Ever since setting eyes on the Kampong Trail map standing so alluringly at the foot of Bukit Timah Hill, we have been itching to get our hoofs and paws on this trail that promises an epic cross-country adventure that will bring us from Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to MacRitchie in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, parts of the Kampong Trail from the Bukit Timah approach is closed for construction.
We decided one morning to start our hike from MacRitchie instead, and see where the trail leads us. There are several ways to enter MacRitchie and we chose one of the entrances along Lornie Road.
With oodles of excitement (and caffeine) coarsing through our veins, we started our hike along this unremarkable dirt trail, wondering what adventure lies in wait.
Even before we had managed to get our heart rates up to the MVPA moderate range, we were beset by a band of Banded Woodpeckers (Chrysophlegma miniaceum) engaging in what appeared to be a dance ritual, up and down the trunk of their sacred tree, all the while squealing excitedly. Have a listen to their raucous party.
Just as the soles of our shoes were getting nicely coated with a layer of sticky clayey mud, the trail opened up briefly, giving us a glimpse of the tranquil waters of MacRitchie Reservoir.
Back into the forest we proceeded, enviously eyeing the hiking-pole-brandishing aunties who easily overtook us.
The forest trail was fraught with dangers and obstacles…we had to proceed with care, gingerly stepping over muddy patches and strategically ducking under branches.
We weren’t entirely sure how we got ourselves into this bind…
…but just as we thought we were about to reach breaking point…
…the trail opened up again…
…and the landscape suddenly transformed into an idyllic scene with the golf course on one side and the reservoir on the other.
Even the Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) thought it was safe enough to come out to play, while breakfasting on the fruit of the delicious pink Simpoh Ayer plant…
…and the Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) decided to come out and pose for us, if only for a few seconds.
Just around the corner, the White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) stood looking all serious, gazing intensely into the water…
…where the Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) was slinking in the shadows.
Further down somewhere amongst the reeds, the Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) was trying hard not to be conspicuous while stalking his prey…
…while we were pretending to be minding our own business while stalking the Purple Heron with our conspicuous zoom lens.
Moving along, we chanced upon a bunch of stumps sticking out of the water, and realised that the stumps are what’s left of the bridge that once led to the Syonan Jinja, a Shinto shrine built by the Japanese army in 1942 during the Japanese occupation.
The shrine is now in ruins and buried in thick vegetation somewhere in the deep dark forest across the reservoir. Enticing as it may sound (and many people have apparently attempted) to trek into the forest to look for the shrine, the shrine ruins are inaccessibly located within the core conservation area (meaning, out of bounds and trespassers will be arrested).
Back onto Golf Link we trudged…
…where a boardwalk helped lead the way…
…and brought us through more picturesque scenery…
…across forest streams…
…and finally we reached Jelutong Tower, our beacon of hope, the only discernible landmark marked out on the map, providing us with a glimmer of encouragement that we are making some progress.
There at the base of Jelutong Tower stood a Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) resolutely guarding his home and blocking our approach.
Having witnessed what these delinquent monkeys could do, including but not limited to snarling, scratching, throwing stones at us humans, we were hesitant to cross this alpha male. After some failed attempts to distract him by throwing sticks and stones into the bushes near him, we decided to just proceed anyway – with caution, no eye contact, and absolutely no smiling (lest he misinterprets it as snarling).
We made it through unscathed, and happily embarked on our climb to the top of the tower, only to find his mischievous brood monkeying around in there.
At the top of Jelutong Tower, we could catch a glimpse of MacRitchie Reservoir in the distance. We could also hang around and wait for the eagles to appear, if it weren’t so scorching hot.
Back on the trail, helpful signs provided assurance that we were right on track.
As we were crunching along the trail, we were suddenly distracted by a flash of sparkly purple seeming out of place in the drab brown forest floor. We soon discovered it was the Common Flashwing (Vestalis amethystina), a damselfly with metallic green body and purple iridescent wings. The purple colour of his wings can, however, only be seen when in flight.
Butterflies such as the Autumn Leaf butterfly (Doleschallia bisaltide) can also be frequently seen flying around and teasing us with their colourful wings.
Eventually, the forest trail ended and ejected us onto Rifle Range Road, from which point it was tarmac road for a long way.
The road soon led us out of MacRitchie, across Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE), and just like that we found ourselves in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
Along Rifle Range Road (Bukit Timah side), we had to make sure to follow our trusty red marker…
…which would faithfully lead us along the Kampong Trail, so named because the area used to be the site of a Chinese kampong.
Today, all that’s left of the kampong are the ruins, some remnant structures, and random tiles along the trail.
From Durian Loop, we proceeded on to Nangka Trail, and then Rifle Range Trail, which runs parallel to Rifle Range Road.
The trail eventually deposited us back onto Rifle Range Road, where it abruptly ends. The access to the remaining parts of Kampong Trail from Rifle Range Road is now closed due to the construction that will continue until 2020.
Well, that was our excuse to end the walk there and treat ourselves to a well-earned lunch.