Turn off busy Bukit Timah Road down a stony track that becomes a dusty one, pass a small black and white sign announcing “Community Use Site”, and ahead lies a jungle-lined trail. The leafy journey is so peaceful that you would not know you are travelling through one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
The trail is known as the Green Corridor, which stretches 25.3km from the north to the south of Singapore over what used to be Malaysia’s Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway line.
If you are looking for somewhere to take the family out a weekend bike ride or nature walk, the corridor’s 4km section from Bukit Timah to Holland Drive, in either direction, is worth doing.
The Green Corridor trail is fantastic for families as the walk itself is entirely flat, and it’s cycle-friendly, except on rainy days when it gets muddy. The trail is relatively unpublicised, so you have some of it to yourselves.
This is a rare, easily accessible chance to enjoy the tropics as nature intended. There’s not a manicured plot of greenery in sight. Gaze at the exotic birdlife, such as the curly-tailed drongo or blue-winged kingfisher, but watch out for things lurking in the real jungle, such as snakes in long grass beside the trail, mosquitoes, and vicious ants.
Now and again, the roar of traffic or a glimpse of a housing estate reminds you that while you are in the wild, the concrete jungle lurks nearby.
Some history: The unassuming narrow path looks as if it could well lead to a mud hut in Africa. Instead, it leads you to something equally as evocative – a cosy country cottage built of brick. Good grief, have you time-travelled to 1950s Basildon, in Blighty? No, the colonial cutie is the Bukit Timah Railway Station, from when the rail line was a vital transport link for tin and rubber, operating since the 1920s. The station, now closed, has now been gazetted for conservation.
In a quirk of history, the line and its land occupied by Malaysia, once ran through Singapore, from the lovely, neo-classical-styled station at Tanjong Pagar at the edge of the central business district, to Woodlands. From there, it went onwards across the causeway.
For many Singaporeans, the rail-line was a link to family in Malaysia. Some have told me of regularly making the journey, their excitement lulled by the rocking rhythm of the train as it slipped past tower blocks and factories, past migration checkpoints, and then up north, past palm oil plantations and zinc-roofed shacks.
The entire KTM line also holds a military significance. During World War II, amid battles in southern Malaya, the British abandoned their quaint rail stations one by one and retreated to Singapore as the Japanese invasion forces advanced. Australian troops there fought bravely, but soon, they, too, became part of the retreat.
However, there are no trains now. The year 2011 marked the end of the line, when Malaysia gave the rail land back to Singapore. Part of the deal was that Singapore handed over the physical iron tracks.
With all the tracks and stone ballast gone, early in 2012 some sections were opened to the public as nature trails.
How long the Green Corridor will remain before some of it is redeveloped is not known. But in the meantime, enjoy this legacy of colonial railway times – a nature trail in the city, with a history lesson.
Getting there: If entering off Bukit Timah Road, go onto a side path by an over-bridge just before King Albert Park’s McDonalds, on the left looking towards Clementi Road. Park at the Cold Storage nearby. Plenty of buses stop at the over-bridge. For more info, go to www.ura.gov.sg/railcorridor/ or www.thegreencorridor.org/
This article was originally published in October 2013.