Thomson Nature Park

Last Updated on 22 July 2022

When one mentions archaeology and ancient ruins, Singapore might be one of the last places that comes to mind.

So it was a pleasant surprise for us to actually stumble upon the ruins of an abandoned village while trekking along the trails of the Thomson Nature Park.

Thomson Nature Park houses not only the ruins of the former Hainan village, but also several rare and endangered animals such as the Raffles’ Banded Langur. When we heard about the langurs, we jumped at the opportunity to scour the trails and try our luck at finding these critically endangered Raffles’ Banded Langurs.

By public transport, buses 138, 167, 169, 860 and 980 bring us close to the park entrance. If getting there by car, paid parking is available at the park entrance and is chargeable by the minute.

Alternatively, road-side parking is an option along Old Upper Thomson Road. Be prepared to be greeted by the Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis), a common monkey species in Singapore’s nature parks and reserves.

We decided to take the approach from Old Upper Thomson Road, and embarked on our hike along the very aptly named Macaque Trail.

The trail is very well-marked, and leads us deep into the thick steamy tropical rainforest.

Along the Macaque Trail, we were happy to come face-to-face with more Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) roaming around and having breakfast.

Hidden underneath the dense forest cover, we hoped to uncover some of Singapore’s beautiful avian treasures…

…and were not disappointed when we encountered the Common Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa)

…the Olive-winged Bulbul (Pycnonotus plumosus)

…and the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus).

At the end of the Macaque Trail, we were promptly directed to follow the Langur Trail.

Imagine our excitement when along the Langur Trail we looked up and locked eyes with the very object of our affection – the Raffles’ Banded Langur (Presbytis femoralis femoralis) – chillaxing on a tree branch!

Endemic to Singapore and southern Peninsula Malaysia, there are now only about 60 of these chaps hiding out in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Unfortunately, this fella was exceptionally shy. The moment he saw us looking at him, he immediately schlepped his way from branch to branch and disappeared into the surrounding trees.

Moving on, we spotted some durian trees planted along the trail, with their spiky fruits hanging enticingly, waiting to fall off and get eaten.

Also found along the trail are jackfruits looking deliciously ripened and ready for the picking. No wonder the monkeys and langurs love hanging around these parts.

Along the main trail, an old Jalan Belang road sign oddly stands. The road is already defunct but the street sign still remains – the first hint that we were entering the grounds of a long forgotten village. We learnt that Belang means stripes in Malay, referring to the wild tigers that used to roam the island.

We decided to follow the Ruins & Figs Trail, hoping to explore some village ruins.

Hidden and engulfed by nature, the ruins of the old Hainan village peeked out from beneath the forest vegetation.

Abandoned for several decades, the hungry forest has slowly reclaimed the land and devoured the buildings.

Educational boards planted along the trail convey interesting narratives of the village families, such as the wealthy Han family who once resided here.

The Hainan village dates back to the 1930s and the last villagers moved out in the 1980s. The village was home to many ethnic and dialect groups, although the majority of the residents were Hainanese. The Fox family was one of the Eurasians who lived here, and their house was one of the only houses with two floors. The unique spiral staircase still stands – or whatever’s left of it.

Following our steadfast red and yellow trail markers, we continued our hike along roads that were once trodden by the villagers.

We followed the trail path into Lorong Pelita (pelita means light in Malay), another defunct road that is steeped in history. There were once 500 residents from 80 families living along Lorong Pelita since the early 1900s.

While hiking through the lush forest vegetation, we were engaged in a game of hide-and-seek with the resident birds that inhabit the surrounding forest. The birds that we managed to find include the Pin-striped Tit-babbler (Macronus gularis)

…the White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus)

…the Little Spiderhunter (Arachnothera longirostra)

…the Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica)

…and the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus sumatranus)

…who was happily enjoying a juicy praying mantis snack.

Moving along, we followed the Streams and Ferns Trail where we traversed across rocky paths…

…and hiked past gurgling streams that were previously well-used by the residents of the Hainan Village. These streams are now surrounded by beautiful ferns such as the Tree Fern (Alsophila latebrosa) and the Elephant Fern (Angiopteris evecta).

At the end of the trail we arrived at the main entrance and visitor centre, where we unlocked a bonus trail – the Rambutan Trail!

Along the Rambutan Trail, we were introduced to Mr Han Wai Toon’s sprawling farmhouse and rambutan garden…

…and the remains of the farmhouse stairs that once led to his master bedroom, studio and museum gallery, which used to house a large collection of Chinese artwork, ceramics and relics.

Mr Han developed his famous rambutan garden through years of agricultural experiments and dedicated cultivation.

He regularly invited friends and scholars to gather in his rambutan garden to savour the rambutans. Even though the farmhouse and garden are now in ruins, many of the rambutan trees still remain to this day.
At the peak of fruiting season, it is marvellous to see the entire forest bedecked with dense, bright red bunches of rambutans…

…and a delight to witness them being savoured by our rambutan-loving forest creatures.

Before leaving the park, we made sure to check out the information boards at the visitor centre to learn all about the conservation efforts that go on in Thomson Nature Park…

…including safeguarding the precious Raffles’ Banded Langurs and making sure they don’t languish. We are definitely rooting for them and hope to see more of them in the years to come.