Sungei Beloh

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (Wyatt Provokes a Giant Water Monitor Lizard)

So I read somewhere that the Giant Water Monitor Lizard is harmless to humans. I really need to stop reading these sort of things.

"Fatty" Giant Water Monitor Lizard

On my day off, here in Singapore, after a nice swim in the morning, I decided to go check out the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. It’s way up on the North-West end of the Island near Malaysia, so  getting there is a trek on it’s own. After thirty minutes on the MRT, twenty minutes on the bus, and then a twenty minute 1.5km walk to the  entrance of the reserve, I finally made it. Did you know Singapore had a Crocodile farm? I didn’t.  At least if I was murdered out there, I felt comfort knowing someone could always follow the long trail of sweat to my dead, naked body (don’t worry, I wasn’t taken advantage of, I just walk the streets of Singapore in the nude because it’s the only way I can handle the heat.)

Near the start of the trails there were several groups of school children screaming like someone had just been…well, murdered. Naturally I pushed them out of the way to see what the hullabaloo was all about. There it was, the first of many Giant Water Monitor Lizards I would see. I thought it was pretty big, being about three feet long, but a girl was quick to to take the opportunity  to prove they were much smarter than a stupid white American, and informed me they get “much bigger”.

Some BirdsI quickly escaped the overly happy cries of children who have at last escaped the daily monotony of “maths”, science, & inappropriate staring, and made my way into the wetlands. For Singapore standards, it was quite nice. A break away from the urban uprising and slow walking robot people who approach escalators like its the first time they’ve ever seen a set of stairs move.

I did, however, expect to see more birds. For the little bit of wetland Singapore has remaining, you’d think every creature with wings would crowd from near and far to get a piece of this sweet wetland action.   There were a handful of white egrets and a few other tiny brown shore birds, but they were all too far away to identify.  I caught a glimpse of a bright blue King Fisher, and some other hipster bird that looked like it was wearing a bright red scarf, but they were snotty little pretentious birds and quickly flitted off into the dense jungle growth. Probably to cackle about which migratory route has the best bird baths.

The wetland is quite large. Much larger than I first anticipated. After coming across a sign that read “WATCH IT!” with a little graphic of a crocodile, I told myself that if I didn’t cover every square inch of this place, I could potentially miss out on seeing one of these rare beasties (which has probably never been actually seen since the 1950s.) Sadly, I never found a crocodile, but after getting stung by about a thousand mosquitoes (I didn’t have my friend Autumn’s sweet blood around to distract them), I did stumble across a giant aquatic lizard of another kind.

This Giant Water Monitor Lizard was, in technical terms,  “much bigger” than the one found by the school children; around five feet in length it looked like it had a nasty habit for cheese burgers. He was just sprawled out, relaxing next to his little pond, and minding his own no-good lizardy business; probably trying to come up with even more adjectives to tack on in front its name.

I took a few pictures from afar, but that wasn’t good enough. I remembered reading somewhere that they were pretty much harmless to humans, so I got a bit closer. And by “a bit”, I mean close enough to see a tiny ant cruising around making a jungle gym of its face. It didn’t care about the ant, and for the most part it didn’t care about me. For the most part…

You see, when I decided that we needed a photo together for our profile pics, so I got out the remote for my camera and all of a sudden he got all pissy.  He started grumbling, flicking his tongue around,  hissed at me a few times, so like any normal person wouldn’t do, I got closer. They’re harmless right? And I figured we were pretty much besties by now, so it was all good. IT WAS NOT ALL GOOD. Whipping his tail around he outright threw our minutes of  friendship in the trash and tried to slap me! He slung his huge tail over and if it wasn’t for my cat-like reflexes, I would have gotten a face full of scales. Needless to say, I got the hint. After a couple more pictures I bid him and the reserve farewell.

If you have an afternoon free in Singapore, check Sungei Buloh out.  Sure beats battling the masses on Orchard road, and it’ll leave your wallet (as well as your waist size) much happier. You might even make friends with a lizard or two, and you’ll probably see more birds than I did. At the very least you’ll discover one of the few natural places Singapore has left. As I neared the bus stop to return home I looked back at the sun setting over the mangroves. For a split moment I forgot I was in Singapore… I escaped the island of durian and digital devices to a place I always imagined Southeast Asia to be… And then it was gone.  With the clanging of metal on rock, I was sprung back to reality as a back hoe ripped up the earth to make way for a new parking lot.

A few more photos from the day

 Want to go?

  • How to get there: Take the MRT Red Line to Kranji Station. Get on the SMRT 925 Bus to Kranji Reservoir. Keep following the road until you see signs pointing you the right way. Sundays the 925 will take you all the way to the Reserve.
  • Hours: 7:30am – 7:00pm Mondays through Saturdays. 7:00am – 7:00pm Sundays and Public Holidays.
  • Admission: Free Monday -Friday, $1 Weekends and Public Holidays

In other words, Saturday is the worst day to go. More info can be found on the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve website.