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avatar trees singapore

Singapore’s “Avatar Trees” – Secret Hiking Trail Near MacRitchie With Abandoned Cars & Hidden Temple 

Hiking to Bukit Brown Cemetery & the “Avatar Trees”

Hiking can mean many things – it could connote a wild adventure with your gung ho crew through the spectacular hiking trails of Europe, or it could mean an offbeat weekend adventure through Singapore’s many nature trails. 

We all know of MacRitchie Treetop Walk and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve but if you’re looking for some Indiana Jones-level adventure within our shores, we unearth below the hidden “Avatar Trees” trek

Where are the “Avatar Trees” & Bukit Brown Cemetery located?

hiking trails in singapore

In a dense city like Singapore, it’s hard to imagine any areas left unexplored. So when a friend first introduced me to the Avatar Trees, “no freaking way!” was my first reaction. Don’t @ me, it’s probably yours too.

Google proved that albeit obscure, this hidden gem had a very doable trek leading up to it. But what came as a bigger surprise was the fact that it was ridiculously close to the uber-popular MacRitchie. Just across a highway, in fact.

hiking trails in singapore - route map
Map of our hiking route.
Image adapted from: Strava 

As with all unofficial trails, there are several route options you can consider. Below, my colleagues, Clement and Maribelle, and I embark on a ~3km long hike that starts easy along the main road, and gradually gets tougher. Expect lots of pretty photo-ops and – a smidge of jungle trekking towards the end.

Here’s all you need to know about hiking to the Avatar Trees.

How to get to the starting point at Bukit Brown Cemetery?

avatar trees singapore - bus stop

Getting to the starting point of the trek was, all things considered, pretty straightforward. All you have to do is to take a bus to After Kheam Hock Road – we boarded bus 855 from Commonwealth MRT station to get there. 

avatar trees singapore - Bukit Brown Cemetery

Cross the overhead bridge to the other side of the highway and you’ll soon reach an ominous sign screaming “caution”, highlighting that the roads ahead aren’t maintained by NEA. We proceeded here. Indiana Jones adventure, remember?

avatar trees singapore - Bukit Brown Cemetery

See huge gates out of Batman’s Gotham? You’re entering the Bukit Brown Cemetery – admittedly not at the top of my fun things to do in Singapore list. I’d usually say no thanks to cemetery heebie-jeebies but this time around, this was part of the journey and an intriguing stop at that.

avatar trees singapore - Bukit Brown Cemetery
Spot graves of all shapes and sizes dotted around a peaceful forest landscape. Larger tombstones located higher up on the hills usually indicate graves of wealthier folks.

A quick history lesson on Bukit Brown Cemetery: It was built more than 100 years ago in 1922 and officially closed in 1973, as a final resting ground for more than 100,000 people. Today, many of the tombs are unclaimed and some exhumed to make way for highways and development.

How to get to the “Avatar Trees”

avatar trees singapore

Once you’re done checking out the cemetery, take a u-turn back along Lorong Halwa and continue left once you hit Kheam Hock Road. Here, follow the curved road until you reach a fork where you can take a left turn into the forest. 

hiking trails in singapore - abaonded houses

Some unexpected sights that greeted us along this stretch include dilapidated makeshift homes with tarps as shelter and more gravestones along the way.

avatar trees singapore

When you reach the end of the road, continue down the beaten path until you eventually reach an open patch where you can find the stunning “Avatar Trees”. Cue a collective wow.

avatar trees singapore

Lush bushes flood the landscape and amidst the greenery, massive trees stretch into the sky. Expect what you see in photographs, and more. The barks of the majestic trees are covered with draping plants, creating a mystical effect that brings to mind the Tipani Hometree from Avatar. It’s no wonder it earned itself the fancy nickname.

avatar trees singapore

A couple of beaten trails head towards the trees for closer photo ops to the Gardens by the Bay-lookalike. Just take care of where you place your foot as there are some gravestones in the area as well!

After this point, you have 2 options: 

  • If the ground is muddy, we recommend turning back to Kheam Hock Road and accessing the abandoned cars and Chinese temple from there.
  • If it’s sunny and dry, continue down the dirt path as we did below.

What can you find around the “Avatar Trees”?

hiking trails in singapore - jungle trekking

The upcoming segment entails a tougher trek than before with uneven terrain and possibly muddy paths if it rained the day before. At some segments, we felt like we were swimming through grass; and in other segments, we found ourselves clambering over fallen trees. 

That being said, it was still very doable – though, you will need proper hiking shoes, or at the very least, sports shoes with good traction to prevent slipping or tripping. It would also be a good idea to throw on a pair of long pants to prevent mosquito bites and getting scratched by twigs.

avatar trees singapore
Pass a natural stream along the way.

The great news for less-experienced hikers, however, is that there’s little chance of getting lost as the trail is rather straightforward. We didn’t struggle with gathering our sense of direction as we did at Bukit Batok Hillside Park. Our phones also received decent GPS signals here which helped us identify how far into the trek we were.

avatar trees singapore - Chinese temple

Eventually, the trail approaches the main road and runs parallel to the nearby PIE. Continue along the path until you come across a yellow sign, indicating the next attraction along this trek.

avatar trees singapore - Chinese temple

There are 3 obscure paths here. Path #3 will lead you to a temple up on a hill. 

avatar trees singapore - Chinese temple

新恒山亭大伯公庙 or Xinhengshan Pavilion Dabogong Temple lies above a flight of stairs According to online sources, this was built in 1891 and is dedicated to the land deity of Bukit Brown. Despite being literally in the middle of nowhere, it also looked surprisingly well maintained, hinting that some folks still visit the temple regularly. 

After, visit the abandoned cars by heading down Path #1 or #2. It’s about a 5-minute walk along an obscure trail. Some landmarks below will point you in the right direction:

hiking trails in singapore - abandoned cars
Landmark 1: A flight of stairs in the forest

avatar trees singapore - stream - abandoned cars
Landmark 2: A small stream

Upon crossing the stream, it won’t be long before you come across a couple of abandoned cars strewn across the forest. It may be 2024 but this sure looks like Roland Emmerich’s apocalyptic 2012

avatar trees singapore - abandoned cars

Nature slowly swallows up the vehicles with 1 of the cars falling apart; tyres sinking into the ground and leafy vines creeping up its metallic frame. Nearby was another unidentifiable vehicle, possibly a lorry, smothered under fallen leaves.

hiking trails in singapore - abandoned cars

Since there aren’t any roads nearby, it’s astounding how these vehicles have found their way here. Was this area once a car park? Was there an accident at the PIE 1km away that flung these vehicles here? These time capsules have more secrets than Gretchen Weiners’ hair but we all love a mind-boggling mystery don’t we?

How to exit the trail

hiking trails in singapore - Kheam Hock Road
Image credit: Google Maps

Once you’re done with the final attraction, it’s a short jaunt to Kheam Hock Road, where you can call a private vehicle hire home, or take a 10-minute walk to Adam Road to catch a bus to a nearby MRT.

Things to note before hiking to the “Avatar Trees”

avatar trees singapore

Despite the bright red cautionary signboards at the start of the trail, the terrain was overall – l dare I say – easy. Or at least, easy enough, and very achievable for the average hiker. The crew ranks the difficulty out of 10 below:

Clement: 2/10 till you get to the Avatar trees, 4/10 once you’re in the jungle. 6/10 if you come on a hot and humid day like we did.
Maribelle: 3/10. It really felt like I was out of Singapore at some points.
Kezia: 4/10. It’s not a walk in the park but it’s not as difficult as Clementi Forest either.

That being said, we were fortunate enough to visit on a sunny day, when the ground was dry and non-muddy. According to other online guides, the jungle area can flood during heavy showers so you’ll want to postpone your visit if it rains the day before.

Also, since the trail is an obscure one, the full route isn’t reflected on Google Maps. However, we found that you can get a decent map of the trail on running app Strava. Do note that there aren’t any toilets near the place; the nearest one is at Botanic Gardens MRT. So be sure to empty your bladders before starting your hike. Finally, don’t forget the staple hiking essentials of water, sunblock, and mosquito repellent.

Embark on a lesser-known hike to the Avatar Trees

With a cemetery, massive trees and abandoned cars all bundled up onto one, a hike to the Avatar Trees checks off a couple of unusual boxes. It unveils a side of Singapore that many of us haven’t seen and would be a good option for anyone looking for adventures beyond our PCNs.

For more hiking and walking guides:

Photography by Clement Sim.
Article originally published on 19th March 2022. Last updated by Joycelyn Yeow on 16th May 2024.