I usually describe Singapore as a modern metropolis filled with buildings to my foreign friends, but did you know that there are over 100 farms still operating in Singapore? And that we have some famous nature reserves for birdwatching? All these hidden gems are tucked away in the northwestern corner of Singapore in a rural area known as Kranji Countryside. If you are looking for offbeat Singapore, here is my guide on things to do in Kranji Countryside and what you can expect when you visit.
What’s so special about Kranji Countryside?
When I travel, I often marvel at picturesque vistas of rolling hills and endless lakes and lament that we just don’t have that sort of thing in Singapore. That’s not completely true though – lately I’ve been doing a little more exploring of my home country and I’m discovering that it has a lot more nature than I ever gave it credit for. I also found it a bit ironic that while I’m happy to take a day to hike to some waterfall in Colombia, I am too lazy to visit a national park on an island right on my doorstep.
So if you’re stuck in Singapore without the opportunity to travel, this is a possible day trip or even a weekend staycation that you can do in a place that feels nothing like typical Singapore. I know I definitely want to head back again soon.
This list covers the places that I managed to visit in one afternoon by driving around, but you can also check out my post on Kranji at The Culture Trip which covers some of the other interesting spots that I didn’t manage to get to this time around Kranji Memorial and the side south of the reservoir. Check out the Kranji Countryside website for more details.
How to get to Kranji Countryside
So Kranji Countryside isn’t just limited to Kranji. More accurately, it actually covers Lim Chu Kang which is where the farms are located, and the Western Water Catchment Area, which is what they call the area encompassing these reservoirs found on the west coast of Singapore.
I’ll be honest – this is not the most accessible place in Singapore and its various attractions are quite widely spaced out, so getting around on your own might be a pain, but honestly, it’s not too bad.
Driving is by far the most convenient and easy way to get to and navigate Kranji Countryside. There isn’t that much traffic so most of the time you have clear roads to drive on. But it is an agricultural zone and close to an industrial area as well, so expect a lot of large trucks and lorries trundling around.
On the flip side, you’re likely to get a lot of cyclists especially on the weekends because the relative lack of traffic and greenery make this a popular place for cycling. Most people bring their own bikes, but there aren’t any bike rental kiosks in the parks anywhere nearby (your best bet is West Coast Park down south or Punggol Park in the northeast which requires a fair bit of cycling before you even reach the area.)
Your best bet is probably picking up one of the shared bikes from Kranji MRT.
The Kranji Countryside Association have a private shuttle bus service that runs from Kranji MRT for S$3/day that you can hop on and off and brings you to some of the places highlighted in this list. There are also public buses – 925 and 975.
Nature reserves and parks
I’m a born and bred Singaporean and grew up in a time before villages and kampung houses. I’m also very much a city girl – give me a subway system in any city and I’m pretty comfortable, but trying to find my way out of a forest on my own is not something I’m confident of surviving. So exploring the nature parks and being surrounded by mostly vegetation, empty land and a distinct lack of concrete in Singapore is a pretty novel experience for me, and Kranji is home to some great nature reserves and parks.
Kranji Reservoir Park
This little park is very pretty though quite nondescript at first glance. I love the stillness of the reservoir that was dammed up in the 1970s. No one else but an avid fisherman was there when I popped by in the middle of the day, and sat down on the bench just to take in the quiet around me.
The park is split by Kranji Dam. A narrow road sits on top of the dam which rumbles a little as the giant trucks whiz by. I crossed over to the other side facing the coast to take in the view of the city… the city of Johor Bahru, Malaysia that is.
Malaysia is less than a kilometre away from here and it feels like you could jump in and swim over quite quickly – but coast guards keep a close eye on the borders and I’m pretty sure they are lurking just out of sight.
This spot also marks the Kranji Beach Battle site, one of the first areas in Singapore where the Japanese landed when invading Singapore during World War II. The story goes that the armed forces were pretty sure Japan would attack from the south/east so they shored up their main defenses there, and were taken by surprise when the Japanese soldiers came down from Malaysia and invaded from across the causeway. Singapore’s defences were actually doing quite well protecting the north, but some miscommunication led them to withdraw the troops to the south and let the Japanese gain a foothold.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
I’ve wanted to visit Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve for a long time, not because it’s Singapore’s first ASEAN heritage park, but I have heard that it is one of the best places to see nature in Singapore, and I was definitely not disappointed.
Now this park is pretty big – there are 2 entrances and carparks, and I visited the part closer to the Wetland Centre at Neo Tiew Road. I only explored a very small fraction of it because I was rushing off for my next appointment, but even in the short time I was there, I probably saw more species of wild birds in one place than I have ever seen on my own – shorebirds, egrets, herons, and to my surprise, three hornbills that I spent a good 15 minutes observing trying to fish trash out of a bin and hopping around a tree.
The park is very well maintained, there were nice boardwalks and specially designed bluffs where you could sit at and observe the animals in the mudflats and shoreline. Also useful, picture guides and explanations about the landscape so you had a sense of what you were looking at. There was a tower that I didn’t manage to get to as well.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
7am – 7pm daily
Kranji Marshes is a patch of freshwater marshland located around the Kranji Reservoir. The entrance is located near D’Kranji Resort, and it mostly consists of one long road bordered by the really tall trees that I never knew was called Neo Tiew Woods. These trees apparently often attract hawks and other birds – I spotted several hovering overhead but they were too far away for me to see.
The path eventually leads you to West Marsh, where the highlight is the cool 10m tall Raptor Tower where you can climb up the stairs and you get a lovely view of the marshland around you.
If it seems like a very small park, that’s because the public can only access a very small fraction of the actual park area. There are guided tours that let you access some of the restricted conservation areas, but a lot of it is out of bounds to protect the wildlife.
Open 7am – 7pm daily
I thought there were just a handful of farms left in Singapore, but it turns out that there are over 100 farms in this area, just that only 20 of them are open to the public to visit or for retail – more this way.
While you can buy yourself a complete farm-fresh meal, there aren’t many restaurant options, and practically no daily lunch options beyond a few factory canteens closer to Sungei Kadut. Most of the people I spoke with either had their own private pantries or packed food in because there aren’t many shopping centres or hawker centres within a reasonable distance.
When else will you have the chance to drink some really fresh goat’s milk without any preservatives? Hay Dairies is Singapore’s only goat farm and I was really stoked to finally get to visit after hearing so much about it.
Most of the action takes place in the morning – if you head down before 1030am, you can watch the goats get milked, and maybe even have a chance to feed them yourself. That goats know that you = food – the moment they spot you walking over, they come stumbling down their ramps and try as hard as they can to get their mouths close to you, even if that involves some mountain goat perching.
Yes, the baby goats especially are adorable, but man the goat smell can be a bit much after awhile!
The fun part is getting to drink the super fresh goat’s milk. I got the chocolate flavour in a little bottle for $2.50 – you can get original flavour and big bottles as well, and apparently most people come here to buy in bulk because the lady selling the milk was all “just one?!” at me. Bring a cooler box if you do because preservative-free means it’ll spoil if you don’t keep it cool.
I’m not sure how I feel about goat’s milk – there was a very strong taste even with the chocolate flavouring which lingered in my mouth, I’m not sure if it was due to it being goat’s milk (I usually drink normal cow’s milk) or that it was super fresh (without any of the usual pasteurizing or preservatives). I’m glad I gave it a shot at least!
Gardenasia @ Nyee Phoe
I had lunch at Bistro Gardenasia which can be found in the larger Gardenasia / Nyee Phoe complex. The bistro has quite a nice outdoor patio with a pond feature –nice place to just chill out, though there’s an indoor air-con area if you’d rather not brave the heat.
I asked for recommendations and was told to try the fish and chips set lunch (S$16.90), which was a battered mackerel with some salad and chips. I thought it was so-so – portion felt a little small, but the mushroom soup that came with the set meal was pretty good (actual mushrooms inside!) and there was homemade ice tea as well.
The rest of the Gardenasia is home to some villas if you want to spend some time out in these parts, and the larger Nyee Phoe Group is dedicated to landscaping and horticulture company with over 100 years of history. Not much for me to explore as I’m not really into plants.
Bollywood Veggies was the other place that I’d been wanting to visit in a long time – I was a bit hesitant about eating up here because I assumed it was going to be vegetarian, and they do have farm-fresh vegetarian and vegan options, but they serve up a pretty mean chicken curry and other local dishes with a bit of an Indian slant as well.
I’d just eaten Lunch #1 at Gardenasia Bistro, so they kindly let me have a piece of plain prata with a small bowl of curry on the side. The prices are cheaper than GA, and there’s more local option, so I think I have to come back and eat a proper meal some time.
You can work off that meal in the surrounding farm land after you’re done eating – make sure to spray some mosquito repellent! There’s a ‘recommended’ donation box of $2 right at the entrance which you are pretty obliged to pay, but you do get a friendly volunteer giving you a map and a bit of orientation about the place as well.
Bollywood Veggies is apparently the largest producer of bananas in Singapore, and you can see some banana trees around the farm, but there are also lots of other garden plots, and in a surprise twist a nudist-friendly zone right at the back of the compound where the lotus pool is. No naked people when I was there though…
There’s a lot of Kranji left to see! I’m hoping to spend a bit more time in Sungei Buloh and maybe see a few more farms and the Kranji memorial as well.
What are your tips for exploring this ulu (Singlish for remote) part of Singapore? If you are looking for more ideas on exploring Singapore, check out all my Singapore posts.