Hilly and green, the western part of the island is home to the country’s premier university, the National University of Singapore at Kent Ridge. It lies at the start of a nine-kilometre series of ridges and peaks now collectively labelled the Southern Ridges, stretching southeast to Mount Faber near Tanjong Pagar downtown. Several minor attractions nestle along the route, but a major part of the ridges’ appeal is the chance to do a couple of hours’ walk from one lush hill to another using a network of interconnecting bridges. Further west is the industrial new town of Jurong, where, true to form, Singapore’s planners have woven several sights and leisure facilities into the fabric of the area, the pick of them being the Jurong Bird Park. In between these areas and downtown is the suburb of Holland Village, boasting a string of restaurants and bars popular with foreigners.
Only a short bus ride from Orchard Road and the Botanic Gardens,
is one of the few suburbs that draws visitors. This residential district housed some of the British troops based in Singapore a few decades ago, and today foreigners still hone in on its restaurants and bars. At the heart of the area is the
Holland Village Shopping Centre
, a good place to find stores selling antiques and novel home furnishings. The relevant listings chapters cover these places in more detail.
The new town of Jurong was created out of swampy terrain in the 1960s, amid great scepticism about its chances of success. Today it and neighbouring Tuas boast a diverse portfolio of industries, including pharmaceuticals and oil refining – in which Singapore is a world leader despite having nary a drop of black gold of its own – and Jurong’s centre is being remodelled with new leisure facilities in mind. As far as sights are concerned, Jurong’s Bird Park is presently the only must-see, though the Singapore Science Centre is ahead of the curve as far as science museums go, and is not to be missed if you’ve got kids to entertain. More pertinent to grown-ups are tours of the Tiger Brewery, though note that these have to be booked in advance.
Lining Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim, the
Jurong Bird Park
is home to one of the world’s biggest bird collections, with nearly four hundred species. You’ll need at least a couple of hours to have a good look around the grounds, though you can save a little time using the park’s tram rides.
Besides the four huge walk-in aviaries, the park also has a number of worthwhile smaller enclosures, such as the hugely popular Penguin Coast. Just inside the entrance, it juxtaposes half a dozen penguin species against the backdrop of a mock Portuguese galleon, meant to evoke the sighting of penguins by explorers such as Vasco da Gama. Utterly different is World of Darkness, a fascinating owl showcase that uses special lighting to swap day for night.
Along the southwest coast of Singapore is Pasir Panjang, a district whose name means “long sands” in Malay, though any significant beach has long gone – as have the sleepy villages that used to dominate what is becoming an increasingly urbanized area. It’s home to one worthy sight, the delightful Buddhist theme park that is Haw Par Villa, which makes a reasonable starting point for an exploration of the Southern Ridges just inland, where you can take in the wartime museum Reflections at Bukit Chandu and views from Mount Faber.
The account below takes the Southern Ridges walk in an easterly direction, ending at HarbourFront MRT beneath Mount Faber – a sensible choice as this avoids a steep climb up the hill and allows you to finish at the massive VivoCity mall, where you can assuage any appetite and thirst worked up along the way (or even continue to Sentosa). Haw Par Villa, the sight furthest west, is really an optional extra as far as the walk is concerned. One more practical point: the links between parks on the walk often offer little shade, so be assiduous about sun protection and bring a reasonable supply of water.
Undoubtedly the classiest way to arrive at Sentosa is by cable car. State-of-the-art eight-seater cable cars, each with glittering lighting inside and out, leave from the top of Mount Faber for the island. They call in at the HarbourFront Centre en route, and you can choose to start the ride here or at Sentosa, if you wish. The best time for views is at dusk, when you see Singapore lighting up from Jurong in the west to the Financial District closer by, to the northeast.