Making up the western fringes of the central nature reserve, Bukit Timah is Singapore’s highest hill and the ideal place to tackle Singapore’s last remaining pocket of primary rainforest. It’s most easily reached from downtown by catching a bus from Little India up Bukit Timah Road, which traverses leafy suburbs en route to Johor Bahru (it was the main road to the Causeway until superseded by the Bukit Timah Expressway). Some 9km on from Little India, the road becomes Upper Bukit Timah Road and soon arrives at the hill itself.
The nature reserve at Bukit Timah was established in 1883 by Nathaniel Cantley, then superintendent of the Botanic Gardens. Wildlife abounded in this part of Singapore in the mid-nineteenth century, when the natural historian Alfred Russel Wallace came here to do fieldwork; he later observed that “in all my subsequent travels in the East I rarely if ever met with so productive a spot”. Wallace also noted the presence of tiger traps, but by the 1930s Singapore’s tigers had met their end (the Visitor Centre displays a photo of the last specimen to be shot on the island).
Long-tailed macaques remain easy to spot, though that does not necessarily mean they are thriving. The central nature reserve has been dissected by highways, degrading its habitat, and when wild fruits are not in season, the macaques may emerge to scavenge around the houses at the base of the hill, peeking in bins for discarded food.
Otherwise, what really impresses is the dipterocarp forest itself, with its towering emergents – trees that have reached the top of the jungle canopy as a result of a lucky break, a fallen tree allowing enough light through to the forest floor to nurture saplings to maturity.