Day 325 – Monday March 10, 2008
We didn’t get out of the hotel as early today as yesterday. This is partly because we were tired from the busy day on Sunday and partly because the weather wasn’t nearly as nice. Our goal for today was to see the Civic District of Singapore and take a bumboat cruise down the Singapore River. We left the hotel at 10:30am to accomplish this.
The trip down to the Civic District involved a simple ten minute train ride on the MRT. While the subway system in Singapore can get quite crowded, it is very efficient and makes getting around the city a breeze. From buying tickets to having trains every five minutes, the system is made to be fast, efficient and reliable.
Other than taking a cruise down the river, we didn’t have any structured events planned. When we exited the train station near City Hall, rain started to come down. We had left our rain coats back at the hotel and didn’t bring an umbrella with us so we thought about turning back, but it was merely a drizzle and we were able to cope.
On our walk towards the river, we passed several different historical buildings. First was an old cathedral, followed by the Old Supreme Court Building and then several museums. As we continued on towards the river, we found the Raffles Landing Spot, which is the place where the original founders of Singapore first landed. This was also the spot where we got our first glimpse of the Singapore River.
Once on the river’s shore, it didn’t take us long to spot the ticket booth selling boat tours. With the rain now coming down pretty hard we headed over to the booth to seek shelter. Before long we had bought tickets and were ushered out onto a boat with three other people. Luckily for us the boat was covered as it rained the entire length of our trip.
The boat tour lasted about thirty minutes and covered most of the length of the river. The areas along the Singapore River are such a contrast from much of Singapore where the older buildings have been torn down to build vast modern skyscrapers. From our departure point, we cruised up to Clark Quay which is an important historical area and now home to rows of restaurants and tourist spots. From there, we headed down towards the impressive Esplanade Theaters on the Bay and the Lion Head which is the symbol of Singapore. In the distance we also saw the brand new Singapore Flier which is the largest observation wheel in the world.
While the scenery was mostly grayed out because of the rain, it still left us impressed.. The Esplanade Theaters on the Bay was built to showcase Singapore’s culture. I had seen pictures of this building before, but it looks much more impressive in person. Overall, the traditional bumboat experience was worthwhile.
When we finally finished the tour it was time to get a closer look at some of the area we had seen from the boat, including the theater complex. After about an hour of navigating across the shores to view the various sights, we found ourselves hungry and ultimately decided to head back to Chinatown to have some lunch at one of the outdoor stalls that was closed when we visited yesterday. Chinatown was a five minute train ride away.
As we exited the subway, we briskly walked straight to Smith Street where we had encountered the closed food stalls yesterday. The sign stated that the shops opened at noon and since it was pushing 2 o’clock now, we were excited and ready to eat. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and while we found a couple of small vendors open, they were not serving any food that appealed to us so we headed back to the People’s Park Complex where a massive food court was waiting.
After looking through the near thirty stalls I settled on chicken cutlet, vegetables and rice while Shawn Reece had Chicken and rice and Jasmine had vegetables and curry. They were all safe choices, but we had lived a little dangerously on Sunday, so we weren’t in the mood for anything exotic. After lunch we went to a dessert stall and ordered Kachang (it sounds Klingon to me) which is a Singaporean dessert. The top part is basically like a snow cone, but underneath the ice mysterious ingredients lurked. I didn’t much like their taste, but later found out that it was just beans, corn and other things.
After going back and forth all day we decided that we were going to visit the Singapore Night Safari in the evening and after lunch we headed back to the room to get some rest. (Did I mention Singapore is hot and humid!) A few hours later, we emerged refreshed and ready to take in the night safari. It is among Singapore’s more famous attractions.
In order to get to the Night Safari which sits pretty far from the CBD, we had to take a train for twenty minutes and then transfer to a bus for another thirty. Add in walking and waiting and the entire trip took around an hour. The long bus trip was a bonus though because we were able to see the massive high rise complexes that most of the people in Singapore live in. Housed in these massive compounds are schools, offices, stores and residences. Almost all of the complexes are self contained.
During our hour long trip, the sun slowly went away and when we arrived, darkness had completely set in. The safari consists of a 3.2km tram tour through animal enclosures that are softly lit by light resembling the moon. They also have three walking trails that lead through other enclosures and two shows for entertainment. After getting our tickets we opted to get the 45 minute tram ride out of the way.
On the tram, our tour guide explained the history of some of the animals we saw. Along the way we passed enclosures housing hyenas, deer, lions, tigers and even elephants. Because a lot of these animals are nocturnal, they are a lot more active at the Night Safari then they would be at your normal day time zoo. The tram tour provided a great experience.
Immediately after we left the tram, one of the shows started near the restaurant. It was a tribal show where men in traditional garb played with fire. The show lasted for twenty minutes and was very high energy and entertaining. From there we headed to the outdoor amphitheater to catch the 9:30pm showing of Creatures of the Night. This show as the name implies featured some of the park’s nocturnal animals including a huge python and a wolf among other things.
When the show was over it was already 10pm and we knew that we had to get going on the walking trails. We were told that most buses and all trains stopped running at 11:45pm, so this didn’t give us much time if we didn’t want to pay the high taxi fare back. The trails themselves led past some of the enclosures we saw on the tram tour along with some only available on the walks. The scariest moment for us came when a hyena came leaping at us only to find he couldn’t escape. (All of the enclosures are closed off not by fences, but by natural boundaries.)
We also enjoyed walking through an aviary where bats were eating and rapidly flying overhead. The lions and tigers were also particularly active. Seeing all of these animals at night really is a spectacular experience and one that I would recommend to anyone. By the time we finished with the walking paths it was pushing 11pm and we knew that we had better hit the road.
In front of the night safari we decided to hop on the first bus that came and were taken to a different train station then the one we had come from earlier in the evening. The train station we were at was farther away and after a longer bus trip we ultimately found ourselves on the last train of the evening. For a few minutes we were relieved, but then we found out that the train terminated three stops before the one we needed. At the station an employee told us what bus to take towards our hotel and we boarded, but the bus still dropped us off about a fifteen minute walk away. Luckily Singapore is a very safe city and we finally made it back without incident, but the entire ordeal took us over two hours.
This day proved to be exhausting but also very rewarding. We saw a cool attraction, but also were able to delve more into the history and culture of Singapore. Eating at Chinatown was an adventure and I find it a shame that we didn’t see one other tourists eating with the locals at the food stalls. I think that is what traveling is all about. More from Singapore tomorrow!
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The Coomer Family