I first learnt about round island cycling trips in Singapore in Love Cycling SG Facebook group about 1-2 years ago. My interest was piqued, and I wanted to do it solo, as a kind of rite of passage for me as a budding cyclist. I googled about it and learnt that the total distance is well over 100 km, which makes my usual commuting route of 20 km (one-way) look like a walk in the park. I have a wanderlust spirit (which was described in this article), so the thought of cycling around the perimeter of Singapore and reaching the farthest corners of the island (wherever possible) has been occupying my mind. After some planning and much deliberation, I decided to take the plunge last weekend.
I started recording my journey using the MapMyRide app at Lorong Halus bridge beside Punggol PCN (Park Connector Network) on Saturday, 7 November 2015, 9.39 pm. I had initially wanted to start my journey early in the morning and complete the ride by night, but then again, I realised there were fewer vehicles on the roads at night, and it would be cooler too. I had no idea how long the journey was going to take in actuality – I had read that some cyclists were able to complete the 120-km odd loop in about 5-6 hours (assuming they cycle continuously at an average speed of 20 km/h, they would cover 20 km in 1 hour, or 120 km in 6 hours). I gave myself a rough target of about 12-15 hours, including resting and eating time. Little did I know that I would later take almost 24 hours to finish the entire journey.
My plan was to cycle round Singapore in a clockwise direction, starting from Lorong Halus in the northeastern part of the island to Changi in the far east, then to Marina Bay in the south, onwards to Tuas in the far west, and then to Woodlands in the north, and finally back to Lorong Halus. The first 29 km of the journey was mainly a breeze for me, as I rode eastwards to Pasir Ris park, then Changi beach park, and stopped at East Coast park near Bedok jetty in the southeast to rest. It was close to midnight by then. I was glad to have brought along my sleeping bag, and was able to get about 2-3 hours of sleep without being bothered much by mosquitoes.
Around 4 am the next morning (Sunday, 8 November 2015), I decided to take advantage of the cooler temperature in the early morning hours and the near-empty roads and cycling tracks to resume my journey westwards. I reached Marina Bay in about half an hour, and by the time I approached Sentosa in the next half hour, I felt sleepy again, and decided to stop at Tanjong Beach in Sentosa to rest as I didn’t want to tire myself out at this point in time, knowing I still have a very long journey ahead of me.
After a light breakfast of bread and bananas, I felt ready to move on at 7.45 am. Alas, my iPhone battery was running a bit low, and my battery charger has been used up. I reasoned with myself that if the iPhone battery ran out halfway during the journey, I might as well abort the mission as I wanted to record a nice map of the routes taken in MapMyRide. So, I decided the best course of action would be to cycle to home in Bukit Batok along the way and retrieve a spare battery charger and rest and pack some more food before resuming the journey.
By the time I rested in Bukit Batok and recovered from stiff limbs and sore thigh muscles, it was around noon, and I was ready to embark on the next leg of my journey. The rain came and went briefly in the vicinity, and I wore a raincoat for a while. I also decided to wear semi-covered sandals instead of shoes this time in case I got caught in a heavy rain and ended up with soggy shoes. As I cycled along West Coast highway towards Jalan Buroh near Pandan reservoir and Pioneer Road, the landscape grew increasingly depressive. Sights of familiar buildings, beautiful greenery and quiet seascapes that I have seen in the east side of Singapore faded away and were replaced by giant alien-looking industrial buildings, huge refineries with twisted metal and convoluted pipes, and noisy factories and heavy vehicles. The air became unpleasant, no thanks to the smoke from factories and the stench from garbage trucks that passed by me on their way to Tuas incineration plant and so on.
It was a side of Singapore that I hardly knew. While I used to work in a company in Jurong industrial estate near Boon Lay in the late 90s, it has been such a long time ago and I haven’t seen industrial buildings and factories on such a massive scale. I felt like I was entering into a dystopian environment where chaos and pollution ruled the day. It was a sharp contrast to the (mostly) “clean and green” side of Singapore seen elsewhere. If the international airport were located in the west end instead of the east end of Singapore, tourists would most certainly have a completely different view of Singapore when they first arrived by air! Also, by way of analogy, if Changi could be likened to the front doorway of a house with a porch and garden where visitors came to ooh and aah at the floral display of cultivated beauty, then Tuas would be like the backyard garage and storeroom where nobody really wants to visit and see the accumulated junk.
When I finally reached Tuas reclaimed land, I spent about 2 hours trying to circle around the entire area, which was occupied with more industrial buildings and wide roads. I half regretted including Tuas in my round island cycling trip as it seemed to take ages to cover such a vast expanse of reclaimed land, and I was already feeling low-spirited and despondent due to the dismal surroundings. I had initially planned to visit Coney island in the northeastern part of Singapore on my way back to the starting point near Punggol, but it looked like I would have to leave Coney island out of the plan because it would be closed to public by 7 pm and I would most probably reach there late at night, at the rate I was going.
The farther I cycled towards the southernmost edge of Tuas, the more I felt as if I was descending into the depths of “hell” (if there was one). It was only a matter of time I would reach the lowest depth, and I looked forward to reaching the southernmost edge so that I could finally turn back and continue cycling northwards to the greener and more pleasant parts of Singapore.
Can anything be more bleak than the above picture? Then again, I reminded myself nothing is inherently “bad”. Without construction of buildings, there would be no development, as much as it would result in destruction of natural vegetation and wildlife habitats. We can’t really have one without the other, for they are parts of a composite whole. But still, I believe there is always room for improvement. We can still seek ways to work with Nature in harmony, such that there will be minimal disturbance to ecological balance in our quest for development.
At long last, after venturing as far as I could along Tuas South Boulevard where I could not go farther due to part of the road being under construction, I turned back in relief and cycled northwards towards Tuas checkpoint. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered from the Street Directory app that Raffles Marina was located next to the checkpoint, and I decided to cycle to the marina to take a much needed rest and soothe my jaded nerves.
Opulent yachts at Raffles Marina, next to Tuas checkpoint
On one hand, Raffles Marina is like an oasis in the desert, as the luxurious amenities and air-conditioned halls contrast with the seemingly hostile and inhospitable environment out there in Tuas. On the other hand, I saw a picture of excess and inequality. Munching on the last few sweet potatoes and bananas I brought along with me, I gazed at the docked yachts at the marina and thought to myself: What’s the point of having luxurious yachts sitting at the dock when hardly anyone uses them? Wouldn’t that be a waste of space and resources? It reminded me of the Cove area at Sentosa I saw earlier that morning, where the general public cannot access. Something isn’t right when a handful of rich, privileged people are entitled to living in excess while the majority are on the underside of the capitalistic empire, ekeing out a living in a wage slavery system.
By 3.45 pm, I reckoned I have rested enough and I had better be on my way before it started to get dark. I didn’t relish the thought of cycling past the cemeteries at Lim Chu Kang road when night fell, so I decided to start pedalling away from Raffles Marina towards the northwestern region of Singapore. By the time I reached Jalan Bahar and Lim Chu Kang road, I could feel my thigh muscles aching again. I persisted and managed to reach Sungei Buloh wetland reserve by around 5.45 pm, where I could refill my water bottle at a water cooler, and ate dinner at the cafe there. I later realised I was fortunate to be there in time for dinner because the cafe closed at 7 pm.
It turned out to be my last resting point because somehow I felt energised after dinner. The greenery in Sungei Buloh and Kranji countryside had also served as a healing balm to my weary spirit, and I was able to summon every last ounce of energy in my reserve to cycle eastwards almost non-stop – with minutes of pauses at some bus stops to check for directions on Google map on my iPhone – all the way through Woodlands, Admiralty, Sembawang, Yishun, Seletar North Link, and finally Punggol.
I reached the starting (and finishing) point at Lorong Halus bridge close to 9 pm. Altogether, the entire expedition took me 23+ hours to complete, while the actual duration of time spent cycling was about 10 hours 25 minutes, as recorded in the MapMyRide app. Because of a detour I took to get a second battery charger from home, the resultant round island cycling map wasn’t a neat “circle”, as you can see in the above and below screenshots; rather it was an oddly shaped loop, with two smaller loops at Tuas and Bukit Batok and one tiny loop at Sentosa.
While I didn’t manage to fulfil some of the goals I had in mind, such as visiting Coney island during the expedition, I got more than I bargained for, such as the experience I gained when I visited Tuas, which was not totally pleasant and my trip there had prolonged the entire journey significantly, but it was necessary for me to open my eyes and see the other side of reality in life. I was also glad that I could complete the course within 24 hours in my first attempt to circle the island on a bicycle, given the amount of time that I needed to take to eat and rest and recover my energy along the way.
So, if I can do it, so can you. (Echoing the words of the chef Martin Yan, “if Yan can cook, so can you.”:)