Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A tropical wonder in the midst of a vibrant city.

Singapore is famous because of successful economic practices and development, Orchard Road and the endless supply of shopping malls, prestigious hotels, Sentosa Island, casinos, superb architecture and efficient and clean streets and 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 natural wonderland in the middle of an urban jungle. Although the most visited Botanic Gardens in the world, primarily because of local appreciation and adoration, to international visitors the gardens are often ignored and either not visited or known of. Established in 1859 and situated a little to the south of the Islands centre, the Botanic Gardens offer Singaporeans and tourists alike a unique natural 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 realise 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, and meaning the gardens will be treated with even more respect and honour. Singaporeans are very proud of their first World Heritage site and numerous signs boldly state the new title and prestige awarded to the gardens. The gardens are also home to numerous workshops and research centres who are world leaders in tropical botany and horticulture. In the herbarium there are over 750,000 specimens, containing almost every species from throughout the Southeast Asian region. 

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 one is looking at, the significance of such a species, or the historical importance of that one section of the gardens. There is a stair case 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 gardens, consisting of the largest orchard display in the world. Even for one who does not have a significant appreciation for flowers, the Orchid Garden is impressive, with thousands of bizarre and intriguing flowers. The National Ginger Garden (my personal favourite) contains over 3000 plants that belong to the ginger family. Who knew there were over 3000 different varieties of ginger and that there are numerous types of ginger flowers! The Healing Garden contains over 400 species of plant 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 forrest and thousands of ferns, create perfect habitats for black and white swans and numerous different types of birds. There are literally thousands of neat and artistic statues throughout the gardens, and numerous playgrounds for children and adults alike. 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 centre offers numerous insights into local and regional fauna and flora, and provides details in to why the gardens are so important. The tranquility found within the gardens is astonishing and it is easy to understand why Singaporeans appreciate their gardens. 

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 am hard to impress and I always have my doubts over man made gardens. I primarily enjoy natural experiences far away from the hustle and bustle of a city, however 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.   

It could not be more simple to get to the Singapore Botanic Gardens - MRT station, Botanic Gardens. Entry is free, except for the National Orchard Garden, which is $5 SGD.

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