A hidden network of green-lined paths that criss-cross the whole island is just calling out to be explored, as Tan Hui Yee discovers
Unnoticed by many, there is a secret world of backlanes by quiet brooks and shaded paths that take you from the sea to the heart of the land through sleepy housing estates.
These are the park connectors in Singapore - stretching over 74km now - which allow users to run, walk or cycle from one green lung to another with ease. By 2015, the network will stretch over 170km, creating an intricate network of green-lined pathways all over this 700 sq km of an island.
Some parts are more well-used than others, but they generally don't get as much attention as the more well-known green spaces like East Coast Park.
Adventure group Terra Outdoors hopes to change that, by introducing people to the joy of cycling on these trails. Run by avid sportswomen Boey Lai Wan and Chow Suet Ling, both 29, it also conducts basic cycling courses for beginners and takes them on rides around these trails.
Ms Boey told Mind Your Body: 'It's a different way to take in Singapore. There are places that you never knew existed, where motor vehicles have no access.
'Because the park connectors are so quiet, they are good places to relax at the beginning and end of each day.'
Depending on which route you take, there are varied sights. Those who venture out west along Sungei Ulu Pandan would spot egrets, which roost at night in the compounds of the Jurong BirdPark. Herons, woodpeckers and kites can also be seen.
Venture closer to central Singapore, down the Kallang River, and you get to view the charming St Andrew's School, a cluster of conserved buildings built from the 1940s onwards.
The eastern route, which Mind Your Body explored recently with Terra Outdoors, takes you from Pasir Ris to East Coast Park. Along the way, there are mangrove swamps, a fishing pond, a reservoir, as well as an interesting undulating ride on a trail near Bedok Reservoir.
The National Parks Board plans to introduce integrated bike rental services along the eastern park connector, which links up Bedok Reservoir Park, SunPlaza Park, East Coast Park and Changi Beach Park.
This means that people may soon be able to rent a bicycle at one park and return it at another when they are done with cycling.
Park connectors are mostly flat, so cycling on them is not physically demanding. However, cyclists have to be careful to avoid pedestrians who occasionally stray into their path and be prepared to get off their bikes and push them across pedestrian crossings and overhead bridges if needed.
The routes can sometimes be blocked by construction work, so be aware of surrounding traffic when making detours on the road. As with cycling in other conditions, be sure to check your bicycle's brakes and gears before moving off, and wear a helmet as well as bright or light-coloured clothing to be more visible, especially when riding at night.
More information on Terra Outdoors can be found at www.terraoutdoors.com
See Park Connector Maps in Habitatnews Flickr album.
Pasir Ris Park to East Coast Park
(Tampines Park, Bedok and Siglap Park connectors)
THE RIDE (ABOUT 15KM) Follow the Tampines Park Connector from Pasir Ris Park, which starts near where Sungei Tampines drains into the sea. The connector traverses the river southwards, bringing taking you past Downtown East on your left and, across Pasir Ris Drive 3, a (not really busy) fishing pond in the town park. At the Tampines Expressway, cross south and head west to continue along the connector till you reach SunPlaza (one word) Park. Follow the signs leading you to Bedok Reservoir Park through Tampines, then continue onward via Bedok Town Park to the Siglap Park Connector. You will need to cross the Pan-Island Expressway by an overhead bridge before continuing your journey alongside Siglap Canal. Along the way, you will also cross East Coast and Marine Parade roads, and pass St Patrick's School on your right. Finally, take the underpass that will lead you to East Coast Park, near Carpark 3.
THE SIGHTS There are many signs along this route to point you in the right direction. Kingfishers can be spotted along the Siglap Canal, and you will pass by a variety of housing estates – from spanking new condominiums to pleasant public housing blocks and sleepy private homes with back gates opening onto the park connector. The cluster of schools in the Marine Parade area – St Patrick's, CHIJ Katong Convent and Victoria Junior College – also make an engaging sight.
WATCH OUT Although there are many things to see, the path can be narrow at times so watch out for pedestrians. A Part of the route is involves riding through Tampines New Town, which can get quite busy and crowded. The good thing is that pavements there are divided into bike and footpaths. Take a map with you as there are many roads to cross.
THE RIDE (ABOUT 25KM) Starting from the canal opposite Buona Vista MRT station, follow the Ulu Pandan Park Connector westwards, across Sungei Pandan, and past the International Business Park on your left. Once you hit Boon Lay Way, follow this road westwards, passing Chinese Garden MRT station and Jurong Lake on your left. Turn left into Yuan Ching Road, and get onto the Jurong Park Connector just south of Lakeside MRT station. Follow that path along Sungei Lanchar, until you reach the Ayer Rajah Expressway. Cross under the highway and you will find yourself at Jurong BirdPark. Then take a deep breath and pedal up Jurong Hill Road to reach the top of the 60m peak.
THE SIGHTS This scenic ride is a treat for birdlovers as herons, egrets, woodpeckers and even parakeets can be found in the woodlands around the Ulu Pandan connector. Jurong Lake, which you will pass, is a rest stop amidst tranquil surroundings. For those who persist till the end, there is a three-storey spiral lookout tower on top of Jurong Hill from where you can catch 360-degree views of the area. There's also a restaurant serving Japanese and Indonesian food if you need to refuel for the return journey.
WATCH OUT You will need to cycle by some roads to get from one park connector to another, as well as cross some roads, so ride safely and watch out for oncoming traffic.
(Kallang Park Connector)
THE RIDE (ABOUT 15KM) Starting from behind Geylang West Community Club, hop on the Kallang Park Connector and follow the Kallang River northwards in the direction of Bendemeer Road (the river is crossed by a bridge near Block 14 in Upper Boon Keng Road). Cross Serangoon Road, ride past the homes in Moonstone Lane, then cross the busy Pan Island Expressway by the overhead pass close to the cluster of schools known as St Andrew's Village. Continuing along the Kallang Park Connector, you will pass Potong Pasir on your right, cross Braddell Road by the ComfortDelGro office and head north towards Bishan Park, where the route ends.
THE SIGHTS This is an efficient short-cut for residents travelling from Potong Pasir to Bishan, and passes through a number of housing estates along the way. Admire the conserved buildings in St Andrew's School and soothe those tired muscles at the Aramsa spa in Bishan Park.
WATCH OUT There are many roads and bridges to cross, so be prepared to get off your bike and push it along where it is not safe to ride. This path is mostly unshaded so it can get quite hot on a sunny day.
Kim Seng Road to East Coast Park
(promenades by Singapore River and Marina Bay, and Kallang Park Connector)
THE RIDE (ABOUT 15KM) Starting from Kim Seng Park, by Kim Seng Road opposite Great World City, you will ride along the promenade by the Singapore River, past Robertson Quay, Clarke Quay, and the Asian Civilisations Museum on your left. Cycle down Queen Elizabeth Walk, then turn right to follow the Marina Promenade on the bayfront until you hit Crawford Street. Cross Rochor River near Block 4 in Crawford Street to reach the Kallang Park Connector at the Kallang Riverside Park, and head towards Stadium Road on the opposite bank. by crossing via Geylang Road. Go past the Singapore Indoor Stadium and onto Tanjong Rhu bridge, which you ride over into Tanjong Rhu Road. That leads to Fort Road and the East Coast Park.
THE SIGHTS If you haven't had much of a life lately, this will acquaint you with many of Singapore's attractions at one go – the Singapore River, the quaint river bridges, the Asian Civilisations Museum, the Esplanade, and the soon-to-be completed giant ferris wheel, Singapore Flyer.
WATCH OUT The riverfront promenade can get quite crowded with diners and strollers in the evenings. There are also frequent road crossings and a fair number of underpasses where you are expected to dismount and push your bike across.