Ring in the new year at the River Hongbao 2021 event, happening at Gardens by the Bay for the first time.
I think I’ve last visited a River Hongbao event a couple of decades ago. This is an annual pop-up event held annually since 1987 to celebrate the Lunar New Year, with lantern displays, fireworks and cultural performances. The event had a home at The Float @ Marina Bay (known as NS Square now), but this year they’ve moved to Gardens by the Bay’s Bay South Gardens, which had similar lantern display-centric events in the past, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival which I covered back in 2018.
Given the current pandemic situation, the organisers modified the format of River Hongbao 2021 to comply with the safe management measures. While the event is free to attend, visitors will need to book their tickets online, as the event space can only host up to 2000 visitors at any time. Tickets were quickly snapped up and the website went haywire for some time. If you want to try your luck, visit the River Hongbao event page here to check if any tickets are available due to cancellations. Otherwise, the organisers are making the experience available online through livestreamed shows and tours.
After seeing some quite bland photos on mainstream media, I decided to make a trip down to the Gardens and document this event – after all with the tickets mostly gone, a lot of people would not have the chance to attend. There are 14 lantern displays around the Gardens – see the maps and illustrations below for a rough guide:
I arrived towards the end of my ticket’s entry period (5:30PM – 6:30PM), knowing that sunset is happening close to an hour later and most likely the lights won’t be switched until it is sufficiently dark.
There is (supposedly) a strict entry period for tickets, which visitors were reminded to adhere to. At these entrance checkpoints, e-tickets will be scanned, coloured wristbands are handed out – I assume the staff hired for crowd control will also have the tall task of asking people to leave politely when their timeslots are up.
Then there were bag checks, which the security staff amused me by wanting to see all my camera equipment and into the various pockets of my bag. “Sorry ah, we have to be very thorough because of some people are coming tonight” – without even saying who, immediately I thought of the Gardens’ most famous fan, the Prime Minister of Singapore.
Just looking at the manpower required to run this (free) event is probably one of the reasons why it can only be held from 10 to 16 Feb 2021. For the hopeful ones who are thinking that similar ‘gated’ experiences expecting thousands in attendance can be held in the same format this year… think again.
Anyway – apart from the lantern displays, there is a rather extensive Lion Dance exhibition at the Meadow side of the Gardens. This exhibition can also be viewed online – though not a great experience with Flipbooks.
From 6:30PM, some of the lanterns were switched on, and visitors started flocking to them.
Interestingly there are no queues or distancing markers at the lantern displays, but the event organisers set up a holding area for the ‘RHB Hacks’ exhibits showcasing projects by young entrepreneurs and students.
I think most people just walked past this area and headed to the Supertrees for more lanterns.
As it was the Opening Night of the event, the lights were switched on only after the Prime Minister (he is indeed the Guest of Honour) gave his short new year greeting and some words of hope. My thoughts go out to the photographers who camped here, sitting on the wet ground for over an hour, only to be told that they have to move away when the lights are going to come on.
The VIP entourage made their way to the God of Fortune installation, the tallest this year, which quickly turned into a messy mix of security and safe distancing ambassadors shouting at the mob “1 METRE!!! SAFE DISTANCING!” Gold confetti started to rain around the display, making the crowds even more excited for a shot of the PM surrounded by glitter. See if you can spot him in the photo above.
Anyway let’s tour the lanterns from the beginning:
The Entrance Gateway display at ‘Entrance Checkpoint 2’ – if you are walking from the Bayfront Plaza (Floral Fantasy, Cafe Aster, SG50 Lattice), this is the closest entrance.
First one after the checkpoint would be the Blooming Peacock.
The Lion Dance exhibition also has nice lanterns outside the tent.
Beside the exhibition is the Zodiac Wishing Well series of smaller displays. There’s also another entrance gateway display at the other end which wasn’t interesting enough to make me walk over.
Once you’re done with the Meadow side, the walk towards the Supertree area (or exit of ‘Checkpoint 2’) include two larger displays, such as the Colourful World that is obviously inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Spring Blossoms is the only floating display, and is actually on Dragonfly Lake, outside of the festival grounds. You can view it along the walkway from Bayfront Plaza.
Charming Lady, an animated lantern (she blinks!) and Purple Fantasy, this bright car bursting with blooms in the classic Flower Dome style.
Hilariously, these performers at Melody of Spring have to wear masks too.
Lastly, a Happy Family enjoys their hotpot feast around the Supertree Grove.
Bonus: Dahlia Dreams at Night
Check out night time photos of Dahlia Dreams 2021 in the updated photo tour article!
Christmas Sugar Mountain | Year of the Horse | War of the Roses | Sun Pavilion
Getting Ready for Tulipmania (Tulip Planting) | Tulipmania 2014
French Faire | Persian Garden | Orchid Extravaganza
Singapore Garden Festival 2014 | Mid-Autumn 2014
Indian Safari | Yuletide in the Flower Dome | Christmas Wonderland
Asian Tales | Tulipmania 2015 | Flowery Fun Times
From Tales to Legends: Discover Singapore Stories
Christmas Wonderland 2015 | Dahlia Dreams
Tulipmania Rediscovered | Singapore Garden Festival 2016
Orchid Extravaganza 2016 | Tribal Tempo and Mid-Autumn Festival 2016
Merry Medley | Blossom Bliss | Star Wars Day at Gardens by the Bay
Orchid Extravaganza 2017 | Autumn Harvest
Sakura Matsuri | Orchid Extravaganza 2018
Singapore Garden Festival 2018 | Sunflower Surprise | Mid-Autumn 2018
Poinsettia Wishes featuring Disney TSUM TSUM
Sakura Matsuri 2019 | Floral Fantasy | Children's Festival 2019
FutureTogether (teamLab) | Sakura Matsuri 2020
Flower Dome (2020 Reopening) | Dahlia Dreams 2021
Once Upon A Time on the Orient Express
River Hongbao 2021