Need a break from the city? Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is a world-class conservation area set within a sprawling 202-hectare mangrove swamp along Singapore’s northern coast — a paradise for migratory birds on their journey from Siberia to Australia for winter.
The region was doomed for redevelopment with condos boasting Johor Bahru views, but local birdwatchers objected, pointing out the wetland’s global importance for its unusually high variety of rare species. Today, Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve survives as one of Singapore’s last wild places and has been designated an ASEAN Heritage Park for its unique ecosystem. If you’re a nature fan, it should be at the top of your to-do list in Singapore (along with a visit to Pulau Ubin).
While birds and birdwatching are probably the main focus here (the best birdwatching happens early in the morning), you don’t need to be a twitcher to enjoy the reserve. Take a walk along the mangrove boardwalks; throughout the year it’s possible to spot tree-climbing crabs, mud lobsters, large snails and mudskippers. Many species are shy and observation hides are available where you can see the flora and fauna undisturbed. If you’re lucky you may spot an otter.
Sungei Buloh is also the only place in Singapore where you may catch sight of saltwater crocodiles, though the Malayan water monitors are much more common and can grow to intimidating sizes. Don’t worry — emergency numbers are plastered all around the park if you encounter a croc.
September to March is when the migratory birds fly in. Immigrant egrets, sandpipers and plovers will join the local resident herons, sunbirds and kingfishers, among others. Birds of prey like sea eagles and falcons are easier to see along the Coastal Trail to Eagle Point, where large pod-like hides have been constructed. Take your time, and with careful observation you may be rewarded.
Whether you’ve come to enjoy the great outdoors with the family or are in the mood for a serious nature trek, Sungei Buloh should please. The Visitors’ Centre has educational exhibits, an audio-visual show, a cafe, clean bathrooms, lockers and links to the Coastal Trail (1,300 metres), Forest Trail (300 metres) and Mid-Canopy Walk (150 metres). The Coastal Trail links to several observation pods, and the Wetland Centre, from where you can follow the Migratory Bird Trail (1,950 metres) and climb the Aerie Tower with views to Malaysia, or walk the Mangrove Boardwalk (500 metres).
The Wetland Centre provides toilets and a vending machine for cold drinks. We loved the Mud Experience Trail near the Wetland Centre, where you can walk on a rope bridge through the mud; it’s only accessible during low tide. Trails are clearly marked, well maintained and lined with signs to help you identify the animals you see. Pick up one of the free trail maps at either entrance. A downloadable checklist of birds is available if you are keen to see how many you can tick off (you’ll have to know your bird species though).
Free guided tours are held Saturdays at 09:30, but are limited to 20 people. Online registration is required; they book out fast. Bring sufficient drinking water, mosquito repellent, a hat and umbrella, and wear comfortable shoes.
The park has two entrances, via the Visitor Centre near Kranji Way or the Wetland Centre on Neo Tiew Crescent. From Monday to Friday buses stop near the Visitors’ Centre entrance, and on weekends they continue to the Wetland Centre entrance.
To cool off on the way back you could try your hand at ice-skating in the tropics at The Rink at Jurong East, the interchange point on the north-south train line (red line).
How to get there
As a nature reserve should be, Sungei Buloh is quite isolated. Head to Kranji MRT station then board public bus #925 and alight at Kranji Reservoir Carpark B. Walk across the road to the Visitors’ Centre. On weekends bus #925 stops at the Wetland Centre entrance. The bus journey takes about 10-15 minutes from the station. The private Kranji Express operates daily (08:30–17:45) from Kranji MRT station. See the schedule.
By Sally Arnold
Last updated on 6th June, 2016.