I had always put off visiting the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in Singapore, due to its infamous reputation for having curious macaques inhabiting the place. However, now that I have finally plucked up the courage to experience this trek, I can say it was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done in Singapore! And no sign of the legendary Bukit Timah Monkey Man, either, which was a good bonus!
The ascent was very difficult. One of the most challenging things I have ever tried in regular footwear, in fact. I did not take too many photos, either, as I was too busy trying to deal with the relative lack of oxygen and navigating the extremely steep slope upward. It was certainly the closest I had ever got the untamed jungle in Singapore, more so than at Labrador Park. You have the loud screeching of cicadas and crickets in the foliage which remind you that you’re in the jungle, plus the ever-present monkeys are always no more than a few hundred metres away. On the way up Bukit Timah, you are also reminded that this indeed a nature reserve, as there are informative and educational signs scattered around the hiking trails at regular intervals, which teach you of the agricultural heritage of the area, as well as giving tips on how to spot the omnipresent flora and fauna.
At one point, even though I was following other hikers in front of me, I thought I had taken the wrong turn or something, as it looked like I was heading away from the main paths and further into the rainforest. I now realise there must in fact be two routes to the summit. Yet, immediately after thinking I was heading in the wrong direction, I found myself at the summit! This was a lucky relief! There is not much up here, and you should be warned of this before you embark on the hike uphill. There is a small shelter, which presumably may shield you from the tropical monsoons that occur here daily, and give you a little chance to sit down and recoup your energy before the descent. In fact, I saw many small groups of people sitting on the grass at the summit, so in good weather you could also just lounge around wherever you want (watch out for ants, though!). There is a red and white radio tower, although I have no idea if this is still in use or not. I did not see any drinks vending machines up here, so make sure you bring enough bottled water with you for the return journey.
On the way back down from the summit, I had a chance to finally take in some of the natural wonders and beauty of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. I was still dripping with sweat at this point, yet, believe me, walking downhill is infinitely easier than walking upwards. As such, I began to take more photographs to give me a visual memory of my arduous assault on Bukit Timah.
As I was looking through all the dense jungle foliage, I suddenly remembered a message on a sign that I observed up at the summit, which claimed “…Bukit Timah was considered to be a horrid, forested, tiger-infested blob to the early Colonials, where tiger’s roars could be heard in the twilight”. I was kind of glad that tigers have long since been extinct in Singapore, as there would be nowhere to hide around here! Nevertheless, even without tigers, I did need to watch out for snakes. I always had my eyes looking on the ground to see what I was walking past, although it must be said that if a python or cobra has swiped at me, I probably wouldn’t have had time to move out of the way. The forested floor is covered in leaves, and I suppose it is perfect camouflage to some of the jungle’s resident predators.
This brings me back to the infamous urban legend of the Bukit Timah Monkey Man, which is a bipedal ape that rises to around 7ft tall, according to some witnesses, and is said to roam around the nature reserve here. However, I think this is just fake storytelling, as there is no way something like that (similar to the Yeti legend, I guess) could ever avoid detection in such a small enclosed place as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in Singapore. Apparently, some of the residents down the road still believe the Monkey Man exists though, so they won’t let their kids come around here alone!
Many people walk backwards down the main slope back the road. This is said to be much easier on the calves and Achilles muscles, although it does look a little silly. The dedicated hikers and athletes in training were all using this method, although I walked down in the standard fashion, continuing to marvel at the strange and coiled rainforest foliage enroute. When finally back down at the bottom of the Bukit Timah, I again saw another monkey, and in addition heard many others in the trees all around me, but luckily they were not interested in the people this time.
At the end of my trek, I saw many other hikers hop on their bikes to ride off home, but I had to find a taxi to take me back to Marina Bay. Now the real challenge began!
For advice on how to deal with monkeys when in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, or anywhere in Singapore, for that matter, there is some great information over at Wild Singapore.