Lonely Planet's top five ways to see the jungle in Singapore
Take a trip out to serene Sungei Buloh to see a huge variety of bird life (Mervin Chua/LPI)
Whether you are hanging up your boots for a while or using Singapore as a stepping stone to another continent, you need to experience the jungle around Singapore's steamy tropical isle. Once covered in rainforest dense enough to allow orangutans to swing from one end of the island to another, these pockets of forest were home to more than 300 species of birds, otters, monitor lizards, vipers and cobras, Malayan tigers and clouded leopards.
Today, you are more likely to meet a macaque trying to nab your sandwich or watch a squirrel scuttle across your path, but there are still places you can visit to get a taste of the jungle in the city. Here are our top five.
Sometimes the relentless development and redevelopment of Singapore can become tiresome, but that is not the case for its world-class zoo and Night Safari, which are forever being upgraded for the better. Whatever your opinion of zoos, it cannot be denied that the Singapore Zoo has done an excellent job of keeping its animals as happy as possible.
Many of the animals are free-ranging, and amongst the first you will encounter are cheeky primates: cottontop tamarins, white-faced sakis, gibbons, orangutans and siamangs. Also watch out for the proboscis monkeys, unmistakable from their huge red bellies and gargantuan snouts. These monkeys are only found in the rapidly dwindling forests of Borneo and are rarely kept in captivity, so they are a precious creature to share your space with.
Other highlights include the Fragile Forest, a large dome where lemurs and mouse deer scamper across your path, tree kangaroos laze in the branches and large flying foxes munch fruit in front of your face. As evening closes in, the Night Safari next door to the zoo uses open-concept enclosures to get visitors up close with nocturnal creatures such as leopards, free-ranging deer and the Malayan tiger.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Overlooking the Strait of Johor, this nature reserve in the far north of Singapore is home to around 140 species of birds. The best time for viewing the vast array of vividly-coloured birds from this region is before 10 am, and if you go on a weekday the reserve is blissfully serene. Be prepared for encounters with unnervingly large monitor lizards, which can whizz across the water like prehistoric sea serpents. You can also observe playful otter families hunting fish. Saltwater crocodiles lurk in the water but, thankfully, sightings are rare.
Mount Faber stands proud and tall on the southern fringe of the city, opposite the HarbourFront Centre and not far from Sentosa Island. From the summit, the strange splendour of Singapore rolls away to the horizon in all directions.
To get to the top, ride the spectacular cable car from HarbourFront, take the shuttle bus, or gear up for the climb from the bottom. The flanks of the mountain are steeply terraced so there is not much room for lolling around off the pathways, but the maze of trails takes you through twisted groves of dense, buzzing forest, with strategically positioned seats, pavilions and lookouts along the way. Faber Point, just west of the cable car terminus, is a tranquil, less contrived spot to soak up the views. Better still, you can do this over a Singapore Sling at the Altivo lounge bar. Singapore's Cosmo magazine voted it one of the best places for after-dark romanticisms - the perfect spot to watch the sun set over the straits.
Singapore's Botanic Gardens
Like all great urban green spaces, entering Singapore's Botanic Gardens provides instant relief. The roar of traffic melts into the branches and it is easy to forget that you're surrounded by 4.5 million people.
And like most things in Singapore, it is immaculate and well designed. Each area segues into the next, each with its own atmosphere. From the lazy serenity of the Swan Lake, to the dense, humid greenery of the rainforest zone, to the carefully pruned bonsai and orchid gardens, careful landscaping sits side by side with huge old trees that first poked their heads above ground when Queen Victoria was surveying her Empire.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
If the Botanic Gardens are an admirable exercise in managed vegetation, then the area officially (and uninspiringly) called the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is a masterpiece of urban wilderness planning. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the highest point on the island at 163m, is one of only two patches of urban primary rainforest in the world (the other is in Rio de Janeiro). Though it has been laid with a concrete path, side trails plunge deep into a forest so rich that one botanist estimated there are more plant species there than in the whole of North America.
Linked to Bukit Timah is the MacRitchie Reservoir nature reserve, which is ringed with dozens of kilometres of trails where walkers can spot macaques, monitor lizards, the occasional python and flying lemur - and walk across the Treetop Walk suspension bridge - before ending up at the peaceful reservoir park.