Orchard Road is a long curl of air-conditioned malls, the spine of modern-day Singapore and home to its national pastime: shopping. This glass-fronted materialism is nicely juxtaposed at its western edge with the Botanic Gardens, an elegant park planted with rubber trees and hundreds of orchids and popular with joggers and stretching tai chi practitioners.
Ins and outs
Botanic Gardens and National Orchid Garden
There are 3
stations on, or close to, Orchard Road. Dhoby Ghaut MRT station lies at the eastern end of the road, close to the northwest corner of the colonial core. The Somerset MRT stop is on Somerset Road, which runs parallel to Orchard Road. The Orchard MRT station is at the intersection of Orchard Road and Scotts Road, towards the western end of the strip and close to the main concentration of hotels. A profusion of
services run eastwards along Orchard Road - at last count, 20 in all. For routes west, walk 1 block south of Orchard Road. To walk Orchard Road from end to end is quite a slog - from Dhoby Ghaut to the northwestern end of Orchard Road past Scotts Road is around 2.5 km. This is fine if you're taking it slowly, stopping off for brief respites in one of the many air-conditioned shopping arcades. Otherwise, consider hopping on a bus or taking the MRT.
At the western end of Orchard Road, on Cluny Road, not far from Tanglin, are the Botanic Gardens. The gardens contain almost 500,000 species of plants and trees from around the world in its 47 ha of landscaped parkland, primary jungle, lawns and lakes. In 1963 former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew launched the successful Garden City campaign and most of the trees lining Singapore's highways were supplied by the Botanic Gardens. The gardens now cater for the recreational needs of modern Singapore. Every morning and evening, the park fills with joggers and tai chi fanatics. During the day, wedding parties pose for pictures among the foliage. The bandstand in the centre of the gardens is used for live music performances at the weekends.
The Botanic Gardens were founded by an agri-horticultural society in 1859. In the early years they played an important role in fostering agricultural development in Singapore and Malaya, as successive directors collected, propagated and distributed plants with economic potential, the most famous of which was rubber. Henry Ridley, director of the gardens from 1888 to 1912, pioneered the planting of the Brazilian para rubber tree (
). In 1877, 11 seedlings brought from Kew Gardens in London were planted in the Singapore gardens. An immediate descendant of one of the 11 originals is still alive in the Botanic Gardens today, near the main entrance. By the lake at the junction of Tyersall and Cluny roads, there is a memorial to Ridley on the site where the original trees were planted. Ridley was known as 'Mad Ridley' because of the proselytizing zeal with which he lobbied Malaya's former coffee planters to take up rubber instead, often slipping rubber tree seeds into planters' pockets at dinner parties.
Goodwood Park Hotel, Emerald Hill and Dhoby Ghaut
The Botanic Gardens also house the
, where 700 species and 2100 hybrids of Singapore's favourite flower are lovingly cultivated. It is billed as the 'Largest Orchid Showcase in the World'. The gardens began to breed orchids back in 1928 and those on show include Singapore's national flower, Miss Vanda Joaquim orchid, discovered in the late-19th century by the eponymous Miss Joaquim in her
garden. The Mist House contains a collection of rare orchids, whilst the Yuen-Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection houses 300 species and 500 hybrids from Central and South America.
Situated on Scotts Road off the western end of Orchard Road is Goodwood Park, which - apart from Raffles - is the only other colonial hotel in Singapore. It has had a chequered history, beginning life in 1856 as the German Recreation Club, the
. During the First World War it was declared enemy property and was seized by the government. In 1929 it was converted into a hotel, but then during the Second World War it was occupied by the Japanese. After the war it became a War Crimes Trial Court and did not resume functioning as a hotel until 1947.
Further east, Emerald Hill was laid out by 30 different owners between 1901 and 1925; conforming to the established theme was considered good manners, which has resulted in a charming street of Peranakan (Straits Chinese) shophouses. These have been carefully restored to their original condition and combine European and Chinese architectural elements.
At the end of Orchard Road is Dhoby Ghaut, which got its name from the Bengali and Madrasi
who used to wash the clothes of local residents in the stream that ran down the side of Orchard Road and dry them on the land now occupied by the YMCA.
is a Hindi word meaning 'landing place' or 'path down to a river', while
is from the Sanskrit word
, meaning 'to wash'. The
would walk from house to house collecting their clients' washing, noting each piece down in a little book using a series of marks (they were illiterate). Dhoby Ghaut MRT is now an interchange linking the northeast with City Hall.
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