Haw Par Villa, Singapore

Haw Par Villa, a Chinese sculpture park, is one of Singapore’s more unusual tourist attractions. Created by the producer of Tiger Balm, it features brightly coloured sculptures depicting many Chinese myths and legends, as well as other seemingly random sculptures, such as a mini Statue of Liberty and some sumo wrestlers. There is a lake with a pagoda, giant memorials to the siblings of the man who built it, and the most popular attraction, the Ten Courts of Hell, a cave of dioramas showing people being punished (gruesomely) for their sins before being reincarnated.

Haw Par Villa is free entry and open every day, so this is a great attraction if you’re visiting Singapore on a tight budget. A little off the usual tourist trail, Haw Par Villa is definitely one of Singapore’s weirder places to visit! Simply get off the Circle Line MRT at Haw Par Villa and the gardens are right next to the station.



Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park, Malaysia

Spending a day wandering Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur (KL for short), I had visited plenty of museums and Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park offered something a bit different. I had already visited zoos and bird parks, but had never been to a butterfly park. I paid the RM 20 entry fee and entered the lush green park, where possibly thousands of butterflies were flying around, settling on leaves and flowers, or hiding up in the corners of the green netting that acted as the high ceiling of the park, preventing them from escaping.

The KL Butterfly Park is not as big as I expected, but I guess it is hard to cover a large area in green netting. Detail is the name of the game here, spotting the different butterflies as they flit around, catching photos if they land, and creeping up to snap unsuspecting butterflies as they feed. The best way to show you the park is through images:


Gardens By The Bay: Artificial can be Fun

I’ve heard some criticism of Gardens By The Bay, Singapore’s latest attraction, with people wondering why the government would create an artificial garden in one place while it destroys natural spaces elsewhere (see Bukit Brown Cemetery as one example). But, actually I liked Gardens By The Bay. It’s not a nature reserve and nor is it trying to be one, and its paid attractions are more expensive than the National Orchid Garden at Singapore Botanic Gardens. And yes, it’s very artificial. But Singapore does “artificial” rather well (see Sentosa Island for another example of this).

Gardens By The BayThe general Gardens By The Bay area is free to enter, so you can wander around and look at the different themed areas. There are gardens for ethnic groups which showcase plants and cultural elements of the group. You can also walk in Supertree Grove. These “fake trees” or vertical gardens, depending on how you look at them, are one of the main features of Gardens By The Bay. There are restaurants and shops, some fun fountains of the type that suddenly spurt water into the air, and it all feels kind of futuristic. It’s a pleasant space to enjoy a walk in a crowded city.

The main attractions at Gardens By The Bay do cost money, though they’re not hugely expensive. We had tickets for two of them: Cloud Forest and Flower Dome.

Cloud Forest

Walking into the Cloud Forest, one of the massive domes, I was hit by a blast of cold wind and rain… Wait a minute, I thought, this is just like being back in London. Ah ha, us Brits pay to feel the tropical heat of the Eden Project in Cornwall, while Singaporeans pay to feel cold and wet.

waterfallBut it turned out that my first impression was somewhat mistaken. The water came from the 30m high waterfall, one of the Cloud Forest’s main features, and we were not in a synthesized UK, but in an artificial cloud forest, at a relatively high altitude up a mountain. This made it all seem more fun.

We walked around the base of the mountain, and then went up in the lift (I told you it was futuristic), we could see the water gushing down below. As we walked up to the mountain peak the vegetation gradually changed. At the top of the mountain we found vegetation normally found at a high altitude, or so we were told. Fortunately, Cloud Forest is full of information for visitors, about the altitude simulated, the types of vegetation and the impact of the current environmental crisis of global warming. The information was written clearly and we felt we could learn something.

plants at the top of the mountainDescending into the belly of the mountain we came upon a hall full of stalactites and stalagmites and some information about their formation. Under the mountain we learnt about the effects of global warming and predictions for the Earth’s future.

The Cloud Forest environment was fun with its wind, rain and cloud simulations, and we learnt about some important environmental issues.

Flower Dome

We also had tickets for the other dome at Gardens By The Bay, Flower Dome, where a simulated cool, dry climate supports plants from the Mediterranean, parts of South and Central America, Australia and Africa.

inside Flower DomeWe saw many plants from these regions, which are not native to Southeast Asia, including baobab trees, olive trees, and some amazing cacti and succulents. The central area of the Flower Dome is used for a seasonal flower display, which while we were there was showing an autumnal array of oranges, yellows and reds, with rustic harvest time elements. Spectacular due to its size and the well-ordered flowerbeds, the view across the whole dome from the baobab garden was amazing.

A New Garden to Visit

The two domes are both worth a visit, especially if you’re living in tropical Southeast Asia and want to experience a different climate. I preferred the Cloud Forest due to its mountain environment and contrasting climate, but the flowers were more spectacular at Flower Dome.

Autumnal display at Flower Dome

Gardens By The Bay is a pleasant place to visit for a wander and makes an good alternative to Singapore Botanic Gardens.