It’s not often you spend time in a new city and the botanical gardens are the most memorable place you visit, but in Singapore, there’s not much that comes close to the Gardens by the Bay in terms of impact and architectural finesse.
The Gardens by the Bay are located in the marina opposite the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and, rather than your ordinary walk through plant beds, it has a variety of attractions including two huge themed conservatories, a grove of ‘supertrees’ and an elevated walkway.
Using cutting-edge innovations and environmentally friendly technology, the gardens not only provide an oasis of calm for city dwellers and tourists to relax in, but a place where plant species with high conservative value are maintained in a sustainable natural environment.
While development for Bay East and Bay Central is still underway, Bay South was opened to the public in 2012 and stands at 54 hectares. Within this space, there’s plenty to explore, including Heritage Gardens, a World of Plants, Dragonfly and Kingfisher Lakes, and the following main attractions.
The Cloud Forest and Flower Dome are two huge glass biomes. The first was constructed to replicate the cool, moist climate of the tropical montane regions. The latter is cool and dry, like the Mediterranean and some semi-arid subtropical regions. These habitats are among the most threatened in the world, providing a niche for many plant species that could face extinction in the near future.
For local residents, entrance to one conservatory costs $S12, while a ticket to both is $S20. The standard rate is S$28 for tourists, who don’t have the option of only paying for one. Don’t forget to take spare layers, as it gets quite chilly inside.
If you only have time to see one of the conservatories, the Cloud Forest is the more impressive of the two. As you enter, you’re greeted by the world’s largest indoor waterfall, at a whopping 35 m. After taking a lift to the top of the mountain, a supported walkway winds its way back down through nine unique zones. The views of the marina are pretty good from up here too.
Among the species you’re likely to see are orchids, delicate ferns, bromeliads, begonias and carnivorous pitcher plants, making you feel like you’ve stepped into a John Wyndham novel. Mist is released every two hours between 10:00 am and 8:00 pm.
Make time to watch the thought-provoking short video ‘Plus 5 Degrees’ as you exit the dome. It describes how the world will change if climate change and global warming continue at the same trajectory they have since the beginning of the century.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the Flower Dome is the largest glass greenhouse in the world! It spans over 1,300 m², can accommodate 1000 people and has a volume equivalent to 75 Olympic sized swimming pools.
The glass sits on a steel grid that acts like an eggshell, and it’s composed of 332 panels of 42 different shapes and sizes. As well as showcasing a wide variety of interesting plant and tree species from areas such as South America, California, Australia and the Mediterranean, it exhibits seasonally changing floral displays.
Highlights include a 1000-year-old olive tree and an educational corridor, where an interactive wall provides information on how human actions affect nature.
The Supertrees are a collection of artificial structures designed to look like futuristic trees, and ranging in height from 25 to 50 m. While the trees themselves aren’t real, they have a living skin of over 162,000 plants (collectively), comprising more than 200 species of bromeliads, ferns and tropical flower climbers.
During the day, they provide shade, while at night (7:45 pm and 8:45 pm) they come to life in a free show called Garden Rhapsody – 15 minutes of specially composed music and synchronised lighting. Almost 70 independent audio speakers are used to simulate live musicians performing at various locations.
The Supertree Grove also boasts a 22 m high walkway, apparently designed to make visitors feel like they’re soaring above the earth. It’s a meagre S$5 to walk the 128 m from one end to the other, which is a bargain considering the views.
If you have more time, the highest of the trees is topped by the IndoChine Bar and Restaurant. This circular rooftop bar is one of the most relaxing al fresco environments in Singapore. It has fantastic views of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which is directly opposite, and showcases its own laser display two to three times a night. There’s a cover charge of S$18, but this includes one free drink, which takes the edge off.
Sustainability is a huge feature of the gardens, and everything has been designed with this in mind.
The conservatories apply a variety of technologies that provide energy-efficient solutions in cooling. A biomass furnace is fuelled using horticultural waste produced within the gardens, and the structures are fitted with a type of glass that allows optimal light to enter, but not much heat.
The supertrees mimic the ecological functions of trees through their sustainable features. Some harvest solar energy, which is used to light them up at night. Others are integrated with cooled conservatories and serve as air exhaust structures.
The on-site lakes provide habitats for biodiversity such as fish and dragonflies, while also capturing water run-off, which is cleansed naturally by aquatic plants before being discharged into the reservoir.
The outdoor gardens aren’t ticketed and they’re open daily between 5 am and 2 am. Tickets to the cooled conservatories and walkway can be purchased at the entry gates to the gardens, or at ticket booths close to their corresponding attractions. Operating hours for these are 9 am to 9 pm.
To reach the gardens by metro, disembark at Bayfront Station (Circle Line). You can also take an SBS 400 bus from Marina Bay Station on the North South Line (Exit B). There are plenty of parking facilities located at the Bay South, Meadow and Satay by the Bay entrances.
A highly recommended place to stay is the Chic Capsule Otel. Located on Mosque Street in Chinatown, this establishment redefines shared accommodation. From the moment you step through the front door, you feel like you’re in a luxury hotel. The staff are incredibly helpful and welcoming, and they can provide discounts on a wide range of activities in and around the city. Free tea, coffee and mint chocolates are provided, and breakfast is served alongside the morning paper. The bathrooms are immaculate, and the capsule beds offer privacy and comfort, in addition to huge flatscreen TVs, remote controls and trendy Beats headphones. For those on a tighter budget, its sister hostel ‘@The Little Red Dot‘ has much more basic capsule beds, as well as regular dorms. You can find it further north on Lavender Street in the Little India district.