Singapore's bustling city vibe has its flipside - tours of Kranji in the north reveal a rustic world of farms, where the sounds are of excited children fishing and the odd bleating goat.
The Kranji area is part of the Lim Chu Kang Agrotechnology Park which, Singaporeans might be surprised to know, has a total of 118 farms that take up about 400ha of land.
More than 10 of the farms are open to the public and offer activities such as tours, pond fishing and crafting classes, so urbanites can enjoy the country life.
You can even make a weekend out of it and spend the night at the 5ha D'Kranji Farm Resort, which opened in 2008 (see other story).
Many farms have been offering tours since the 1990s as a way to spread public awareness of the farmland and its produce.
The only goat farm in Singapore, Hay Dairies, began its tours in the early 1990s to educate the public.
Its operations manager, Mr Leon Hay, 34, says many people were confusing goats and sheep.
"They didn't even know that goats produce milk. The tours are educational," he says.
Mr William Ho Hwee Pen, 46, co-owner of game-bird farm Lian Wah Hang Farm, ran tours for almost a decade until he was forced to close his farm to the public by agriculture authorities as a precaution when bird flu hit Malaysia in 2004.
Until then, tours of his pigeon, quail, guineafowl and kampung chicken farm generated about 30 per cent of its revenue.
"As farmers, production here in Singapore cannot compete with our neighbouring countries, so market- and revenue-wise, opening up to the public gives us an opportunity to sustain our operations," he says.
"Once they visit the farm, they gain confidence in our products and production quality. When they go marketing, they recognise our brands and buy the products."
Now the events organiser for Farmart Centre - a shopping and entertainment venue in the Kranji Countryside - Mr Ho runs tours of the centre and the surrounding farms.
The president of the Kranji Countryside Association, Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim, estimates that farms which are open to the public owe at least 50 per cent of their revenue to the tours, directly or indirectly from awareness created.
The tours are also a way to encourage the public to embrace the countryside, she says.
"They get people in Singapore to breathe fresh air, to get them thinking about the link between land and life, and make kids more aware of the environment.
"You can see the expression on their faces when they see an ant hill or a snail, or pick a flower without the fear of being fined. Every country needs a countryside because it provides solace for your soul," she says.
The countryside is busiest on weekends and during school holidays. While walk-in tours are available then, it is best to book group tours or activities several weeks or months in advance.
Life! takes a look at some of the tours and activities taking place on the Kranji farmland.
D'KRANJI FARM RESORT
If you have too many farm activities to complete in one day, you can go the whole hog and stay overnight at the D'Kranji Farm Resort.
The five-year-old 5ha resort offers twin-sharing and family villas. Facilities include a restaurant, spa, beer garden, karaoke bar and a pond where you can go prawn-fishing.
True to its location among country fields, 2ha on the resort are farmland dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables such as papaya, longan and corn. A bonus is that you do not just look at them, but eat them too - they feature on the restaurant's menu.
Guests can choose between a twin-sharing villa ($148 a weeknight, $228 a weekend night) and a six-person villa ($650 a night on weekdays and weekends).
The cost includes breakfast, a tour of the resort farm and the chance to pick your own fruit and vegetables.
Tickets to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve, which is just a few minutes' drive away, are included too.
Country living must be popular, as the resort's 21 units are fully booked until the end of next month, so it is best to plan and book a few weeks in advance.
Where: 10 Neo Tiew Lane 2
Reservations: Call 6862-9717 or e-mail email@example.com
The only goat farm in Singapore, Hay Dairies is home to about 800 of the animals. Over half are milking mums producing 2 to 5 litres of milk a day.
Parts of the 2ha farm are open to the public daily, where you can see the goats from 9am to 4pm, or watch the milking by machines from 9am to 11am every day.
You can buy goat's milk at the farm in 200ml ($2) or 800ml ($7) bottles. The milk, which is high in protein and vitamins and low in cholesterol, is not sold at any retail outlets in Singapore. It must be bought at the farm or pre-ordered for home delivery.
The farm - started by the Hay brothers in the late 1980s - specialises in nutrient-rich milk production. This means the goats eat a healthy mix of alfalfa hay and grains, including barley, wheat and corn, and there are no antibiotics, hormones or preservatives in its pasturised milk. Even its chocolate milk ($2 for 200ml) is made using real cocoa beans.
While visiting the farm is free, groups of 30 people or more must pay $3.21 a person and register for a guided tour. The 45-minute tour is available at 9am, 9.30am and 10am, and includes a view of the milking and an introduction to the goats and the nutritional value of their milk. Visitors can then view the goats at their own pace. The cost includes 200ml of goat's milk and a souvenir.
Due to Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority regulations, the public is not allowed to pet or feed the goats. For quarantine reasons, people who have visited Europe within the past three months are not allowed to visit the farm.
Where: 3 Lim Chu Kang, Agrotech Park Lane 4
Hours: Daily from 9am to 4pm, milking from 9am to 11am
Contact: Call 6792-0931 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
For an educational, child-friendly farm where you can encounter all manner of produce, from medicinal herbs to tropical fruits, Bollywood Veggies is the place to go. Almost all of the 10ha farm is open to the public.
Walk in and explore the farm and aromatic gardens for free, then head to the Poison Ivy Bistro, famed for its curries (about $8) and banana bread ($2.50), which is open from 9am to 6.30pm, Wednesdays to Sundays.
Alternatively, you can book a 30-minute guided tour. It will take you around the farm, drawing attention to the different herbs, spices and vegetables, and allow you to touch, smell and taste them. The tour costs $5 a person and includes a snack from the farm's bistro.
If you are craving more than a snack, you can purchase a tour and lunch combo for $15 an adult and $10 a child.
Bollywood Veggies has a number of hands-on activities as well. They include a pot planting class, garden treasure hunt, scarecrow-building challenge, garden scrabble scavenger hunt and art using plants found around the farm. Each activity costs about $5 a person.
All tours and activities require a minimum of 20 participants and must be booked in advance.
The farm also offers cooking classes where the public can learn to make curries, baked goods and local dishes. They cost between $48 and $128 a person. A minimum of eight people is required, so call in advance if you are interested.
For more details on the activities and cooking courses, go to the Bollywood Veggies website.
Where: 100 Neo Tiew Road
Hours: Wednesdays to Sundays and public holidays, from 9am to 6.30pm; closed for a fortnight during Chinese New Year
Contact: Call 6898-5001 or e-mail email@example.com
JURONG FROG FARM
A tasty treat is only a hop away at the Jurong Frog Farm. The farm specialises in rearing American bull frogs for sale to local restaurants. However, you can sample the produce on the spot, including frog legs and a sweet soup made with wolfberries, American ginseng and collagen-rich "snow jelly" - the common name for the frog's oviduct, which is thought to be a beauty enhancer.
Or you can buy some fresh frog meat to cook at home.
To spread the word about the business of frog rearing and the health benefits of frog meat, the farm started offering educational tours in the mid-1990s.
On offer is a 15-minute family tour, 30-minute fun tour, 60-minute food tour and a 90-minute herpetology tour which explores aspects such as frog anatomy and behaviour.
Tour participants will learn about the history of the farm, which was started in Jurong in 1981 by MrWan Bock Thiaw, 60, who still runs it with the help of his youngest daughter Chelsea, 29. Participants also get to touch, feed and take pictures of the frogs, visit the mating pond, learn how to differentiate between male and female frogs, and hear the mating croaks of an all-male frog "choir".
The farm moved to its current 1.2ha location in the Lim Chu Kang Agrotechnology Park in 1993.
At any one time, it houses 15,000 frogs in 30 holding pens. It also farms patin - a type of catfish - and tilapia. But frogs remain its speciality.
Tours are by appointment only from Tuesdays to Fridays. Walk-in family tours, which cost $25 ($5 for the sixth person upwards) are available on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
The fun tour, food tour and herpetology workshop require a minimum of 20 participants each, or the equivalent cost at $5 a head. There is a charge of $5 for every additional person.
These speciality tours should be scheduled at least a few days ahead.
Where: 51 (Plot 56) Lim Chu Kang Lane 6
Hours: Tuesdays to Fridays by appointment only; Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from 9am to 5.30pm
Contact: Call 6791-7229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
HAUSMANN MARKETING AQUARIUM
If fishing is what you are after, the Hausmann Marketing Aquarium offers activities for all ages, from kampung-like longkang fun for kids (above) to saltwater pond fishing for adults.
The place was opened by Singaporean entrepreneur Yeo Lian Huat, 63, as an aquarium fish farm in 1996. Today, it also offers fish feeding, prawn-fishing, a fish spa and a tour of its farming facilities that is mainly taken by school groups.
For $4, children under 12 years old can enjoy 30minutes of longkang, or drain fishing. Nets and buckets for scooping the small fish out of the network of small ponds are provided. All fish must be returned to the pond at the end of the session.
Older children can try their luck at the novice fishing pond. It costs $12 for 40 minutes of catch-and-release fishing at the tilapia pond. The rod, pail and bait are provided.
Families can fish for prawns at $13 an hour - down from $15 an hour - until Feb 8, and if you purchase two hours upfront, you get one hour free.
Adults can try to catch their dinner in the saltwater pond stocked with fish such as snapper, sea bass and grouper. It costs $25 an hour or $60 for three hours.
You can eat your catch fresh by renting a barbecue pit on the spot for $25, including charcoal.
You can also relax at the fish spa, which costs $4 for 15 minutes and $8 for 30 minutes - down from $6 and $10 respectively - until the new year promotion ends on Feb 8.
Where: 291 Neo Tiew Crescent
Hours: Daily from 9.30am to 6pm for tour, longkang fishing, novice fishing and fish feeding; 8am to 11.30pm for prawn-fishing and saltwater fishing
Contact: Call 6792-1318
This is the place to go if you want to catch a glimpse of all things Kranji but do not have the time to go to every farm. The centre has nearly 40 shops selling Kranji farm produce, including sugar cane, vegetables, fresh seafood and eggs, plus aquarium and pet-related goods.
While parents shop for groceries, kids can head to the animal farm centre to interact with goats, bull frogs, tortoises, rabbits and more. Vegetables and fish food can be bought and fed to the animals.
However, the animal farm section is open only on weekends and public holidays. But there is round-the-clock prawn-fishing available at $15 an hour, seven days a week, which includes the rental of a rod and a bucket to store your prawns.
If you would like a guided tour of the Kranji area, contact Mr William Ho Hwee Pen, 46, co-owner of game-bird farm Lian Wah Hang Farm, who runs Uncle William's farm tours. The Farmart events organiser runs a range of tours, from a 45-minute presentation of the animals in the Farmart centre ($6 a person) to a six-hour tour of local farms ($38 an adult and $35 a child).
Tour prices vary. These customisable tours are for groups of 30 or more. Booked one or two months in advance, especially during the school holidays.
Where: 67 Sungei Tengah Road
Hours: Retail outlets are open daily from 10am to 8pm; food outlets are open Mondays to Saturdays, 10am to 10pm, and Sundays and public holidays from 9am to 10pm
If you want to pick up some old-fashioned skills like making soap they way grandma used to, or enjoy a farm-to-plate dining experience, Gardenasia will definitely grow on you.
The entertainment venue - opened in 2001 by MrKenny Eng, 38, as part of the century-old Nyee Phoe landscape and gardening group - specialises in providing outdoor settings for corporate and wedding events. It also offers fresh food from the farm and eco-workshops for school groups and the public. Groups of 25 or more can sign up for classes such as soap-making and DIY terrarium workshops. Prices vary, depending on group size and products used.
Gardenasia's bistro restaurant offers visitors the chance to sample some of the fresh produce growing in the area, in an idyllic setting in the Kranji fields with a fantastic sunset view.
The menu is a medley of Western and local dishes from $14 to $25. The spinach portobello salad ($15), made with vegetables grown on nearby farms, and mee goreng pasta ($15), are favourites.
The children's menu includes a ham and cheese sandwich and rainbow fusili (pasta) with wild mushrooms, both for $7.
For a real farm-to-table meal, the bistro will even cook the produce you have collected around the farms that day.
Where: 240 Neo Tiew Crescent
Hours: Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11am to 6pm; Fridays and Saturdays from 11am to 11pm; Sundays and public holidays from 10am to 6pm; closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
Contact: Call 6898-9111 or e-mail email@example.com