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Rise and Shine: How to Tackle Walking in Singapore

It’s 6am in Singapore, and you are wide awake. Thanks for nothing, jetlag. Don’t fret though, early mornings in the Lion City are often cool and breezy — so jump up and beat the commuter rush by stretching your weary limbs.

After living here for 20 years, two things are crystal clear to me when it comes to walking. One is that Singapore has some incredible inner-city walks, and ones that frequently combine culture, food, heritage — and then some more food.

The other thing you learn? Never attempt these walks at midday. Believe me, locals will back me up on that — and there’s plenty to do indoors, besides just jumping in the pool. Which is never a bad option either.

On that basis then, let’s explore two great strolls that embrace the hidden secrets of this great island-state.

But first though, some basics. Bring a small, lightweight bag, into which you should put: a bottle of water, a foldable umbrella, a pre-loaded MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) card, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and a spare T-shirt.

Wear shoes designed for walking, and light but modest attire. Note to the boys: inner city Singapore is not the place to wear your mankini. 

Orchids and Oxygen at the Gardens

Start: Rise early and jump into an MRT station, en route to Botanic Gardens Station (Circle and Downtown lines). A bonus of your early start: if you finish your journey before 7.45am, the train ride’s free.

Walk: Enter the gardens through the Bukit Timah Gate in its northeast corner. You’re a stroll away from the Eco Lake, for a sunrise stretch alongside fruit trees, koi fish and lolloping turtles.

Home to 10,000 species of flora, and recently granted UNESCO World Heritage status, the Botanic Gardens feels like you’ve stepped into Alice’s Wonderland — especially in the golden morning light. Built in 1859, its landscaped park spans 82 hectares of sundials, gardens and pagodas.

Wander through the fragrant Herbs and Spices Garden along the Red Brick Path towards the lush Orchid Garden, home to 2,000 orchid hybrids in eye-popping hues.

Finish: For your hours of wandering, you’ve earned a delicious meal — and you’re across the road from a popular food spot. Exiting through the Tanglin Gate, follow the signs to Dempsey Road.

Offering some wonderful tree-lined spots to eat (like PS Café Harding Rd for lunch or dinner), at this hour, try Jones the Grocer, for a pristine, high-ceilinged Aussie-style store and café. Open from 9am daily, its international breakfast menu is delicious. My call? Eggs benedict with smoked salmon, washed down with iced water and a long black coffee. If all mornings were this good, you might just get the hang of these holidays. 

Hidden Corners of Chinatown

Start: Catch the MRT again at around 5pm, to Telok Ayer Station (Downtown Line).

Walk: Set off down Telok Ayer Street, through a history-rich zone of protected shophouses. Pay a visit to Thian Hock Keng, (the delightfully named Temple of Heavenly Happiness), built in 1839, entirely without nails.

Explore the nearby Nargore Dargah (Indian Muslim Heritage Centre), and Al-Abrar Mosque, in a street once strategically placed near the port (the street name means “bay water” in Malay).

It’s nearing dinner time: a favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurant is The Flying Squirrel. Technically number 92, it’s down an alleyway. Locally owned (by a pair of musicians), the Japanese fusion spot is dripping in indie cred.

Next, head uphill in Ann Siang Hill Park, a great spot for photos of the city high rise “growing” out of the shophouses.

At the top, on Ann Siang Road, grab a happy-hour drink, then wander downhill, crossing Maxwell Road, to Tanjong Pagar Market.

One of the island’s best open-air fruit markets, it’s a great place to buy fresh mangoes and rambutans, or the infamous durian, amid the banter of street commerce.

Newly stocked, walk through the centre of the market and up the hill, through the last of my “secret” spots, breezy Duxton Plain Park.

Finish: This long “hidden” walk snakes between buildings, and under roads, to spit you out at New Bridge Road, where Outram MRT station (East-West Line) will whisk you homeward, tired but refreshed from your breezy inside-track tour.