By Sally Hall
The Amazing Health Benefits of a Walk, Run or Romantic Stroll through Bukit Brown Cemetery
Those who visit the Bukit Brown Cemetery often have very different, personal reasons for their attachment to this serene area. For some, it is all about connecting with others and discovering their roots; for others, it is about visiting a loved one and recalling the importance of those who have gone; still for others, Bukit Brown offers a unique escape into a paradisiacal area filled with heritage trees, a plethora of ecosystems and lush greenery, which instils a sense of peace and spiritual connection. If you find that every visit to this Cemetery leaves you feeling invigorated and renewed, there are documented reasons why this is the case. Time spent in Nature is more than a pastime; recent studies indicate that it is a necessary part of our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. These are just some of the reasons why visiting Bukit Brown Cemetery affords surprising benefits that will help you live a longer, healthier life:
Time spent in Nature boosts our immunity: A fascinating study carried out at Kyoto University, Japan, showed that those who regularly head for the Great Outdoors to walk, garden or perform yoga and meditation, have a stronger immunity and a better quality of life. In the study, participants took part in these activities weekly for four months, with results showing that these therapies combatted fatigue, improved mood, and enhanced function and immunity.
Nature battles stress: Chronic stress has been proven to be a causative factor for disease such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, yet owing to the competing demands most of us have to face in daily life, it is vital to find ways to release anxiety and stress. Studies have shown that simply contemplating a beautiful natural scene in a photograph, can lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol, as well as lessen levels of aggression and post-operative anxiety. When we add more senses into the equation (by touching, listening to and using our sense of smell), these benefits are heightened. It is interesting to note that many of us try to protect our health by taking out health insurance, or following a healthy diet, yet we pay little heed to the negative effects stress can cause in our life. In addition to affecting us physiologically, chronic stress can also lead to anxiety, the most common mental condition in the world today.
Being in nature imparts important physiological benefits:In Japan, the simple yet enjoyable process of shinrin-yoku (or forest bathing) has grown exponentially in popularity, because of the many documented physiological benefits, including the lowering of blood pressure, the breathing rate and heart rate. To take part in shinrin-yoku at Bukit Brown, simply walk through the verdant areas in a mindful manner, trying to be as aware as possible of the trees and wildlife around you and using controlled breathing techniques to instill a profound sense of calm.
Nature improves the way our brain works:In many centers for the elderly and those suffering from anxiety, therapists are using horticultural therapy to connect patients with Nature and improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and dementia. This type of therapy has been found to increase cognitive and psycho-social functioning of elderly persons battling dementia, which is no surprise, since other studies have shown that simply working in an environment containing plants and flowers boosts creativity and enhances problem solving abilities. It comes as no surprise that so many Fortune 500 companies in the US are taking to filling their work spaces with plants.
Exercise is more effective in Nature:An important study carried out by researchers at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in the US found that compared to indoor exercise, physical activity in the Great Outdoors gives us a heightened sense of vitality and positive engagement; to put it simply, we enjoy ourselves more when we are brisk walking or running in the midst of beautiful natural surrounds, than when we work out on a treadmill within the four walls of a gym. All these studies show that human beings have an inexorable link to Nature which should be fostered if we are to achieve a state of greater health and happiness. Fortunately, Bukit Brown Cemetery is accessible to so many people who wish to experience the majesty of Nature in a uniquely beautiful setting.
Quotezone.co.uk, Health insurance, accessed April, 2015.
Naturelearning.org, Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature, accessed April, 2015.
Childrenandnature.org, Health Benefits to Children from Contact with the Outdoors and Nature, accessed April, 2015.
A Taylor et al, Views of Nature and Self-Discipline: Evidence from Inner City Children, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2001. doi:10.1006/jevp.2001.0241
Sciencedaily.com, Benefits of outdoor exercise confirmed, accessed April, 2015.
Brighthubeducation.com, Managing Your ADHD Students: Taking It Outdoors For Nature Therapy, accessed April, 2014.
About Sally Hall
“Sally Hall worked for many years in the travel sector – firstly in hospitality and latterly on cruise ships. She met and married her now husband and they settled down to family life with their two children, although she has, for the present moment, given up globetrotting, she hopes when her kids are old enough she can get them as enthused about traveling as she is. Sally is now a writer and editor and works from home”
Join Beng Tang on a guided walk of Bukit Brown cemetery and learn more about the edible fruits and vegetables that you can find there.
During the Japanese occupation of Singapore, the Japanese kept the rice to feed their armies so the civilians of Singapore survived on tapioca, sweet potato and yam. Come on a tour of Bukit Brown to see some of these plants and others that can be eaten.
This guided walk starts at 09.00am and ends at 12.00pm
Meeting Point: Bukit Brown entrance gates at Lorong Halwa
Difficulty: Average, some trekking required
Please bring umbrella or poncho / sun block / mosquito repellent.
Please wear covered footwear.
Please note: Disclaimer: By agreeing to take this walking tour of Bukit Brown Cemetery, I understand and accept that I must be physically fit and able to do so.To the extent permissible by law, I agree to assume any and all risk of injury or bodily harm to myself and persons in my care (including child or ward)
Meeting point is within the cemetery, just beyond the gates of Bukit Brown as you enter on the left where the site offices are located.
Please register at Peatix.
Places available are capped at 30 for better engagement.
Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice® 2013 Winner “Ranked #16 of 665 attractions in Singapore. “
6 November, 2013.
“Get there before its too late…This is a very special place – peaceful, beautiful, historic, and a natural wildlife haven”
Visit Bukit Brown cemetery while you still can – before the bulldozers move in to create yet another expressway. This is a very special place – peaceful, beautiful, historic, and a natural wildlife haven. Intricately carved statues guard many of the old gravestones, which are often adorned with gorgeous antique tiles painted with flowers and peacocks. There are several pathways to explore and so the cemetery also makes a lovely place just to visit for a ‘country’ walk. Kingfishers, monitor lizards, monkeys and nightjars are common sights, and some of the huge banyan trees are staggering. In recent months the ‘Friends of Bukit Brown’ have painstakingly signed and cleared pathways to the gravestones of many notable names from Singapore’s history, making this an even more interesting place to visit.
Visited October 2013
Singapore is a concrete jungle and if there is a garden, it is man-made, like Gardens by the Bay…..(except for) a historical site called Bukit Brown.
Today, I had the privilege of touring a historical site called Bukit Brown. Bukit Brown is a cemetery, where many of Singapore’s pioneer are buried and may soon be “awakened” from their peaceful slumber to make way for 8 lanes highway.
I toured with volunteers of Bukit Brown, and learn about the tombs of Tan Kheam Hock and his family. History is being collected as I write this review. The tour is made even more interesting with the descendants of Tan Kheam Hock in our midst. A definitely worthy visit for any tourist to Singapore, to see a side of Singapore which money cannot buy.
As Bukit Brown tour is manned by volunteers with a passion to preserve the heritage and culture of this little city state, one will need to visit Bukit Brown FB page to make enquiries of any tours.
Visited October 2013
It was like stepping back into another place and time. You can see rays of sunshine illuminating the misty verdant hills, rich smell of the forest and hear sounds of delightful birds. It was somewhat surreal in heavily urbanised city but the oasis of tranquility calms the soul and the mind is clarified. What a wonderful place to go for a walk!
I joined a friend to witness the Cheng Beng festivity and was overwhelmed by the throngs of people with their prayer paraphernalia and the heavy traffic winds patiently through the hills. It was BUSY!
Then some 3 months later, I took a trip with the Brownies who gave free guided walks through Bukit Brown practically every weekends! It was like stepping back into another place and time. You can see rays of sunshine illuminating the misty verdant hills, rich smell of the forest and hear sounds of delightful birds. It was somewhat surreal in heavily urbanised city but the oasis of tranquility calms the soul and the mind is clarified. What a wonderful place to go for a walk!
Yes, we have the crowded Botanic Gardens, the monotonous MacRitchie & Pierce reservoirs, the hot Sungei Buloh Reserve and Chek Jawa Park is a little too far to reach but Bt Brown is way too cool! If you dare venture off the main track, you will encounter unusual structure, designs, engravings, statutes, reflecting the various cultures, beliefs & eras. You might encounter a monitor lizard, horse riders and almost always expats walking their dogs. Join the Sats & Suns groups of 10-20 people on the guided walks like the one I’ve taken, listening to the passionate guides who are bursting to share with you the stories of the hills.
Visited September 2013
“The most beautiful place on earth”
Jo Prudence, descendant of George Henry Brown, after whom the cemetery is named.
A spectacular time-lapse aerial video of Bukit Brown
More beauty shots of Bukit Brown here
31 October 2013
Bukit Brown is home to some 90 species of resident and migrant birds. These photos by Goh Yew Lin, capture some of the birds feeding in the early morning. The “wild fruits” are the ripe figs of Ficus benjamina (Waringin, Weeping Fig). This strangling Ficus species is one of keystone tree species in Bukit Brown. Whenever these trees are figging, the birds go gaga over the fruit feast.
Sunday 18th morning @ Bukit Brown, Nature Society’s Angie Ng conducted a plant walk and shared what she knew about plants which are used as herbs in local dishes and fruit trees. Here are some of the highlights
Red Stem-fig tree ( Ficus variegata)
Ferns grow close to the ground
An edible fern found at the foot of hill leading up to Ong Sam Leong’s gravesite
Ferns also grow on hospitable rain trees
The False Curry Leaf Plant (Clausena excavata)
Salam Tree ( Syzygium polyanth )
The Napkin tree
And the most spectacular of the flowering plants : Wild Orchids
Read the NSS Position Paper on Bukit Brown
A bumper crop of walks for Nature Lovers have been planned by the Nature Society (Singapore) for March from bird watching to an introduction to plants in Bukit Brown.
Saturday 10 March 8 am – 10 am, join Wing Chong as introduces you to the various bird species that call Bukit Brown home. Please check in here to register interest
Later in the afternoon Goh Si Guim will reprise this nature ramble in the afternoon from 4pm – 6pm . Register here.
Sunday 11 March 9am – 10am Angie Ng will introduce you to plant life of Bukit Brown including some edibles if you are lucky . Please register your interest here
Please check in next week for the Nature Society’s events.
Check out our handy tips for a more enjoyable walk here
Report & photos by Goh Si Guim (Nature Society)
Bukit Brown Nature Ramble 19 Feb 2012
The Bukit Brown locale is made up of small, gentle and wooded hillocks. Thousands of graves were densely laid on the slopes of these hills. Being away from mainstream traffic, it has been mostly undisturbed for most parts of its existence. This has allowed the vegetation, particularly large trees and shrubs to mature. The area also received colonization of pioneer plant species from the adjacent rainforest of MacRitchie.
The enhanced diversity has, in turn, enabled Bukit Brown to support a great diversity of wildlife. These are certainly greater than that found in manicured and sparsely vegetated parks in the midst of urban centres.
The original vegetation of the area was lowland rainforests, very much similar to the nearby MacRitchie forest. Little, if any, of these can be found here today. The vegetation type here is compose of colourful ornamental shurbs planted alongside graves. Some large shade trees were also planted, such as the Daun Salam, Tembusu and Raintrees.
Many beautiful towering wild-grown Albizzia trees are also widely distributed over the landscape. Many of these old-growth trees have achieved stature and elegance. In particular, many giant Raintrees are festooned with a variety of ferns and orchids. Looking up from underneath one of these trees gives one a sense of awe and the laden outstretched limbs make a breathtaking sight. Be it against a clear blue sky or silhouetted against a grey backdrop, it is a mesmerizing picture.
Many of the large fig trees, such as the Banyans and Warringins were most probably left alone during the initial land clearance. Some, especially those found associated with large trees, could have been brought in by animals such as birds and squirrels. These ‘strangling figs’ can now be seen in the advance stages of ‘snuffing out’ their host plants.
Wildlife is ever present but do not lend themselves easily to observation. Most of what we see would be more active and by chance, sometimes with the aid of equipment such as hand lens, binocular or camera. Most of the wildlife resides in the deeper recess of the dense vegetation.
During this trip, there was a profusion of small snails and slugs on trees and dead vegetation. There was a constant presence of birds in the forest. They can be observed actively foraging for food or their calls can be heard over great distances.
Commonly encountered birds include sunbirds, Common Flamebacks (woodpecker), Banded Woodpecker, Striped-tit Babbler, Pink-necked Green Pigeons, Spotted Dove, Blue-tailed Beeeaters, Yellow-vented Bulbul and Changeable Hawk Eagle. Rare encounters reported include the critically endangered Grey-headed Fish Eagle and the White-bellied Woodpecker. Winter migratory birds also visit Bukit Brown to forage for sustenance.
Some plant common to secondary rainforest are also found here. The Macaranga hypoleuca stands out from the greenery as the underside of the leave is white, even in dried, shed leaves. Another related example is the Macaranga gigantea, whose leaves are large, hence the name.
These are but a small selection of flora and fauna in Bukit Brown that can be encountered at any one time. A great variety of plants and animals have yet to be uncovered. Their relationship and association has developed over a long period of time into a complex ecosystem. A habitat of equilibrium has been established.
This equilibrium is resilient but is susceptible to disruptions. This must be avoided or minimized.
Read about the Nature Society’s position paper here.
After the nature ramble, Suki Singh found these green pigeons and the chicks at the entrance, near Lorong Halwa:
– A Walk with Dr Ho Hua Chew. Sunday 19th, Feb 2012.
by Rosalind M Tan.
It was a morning not unlike any other, except that I had not expected that it would take five and a half hours to go on a nature walk in Bukit Brown! I wasn’t warned! But ask me now if I would do it again……and my answer is a resounding, Yes!
It was my second meeting with Dr Ho Hua Chew, passionate naturalist and expert on birdlife in Singapore. I knew I was in good hands.
The morning’s tour began with a map. Like all educational tours, we had to have an idea of where we were heading. Whipping out a map, Dr Ho showed us where the new proposed road would be. Upon re-alignment, it is now slated cut across at least two valleys of Bukit Brown. We were there to see first-hand the dreaded potential ecological loss and damage to the natural habitat that has matured over the decades.
First off at 815am, about twenty of us headed towards hill 4. Seeing the stakes in the ground was like having stakes driven into one’s heart. But what captured my attention next were the beautiful and gorgeous matured trees that loomed tall and majestic. It was my first initiation to a parkland landscape in a cemetery! Native and alien tree species abound – the Angsana; the Rain Tree, the Morinda, the African Tulip, the Waringin, the Fish-tailed Palm, etc. With deep hues of yellow, red and orange, the ornamental Croton is aplenty, adorning the graves like a garden landscape.
Seen here, winding vines with tiny figs, clinging on tenaciously for dear life. Nonetheless, host and parasite seem to have a harmonious co-existence. I must admit this was the first time in my entire life that I have seen such “figs”. The figs that I had in my garden then did not look anything like this.
As we approached the end of hill 4, it was just incredibly unbelievable that we might lose equally magnificent banyan trees! How does anyone justify this? The thought of it makes me sad for the generations to come. Not that I am not sorry in the here and now for me and all of us. But because, in our very midst now, we are deliberately and consciously hell-bent on destroying these beautiful gifts from Mother Nature. This ole banyan may have stood for longer than most of us have lived, but all it takes is one fell swoop to decimate her. If trees could talk, listen. Should we do this? In exchange for what, I ask?
As we were leaving hill 4, Dr Ho pointed out the only one large visible stream left in Bukit Brown. The rest are either covered by overgrown vegetation or simply, choked up. I am given to understand from the tomb caretaker whose families lived here for three generations before, that the streams provided water for tomb maintenance and drinking! I have noticed some people fishing in this stream before.
There were other surprises in store. Flying high above our heads and as far as the eye could see, were flocks of swallows and swifts. How do you tell them apart? Dr Ho explained. But I was distracted! A flock of pigeons was spied balancing on the top of trees! What an act! Cirque du Soleil would be proud. Moreover, the trained and experienced eye of some members of the Nature Society of Singapore spotted eagles. Like all avid bird watchers, not having their binoculars was not an option. I was just grateful to be been there!
Monkeys! Someone mentioned monkeys. Come to think of it, it suddenly dawned on me that the monkeys in Bukit Brown were never a bother to anyone. I go to Bukit Brown often and never once have I witnessed any mischievous or vicious behaviour on their part. Unlike the reports that we read in the papers of monkey mischief and attacks around Pierce, Seletar and MacRitchie reservoirs, I have come to the conclusion that they behave such because we have encroached on their natural habitat! Destruction of their habitat to give way to rapid development and urbanisation has driven them out to scavenge for food. Where else would they go? But in Bukit Brown, they are contented, peaceful and playful because they are in their own comfort zone. It is their natural habitat. See for yourself in the picture taken on a previous visit to BB.
Other than all creatures great and small, I was privileged to be shown the flowers of the star fruit; the domestic lime plant and that of the noni fruit! In the commercial market place, the juice extract from the Hawaiian noni fruit would cost an arm and a leg (well, almost), but our little monkeys were happily helping themselves!
Should we deprive our little friends of their sustenance? When they are driven out of Bukit Brown, where will they go? Who will feed them? Should we put them down when they turn aggressive? If your family is threatened, what will you do?
The proposed highway will mercilessly cut through this valley, eight lanes of traffic. It only means added carbon emission that will choke and suck out the life of living things and creatures. On Jan1, the European Union imposed on airlines a carbon emission tax. Are we are not already contributing enough to global warming? Notice the countless air conditioning compressors in all our residential, commercial and industrial buildings in our little red dot. Granted, in equatorial Singapore, we do need air-conditioning. But to what degree? I see office workers coming out to lunch – to defrost! In our glitzy shopping malls, the eskimos would be very much at home. We seem to gas ourselves, slowly but surely. Let not Earth Hour be in vain. I recall the recent floods. The unprecendented extra high rainfall that can cripple economies and devastate livelihoods. Let global warming be a warning.
Exiting hill 4, a handful of participants decided to call it a day! But we were only at the two-third mark of the morning’s nature walk. Dr Ho may look like your friendly neighbourhood, unassuming and good-natured uncle, but boy could he walk! Some of us were half his age, but did not even have half his energy! I wasn’t ready to fly the white flag!
So, we continued and took another path to Lau Sua, known as Gan Eng Seng Hill. Lo and behold, greater treasures and rewards await those who endure and persist.
We owe a debt of appreciation to Dr Ho for his quiet persuasion, for encouraging us to carry on – “only one third more”. Frankly, it would have been terribly embarrassing not to complete this walk. We were supposed to be younger and fit, if not fitter! He could put all of us to shame. You wouldn’t want to ask the man his age. But I could use mine as an excuse to gracefully bow out. But no way, was I going to give up after having covered two-thirds of the walk. And best of all, he was freely dispensing food for the body, mind and soul.
In the picture above, Dr Ho with nary a bead of sweat! Measure his blood pressure and we will be scrambling for a health check! I suspect he’s the Ironman in disguise! A 42km marathon would be no sweat to him!
Oh, but we were just thankful for the above brief respite of a pit stop! The air was surprisingly cool and smelt sweet. You could almost taste it! Perhaps it was because of what was lurking under that sturdy….or was it, a creaky wooden bridge!
Crystal clear “longkang” water. A stream, if you like. You can see the reflection of the blue sky! Now I fully understand how the ladies of ancient times did their make-up before the era of mirrors. Dragon flies flit and you can also hear faint sounds of gurgling water. In the past, this was also drinking water for the families who lived here, as told to me by a tomb caretaker, Mr Lim. This is borne true by Dr Ho. He said, “The presence of dragon flies is an indicator of water purity”.
The ripples are caused by tiny fishes. Vegetation life here is lush and full.
From here, we cut across the open field (that once held graves) on the left and our sure-footed single-minded leader led us to another forested path in the direction of Onraet Road. It was tempting to throw in the towel. But not just yet. I was on a high, dosed on the generous sights and smells of Mother Nature. Secretly, I thought to myself, “If Dr Ho can do it, so can I!” Come hell or high water or the noon day sun, I will make it. Talk about “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!”
Determination and a good pair of walking shoes saved the day. Incidentally, one participant had earlier left her sole in hill 4!
Even if all I saw was his back, it only meant that I had to catch up. Trailing behind was not a problem, so long as he was within sight. Thankfully, the man has the patience of Job.
The “punishment” proved to be worth it! No pain, no gain. How so very true in this instant. On the contrary, I would ask “What did I do to deserve this?” Ah………….
The “penthouse” view! The grand finale. The grand prize. We were standing on this hill, with the traffic of the PIE beyond. The terrain was undulating, yet the slopes were gentle. Crotons adorned the graves. The verte green of the trees, the fullness of the plants and the openness of the vast space at our feet! What more could we ask for? Nothing, except, please don’t destroy this! It was a horrible thought – housing! A piercing scream in the stillness. A fatal stab.
A recollection of the great escape of Mas Selamat (once Singapore’s most wanted terrorist) had a calming effect in that blasting heat! “When he jumped out of the Whitley Road detention centre (through the toilet window?), Mas Selamat escaped through the thick forested area here (not unlike the Malaysian jungle); then he went up Thomson Road; headed for Whitley Road and promptly disappeared into Toa Payoh!” Wow! Mas Selamat was here!! Here’s looking at you!
The sun was beating down hard on us, the last remaining survivors! Soaking in the view, listening to the lively chirpings and singing of birds to the muffled sound of traffic from the PIE, it was easy to forget that we were standing among graves! If a healthy imagination permits, an evening spent looking at the stars atop this hillock would complete this million, correction, billion dollar view! It was indeed a sight to behold. You see more green than graves. Hopefully future generations will see this too. In this unaffected natural state.
Reluctantly, for once, it was time to return to base Bukit Brown. But Dr Ho had one last remaining treat up his sleeve. What he promised, he delivered. This man is a consummate. Never have I met one such. I thank my lucky stars today. For, before this, I never really saw beyond the graves at Bukit Brown since the discovery of the ancestral tombs of my grandparents in 2011.
What splendour. What magnificence. Unfettered. Where in Singapore does one find such scenic beauty of the landscape? A parkland landscape of hillocks and dense woodlands supporting the Wild Cinnamon, the African tulips, the Albizias, the Giant Mahang, all the favoured haunts of a variety of birds. This is pure, virgin forest. Seeing is believing, that such exist in our midst of bricks and mortar of urban Singapore.
Seeing this green pigeon in flight up-close and personal was pure enchantment. Our eminent Dr Ho perked his ears to the calls of the Woodpecker, the deep full throated sounds of the Bulbul and the Kingfisher. Thankfully, I still have an acute sense of hearing and smell. Birds chirping and singing is music to the ears.
Had it not been for this initiation by Dr Ho, I would not have been able to tell the difference between one bird call from another. Ignorance is not bliss. The morning amble was hands-on and very much a healthy, living and learning outdoor work-out in the most conducive surroundings ever.
Apart from its high biodiversity value in terms of birdlife, there is also the cultural heritage value and its related significance in Bukit Brown. The whole of Bukit Brown deserves to be recognised and protected for its aesthetic, therapeutic and recreational uses. In the early morning or evening, many come to jog, walk their dogs or cycle. Even the horses from the nearby polo club come a-sauntering!
Dr Ho’s selfless giving leaves an indelible mark. Take a walk on the wild side and see for yourself. And if you are lucky, you just might have the honour of being in the company of our eminent environmentalist and authority on birdlife, Dr Ho Hua Chew.
If we choose to continue to sit on our hands, we may lose what matters most – our sanity, and with it our humanity, for we risk greater damage in our propensity for rampant expansion in the name of development. It is time to take a breather and gather our senses. Let our children be children. Humans are not robots. We can live in harmony with Nature. After all, how many cars can we drive at any one time? How many condos can we live in, at any one time? It would be a crying shame to know the price of everything, but the value of, nothing.
Rosalind is a passionate Peranakan nonya who helps administrate the Facebook page, Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown. Her grandfather Tan Yong Thian is a pioneer buried in Bukit Brown. You can visit the beautifully restored Teochew tomb in Block 2, Group 2 tours. all things Bukit Brown thanks her for this contribution, and hopes we will continue to get her beautiful prose and photos.
There’s no polite way of saying it: stinkhorns are gross, and they stink so strongly you usually smell them before you see them.
This one was spotted by Cuifen Pui from the Bukit Brown Face book group the weekend before the Chinese New Year.
The same stinkhorn was spotted and shot by sgbeachbum.