Travel Story Singapore rail system just the ticket

Ru Yun T'a pagoda  - Chinese Gardens.
Picture: Gary Tate

The island's much-feted MRT network can keep visitors right on track.

Our first overseas trip, as a young married couple, was to Singapore 42 years ago. 

In the ensuing years we have visited this wonderful, dynamic city many times but never used the MRT rail system. Then a friend recommended that on our next visit we should visit the Jurong Lake Gardens, also called the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, 12 stops from City Hall station in central Singapore. 

The East-West line (Green line) line is 57km long, with 35 stations, running from Pasir Ris to Tuas Link. A separate spur line links with Changi Airport. 

The stations are well signed with friendly English-speaking, red-coated attendants available to offer assistance.

We found it easy to buy tickets, following the English instructions on the touch screens. Ticket machines accept coins and notes up to $S5 ($4.70), and dispense change. 

A one-way trip of 12 stops to Chinese Garden station is $S2.40 or just $S4.70 return to our starting point at City Hall station, near the iconic Raffles Hotel. 

Trains are fast and regular (running every two minutes) and have no graffiti or rubbish. 

Passengers were very courteous in offering seats to us rather grey senior citizens. Approaching stations are displayed mid-carriage, above the doors and announcements are in English. 

Upon arriving at Chinese Garden station it was a short straightforward walk to the entry. The large, seven-tiered Ru Yun T’a pagoda dominating the skyline pointed the way! 

The well-landscaped park has been built on an island in Jurong Lake, one of Singapore’s water catchment reservoirs. It opens at 5.30am and entry is free. It has many smaller lakes, bridges, several pagodas and is very well maintained. 

Over a red wooden bridge and through the garden entry we were met with a large map, in English, of the gardens. 

The map highlighted the Bonsai Garden. Our first stop was the tall pagoda which may be climbed via the circular stairway to the top level for a scenic outlook. 

At the time of our visit there were a pair of white-collared kingfishers flitting to and from their nest that contained a very hungry chick. The location of the nest hollow was made very obvious by the 12 local “birders” with cameras and long lenses pointed at the nest opening.

Being an avid birdwatcher I had to join the group and snap a few shots of the dedicated parents. Several other bird species were observed, along with squirrels, numerous turtles and several large water monitors walking and swimming around the lakes. 

Next we made tracks for the Bonsai Garden which did not disappoint. The bonsai were displayed in large groups differentiated by their design. These were the best displays of bonsai we have ever visited and a highlight of our trip. With the temperature rising we decided to return in the cooler morning the next day. 

Crossing the majestic stone Bridge of Double Beauty to access the Japanese Garden we took directions from another large map. This garden was very serene except in an area where many hundreds of jogging schoolchildren had gathered for their trophy presentations. 

The cheering of encouragement was almost deafening but a delight. 

Further along many nesting grey heron were observed high up in the trees attending to their ever-hungry chicks. More kingfishers, turtles and water monitors were observed around the fringes of the lily ponds. 

There is a 10 to 15-year plan to develop and improve the gardens into the next major Singapore garden attraction. A return trip at some stage will be even more rewarding. 

Having been converted to commuting by train we utilised another line over the following days to visit the incredible Gardens by the Bay. This line was automated with modern driverless trains. 

 The Flower Dome’s theme was Orchid Extravaganza. It certainly lived up to the name and was stunning. 

Before having some dinner and the Super Tree light show we strolled down to the water’s edge behind the Flower Dome to see if we might see the resident otter family. 

 The otters did not disappoint us, with nine of these playful creatures feeding and playing in the water before coming ashore for a roll in the sand right at our feet! After their sand bath they disappeared across the shared- use path into the abundant tropical vegetation. 

After the light show it was a pleasant stroll to the MRT station for the train back to our hotel which was just 300m from the station. 

We will be doing much more “training” in Singapore.

Top picture: Ru Yun T'a pagoda in the Chinese Garden. Picture: Gary Tate

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