Gardens by the Bay East, also known as Bay East Garden, is a well-kept secret sited at the end of Tanjong Rhu Road, a single artery leading into the upmarket condominium neighbourhood and expat enclave bearing the road’s name.
Opened in October 2011, the low-key Bay East Garden actually opened 8 months earlier than its more famous and glamorous sibling Gardens by the Bay South, or Bay South Garden, which opened to much fanfare in June 2012. Although the under-patronised Bay East Garden is frequented largely by nearby residents, there are still many in the area who are unaware of the waterfront gardens with the gorgeous views literally at their door step.
Gardens by the Bay has very quickly become a celebrated Singapore attraction and a top tourist draw. What most people fail to realise however is that the gardens actually consist of not 1 but 3 waterfront gardens – Bay South, Bay East and Bay Central Gardens. The highly lauded Bay South Garden, with its 18 futuristic 16-storey tall “Supertrees” and 2 giant glass-domed conservatories named Cloud Forest and Flower Dome, is the one in the limelight and the one people usually associate with the Gardens by the Bay name.
The 3 gardens ring the Marina Reservoir. Bay South Garden is the largest and most visible, sitting prominently on the Marina Bay promontory. Bay East is the swathe of garden across the Marina Barrage on the other side of the reservoir, adjoining the Marina Bay Golf Course. Bay Central is also a narrow garden along a 3 km length of the waterfront around the Singapore Flyer, and is designed to “connect” the Bay South and Bay East Gardens.
Both Bay South and Bay East Gardens were developed by world-renowned landscape architects, selected following a global contest which saw over 70 entries from more than 24 countries. The UK’s Grant Associates were picked for Bay South, and Gustafson Porter, also from the UK for Bay East, while development plans for Bay Central have not yet been announced.
The chief reason to visit Bay East Garden is for its vantage views of the Marina Bay, especially the Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino, and the Bay South Gardens. The wide waterfront promenade is also ideal for walks, jogs, bicycling or skating. And unlike Bay South which charges steep admission fees to view its attractions, entrance to the Bay East Garden is free.
While it is pleasant and well-groomed, as are all NParks (National Parks Board of Singapore) managed gardens, Bay East Garden still looks something of a work-in-progress. 32 hectares in size with a 2 km long stretch of waterfront, the garden was developed as an “interim garden” first used as a staging site for the water sport events (rowing and canoeing) at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010, which Singapore hosted. After the games, Bay East Garden was redeveloped before opening to the public.
Award-winning landscape architectural firm Gustafson Porter’s bid for the Bay East Garden envisioned a lush water-themed garden: “.. the Gardens will have water gardens with terraces that cascade down to the Bay’s edge – giving visitors an intimate relationship with its shorelines and wonder views back to the skyline. Another key theme is food gardens and water sports. A diverse range of dining options will be available among food theme gardens, while water sports facilities and spectator stands will enable the Gardens to host aquatic sports and waterfront recreation such as canoeing, non-motorised sports such as sculling and dragon boat races.”
None of that has been realised yet, and I can’t tell whether the original plans have been shelved, or whether the full execution of the garden’s blueprint is still in the works. While there are many young trees, flowering shrubs, a lotus and reed pond, and lovely Bougainvillea bushes along the promenade framing views of the bay, the garden is markedly different from what the landscape artists sketched out. In fact when I visited earlier this week the gardens were looking very arid as it had not rained for a few weeks. There are works going on for the PA (People’s Association) Water-Venture called PAssionWaVe@Marina Bay, slated to open in the first quarter of this year, however there don’t appear to be other developments in the garden itself to realise the architects’ vision. There are no dining options, no pavilions, and no terraces with cascading water features.
No matter however, the garden is still a lovely spot for a breath of fresh air, or a family outing as there is plenty of room for energetic little ones to run around. The setting is quiet and peaceful, with only the lovely chirping of birds and the faint sound of traffic crossing the Benjamin Sheares bridge.
Apart from the main entrance via Tanjong Rhu Road, you can also reach the garden by walking (or jogging or cycling) across the 350 m long Marina Barrage at the other end of the garden. For joggers, a run up and down the promenade, including the Marina Barrage will net you a nice almost 5 km-long distance, or longer if you extend your run with the Tanjong Rhu Promenade Park Connector along the scenic Kallang basin.
Off Rhu Cross / Bay East Drive (at the end of Tanjong Rhu Road)
Open 24 hours (car park open from 6am – 12am)
HOW MUCH TIME
About an hour, to an hour and a half to explore the garden, walking along the length of the promenade. If you haven’t visited the Marina Barrage before however then I suggest you tack that on as well.
- Gustafson Porter are also the landscape architects who designed the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial in Hyde Park in London.
- 9 months after Gardens by the Bay South opened in June 2012 it had already received 3.8 million visitors, which works out to about 14,000 visitors a day.
- The garden is flat and very wheelchair friendly.
- There is a washroom and a visitor centre at the main entrance (no other washroom facilities in the garden).
- The gardens’ car park is just up ahead of the entrance and visitor centre. You can also park for free (at your own risk) however at the nearby Marina Bay Golf Course car park if you plan to visit the golf club after visiting the gardens. The open-air Canopy Cafe on the 2nd floor terrace of the club house is a nice place for a casual meal or drink while you enjoy great views of the golf course and the Marina Bay.
- Watch out for the many black millipedes at the park at certain times of the year. When I visited in November during the rainy season I saw loads of the creepy crawlies on the earth mounds at the base of trees, on the trees sometimes and also along the walkways. When you unwittingly step on one you’ll feel an unsettling “crunch” underfoot. According to NParks, the gardens and other parks use a lot of wood chips in their landscaping, and millipede eggs are often carried along with the wood chips. The millipedes help to break down the wood chips into mulch for the planting beds though and are harmless.