24hrs in Singapore

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hong Kong has a state-of-the-art public transport system that enables us to get to the airport quickly for our morning flight to Singapore. We enjoy the feeling of space in the cavernous airport lounges of Chep Lap Kok which is in stark contrast to most people's living spaces in Hong Kong.

The flight is smooth one, albeit that the food on Cathay Pacific tastes like it was cooked a week ago, and we exit into another model airport terminal in Singapore. On exit we immediately see a tourist information counter, a refreshing sight in contrast to the dearth of information we experienced in most of China.

Bus turns out to be the mode to get to the hostel, Betel Box, where we have reserved beds. Rachel lets the driver know where we want to alight and he nods encouragingly. After 20 minutes on the road Rachel reminds the driver and he gives us another nod. 15 minutes later Rachel asks the driver for a third time and he tells her in dead-pan that we passed our stop 10 minutes ago. Its one of those minor travel blips that makes me feel disproportionately mad.

In Betel Box there's nothing available except dorm beds for 6 dollars (GBP 2.00) each, however the rooms are big, spacious, and clean, and the owner, Tony, is helpful and chirpy.

After a power-nap we decide to visit the famous night safari at Singapore zoo. We walk over to the MRT system and jump on a train. Its the evening rush hour peoples faces look tired and miserable as they travel home on public transport. I expected Singapore to be a 'happy' place but there are few smiles as we travel along on the underground. Is it because people are working too hard in mindnumbing jobs, I wonder?

After changing trains and taking a bus it takes nearly 2 hrs to go the short distance to the zoo. So much for efficient public transport. We arrive about 8pm and head immediately to 'Bongo Burgers' to feed up before looking around. As I eat my 'Rainforest Burger' there's a live show to watch complete with Malay Peninsula natives using blow pipes to burst balloons, fire eating, dancing, and python handling. I start to feel anxious to get out and see the animals.

Inside the night safari we jump on an electric wheeled train and are greeted by our host Zilla. She's been trained to read news and her commentary, rich with facts and figures, is animated and lilting; a cross between Angela Rippon and the Chinese lady who works at your local take-away.

Singapore lies on the equator and has a very hot and humid climate, so the damp rainforest and green vegetation in the night safari zoo are spectacular. As the electric train glides around I become captivated by the enclosures where all the animals seem to be just on cue as we pass by. The species selected for the zoo are largely nocturnal, and in many cases the food is placed beneath a spotlight, so I think this must in part explain why the animals are so easy to observe.

We see an Asian rhino wallowing in mud, Indian gharial crocs waiting silently in stagnant pools of watter, otters playing with each other in a stream, Asian wolves howling in the night, Asian lions on the prowl, huge tapirs quietly moving through the forest, and herds of deer close enough to touch.

We get off the train and walk down to a big arena for the 'Creatures of the Night' show. We see otters sorting trash in to various recycling receptacles, binturongs (big hairy tree climbing mammals) walking a tightrope, A leopard cat that seems to jump about 12 feet in the air to catch a meaty reward on a stick, and a monster python that is found under a random person's seat in the auditorium.

Since the zoo doesn't close until midnight we walk a footpath that the train doesnt pass. We enter an enclosure where that are giant fruit bats hanging in front of our faces on the path. As they take off and land I can feel the swish of air moving past my ear, and Rachel finds it a bit too close for comfort. We walk beside a small stream where there are fishing cats stalking the little minows in the brook. Its facinating to watch their fierce concentration as they carefully move along the floodlit banks in pursuit of their prey. In another enclosure three full grown leopards prowl around behind the safety glass only a few inches from us. Close up, their coats are dense, shiny, and lustrous.

We head out 15 minutes before closing time and jump on a bus into town. As the MRT shuts down at the surprisingly early hour of 11.30pm we take a taxi back the hostel and crash into bed. We sleep soundly in the 16-bed dorm.

In the morning, after our free breakfast, we decide that Singapore doesn't do it for us, so we agree to head into Malaysia immediatly.

We take a taxi to the point where many of the buses leave from, intent on getting to the island paradise of Tiomen. At the bus stop, we are informed that the only bus of the day has already left, and that the monsoon season has already started in Tiomen. Not sure what to do, we sit in a cafe and weigh up the situation over a bowl of spicy noodles.

We agree to head to Kuala Lumpur (KL) instead, and to visit the Perhentian Islands in the North East of Malasia later, where we hope that the monsoon season has not yet encroached.

I walk into a travel agent and come out with two tickets for the luxury bus to KL leaving in 10 minutes time.
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