SINGAPORE is famous for its successful economic practices and development, Orchard Road and its endless supply of shopping malls, prestigious hotels, Sentosa Island, casinos, superb architecture, clean streets, and efficient public transport.
However few people know Singapore for its tropical gardens and nature, and even fewer for its wildlife. Arguably the most underrated attraction in Singapore, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are a wonderland in the middle of an urban jungle.
Although the most visited Botanic Gardens in the world, primarily because of its popularity with locals, relatively few foreigners take advantage of this urban oasis.
Established in 1859, the Botanic Gardens offer Singaporeans and tourists a unique experience with over 183 acres of tropical rainforest, gardens, grasslands and park space.
Although easily accessible through Singapore’s efficient MRT train system, once you step through the gate and enter the gardens, you hardly realize you are in the middle of an incredibly busy metropolis.
In early July 2015, the Singapore Botanic Gardens received World Heritage status at a ceremony in Paris, thus gaining international acclaim and prestige as a site that offers environmental, cultural and historical significance.
The gardens are also home to numerous workshops and research centers that are world leaders in tropical botany and horticulture. In the herbarium there are over 750,000 specimens, containing almost every species from southeast Asia.
As you walk through the gardens almost every large tree and numerous small shrubs have small plaques stating the species and where it originates from.
Information signs and brochures are plentiful, clearly explaining what you are looking at, the significance of the species, or the historical importance of that one section of the gardens.
There is even a staircase that was built by Australian prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.
The Botanic Gardens have numerous smaller gardens scattered throughout, offering a pleasant surprise to those who visit the gardens for the first time. The National Orchid Garden is the most famous of these, consisting of the largest orchard display in the world.
Even for those who may not have a deep appreciation for flowers, the Orchid Garden is impressive, with thousands of bizarre and intriguing flowers.
The National Ginger Garden contains over 3,000 plants that belong to the ginger family. Who knew there were over 3,000 different varieties of ginger and that there are numerous types of ginger flowers!
The Healing Garden contains over 400 species of plants that are traditionally used throughout southeast Asia for medicinal purposes.
The wide open spaces, with lush tropical grass and the odd enormous tropical tree, provides a very scenic backdrop to any walk. Tranquil lakes and ponds, surrounded by grasslands, tropical forest and thousands of ferns, create perfect habitats for black and white swans and other birds.
There are thousands of neat and artistic statues throughout the gardens, and playgrounds for children. The paths are immaculate, with some venturing off into the rainforest on steep mist covered boardwalks, and almost all of the garden is disabled accessible.
The large and informative information center offers numerous insights into local and regional fauna and flora, and provides details on why the gardens are so important.
Every weekend there are concerts, buskers, tours and activities held at the gardens, providing a relaxing and enjoyable social place for Singaporeans. This is significant as Singapore is a city state, not offering much space to its citizens, thus the gardens provide a natural and awe-inspiring oasis.
I usually enjoy natural experiences far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but the Singapore Botanic Gardens really impressed me. It is far from being ‘fake’, and has botanical and historical significance in the middle of a city that is almost entirely brand new.
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By Mat Carney