God made the wild animals of the earth…and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:25)
With a faint ‘beep’ of the serial code on my ticket, I was in!
Having visited the famed American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York twice, I was dreaming of the day when Singapore would have a Natural History Museum of its very own. Well, that day is finally here and I was so excited I made sure I bought tickets to bring my family to visit it on its opening day!
What is a Natural History Museum? This was the same question which drew me off the streets of Broadway into the AMNH in New York. A Natural History Museum features the research, development and documentation of the natural world around us. From the smallest microbe to the largest mammal, from the deep blue sea to space, every living thing, their history, evolution and future is featured. In short, a Natural History Museum celebrates life. It’s the best place to inculcate within our children the value of every life – plants, animals, humans etc… and in all of this, the value of this beautiful yet intricate earth we live in itself. It is no wonder that the facade of the museum, to me, resembles Noah’s Ark: a boat-shaped building with walls that resembles numerous planks of wood nailed together, carrying within it specimens of life for the knowledge and preservation of future generations. It can also resemble the layers of land and soil upon which life grows, with every layer teeming with its unique life forms.
The LKCNHM has its roots going back to Sir Stamford Raffles when he mooted the idea of setting up a ‘Singapore Institution’ in 1823. Fast forward nearly 200 years and the vision has become a reality in the form of the LKCNHM which houses over millions of specimens to preserve the records of Southeast Asia’s biodiversity. These collections are essential to biological research and can be referenced to by scientists the world over. To me basically, it means simply that my kids will not only get to see their science and geography books come to life, they may also get to see things which their books have yet to write about!
The LKCNHM is situated in the NUS Kent Ridge campus, right next to the University Cultural Centre (UCC) off Clementi Road. It has two levels which are opened to the public. Level 1 – Biodiversity, is segmented into 15 areas showcasing various aspects of life from Plants to Arthropods (e.g. Crabs), Molluscs (e.g. Snails) to Birds and from Amphibians (e.g. Frogs) to…yes, the prehistoric ‘King of the Reptiles’, the Dinosaurs. These actual fossils of the herbivorous Diplodocid Sauropod date back 150 million years from the desert plains Ten Sleep, USA. They are impressive to behold to say the least.
Level 2 is its Heritage Level. There, it traces the history of the LKCNHM through rows of cabinets featuring key exhibits called the ‘Cabinets of Curiosity’. There are drawers and shelves which visitors can open to discover more fascinating facts and figures. On Level 2 is also the Landscape walk where visitors can walk past records of life in the rare mangroves of Singapore and peer through it to see nature juxtaposed with the grey concrete-like wall in which the windows are carved out from. Significance? Go figure. Along with the other exhibits on level 2 is also a small collection dedicated to rocks and minerals in Singapore which, I must admit, took me by surprise. Who would have known that our little red dot has this modest yet interesting range of rocks and minerals! Level 2 is also where visitors can get a strategic view of Apollonia, Prince and Twinky…our resident dinosaurs and arguably the oldest ‘permanent residents’ to set foot on our tiny island.
Indeed, with the 1.5 hours allotted for us, we were captivated and awed to say the least, from looking at the exhibits and reading about them. We were particularly impressed at the high level of taxidermy used to preserved the exhibits. From the tiniest insects to the large Sumatran Tiger, they were incredibly well-preserved, almost life-like. Where bones are concerned, we were equally impressed. I mean where would our children get to touch an Asian elephant skull, see the complete skeletons of a Dugong and, check this out, a Short-finned Pilot Whale which was stranded off local waters. Where plants are concerned, we were able to see a replica of the Rafflesia – the world’s largest and smelliest flower.
The walk through the exhibits was very seamless. Though it looked segmented on the map, in actual fact, apart from the entrance, exit and the central stairs leading to Level 2, they are subtlety separated by information pillars thus making the visitor feel as if we were strolling in Mother Nature’s very own garden of life. Nice. For that, we appreciated the ticketing system which limits the number of visitors per session so that one and all can enjoy the museum. The exhibits are well-referenced and labelled with numbers linking them to the concise explanation nearby, which I have to add, were well-written with succinct information for even my 7 year-old to understand. Within the museum are also interactive screens and audio guides to engage the visitors, serving as life-lines for questions that parents can’t answer!
Here are Dave’s Survival Tips for going to the LKCNHM:
Clear instructions are given on the brochure. An excerpt is provided here (correct as of 28 April 2015):
Basically if you are driving,
- Drive along Clementi Road towards NUS
- Enter via Entrance A of NUS (Kent Ridge Crescent)
- Go pass UCC on the left
- Take the 1st turning on the left after UCC….you can’t miss it.
Car Park: There are two car parks near LKCNHM.
- Open-air car park (situated behind the LKCNHM), nearest to the museum. Small and gets filled-up fast.
- Covered car-park (for UCC and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music) is a short 5 to 10 mins walk. I had to use the covered car park as it was pouring. I had shelter 99% of the way and it helped. Why not 100%? Well, after coming out from the stairs in the sheltered car park, I headed to the Conservatory foyer then follow the covered pathway all the way down to the car porch of LKCNHM via a sheltered spiral staircase. There, you may get wet from the 3 feet of uncovered area but it’s ok, just hum the Indiana Jones tune and enter the museum looking like a hero.
Click here to book tickets
- Buy your tickets from SISTIC BEFORE going: They don’t sell the tickets at the museum itself so please buy your tickets online via SISTIC (sistic.com.sg) and collect the tickets before your visit. No need to rush, the exhibits can wait for you…they’ve been waiting for a very long, long time already.
- Select a time-slot that suits your needs: Every time-slot runs for 1.5 hours beginning from 10am till the last slot at 5:30pm(museum closes at 7pm). We were able to comfortably read and admire all the exhibits (and take lots of photos) within the given time frame. However, if you are the ‘serious’ sort who likes to read everything meticulously and examine every fin and fur, the 1.5 hours may not be sufficient. Having said that, they do not enforce the timing so strictly unless you are having the last slot of the day (i.e 5:30pm), where the shutting of shutters, doors and gradual turning off of lights may be more than just a hint.
- Food and drinks: Unless you plan to get ‘boney’ like some of the exhibits, please have a meal or snack before going. There are no eateries within walking distance save for a little café in next-door UCC which may not be open. There’s a strictly ‘No Food and Drinks’ policy within the museum.
- Is it ccccold?: On the evening of our visit where it was pouring cats and dogs outside, it was still very comfortable. We didn’t need a jacket, just normal office wear. If it gets too cold, there are lots of fur inside if it helps!
- Are strollers and babies allowed? Yes, strollers and babies are allowed. Don’t worry if your baby cries, the exhibits are already dead, they won’t be awakened. If they do, run.
- No pets allowed…yes…strictly. Even if your pet is named ‘Baby’. Only human babies are allowed.
- No selfie stick: YES!!! It’s true! Selfie sticks are dangerous! They are harmful! They are evil!!!!! But seriously, the use of selfie stick is prohibited as it may potentially damage the exhibits due to carelessness.
- No tripod: YES!!! Equally evil are these three-legged items. But seriously, tripods may cause other visitors to trip especially under the dim-light conditions inside the museum.
During your Visit:
- Get there at least 30mins early. If the previous crowd gets off earlier, you get in slightly early! Woo-hoo!
- Stroll, no need to rush. You wouldn’t want to trip over the specimens and send the Dinos crashing! Just kidding! But do enjoy the walk and take time to read and admire the exhibits. It’s quite an easy read. For kids, it’s good that parents spend time explaining the exhibits to them and if you’re stuck with a question, read the notes or listen to the audio guide. If still stuck, there’s always Google.
- If you need to go…GO!: Use the toilets inside the museum if you need BEFORE you exit (they will scan your tics again before you exit so you can’t come in anymore). Remember, this is in University grounds, if you look for toilets outside of the museum, it could be hidden in some lecture hall somewhere.
- No flash photography: Yup, in case you wake them up. No, but seriously, the interior of the museum is nicely lit to create an ‘authentic’ atmosphere of the exhibits. Flash photography can spoil the experience for everyone. Moreover, the light and heat from flashes may cause the exhibits to deteriorate over time.
5. Souvenirs: There is a small gift shot at the exit for those who have to shop.
6. If weather permits, do visit the three specially designed gardens surrounding the museum which are freely accessible by members of the public. The PHYLOGENETIC GARDEN showcases how plants and habitats have evolved; and the curators have included native plants as far as possible. The MANGROVES, SWAMPS AND DRYLAND FOREST section features some of the unique plants which are specially adapted to inundated soils or the mangrove habitat. The BEACH TO LAND FOREST landscaped area has a selection of plants that exist from a rainforest to a coastal habitat.
The opening of the LKCNMH is a significant milestone for our young nation as we celebrate our 50th year of Independence. The open doors of LCKNHM usher in a new age of learning and discovery for every Singaporean child and their children after them. In my opinion, the LKCNHM is worth many visits. For with every visit, life is sure to unveil yet another one of its weird and wondrous secrets to all who search for it, treasure it and care enough to cherish it for posterity.
Happy Labor Day weekend!