Monstrous tree trunks rise 50 meters in to the sky, giant luminescent insects cling to sprawling vegetation and skeletal branches pulsate light in ever-changing shades of red, blue and green. Looking skyward, in to the light, I spot shadowy figures navigating their way from tree to tree across illuminated pathways suspended mid-air. A soaring musical accompaniment rhythmically coincides with rapid bursts of colour in an almost symbiotic relationship. Perhaps my grogginess having come straight from the airport after a 6 hour flight played its part, but the spectacle is otherworldly. If I didn’t know any better I’d guess that I’d touched down in the Avatarian world of Pandora. But no, I’m in Singapore and what I’m transfixed by is the Gardens by the Bay nighttime spectacle, ‘Garden Rhapsody’.
Conceptualised in 2005, in what I can only imagine was a meeting low on ideas before they broke out the ‘herbal accompaniments’, Gardens by the Bay (or at least the main Bay South Garden) was officially opened in 2012. I know what you’re thinking; 7 years from drawing board to reality sounds a fairly significant chunk of time to bed a few plants! But this is no ordinary garden. For starters the $1 billion project sits on 250 acres of land that has been reclaimed from the bay. It’s also an architectural masterpiece whose design was finalised after an international competition that attracted over 70 proposals from competitors in 24 countries. The result is iconic centerpiece that fulfils Singapore’s vision to turn the city-state from a “Garden City” to a “City in a Garden”.
Although officially consisting of three separate gardens (Bays South, East and Central), the term ‘Gardens by the Bay’ is largely synonymous with the most developed (to date) of the three gardens; Bay South. It’s here that you’ll find Supertree Grove; metal, tree-like, structures housing vertical gardens which are connected by an overhead Skyway and host the nightly light show. However, Bay South is more than just that. In addition to a multitude of horticulturally themed gardens Bay South also boasts two conservatory complexes, the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, which are equally unearthly.
I’m not one usually awed by the botanical world (other than perhaps the tulip fields of Holland or the Lavender fields of the Provençal countryside), but I have to admit that the Flower Dome is one impressive structure. Billed as the largest glass greenhouse in the world the conservatory houses ever changing displays of flowers and plants from the Mediterranean and semi-arid regions; all within in an impressively cooled environment. If nothing else it’s worth visiting to escape the harsh mid-day heat of Singapore. There are nine different zones to explore including olive groves and African baobab plantations but Flower Dome’s flagship is the flower field; which hosts an ever-changing display to reflect different seasons and festivals.
If you’re impressed by the Flower Dome then the Cloud Forest will be the clincher! The centerpiece is a man-made ‘mountain’ clouded in mist and around which you can walk on elevated footpaths through the forest canopy. The world’s tallest indoor waterfall cascades down the side of the structure which houses nine exhibits including the mysteriously named ‘Lost World’ at its peak. Designed to emulate the cool moisture of the tropical Montane region the Cloud Forest highlights the unique biodiversity, geology and environmental challenges of the Montane regions.
I think that it’s safe to say that you put your preconceptions about botanic gardens to one side; Gardens by the Bay has true ‘Flower Power’.
Gardens By The Bay: Practical Information
If you’re looking to visit Gardens by the Bay by public transport then the closest MRT is currently the Bayfront MRT (a specifically constructed Gardens by the Bay MRT station isn’t scheduled to open until 2021).
The gardens themselves, including Supertree Grove and its nightly light show ground, are free to enter (at ground level) and open from 5am until 2am daily. If you want to see Supertree Grove from above then you can pay the extra admission to head up to the OCBC Skyway which is open from 9am until 9pm. The conservatories (the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest) also incur an additional charge and you can buy tickets here.
If you fancy scaling a Supertree but don’t want to shell out for the OCBC skyway then you could also consider dining (or drinking) at IndoChine. The restaurant is located at the top of the largest Supertree and provides great views over the entire gardens and downtown Singapore.
Garden Rhapsody runs nightly. Make sure you check out the Gardens by the Bay website for up to date information on performance schedules and accessibility (it sometimes closes for specific festival events).
A word of advice; Bay South gets incredibly busy and even more so around the times of the Garden Rhapsody Light Show. I arrived at the main entrance by taxi and luckily had a driver that managed to sneak through a long line of traffic in an act of moral redundancy. If he hadn’t then I could well have missed the show altogether. So, if you’re arriving by car my advice would be to do so in good time. Alternatively, your safest bet is to arrive by MRT.