Kayak enthusiast takes locals to Khatib Bongsu - the 'land of giants'

This year, Kayakasia is organising expeditions to Khatib Bongsu, one of Singapore's largest mangrove riverine ecosystems. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - For most people, kayaking in Singapore brings to mind more curated, man-made settings such as Kallang Water Sports Centre, MacRitchie or Lower Seletar Reservoir.

But for some, the small, narrow watercraft is the perfect vessel for exploring nature.

Mr Sim Cher Huey, a 46-year-old kayak enthusiast, founded adventure travel company Kayakasia 20 years ago as a way to turn his hobby into his profession.

He began taking travellers to picturesque destinations such as the Bohol Islands in the Philippines, the Komodo Island in Indonesia and the Xe Bang Fai River in Laos, where those who signed up could experience the breathtaking natural wonders that eluded them in urban Singapore.

But the pandemic shut borders, and business shrivelled. His agency was forced to look inward.

"We used to run local expeditions only once every month, but since Covid-19, more Singaporeans have signed up with us to explore what we have here, whether in the Southern Islands, Ubin, or Sungei Khatib Bongsu," he said.

"We have 20 different kayaking trips in Singapore and we now run at least two to three every week. It is a nice surprise."

For Singapore Heritage Fest this year - from Monday (May 2) to May 29 - Kayakasia is organising kayaking expeditions to Khatib Bongsu, one of Singapore's largest mangrove riverine ecosystems, and which has been described as the "land of giants" for the size of its fauna.

It is part of the festival's efforts to explore the country's natural heritage, with many in the last two years rediscovering the parks and reservoirs in Singapore to escape the restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus.

Mr Sim said participants can expect to be surprised by the very old trees that thrive in the area, while learning about the Orang Seletar, the indigenous inhabitants there before the Government repossessed the land.

There will also be monitor lizards, otters and birds, "but no crocs".

"What's important is we want walking feet - no couch potatoes," he said.

Asked if he has a favourite place to paddle in Singapore, Mr Sim declined to answer, comparing it with being forced to choose between one's children.

"They are all beautiful," he said, adding: "It all depends on the season. For rivers, October would be the best time but June to September may be better to paddle in the islands."

With more pressure for development, he said there is a need for more people to recognise the value of the country's natural heritage, which is ironically becoming more precious as it dwindles.

While what Singapore has to offer is very different from its larger neighbours, it is "a gem - small but beautiful", he said.

"You can go clubbing one night and go into nature the next morning. That's a big plus. In Jakarta, Bangkok, you won't be able to. You will have to travel. They are very different."

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