The first thing that strikes me about Singapore is a lush, cash-worthy display of beautiful greenery… right in the middle of the baggage carousel. I hadn’t even collected my luggage when I first became aware of the city-state’s extraordinary commitment to the environment.
And it’s the gift that keeps on giving, because when I check into my hotel, the Parkroyal Marina Bay Sands, there are rows of greenery all around, a 13-foot-high living wall—which helps purify the surrounding air—and an urban garden. fourth floor produces more than 60 fruits, vegetables and herbs (legislation requires every new or renovated building to commit to similar green practices).
A 21-story atrium with a skylight lowers the hotel’s temperature and reduces electricity consumption, while solar panels on the roof provide off-grid power.
These are remarkable impressions of a place that, while smaller than all of New York City, has steadily built a reputation as one of the greenest places on Earth. Only this month it was officially certified as a sustainable travel destination based on the criteria of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
In the 1960s, Singapore became known as a garden city thanks to Lee Kuan Yew, the then Prime Minister, who proposed creating and developing a greener environment to mitigate the effects of the concrete urban jungle. Today you will see more real jungle – Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. At 163 meters, it is the highest point on the island and one of only two urban rainforest areas in the world (the other being in Rio). In recent decades, more space and planning have been created to expand existing parks or to create new parks.
I’m going to Southern Ridges Park with the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore: the Henderson Waves. At 36 meters high, it offers a great view over the Strait of Singapore, while inland you see a green sea with tall buildings scattered here and there. It also leads to a trail that eventually reaches neighboring Mount Faber.
“Most of our parks are connected,” says my guide Naseem. “The Park Connector Network connects green spaces, making walking or cycling in nature very easy and yet in the middle of the city. It should also discourage people from using their car so much.”
As we walk, I occasionally see locals scanning their phones via QR codes on signposts.
“It’s a great incentive to keep fit,” says Naseem. “It tracks your daily steps, which you can convert into point-worthy rewards like supermarket coupons.”
I’d also increase my step count if it helped me with my weekly shopping – though I’m tempted by a crazier option – a city tour in an old Vespa sidecar.
With Naseem I arrive at the beautiful Singapore Botanical Gardens. Founded in 1859, it is the only tropical garden recognized by Unesco. Showpiece is the National Orchid Garden with more than 1,000 species. Some are named after famous visitors such as Queen Elizabeth and the Obamas.
Another more unusual green space beckons – Gardens by the Bay consists of three 250-acre waterfront gardens. The largest is Bay South, notable for its Flower Dome – the largest glass greenhouse in the world. It features flowers and plants from climate zones around the world and I like to wander from clusters of cacti to giant baobab trees, through rose bushes and expanses of beautiful wildflowers.
Next door is the Cloud Forest, which has one of the highest indoor waterfalls in the world, rising several stories high. Walkways allow you to observe the exotic plant species within.
However, one of my favorite parts of this green city isn’t even natural. Floating in the air are The Gardens’ man-made Supertrees, 18 strange sculptures 25 to 50 meters high, each with a stout ‘trunk’ that fan out in a network of ‘branches’.
The Hotel 81 chain has branches all over Singapore at a great price and offers cleanliness, comfort and value for money. Stay in a centrally located Bugis surrounded by shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment; hotel81.com.sg.
We’ve found deals on a spotless double room for S$134 per night for two – that’s just £41 per person. The starting price is for a room without windows, but hey, there’s bed linen, wifi, a TV and a kettle. Grab a room with a view starting at $159.
The 22-meter sky bridge connects 12 of them and it’s an enchanting experience to see them up close and look down on the real greenery unfolding below.
Of course, despite their artificiality, they add to Singapore’s environmental credentials.
Some use solar energy to power the lights that illuminate them after dark, while others include water storage and air cooling devices. Definitely one of the coolest things about Singapore.
The ability to catch a flight and then work for a month would appeal to anyone looking to fly as little as possible.
And when I watch the music and light show that takes place in the trees every night, it’s clear that Singapore really is green lit.
I, Ronald Payne, am a journalist and author who dedicated his life to telling the stories that need to be said. I have over 7 years of experience as a reporter and editor, covering everything from politics to business to crime.