North of the island

Contents
1 Siong Lim Temple
2 Kong Meng San Phor Kark
3 Singapore Zoo
4 Night Safari
5 The Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery
6 Nature reserves
7 Pulau Ubin
8 Outer islands


Siong Lim Temple

This temple lies due north of the city, within the modern suburb of Toa Payoh. This Fujian temple's full name is Lian Shan, Shuang Lin (meaning Lotus Hill, Twin Groves) referring to the sal grove in Kunisnara, near Patna, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Singapore, originally built 1898-1905. However, since then Singapore's urban expansion has enveloped it. Chunks of its original 4 ha area have been chipped away for housing development and, perhaps to atone for the effrontery, the Singapore Tourist Board gave the temple its own Suzhou-style rock garden. Despite the redevelopments, the temple retains its excellent wood carvings and some fine Thai images of the Buddha. There is also a statue of Kuan Yin and a corpulent image of the Maitreya Buddha.

Kong Meng San Phor Kark

This Chinese Temple Complex (Bright Hill Drive) has, since its construction in 1989, grown into a sprawling, million-dollar religious centre whose golden roofs spread over 7.5 ha. Fed up with tastefully mouldering 19th-century Chinese temples? Then this is the place for you. This is Chinese temple garishness on a truly gargantuan scale; restraint was clearly not a word in the architect's vocabulary. From the main entrance on Sin Ming Avenue, pilgrims climb up through a series of halls with images of the historic Buddha and various other gods and goddesses from Chinese Mahayana Buddhism's extensive repertoire. There are halls for prayer and meditation, a pool containing thousands of turtles, a Buddhist library, an old-people's home (and, appropriately, a crematorium), as well as a 9 m-high marble statue of Kuan Yin, the 15-headed goddess of mercy, carved by Italian sculptors. At one end of the complex is The Temple of a Thousand Buddhas surmounted by a large gold stupa. There are great views from the roof.

Singapore Zoo

www.zoo.com.sg

These zoological gardens have one of the world's few open zoos - with moats replacing bars - making it also one of the most attractive zoos, with animals in environments vaguely reminiscent of their habitats. Only the polar bears and the tigers seem unhappy in their surroundings. It contains over 332 species of animals (about 3000 actual animals), some of them rare - like the dinosauric Komodo dragons and the golden lion tamarin - as well as many endangered species from Asia, such as the Sumatran tiger and the clouded leopard. The pygmy hippos are relatively recent newcomers; they live in glass-fronted enclosures (as do the polar bears), so visitors can watch their underwater exploits. Animals are sponsored by companies; Tiger Beer, for example, sponsors the tigers and Qantas the kangaroos.

There are animal shows throughout the day carrying a strong ecological message: elephants and penguins, sea lions and manatees at the newly revamped Splash Ampitheatres. Animal feeding times are provided upon arrival. There is a Treetops Trail, where visitors can view primates, crocodiles, squirrels and pheasants from a 6 m-high boardwalk. There is a children's area too, with farm animals, a miniature train and play equipment. There are tram tours for those too weary to walk, with recorded commentaries, and several restaurants. Elephant, camel and pony rides are on offer at various times each afternoon. A shop sells environmentally sound T-shirts and cuddly toy animals. Overall, it is a well-managed and informative zoo; it's well worth the trip out here.

Night Safari

www.nightsafari.com.sg

The unique Night Safari is situated adjacent to the zoo, covering 40 ha of secondary growth tropical forest. The area has been cunningly converted into a series of habitats, populated with wildlife from the Indo-Malayan, Indian, Himalayan and African zoogeographical regions. The park supports 1200 animals belonging to 110 species, including the tiger, Indian lion, great Indian rhinoceros, fishing cat, Malayan tapir, Asian elephant, bongo, striped hyena, Cape buffalo and giraffe. Visitors can either hop on a tram to be taken on a 40-minute guided safari through the jungle, lit by moonglow lighting and informed by a rather earnest commentary, or they can walk along three short trails at their own pace. It's extremely well conceived and managed, with 'tribal' performances, opportunities to meet and sometimes touch animals such as pythons, and also a 'creatures of the night show', which on busy nights may become overbooked, so arrive early. The experience is rewardingly authentic - possibly because the night-time ambience hides the seams that are usually so evident in orthodox zoos. Children love the safari experience, believing that they truly are chancing upon animals in the jungle. At the entrance 'lodge' there is a good noodle bar. There is also another small café at the East Lodge. Bear in mind that the combined zoo and night safari tickets, although offering good value, don't include the additional tram ride, which most consider a highlight.

The Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery

The Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery, on a gentle hillside overlooking the Straits of Johor, is where Allied soldiers killed in Singapore in the Second World War are buried. In the heart of the cemetery is the war memorial, bearing the names of 24,346 Allied servicemen who died in the Asia-Pacific region during the war. The design of the memorial is symbolic, representing the three arms of the services - the army, navy and air force. The upright section represents a conning tower, the lateral elements are wings, and the walls symbolize army lines. Flowers are not allowed to be placed on graves, in case tiger mosquitoes breed in the jars.

Nature reserves

For Singapore's green areas, see www.wildsingapore.com or www.ulusingapore.com.

The 87-ha
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
, www.sbwr.org.sg, is Singapore's first designated wetland nature reserve. It is an important stopover point for birds migrating along the East Asian Flyway. Carefully constructed hides give excellent observation points to view birds such as sea eagles, kites and blue herons. There are four walks, from 500 m to 7 km, including a boardwalk through a mangrove swamp.

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
, www.nparks.gov.sg, nestles in the centre of the island and has a resident population of wild monkeys, pythons and scorpions. It was one of the first forest reserves, established in 1883 for the purposes of protecting the native flora and fauna. The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace collected beetles at Bukit Timah in 1854. Jungle trails go through the forested terrain (130-million-year-old tropical rainforest) that once covered the whole island. The artificial lakes supply the city with much of its water. Clearly marked paths (one of them metalled) in the 81-ha reserve lead to Singapore's highest point (164 m) for scenic views. A visitor centre includes an exhibition on natural history. The nature reserve is at its quietest and coolest in the early mornings. It's possible to hike through to the MacRitchie Reservoir from here, but check with park rangers on the state of the trail first. It's a wonderful walk and well worth a day to do

Bukit Batok Nature Park
is a very beautiful secondary forest with trails leading up the main hill. It was developed around an abandoned quarry - the quarry has been filled in to create a small lake. There is a durian orchard (which is pungent during durian season) and picnic areas. At the top of Batok hill are the remains of two Japanese war memorials.

Pulau Ubin

www.nparks.gov.sg

The source of granite for the causeway and Singapore's earlier buildings and skyscrapers, the name Pulau Ubin derives from the Javanese word for 'squared stone'. Ubin village affords a taste of Singapore in bygone days, with dilapidated wooden shophouses, coffee shops and community spirit. The island, with its beaten-up cars and old taxis, quarry pits, jungle tracks, hills, beaches and challenging trails, is a mountain-biker's paradise and has become a popular destination for that reason, as the trails are quite challenging; it is possible to hire bicycles in the village. There is also an
outward bound centre
 on the island. Wildlife on the island includes the red jungle-fowl (from which domesticated chickens are descended), straw-headed bulbul, Brahminy kites, white-bellied fish eagles, mangrove pitta, flying fox bats, fruit bats and tomb bats, the Oriental whip snake (an unmissable bright yellow colour), long-tailed macaques, house musang, civet and wild pigs. The hill in the centre of the island provides great views over to Singapore. There are some sandy beaches on the north shore, though they can be dirty at low tide.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has also published plans to reclaim an additional 2694 ha on Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong (the majority on Tekong, which houses a military training camp and is not open to the public).

Canoes, kayaks and mountain bikes are all available for hire on the island. Mountain bikes can also be hired from Changi Village.

Outer islands

The little-visited southern islands of St Johns, Kusu, Sister Islands and Pulau Hantu (Ghost Island) are great getaways from the hustle and bustle of the city.
There are scheduled ferry services to Kusu and St Johns from Marina South Pier with
Singapore Island Cruises
, www.islandcruise.com.sg.
This company also charter boats to Sister Islands and Pulau Hantu from West Coast Pier.

Kusu Island
is also known as Tortoise Island after a legend that describes how a turtle turned itself into an island to save two shipwrecked mariners. Da bo Gong, a Chinese temple on the island, was built in 1923 and dedicated to Kuan Yin and Dab o Gong. Ethnic Chinese flock to the island around the ninth lunar month to pray for good health. It is not permitted to stay overnight.
St Johns
, formerly known by its Malay name of Pulau Sekijang Bendara, is a mellow 39-ha island 6.5 km from Singapore and used by Singaporeans for a little relaxation. There are some excellent
holiday bungalows
 on the island that can be rented cheaply for the weekend.

A Malay myth tells of the formation of
Sister Islands
. Two sisters who were very close couldn't bear to be separated. One was kidnapped by a lovestruck Orang Laut chief. As she was being forced into the boat, the sky turned black and a storm broke. The other sister weeping on the jetty was engulfed by a huge wave. On seeing this, the kidnapped sister wrestled free from her sea gyspy captor and leapt into the waves. Neither sister was ever seen again, and these mysterious islets rose from the depths of their final resting place.

Pulau Hantu
was thought to be formed from the bodies of two fighting warriors sucked into the sea by a whirlpool. It is possible to camp on both these islands, and those with the right equipment could enjoy a beautifully tranquil stay. Campers must first register with the Southern Islands Management at administrator@sentose.com.sg.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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