Five historical attractions at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Nature and history are intertwined at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Quek Ser Han

Self-proclaimed K-pop expert. Loves holographic nail polish.

Published: 1 September 2021, 11:59 AM

We all know that Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is home to a plethora of flora and fauna and is popular among locals looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

But did you know that the reserve is also rich in Singapore history? Here are five things you can look out for in the reserve that serve as a reminder of old Singapore.

1. Sumatran tigers at the Visitor Centre

Yes, you read it right, there are tigers at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. To be more specific, there are replicas of wild Sumatran tigers that once roamed Singapore. 

It may be hard to believe, but Singapore was infested with tigers during the 19th century. In fact, tiger attacks were so common that it was widely believed that tigers were claiming lives on a daily basis. 

Later on, tiger hunting became a popular sport and the last wild tiger in Singapore was killed in October 1930.


Bukit Timah used to be a tiger hotspot, alongside Choa Chu Kang, Tampines and Changi. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ASHIKIN ZULKIFLI


The Sumatran tigers exhibit can be found in the exhibition hall, on the second floor of the Visitor Centre. You can also learn about the flora and fauna that you’ll be able to find within the nature reserve here.


The Visitor Centre is reminiscent of a black and white colonial bungalow. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/QUEK SER HAN


The Visitor Centre is located right at the entrance of the nature reserve, with amenities such as vending machines and toilets on the first floor.

2. Memories of Bukit Timah Hill’s bloody past

Today, many people find respite from their hectic lives in the lush greenery of Bukit Timah Hill. Who could’ve ever imagined that this tranquil and serene hill was once a bloody and chaotic warzone during World War II?


At the foot of the hill, you’ll be able to spot a bronze plaque detailing the battle of Bukit Timah. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ASHIKIN ZULKIFLI


In February 1942, the Japanese troops invading Singapore clashed with the Allied forces at Bukit Timah Hill. The Allied forces were dealt a crushing blow in the battle and had no choice but to retreat, allowing the Japanese to capture the hill on Feb 11. 

This was a significant engagement as it was the penultimate battle before the final battle for Singapore at Pasir Panjang, which led to the British’s surrender.

3. The highest peak in Singapore

To reach the summit, you’ll first have to ascend a steep slope. Around the halfway mark, you can opt for the gentler slope, or get a good leg workout by taking the stairs.


If you have short legs (like me), the steps on the left path may be more suitable for you. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ASHIKIN ZULKIFLI


Due to how woefully unfit I am, I struggled quite a bit to reach the summit. In reality, my journey to the top was probably much easier compared to the journey made by John Prince and his men in 1827.

Back then, Singapore’s Resident Councillor John Prince, and his Chinese contractors became the first people to reach the summit of Bukit Timah Hill. Considering the access road up the hill was only completed in 1843, we can only imagine how much vegetation and dangerous wildlife Prince and his men must have fought through in order to reach the top.


Feeling a sense of accomplishment upon reaching the summit. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ASHIKIN ZULKIFLI


The summit of Bukit Timah Hill is about 163m above sea level, making it the highest peak in Singapore. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a view up here and all you’ll really see are the lush vegetation surrounding the hill. 

Tired hikers can catch their breath at the summit hut and enjoy the cool breeze.

While there doesn’t seem to be much to see or do on the summit today, this wasn’t always the case. In 1856, a holiday bungalow was actually built here for the enjoyment of government officers and the public. 

The bungalow was, sadly, demolished due to the lack of guests and subsequently replaced by telecommunication relay towers.

4. Mysterious caves along cave path

If you’re looking for a more strenuous workout, perhaps you could try ascending or descending the hill via the cave path. 

Personally, I felt that this path was more difficult as it was longer and contained even more flights of steep, uneven stairs. Upon completion, I couldn’t help but gain a new-found appreciation for flat ground.


The cave path was also much quieter than the main path. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ASHIKIN ZULKIFLI


Along the way, you’ll be able to spot two caves which were reportedly used by the Japanese to store their supplies and ammunition during World War II.


You won’t be able to enter the caves as they are locked. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ASHIKIN ZULKIFLI


Beyond the metal gates, the inside of the caves were pitch black. The cloudy weather we were experiencing that day only added to the eerie and spooky vibes of these mysterious tunnels. They were definitely an unexpected and odd sight to see in a nature reserve. 

5. The gorgeous Hindhede Quarry

Hindhede Quarry can be viewed from the lookout point in Hindhede Nature Park, which is just beside Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The quarry looks like something you would see in an ancient Chinese painting and is truly an Instagram-worthy spot

If you’re lucky enough, you may even spot some monkeys in the trees surrounding the quarry.


With easier trails and a playground for children, Hindhede Nature Park may be a more family-friendly option. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/QUEK SER HAN


However, the Hindhede Quarry wasn’t always this beautiful and majestic. Like all good “glow-up” stories, this quarry had unglamorous beginnings and was actually used for granite mining until the late 1980s.

These are some of the things in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve that give us a glimpse of what Singapore looked like in the past. The hike up to the summit was, in my opinion, rather challenging. But if I can do it, I have the utmost confidence that you’ll be able to conquer the hill too! 

If you’re keen to explore this reserve make sure you’re wearing good walking shoes and have a mosquito patch on hand to ward off the mozzies. Be careful, and have fun!

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