visitor Centre to Beauty World MRT. There are also multiple bus lines that stop along Upper Bukit Timah road and Jalan Anak Bukit. Walking straight into some of the most delectable cafés nearby is also the perfect way to end the hike on a high note. Plain Vanilla, Bar Bar Black Sheep or even Rider’s Café for that caffeine fix are good options.

Looking back, this undisturbed forest seemed almost like an untouched isolated mountain away from the urban sprawl. The trek at early dawn was a quaint time for the climb, challenging me with varying difficulty in landscapes.

Whether on foot or on a bike, this nature reserve is the perfect spot to take you away from the bustle of city life or reconnect with nature in its purest form.

Words by Nikita Das

Images via Unsplash

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