by Paul Thompson
On the way back from South East Asia I read this CNN article comparing the two cities I’d just visited – Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. It made me think how they compared as running cities. I travelled back to New York from Kuala Lumpur via Singapore – 24 hours in the air and a 12 hour layover in Singapore meant I had bags of time to pen this comparison, using my wife’s categories for the best cities for running created for her recent blog post.
Both are barely a few degrees north of the equator, separated by about 200 miles. Hence, both experience almost identical tropical heat and humidity. This makes them less than ideal for running – as I complained in my last post. This tropical climate drives most indoors to the refuge of air conditioning and treadmills, leaving just the hard core, like former club runners at Singapore’s MR 25 and KL’s (as the locals call Kuala Lumpur) Pacesetters. However, Singapore enjoys the occasional breeze, due perhaps to its proximity to the sea, and cleaner air.
As cities that have grown rapidly green space is often crowded out by people, buildings and traffic. That said, both offer some great running routes in close proximity to the city centre. KL has its Lake Gardens and the adjacent green upscale residential district of Kenny Hills and the government quarter. And right in the city’s core is the running track at KLCC Park: a short circuit but with jaw dropping views of the majestic Petronas Twin Towers. But to get off road you need to head further out to places like Bukit Kiara, offering hundreds of acres of rain forest (sadly slowly being eaten away by condo developments). On the city’s outer fringes there are many rubber or palm oil plantations which offer endless miles of off road running, in the shade, on estate tracks.
As I explained in my recent post, Singapore has a number of options including: MacRitchie Reservoir – miles of off road running routes through secondary rain forest; Bukit Timah Nature Reserve – Singapore’s highest point which offers challenging off road running, some through primary rainforest; Bukit Brown – a Chinese cemetery about to be buried by an expressway: East Coast, a long thin strip of green running for miles from central Singapore to the airport (last week I anchored a second placed mixed team half ironman, running a 1:18 half marathon in 90F heat and 90% humidity – I was glad just to finish); and KTM rail line – a recently grassed over rail bed of almost 30 miles from the city centre to the far north of the island.
Sidewalks (aka pavements)
This is a no brainer. In Singapore you will find wide, level pavements and law abiding motorists. KL on the other hand combines some of the worst pavements anywhere with manic motorcyclists and taxi drivers, making its streets a dangerous obstacle course. KL’s pavements have entered local folklore. A few years back it was decided to pave almost every sidewalk with shiny mosaic tiles. Today many of these tiles are now broken, stolen, and pockmarked with ankle breaking holes. And when it rains they might as well be an ice rink.
Both cities have eye popping cityscapes – stunning architectural buildings, old and new, to take your mind off the heat and humidity. KL has its Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower. Singapore, meanwhile, has even more to offer including its Esplanade (its answer to the Sydney Opera House), the Padang (a cricket field surrounded by colonial era buildings), the stunning new Marina Bay Sands, and the world’s largest big wheel, the Singapore Flyer. But while Singapore may have the edge in terms of architectural wonders KL has the vantage points from which to appreciate what it has.
Bodies of Water
Singapore is a small island so not surprisingly you are never far from water. Even in the middle of the island there is the central catchment area, a cluster of reservoirs, some, like MacRitchie, circumnavigated by trails suitable for running. And then there are the drainage canals, which increasingly are accompanied by paths such as the Ulu Pandan Connector. KL, meanwhile, is land-locked and almost bereft of water aisde from a few small lakes such as those at the Lake Gardens and KLCC.
Overall Verdict: Both places, as former homes and home to friends and family, I like and miss very much. So choosing between them is hard. But for running at least Singapore wins by a neck.