Go exploring in Singapore's secret backyard

Nicholas Walton, for CNNUpdated 10th August 2017
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Kranji, Singapore (CNN) — In a country that measures just 30 miles across, what do you do if you want to get away from it all?
Singapore's answer to the Argentinian pampas or the U.S. prairies is in the northwest corner of the island, as distant as it's possible to get from the city center's towering skyscrapers and statement architecture.
Kranji is home to a patchwork of farms that look as much to the future as to Singapore's rural past, and promise a surprise around every corner.
Looking for anything from orchids to crocodiles, beansprouts to goats? Kranji has it covered. The farms themselves are half hidden by the jungle, and mostly tiny, as befits their location on the edge of a city state.
In a world where agriculture is supersizing in pursuit of profit, Kranji's farms look like the work of hobbyists -- but most are in fact thriving businesses.

Frogologist and her 20,000 edible amphibians

The Jurong Frog Farm is a perfect example. The buildings are a network of concrete pens, with a farm shop and cafe. Walls everywhere are covered in cartoon frogs and tadpoles. In the background is an incessant croaking, like a dozen washing machines trying to spin on worn-out ball bearings.
Chelsea Wan is the daughter of the founder and a self-confessed "frogologist."
Her father, who worked in the oil and gas industry, started the farm in the 1970s when the government shut down Singapore's pig farms. At first he only supplied his frogs to the local market. Now the farm employs 13 people and is home to around 20,000 frogs at any one time.
Chelsea says the core business is selling to Chinese restaurants, which make traditional dishes like clay pot frog porridge, and Kung Pow frog -- stir fried frog in a spicy black sauce. But it's now also supplying fashionable fusion and pop-up restaurants that are experimenting with frogs in tapas-like starter dishes.
The frog farm -- like many of Kranji's farms -- is not just about meat.
Visitors are welcome during the weekends, and children can experience the slimy fun of holding one of their enormous American Bullfrogs for themselves. Those with energy to burn can also arm themselves with a net and rubber boots and spend 30 minutes trying to catch one of the disconcertingly large beasts.

A hotel for your pet fish

Singapore's Kranji farm
Buy a $700 koi or leave it behind when you're on vacation.
courtesy Nicholas Walton
Other farms have also diversified.
A few miles south at Nippon Koi Farm, the business is not simply about selling these beautiful, shimmering orange, white and black fish.
The farm offers a "Koi Hotel" where owners can leave their valuable Koi fish when they go on holiday. It's also used by over-enthusiastic owners, who have bought the ornamental fish before digging their ponds back home.
The managing director Pak Bok Sing points to other ponds where people can have their Koi cared for by the experts. The idea is that they save money by buying smaller fish and watching them grow, rather than spending the large sums needed for the very best fully grown specimens. That seems like sensible given the sky-high prices involved.
Pak Bok Sing says that even a fish selling for something like $50,000 would still have no chance of growing into a grand champion -- such are the vast sums that the very best fish go for among well-heeled enthusiasts.
Prices are strong and the Nippon Koi Farm exports fish across the region, including new markets like Myanmar, Cambodia and the Middle East.
Luckily, not all the Koi are that expensive. Some are as cheap as $10 (S$15) for small fish handsome enough to tempt the casual visitor.

Where to eat, what to do in Kranji?

When hungry calls, Kranji has plenty of eating options. There's the famous Bollywood Veggies and the bistro at Garden Asia. The Kranji Countryside Association also runs a quarterly farmers' market, where you can munch on a whole range of locally grown morsels.
For visitors to the Kranji area, there's far more than just farms on offer.
For those who like horses, Kranji MRT station is next to the racecourse. Races are on every Friday and Sunday.
Singapore's main war memorial, with its rows and rows of gravestones, is also close nearby. Kranji's muddy beaches are where the main Japanese landings took place back in 1942.
At the very tip of Kranji is the wetland reserve, an area of muddy mangroves, small lakes and walkways, where visitors can catch migrating birds and local wildlife like black-capped kingfishers and even estuarine crocodiles.
All this adds up to a very different place to spend a day for those tired of the shopping and the glitz of ultramodern, ultraurban Singapore.
The chance to spend thousands on a Koi, chew on a frog leg or watch dozens of goats being milked -- Kranji is the best escape there is in Singapore without leaving the island.

Getting there:

Kranji's website (kranjicountryside.com) has practical information on getting there -- especially useful for those without a car.
The best option is a hop-on-and-off shuttle bus, which starts off at Kranji MRT station. For those willing to brave the heat and thunderstorms, a bicycle is another alternative. Taxis will drop visitors there but return pick ups are difficult.