Jurong Lake Gardens – Journey To The Gems Of The West

Although Singapore isn’t a huge country, I find districts such as Jurong & Boon Lay in the west too ulu (Malay word for “remote”) to visit & hence seldom make my way there. Because I had nothing better to do no project deadlines to rush through in the last quarter of 2017, through my West-ender friend’s recommendation, I took a long train journey to the west to explore Jurong Lake Gardens early in the morning.

The name of this garden may not ring a bell to some, particularly if you hardly visit the west side of Singapore. Technically, it is a term coined for the country’s new national gardens in the heartlands, to be developed in several phases. The first phase of redevelopment started at Jurong Lake Gardens West since April 2016 & is expected to complete some time in 2018. While we await the completion of the first phase, there are still beautiful gardens to relax in within Jurong Lake Gardens Central, where the more commonly known Chinese Garden & Japanese Garden are located. That was where I visited with my friend too, just a stone’s throw ahead of Chinese Garden MRT station.

Map of the Jurong Lake Gardens Central

I can’t remember exactly the last time I visited Chinese Gardens, but it was likely during my primary school days, donkey years ago! 😛 Being so long ago, I could barely remember much of the garden, save for the symbolic pagoda that could make one momentarily think you are in China.

The iconic 7-storey pagoda standing tall amidst the beautiful flower garden

Ta-da! Just a short walk from the garden’s East Entrance in front of Chinese Garden MRT station is the “unforgettable” 7-storey pagoda perched on a small hill in the park. It was a stunning sight against the backdrop of red flowers & vivid green leaves. Climb up to the top of the pagoda for a panoramic view of the Jurong Lake district, but well, I was lazy & didn’t want to haha.

Up the pagoda for bird’s eye view of Jurong Lake district

After admiring the pagoda modelled after the best Buddhist temple in the world – Linggu Temple (灵谷寺) in Nanjing, we strolled towards the Japanese Garden, which was situated to the left of the pagoda. Despite an overcast sky, it was a lovely sight that greeted us as we approached the iconic red bridge in the garden.

No expensive air ticket needed to experience a tranquil Japanese Garden!

This beautiful scene pictured above made me feel like I was at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nikko, where the Shinkyo Bridge (神橋, also known as Sacred Bridge) can be found. The alluring landscaped garden may be small, but it was so idyllic that we didn’t mind staying there longer, if not for the heavy downpour that soon arrived… 😐 Nonetheless, this is the place to be if you want to escape from the stifling concrete jungle for some quiet moments to soothe your mind & breathe in some fresh air. 🙂

In case you wish to see the real Shinkyo Bridge in the picturesque town of Nikko in Japan, you may like to read these Trip101 articles which I wrote over the past 1.5 years for more information ☺:

Day Trip From Tokyo: The Comprehensive Guide For A Great Day In Nikko
Enjoy A Fantastic Family Trip In The World Heritage Site Of Nikko
Top 5 Affordable Open-Air Onsen Ryokans To Stay Near Tokyo
10 Best Nikko Souvenirs To Buy Home To Share Sweet Travel Memories

Confucius Statue

Besides the picturesque Japanese Garden hidden in a corner of the Jurong Lake Gardens Central, visitors will be able to find many traditional Chinese-style architecture sprawled across the garden, including the Confucius Statue pictured above. There is also a small Bonsai Garden, Tea House Pavilion & Stone Boat somewhere in the middle of the entire park. While all these are common structures in a Chinese Garden, there is a real hidden gem just steps away from the Confucius Statue – The Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum.

If not for my dear friend Karen, I would not have known that such a museum existed in Singapore! But well, I guess I am not alone, as this museum is little known, even to many locals. In fact, there were hardly any visitors when we were there that morning. The staff told us that the number of visitors would typically drop before exam period, as well as school holidays. The main reason was due to reduction in school workshops for children during such periods. Besides conducting such workshops, the museum also accepts walk-in visits & conducts group tours. Admission to the world’s one & only tortoise and turtle museum costs $5 per adult, $3 for senior citizens & children under 6.

The quaint Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum of Singapore in the Chinese Gardens

Established in 2001 by the late Mr Danny Tan & his beloved daughter Ms Connie Tan, the quaint museum started because both father & daughter are passionate about the incredible animal, which symbolises longevity and good fortune to the Chinese. Home to 3,456 turtle items and over 500 live animals of 40 different species, the museum is proud to hold the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of tortoise and turtle items. Some of the highlights in the unique museum include the world’s third-largest species of tortoise (the African spurred tortoise), the most beautiful (radiated star tortoise), & the most dangerous (alligator snapping turtle).

See below for some photos I took of the amazing collection found in the museum.

A handful of tortoises (the harmless ones) are allowed to roam freely in the museum compounds, so we walked side by side with the cuties 😉

The more vulnerable & dangerous collection are housed in huge tanks in the sheltered area of the museum

It is pretty fascinating how such a small space can house more than 500 live animals, yet not constraining their movements too much. Based on information boards in the museum, the extensive turtle & tortoise collection are mainly from Ms Tan’s own collection, & they come from all over the world, including China, Madagascar, Malaysia, India, Myanmar and South America.

Visitors can also feed the turtles in the small pond situated in the middle of the museum

Despite visiting the quaint museum several times before bringing me there, Karen was still intrigued with the little reptiles when we visited. To share her love for the place, you may wish to read more about the museum through her blog post here. 🙂

If you have yet to visit this hidden gem, do head there soon. Why? Because the lease of this Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum will expire in March this year, & sadly, Ms Tan has yet to find a new suitable site for the family business to date. 😦 Do show the Tan family some support by making your way to the museum before it is gone soon!

[UPDATE DEC 2018]: The Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum has confirmed that the museum will be moving to ORTO near Khatib MRT Station in 2019. Wow! That means I can walk to the museum in future? 🤭 For more details & updates, check the museum’s official Facebook fanpage here. 🙂

Sidetrack, Yishun is getting more & more exciting these few years. Read my other article about Yishun’s development from farms & kampongs to a new town with many firsts in Singapore here. 🙂

Outside the Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum is the Fishes’ Paradise & Garden Courtyard of the park. Just steps away from this area of the park is the White Rainbow Bridge, another icon of the Chinese Garden. This icon is right in front of the park’s main entrance (west), where you will find a commemorative stone indicating the official opening date of Jurong Chinese Garden on 18 April 1975. 😉

The White Rainbow Bridge follows the style of the 17-Arch Bridge at the Summer Palace in Beijing

Back in the old days, Jurong Gardens (a collective term for Chinese Garden & Japanese Garden) used to be managed by JTC Corporation until recently when National Parks took over with the ambitious Jurong Lake Gardens project. In fact, Jurong was once a plot of muddy swampland, home to numerous crocodiles & it was the “Father of Jurong” – the late Dr Goh Keng Swee who helped to transform Jurong into what it is today.

While we await further transformation of the entire Jurong Lake Gardens, let’s not forget the wonderful work that our founding fathers had done. It would be even better if you could pay a visit to the unique landscaped gardens for a nostalgic walk before the project is completed! At least I captured all these memories in this post with photos.🤭 Of course, special thanks to Karen for bringing me around & sharing all the interesting stories about Jurong, without charging me any tourist guide fee. 🤣

I hope you have learnt something about the gems of the west through my article. Enjoy your journey to the west. 🙂

Photo of the Twin Pagodas with its faint reflection by the lake after a heavy downpour at White Rainbow Bridge

This article was first published on 1 February 2018 after visiting in end Sep 2017.