Walking Along Singapore River

No matter where you go in Singapore, there seems to be something that is interesting. 

At the moment, it’s a little hard to get around parts of the city as barricades and caging are being erected for the F1 street circuit race that will be held at night starting on September 23. The streets around the circuit are a maze of lighting poles and gantries, concrete safety barriers and cabling. However, most of the pedestrian crossings are still open but some require a bit of exploration to find a place to cross the road.

Today, we headed to Clarke Quay on the Singapore River and walked along a small part of its 3.2 km length to the large basin at Marina Bay (previously called the Kallang Basin) near the financial district. We have had another day without rain and it was rather hot where there was no shade.

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At one time, Singapore River was the very lifeblood of the colony, the trade artery, the centre of commerce activity, and the heart of local business. It is easy to still imagine the lighters, bumboats, sampans and coolies manually moving freight onto the wharves and into the godowns (wharehouses) along the river.

Parts of this river area still include quays such as Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Robertson Quay, which generated trade and extensive demand for services with the boats that landed at them. Boat Quay itself was handling three quarters of the shipping service in the 1860s. Shophouses and warehouses flourished around the quays due to their proximity to trade during the colonial era. Now they are full of chic and busy cafes, restaurants and bars.

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The river still borders places where seamen and locals made offerings and burned their joss sticks. Poles with streamers flying were once used to tie up the barges as the water lapped against the old stone steps and walls.

By 1819, there was heavy traffic on the River due to rapid urbanisation and expanding trade. At the same time, it brought in water pollution caused by the disposal of garbage, sewage and other by-products of industries located along the river’s banks. The sources of water pollution into the Singapore River and Kallang Basin included waste from pig and duck farms, unsewered premises, street hawkers and vegetable sellers. River based activities such as transport, boat building and repairs were also found along the Singapore River.

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Some 750 lighters plied along the Singapore River and Kallang Basin in 1977 bringing in freight from ships anchored along the coast. Waste, oil spills and wastewater from these boats and lighters added to the pollution of the rivers. Then, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew called for a clean up of the river and other waterways. The clean up cost the government $300 million at the time and involved a relocation of about 4,000 squatters, along with hawkers and vegetable sellers, whose daily waste flowed into the river. Public housing was found for the squatters, while street hawkers were persuaded to move to established hawker centres. The government then completely dredged foul-smelling mud from the banks and the bottom of the river, clearing the debris and other rubbish.

Due to such cleaning efforts, the Singapore River has significantly changed from one that was heavily busy and polluted to one that is clean with marine animals. The re-emergence of monitor lizards and otters in the Singapore River has been attributed to the success of the river’s cleanup.

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The river originally emptied into the Singapore Straits but since a barrage was built across the mouth in 2008, it now empties into Marina Bay and this has created a new reservoir of freshwater.  With the completion of the Marina Barrage  the reservoir, which contained mainly of salt water, became freshwater after a process of natural desalination, when excess water was released out to the sea after heavy rains. The reservoir now provides 10% of the island’s water needs.

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At one point on our walk, we passed the Old Hill Police Satiation from which the British police force operated in colonial days. The building has a total of 927 windows and they are now painted in the colours of the rainbow. 

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Along the edge of Marina Bay is the statue of the Singapore’s national symbol, the Merlion –  part-lion and part-fish. The Merlion’s fish-like body symbolises Singapore’s origins as a fishing village, known as Temasek—a name which comes from same root as the word tasek (‘lake’ in Malay). The statue’s head represents the city’s original name of Singapura (lion city in Sanskrit). 

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The Port of Singapore is now located to the west of the island, taking up most of the south-west coast. Cruise ships and passenger ships to Singapore now typically berth at the Singapore Cruise Centre at Harbourfront. Reflecting Singapore’s significance as a trade and financial centre, there have always been a plethora of ships (mostly tankers) anchored off the coast waiting for a new commission. This is a small section of them that  we can see from our hotel balcony.

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One thought on “Walking Along Singapore River

  1. Loving your exploration of Singapore, a favourite of ours. We often stopover on our way or on return to visit our son in the UK. This time we flew straight to the UK as we had Business Class flights. We always try to see something different each time we go to Singapore. Not hard to do. Happy Anniversary to you both

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