Through adventurer Jeremy Tong’s tours, he helps people rediscover a sense of thrill and wonder in Singapore’s backyard.
Ask world traveller and adventurer Jeremy Tong one spot close to his heart in Singapore and he names Clementi Forest.
Home to abandoned railway tracks, secret tunnels and crossings over muddy streams, it presents a wilder side of Singapore that people don’t normally see.
As the morning mist rises over a lush terrain the equivalent of pristine jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia, it presents an otherworldly-experience like no other. The place also perfectly encapsulates how “nature and manmade landscapes co-exist together.” He described how the old railway tunnel has been almost entirely engulfed by the jungle but some traces still remain.
This comes on top of efforts underway to preserve this luxuriant greenery and wildlife in it. Clementi Forest will be safeguarded as two new nature trails will be created, the National Parks Board recently announced. For instance, a 4km path called The Old Jurong Line Nature Trail will run along a stretch of the old Jurong Railway Line, which was operational from 1965 to 1992.
“It’s a small country and you think that you know it so well, but surprisingly, there’s a lot of unexplored places and rugged places in Singapore,” said Jeremy, who grew up in Clementi as a young boy.
“There’s still potential to explore, but you just need to know where to look for it.”
Jeremy is the co-founder of adventure training company JTRACE, and an experienced mountaineer who has scaled some of the world’s most death defying mountains, including Mount Everest in Nepal.
From kayaking, sailing, trekking and rock climbing, the 31-year-old has been on a lifelong mission to chase adventure and to bring more people on his journey to experience the wonders of the outdoors. Despite the travel restrictions due to the pandemic, he continues to help stir up a sense of adventure even in the city.
Adventure in his blood
Exploring the outdoors has always been Jeremy’s passion.
It all started when he climbed his first mountain in Johor, Malaysia during a school trip.
During the two-day trip, he had his first brush of trekking, camping, and showering in a waterfall. Recalling how he stood on the summit of Mount Ophir (or Gunung Ledang) and took in the spectacular sunset views, he said, “As a young kid, it was a really epic experience. That magical moment was what got me hooked.”
From then on, that was all Jeremy was obsessed about. In his impressive climbing career, he went on to climb some 44 mountains across far-flung corners around the world, from Nepal, India, China, South America and Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia, among others. He was the first Singaporean to scale the two ‘Snow Leopards’, the Lenin Peak in Kyrgyzstan and Korzhenevskaya Peak in Tajikistan.
In 2019, Jeremy underwent one of the most harrowing and rewarding experiences in his life when he conquered the highest mountain in the world.
Just two years ago, signs of frostbite forced to turn back when he was just 150 minutes away from the top of Mount Everest, leaving him with crushing disappointment.
The second time, he came back prepared with warmer clothing and equipment. On the way up, he battled with 35 km/h winds and minus 40-degree Celsius temperatures, a lack of oxygen, all the while braving a congested climbing route 8,000m in the sky.
As he navigated the treacherous terrain, Jeremy was well aware how one slight misstep could send him plunging down. What kept him going was a “3P” mantra – to pace himself, have patience and have the mental power to push him past the Hillary Step.
When he caught his first glimpse of the summit, he said, “Since I was a young boy, I’d been dreaming of this moment, to be able to reach the top of the world. It was amazing to achieve it.”
A new way of seeing Singapore
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Jeremy had his hands full with leading overseas expeditions and flying across the globe. But when global travel was halted, the company had to switch gears quickly and create new offerings for cooped up and restless Singaporeans.
For the last year, Jeremy Tong has been traipsing through a secret path through the forested slopes of Mount Faber with a small group of participants. Over the four-hour programme, he dishes out fun facts like how to source for edible plants, where to spot interesting wildlife like a red-headed woodpecker and strikingly colourful geckos, and points out the heritage trees like the Kapok tree. He regales them with tales about the abandoned Keppel Hill Reservoir, the history of a solitary Japanese memorial tomb (also the site of a Pokémon Go stop) and finally contemplates the darkness in the hidden Seah Im bunkers, torchlights in tow.
It’s a mix of “survival training and cultural education,” says Jeremy.
They also came up with a Survival Level 1: Kampung Edition course to teach participants the basics of surviving in the jungle with the bare minimum.
Over the four-hour course held at Sembawang, participants learn how to make their own water filters to get drinkable water, identify local plants for food, build their own shelters from used tarps, bamboo, banana trees and vines with basic knot techniques. They also learn how to use a survival knife to carve out eating utensils and to make a fire using flint and steel.
Over the last two years, Jeremy has witnessed a newfound appetite in people wanting to venture to Singapore’s wild corners. Many of his tour participants include families and working adults, aged anywhere between 24-40 years old.
Now working as an outdoor educator at an international school, he now runs JTRACE along with his volunteer trek leaders, with him as the advisor. Still, the father of two remains passionate about providing outdoor adventure services to individuals, teams and companies in Singapore and in the region
Going forward, he plans to expand to more treks in eastern Singapore as well as Pulau Ubin. He suggested teaching participants to navigate using old school methods, scaling a fish, killing a quail or even making a bow and arrow out of live trees. His next personal challenge is to scale The Seven Summits – the highest mountains of each of the seven traditional continents – continuing with Mount Elbrus in Russia.
On the spike in demand for such tours, he said, “People are looking more from just doing treks, but they want a real learning value to pick up knowledge and information they don’t know.”
“So when the pandemic is over and people start to travel again, they are more educated on how to survive in the outdoors.”
Catch Jeremy in the Clementi episode of the Under My Block series and discover other hidden gems in the area. Watch here:
🎥 Check out the full Under My Block series and discover unique experiences in the heartlands around Singapore: https://bit.ly/3DpMvQR
📍 Wondering what else to do in Singapore? Here’s a handy map of all the locations featured in the articles and videos under this series: https://bit.ly/3srQf2m