Vegan Travels: Photographing the Domes at Gardens by the Bay

If you missed my previous post about my layover in Frankfurt, you can check that out here. If you’d like to see all of the photos that I didn’t share in the blog post, you can check out the Flickr album with 131 photos here.

So after my uneventful layover in Frankfurt, I finally arrived in Singapore, 12 hours ahead of my timezone and absolutely exhausted. I spent all day Monday working, although I did get to have some great food and drive through China Town and Little India. But on Tuesday, I had the entire day to myself before beginning my late-night return, so I decided to visit Gardens by the Bay.

A view of the Supertree Grove
A view of the Supertree Grove

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Singapore was how green the city was; even the highways were forested with gorgeous lush trees on the sides of the road. This is because the founding Prime Minster, Lee Kuan Yew, was also the Chief Gardener and he promoted a plan that would make Singapore a “Garden City.” Later on, that plan has been transformed into making Singapore a “City in a Garden,” by continuing to prioritize greenery and gardens within the city. While you can see the trees and flowers as soon as you step out of the airport, this dedication to being a City in a Garden really shows at Gardens by the Bay, a 250-acre park that was developed on reclaimed land.

I had done some research in advance on Singapore and its unique attractions, and since Gardens by the Bay seemed quite promising for some photos, I brought my camera and a couple lenses. I packed my Nikon D3300, 18-55mm kit lens, and 50mm f/1.8 lens in a Travelon Crossbody and set off for lunch and then the gardens! Even though Singapore is very low in crime, I much prefer bags that don’t look like camera bags, and this crossbody had the sturdiness, water resistance, and zippers that are important to me as well.

For lunch, I went to Genesis Vegan Restaurant. It’s located in an industrial/business side of town, so it was a little out of the way, but taking an Uber made it quite easy to get there. I ordered the dumplings, fish head vermicelli, and mint tea.

Fish head vermicelli and mint tea
Fish head vermicelli and mint tea. Taken with my phone.

The food was amazing, freshly made, and very filling. The flavoring of the soup was a tiny bit weak for my tastes, and I would have preferred stronger flavors, but the textures were delicious. A vegan soup can often be very soft and mushy and monotonous, but each bite of this soup proved me wrong.

Is this the fish head part of the meal?
Is this the fish head part of the meal? Taken with my phone.

After a quick lunch, I took an Uber yet again to get to Gardens by the Bay. There are a lot of public transportation options to navigate around the city, but I decided to take an Uber so I could spend more time in the gardens. The tickets were pricey in Singapore dollars, but thanks to the exchange rate, in reality, it didn’t cost me that much at all (I think it was only about $20-22 USD for both conservatories). The main ticket office does accept credit cards, but the ticket booth for the Supertree Skyway only accepts cash, so make sure you have Singapore dollars with you!

Gardens by the Bay is quite extensive, as you can see from the map below. Initially I had planned to visit a few different attractions in the city, but after seeing the size of these gardens, I ended up spending all day here, and I was quite happy with my decision. The conservatories are air-conditioned, but the rest of the gardens are outside, so make sure you wear your sunscreen! I was wearing the Supergoop Everyday Sunscreen SPF 50 on my face and Sun Bum SPF 50 Lotion on the rest of my body, and I didn’t get burned at all.

Gardens by the Bay map
Gardens by the Bay map. Taken with my phone.

Gardens by the Bay has two air-conditioned conservatories (air conditioning is quite a big selling factor in Singapore, so you’ll see it advertised or mentioned quite often): the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. The Cloud Forest is a tall dome that is two acres large and is designed to replicate tropical regions, especially those found in mountainous areas. The Flower Dome is three acres large and has a dryer climate with a gorgeous succulent garden and gardens representing many different tropical regions such as Africa, South America, and California. The predominant theme in these gardens is environmentalism and eco-awareness, so the domes are energy efficient and collect rainwater, which is then circulated to the Supertree Grove.

The Cloud Forest

My first stop was in the Cloud Forest. I had no idea what to expect, so when I walked into the dome and saw a huge 115-ft waterfall (after being greeted with a blast of cold air), I was stunned! This was going to be a great visit!

Taken with my phone.
Taken with my phone. I was a little nervous about taking out my camera with the water mist.

I actually ended up only using my 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens the entire time and didn’t see any reason to switch out to my 50mm prime lens. Since a lot of the gardens were outside or had lots of sunlight in the domes, I had plenty of light to not have to worry about a larger aperture, and I was able to get some great shots of the entire dome or skytree grove with the shorter focal length. In the past, I’ve almost always solely relied on my 50mm lens, but rediscovering the kit lens was really an enjoyable experience. I had always thought that I would just buy a “better” 18-55 lens, but after these shots, I think the kit lens deserves a lot more time to help me grow and learn as a photographer before buying a more expensive lens without knowing exactly why.

Yes I went on that walkway.
Yes I went on that walkway.

Walking around the Cloud Forest was stunning; the creativity behind this forest, the impeccable beauty of the foliage, and the engineering that went into this garden and maintenance and the Cloud Mountain (138 feet tall!) was mind-blowing. I could have photographed every single flower and droplet of water, and I still would not have fully experienced the impressive thought that went into designing these domes.

Chuck Taylor for scale.
Chuck Taylor for scale. Taken with my phone.

Looking at the flowers and greenery on this cloud mountain, I was very curious about how they maintain those plants. A ladder? Harness and rope? Spiderman? Either way, it would have to be someone who did not have a fear of heights. I don’t have a fear of heights; I just have a fear of what happens if I fall from a certain height.

The mountain even had a stalactite cave!
The mountain even had a stalactite cave!

The photo opportunities in the Cloud Forest were not as good as the Flower Dome or the outside gardens, at least for me. I am still working on developing that “photographer’s eye” but sometimes I just couldn’t see what I wanted to photograph or how I wanted to remember it. I did take a lot of snapshots to keep for my own memories though.

Couldn't go past a gator without photographing it!
Couldn’t go past a gator without photographing it. I still bleed orange and blue.

Throughout the Cloud Forest, the environmental themes were clear, with informational signs, displays, and videos reminding us of the fragility of the earth, climate change and global warming, and the extinction crisis that many plants and animals face as a result of human devastation.

All of this was projected onto a blank white model!
All of this was projected onto a blank white model. The technology was amazing!

The Flower Dome

After taking a quick break in the gift shop to drink iced green tea and wonder why I was more impressed by a couple hours in Singapore than any of the days I’ve spent in American museums and attractions, I was back to exploring the second conservatory, the Flower Dome. The Flower Dome replicates cool to dry Mediterranean climates and regions, and in 2015, it was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest glass greenhouse in the world at three acres!

The succulent gardens at the entrance.
The succulent gardens at the entrance.

Of course, with it being a dry climate conservatory, they had a multitude of succulents and other desert plants, which I love and tried to photograph to the best of my ability.

If only my succulents could get the memo to look this good.
If only my succulents could get the memo to look this good.

I’ve never seen so many visitors with cameras at an attraction like this; it was rivaling Disney World with the number of cameras, camera phones, point and shoots, DSLRs and Go Pros that I saw. I’m sure it’s hard to get a bad photo with all of the greenery and sunlight here, but it was equally hard for me to get great photos #amateurphotographerproblems

Well hello there, giant plants that wouldn't fit in a flower pot.
Well hello there, giant plants that wouldn’t fit in a flower pot.

I saw many favorite succulents, as well as many new ones. And I didn’t see any rude visitors taking some plant souvenirs home with them, although I saw many people determined to get the best selfie for Facebook or Instagram.

I wonder how carefully they maintain this to give the appearance of overgrowth.
I wonder how carefully they maintain this to give the appearance of overgrowth.

There was so much detail in this garden everywhere I looked. I even found a little garden full of miniature plants and figurines!

I even found adorable miniatures.
Seriously, how cute is this?

They also had sections of the dome dedicated to different regions of the world with similar climates. I found the English garden, which had some fairy tale favorites.

I found the White Rabbit!
I found the White Rabbit!

Winnie the Pooh and Piglet were another surprise, and I think I saw Christopher Robin nearby.

I didn't see any honey nearby though.
I didn’t see any honey nearby though.

In a little section tucked away behind the stairs, I found the California garden, so predictably I ended up there along with one older woman taking a nap on a bench. I’m always interested in how other countries perceive us, and in the case of California, I think they were probably ignoring the whole drought and fire thing.

This is more green than I've ever seen in California.
This is more green than I’ve ever seen in California.

The Flower Dome seems to be very free-flowing as far as a route or walkway goes. The Cloud Forest was a bit more structured in how you walked about, but the Flower Dome was just a maze of flowers and gardens and succulents. It was relaxing to just stroll about but I was constantly wondering if I had missed something. The Fear of Missing Out is strong with me when I am traveling.

Even the greenhouse design is beautiful.
Even the greenhouse design is beautiful.

From a photography perspective, there were never-ending sources of inspiration and still models to document, but I kept struggling with getting a “good” photo or something that would do the flowers justice. That obviously comes with practice, but this was more of a trial by fire scenario.

A gorgeous display of African flowers.
A gorgeous display of African flowers in the Tribal Tempo exhibit.

I was continuously amazed at the color of these flowers and plants; I’d be happy if my grass was half the vibrancy of this greenery!

Part of the African landscape towards the end of the Flower Dome.
Part of the African landscape towards the end of the Flower Dome.

There were always interesting snippets of information on signs scattered around the conservatories. As I’m the person who likes to read and absorb as much as possible, I found a lot of neat information that enhanced the experience and made it more memorable.

The rhino is made of beans and was designed by conservatory employees.
The rhino is made of beans and cinnamon sticks and was designed by conservatory employees.

My biggest challenge in editing the photos was trying to express how surreal this experience was in person. You know how you see a photo and it just makes you feel like you are really there and it’s mind-boggling? Unfortunately I couldn’t quite accomplish that, but I was trying!

Oh look another gator.
Oh look another gator.

The Flower Dome special exhibits change up every few months; Tribal Tempo is their current special display, focusing on the foliage of South Africa. If I had something like this near me, there is no doubt that I would be a regularly-attending member. Florida, get the memo. Air-conditioned conservatories. Life-changing.

One final look at the vastness of this garden.
One final look at the vastness of this garden and the Tribal Tempo display.

The Cloud Forest and Flower Dome experiences were magnificent. I spent a few hours in those conservatories and I thought that all I had left to see was the Supertree Grove outside. I was so wrong! In the next blog post, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photos from the rest of the gardens and how I spent the rest of my day.

The Flower Dome from outside.
The Flower Dome from outside. How was every single thing here so beautiful?

If you’d like to learn more about Gardens by the Bay, I highly recommend checking out their website as well as the Wikipedia page!

I would like a wristwatch-sized version of this clock please.
I would like a wristwatch-sized version of this clock please.
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