One of Singapore’s claims to fame is its green space, with about 10% of the city allotted for parks and nature reserves and plenty of other green to go around. This makes it not only an attractive city, but one where you can find yourself surrounded by plant life and silence in some places even in the middle of the metropolis. One such area is the complex including the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the former of which includes the “Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum”, my destination for the day.
A quick note: this guest post comes to you from my awesome wife Laura, who came with me to Singapore during a travel blogger conference. She got to explore a bit while I was stuck indoors for most of two days — rock on!
The Chinese Garden
Conveniently located right next to the Chinese Garden MRT station (who’d have thought?), the Chinese Garden is just down a walkway through a big grassy field and then across a bridge. It was designed by Professor Yuen-Chen Yu, a Taiwanese architect, after the style of traditional Chinese gardens, specifically that of the ancient northern Sung dynasty (960–1279 AD).
You’re greeted by a helpful map:
And the obligatory list of things you must not do. Also, a big pagoda:
I then turned right to look into the pagoda, but upon seeing nothing really on the ground floor and lots of steps in an upward direction (by far my least favourite of all the directions to walk in), I moved on.
The pagoda is surrounded by statues of the “Eight Legendary Heroes”.
Moving on, you’ll encounter a stone boat, an oxymoron for sure. This is actually just a stone building built in the water. It does look very pretty.
The whole area is a beautiful place for a nice, peaceful stroll.
Past the turtle museum, there is the Community Garden, a place where seniors plant gardens. There’s a lot here about ecology, protecting nature, and recycling, both in somewhat conventional:
And somewhat less conventional:
That, by the way, is labeled as a Chinese opera mask (and accompanied by many others) and you can flip open the lid to get some more details about the mask.
The herb garden smelled very nice:
There was also a little butterfly greenhouse, but I ended up disappointed there. There were not that many butterflies and, of course, butterflies are notoriously shy. There were some replica butterflies there:
But unfortunately, my photos of actual butterflies all came out like this:
Ah well. Finally, I reached the Garden of Abundance, which is a small area with stone statues representing each of the Chinese zodiac animals.
Each is accompanied by the animal’s name, birth years to which it pertains, and a brief description of the supposed qualities of people born in those years. My description was accurate on three of four points, but those of my family were all entirely off.
The Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum
You’ll reach this on your way through the Chinese Garden, and it’s worth a look for anyone who likes turtles and/or is accompanied by young children. A sign at the beginning indicates that the turtles were former pets who were abandoned and subsequently brought to live here.
Many of the turtles live in aquariums…
…while most inhabit a little pond in the middle…
…and some just roam around on the grass.
This was my favourite. You can’t tell, but that big brown splotch is its head.
Another cute one:
A few of the more unique varieties live in concrete boxes around the area, including one that’s supposed to be 82 years old. You’re invited to wish on it for luck. Unfortunately, it was camera-shy.
The turtles are all extremely tame and react positively to a human presence, showing interest and crawling/swimming right up to you, as one might expect of animals who recognize humans as givers of food. (This is supposedly an option for a couple of extra dollars, but the tables with signs to that effect were empty and I didn’t bother asking the ticket seller). The turtles’ homes also all labeled with information about the type of turtle and its characteristics.
From the Chinese Garden entrance (the one nearest the Chinese Garden MRT), you’ll cross over a large bridge called the Bridge of Double Beauty to reach the Japanese Garden. By the time I got to the Japanese Garden, I had been walking for over two hours (the Chinese Garden is not small) in the heat and was fairly tired, so it didn’t get much more than a cursory look. It’s as tranquil as the Chinese garden but, honestly, not that interesting unless you’re a Japanophile, which I’m not. However, it is another lovely place to just walk around and enjoy nature.
The landscape is, of course, set up like a traditional Japanese garden and based on gardening techniques from the Muromachi and Momoyama periods (1392–1615, collectively). There is also information about the stone lamps, or toro; these are daidoro, and the five points represent the five elements of Buddhist cosmology (earth, fire, water, spirit and void). These lamps were originally used to line the paths to temples, but later became popular in gardens as well. There’s also the requisite Shinto gate (torii), bonsai trees, and arched bridges.
One section deviates from the Japanese theme a bit and is planted with the fruit trees that used to be popular in the courtyards of kampong (neighbourhood or village) residents’ houses.
There are a lot of areas in both gardens that I didn’t really cover — you could easily spend an entire afternoon wandering between the two.
A note on convenience facilities: there are very few places to buy any sort of drink inside the gardens. There are occasional Coke machines while only accept coins (and were pretty useless to me as a diabetic). There was also one lone vendor just outside the entrance who had an assortment of snacks and drinks, including water. Restrooms, however, are plentiful, and there are a lot of benches and pavilions where you can sit down and rest if you get tired.
Name: The Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden, and the Turtle and Tortoise Museum.
Address: 1 Chinese Garden Road (off Boon Lay Way), Singapore.
For the Chinese Garden: GPS: 1.338617, 103.729976
For the Japanese Garden: GPS: 1.335253, 103.731058
For the Turtle Museum: GPS: 1.338841, 103.729873
Directions: Get off at Chinese Garden MRT (EW25), follow the signs for the Chinese Garden and walk a few hundred meters. The turtle museum is inside the Chinese Garden; follow the signs. The Japanese Garden is accessible via a bridge and signposted from the Chinese Garden. Both are also accessible via Lakeside MRT (EW26) or bus 154.
Hours: Chinese Garden 6 AM — 8 PM, Turtle Museum 9 AM — 6 PM, Japanese Garden 6 AM — 7 PM. All are open every day.
Admission: Both gardens are entirely free, but the Turtle Museum is $5 per adult and $3 for kids and seniors.
Phone: Turtle museum (+65) 6268 5363 or (+65) 6271 1846