Singapore at Night

Travel Update: Singapore

We spent one of our generous four-day weekends in Singapore. Singapore is, for me, a hard city to convey through words and photos. It’s beautiful and modern and clean and organized and just generally impressive, but I feel like that only captures little pieces of the experience that is Singapore.

Singapore is not a particularly historic city, at least not in the way that our other Asian destinations have been. Prior to English acquisition it was home to a handful of Malaysian fishing tribes (and long, long before that it belonged to various sovereigns), and very little of that heritage remains. There are no ancient temples to visit, no monuments recalling pre-European events. Or, if there are, we could not find them – and we looked. Even its English history, which lives on in the language and legal structure of the nation, is given relatively little public attention (at least when compared to places like Hong Kong and Macau).

Innkeeper Act
Not that there aren’t parts of Singapore that aren’t profoundly English.

Singapore is heavily invested in the present. The city-state has no natural resources besides the scenic beauty of its islands and the raw brainpower of its inhabitants. It revels in this deficiency. Every one of our tour guides mentioned with pride that Singapore survives only by dint of the information economy, providing high-quality legal, technical and academic services to the world’s governments and businesses.

Walking around Singapore is something like visiting a world from Star Trek – that mere fact that it exists, and that you can go there, is excitement enough. The local attractions are just icing on the cake.

I suppose “cake” is as good a segue as any. It’s about time for me to tell you about what we did in Singapore, and (as always) that begins with food. Don’t worry, there’ll be more photos of the city in a moment.

Amelia arrived in Singapore barely conscious – she had spent all night working on her thesis, and desperately craved a nap. Kat and I dropped her off at the hotel, where the two of us grabbed a bite to eat before heading out to find Kat’s favourite brand of tea.

Singapore Hotel Buffet
The sashimi at the hotel’s buffet was unlimited. That was where this country won me over.

We found the teahouse (TWG, a popular brand in Singapore), but did not find the particular variety of tea that Kat craved. We did, however, find macaroons for her to eat. This made Kat very excited.

TWG Macarons
Paris and Singapore are apparently the two great centers of macaroon-making.

Kat and I wandered around downtown Singapore for the remainder of the afternoon while Amelia slept. We took many photos of flowers, which are everywhere in Singapore. Singapore has taken advantage of its placement in a tropical rainforest to absolutely fill the place with greenery. Most streets are lined with trees or planters (or both), the columns and undersides of overpasses and raised walkways are covered in dense vines, and most buildings (as far as we could tell) had green roofs. Buildings often seem to be growing, organically, out of the dense foliage at ground level.

Roadside Flower
It might actually be more work to prevent these from growing.

Kat and I headed back, retrieved Amelia, and headed out on the town. One of Kat’s friends had put us in contact with his aunt in Singapore, so we arranged to meet her after dinner.

Meeting someone after dinner requires that you have dinner first, so we headed down to Clark Quay to grab a bite to eat. Upon arriving, we discovered that the Quay played host to scenic evening cruises. We were powerless to resist.

Riverside Point
The cruise featured Singapore’s lovely waterfront skyline.

After the cruise we had dinner at an outdoor riverside restaurant. Kat ordered Singapore’s signature chili crab (which came strongly recommended from our cab driver from the airport), whereas Amelia played it safe with some calamari. The ladies split a plate of frog legs. I was still full from the morning’s buffet (unlimited sashimi!), so I just picked at a couple of frog legs for the sake of novelty.

Chili Crab
Kat’s mixed her old love of crab with her new passion for spicy food.
Calamari
Frog legs may be more exotic, but calamari makes for a better photo.

We met up with Kat’s friend’s aunt after dinner. She drove us to Singapore’s big hotel/casino/mall megacomplex, the Sands. I should mention here that every car in Singapore is fitted with an electronic wallet, from which money is deducted whenever the car drives through a congested road or leaves a parking lot. The cost of using a road is shown on large digital signs at intersections, and that price changes depending on the type of the vehicle and the time of day. Singapore was apparently the first place in the world to put such a system in place for the purpose of combating road congestion.

ERP Sign
Maybe I am the only one to think that this is super-cool?

At any rate, we got to the Sands without incident. The Sands is an easy place to find – it looks like three buildings with a giant boat on top of them.

Sands Singapore
The flower-building on the left is the ArtScience museum. The rest is the Sands.

We wandered its gargantuan depths for a while, during which time the ladies bought a great deal of candy.

Ladies with Candy
Traveling with these two can sometimes be a lot like living in a Cathy comic strip.

We eventually made our way up to the top of the complex, from which we could see out over most of the nation of Singapore. Well, that’s not entirely true; Singapore comprises some 700 square kilometres, but most of its 5 million people live in the densely-populated Central Area that we were overlooking. Regardless, we could see most of urban Singapore, and we liked what we saw.

Singapore at Night, as Seen From the Sands
There’s more off to the right, but this is the money-shot right here.
Group Photo Atop the Sands
Would you believe that our host gets seniors’ discounts? We want her genes.

We headed down to the ground floor and noticed that the casino had a sign out front indicating that local Singaporeans must pay S$100 just to enter. The Singaporean dollar isn’t far off from the Canadian dollar (the exchange rate was about S$1.25 to CAD$1 at the time), so that struck us as pretty steep. Our local contact explained that the Singaporean government strongly discourages locals from gambling, and that most Singaporeans have never been inside of a casino.

Of course, we (as cash-flush tourists) were welcome to enter and lose our money in the traditional way. We did not choose to do so. Rather, being as it was just past midnight by this point, we took a quick stroll along the waterfront and our gracious, generous and impossibly youthful companion drove us back to our hotel.

The next day we took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Our first stop was the Singapore Flyer: “The World’s Largest Giant Observation Wheel”. It’s like a ferris wheel, except that each pod can carry two dozen people. Some of the pods are actually set up as dining rooms, though those tickets were a little pricier.

Singapore Flyer from the Ground
The wheel takes 30min to revolve once and doesn’t stop, so you board it as it’s moving.
Singapore Flyer from the Sky
The view was pretty OK, I suppose.

After the Flyer we took the bus over to Merlion Park, a small waterside concourse that features Singapore’s original merlion statue. A merlion, as you can probably guess, is half-lion and half-fish. It’s a combined reference to Singapore’s origins as a fishing village and its Malay name, Singapura, which means “lion city”. Funnily enough, lions apparently never lived in Singapore; it’s thought that the original settlers saw a tiger and mis-attributed the sighting.

Merlion Park
This is my favourite picture of the merlion, despite the fuzziness of the statue.

We wandered along the water’s edge before hopping back onto our bus.

Singapore Greenery
I told you it looked like Star Trek.

Along the way, we saw the Supreme Court building. For the law nerds among us (sorry, Amelia), this was very exciting. On top of the building is a circular glass disc that houses Singapore’s highest court. The glass construction is supposed to symbolize transparency, and the circular construction apparently represents impartiality. Mostly, it looked like a spaceship. Of law.

Singapore Supreme Court
Gene Roddenberry’s estate is going to have to charge them royalties if they keep this up.

Our bus whisked us to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. These were intense. I have so many photos of flowers, you guys have no idea. However, this blog is more about traveling than it is about flower photography, so I’ve picked three of my favorites shots of flowers.

Carnivorous Flower
A carnivorous flower from the Cool House.
Red Flower
This little guy was hidden away down a neglected side-path.
VIP Orchids
There was a VIP orchid garden. These are Margaret Thatcher’s.
Kat with Flower
Technically not a flower photo. The flower is incidental to the portrait.

We spent most of our day in the botanical garden (it was so awesome!), so our next event ended up being the Night Safari. This is actually a zoo that is only open at night. It is located right next to the Singapore Zoo, which operates during the day. Despite being located on the other side of the country, it was only about a 40 minute drive from our hotel.

Being a Night Safari, our photos did not really turn out. The animals did not want to stay still. However, there was an acrobatic fire-eating show by the Thumbuakar, a Bornean tribe. It was very impressive.

Thumbuakar Performance.
Apparently the Thumbuakar fire-eaters are not against playing with their food.

The next day we went to Sentosa Island, which is Singapore’s resort island. We took a cable car and arrived right next to a cultural museum, which we visited. It was mostly directed towards the times during and after British rule, and was reasonably interesting to visit, although not particularly photo-worthy.

After that, however, we went to a butterfly and bird park!

Butterfly
This bad boy hung out on my shirt for a while, but fled at the sight of my camera.
Chris and Birds
Apparently I am quite popular with birds. Personally, I prefer delicious ones.

After enjoying the company of winged creatures, we decided to visit some wet ones. We spent quite a bit of time in Underwaterworld, Singapore’s signature aquarium. We got to pet dolphins and feed rays and sharks. Kat even swam with the sharks (another activity that your cost-conscious but completely-unafraid blogger elected not to do), and she was selected as a volunteer to give a hula-hoop demonstration during the dolphin show.

Amelia Feeding the Rays
I kept calling them “manta rays”, but apparently they are a totally different type of ray.
Kat Hula-Hooping
One of the many advantages of being the only blonde white girl in the audience.
Amelia with a Dolphin
We finally saw (and touched!) a pink dolphin, but Robbie is not off the hook.
Kat with a Ray
The aggressive sharks were in a different pool, so Kat mostly saw rays and small sharks.

While Kat was getting suited up for her big dive, Amelia and I had a snack outside. We fed some french fries to peacocks before noticing the sign advising not to do that exact thing, so we decided to take on an activity that was more safe than shark-diving and more legal than unauthorized peacock-feeding.

Naturally, Amelia decided to manhandle a snake.

Amelia with a Snake
The photo’s a little grainy; my camera was on night-safari settings for the whole day.

After our aquatic and reptilian adventures, we headed down to the beach to relax and take in Siloso Beach. We had a grand time, although our attempts to take a cross-island zip-line were thwarted by scheduled maintenance.

Siloso Beach
The signage was a little too avant-garde for my taste.

In the evening we returned to the Sands to see a play: The Lion King. We all enjoyed it a great deal. Unfortunately, they did not allow photographs. I should note that I object strongly to that rule. I think that disallowing photographs of a performance is backwards thinking, and I usually vote with my wallet by refusing to go to such events. However, being as visiting Singapore is a special occasion (and Amelia did so want to go), we went.

After The Lion King
Not pictured: My bottled rage towards the show’s producers.

We returned to our hotel. Amelia went to our room to work on her thesis while Kat and I spent some time in the hotel’s bar/lounge-thing. She ordered Singapore’s signature drink, the Singapore Sling, and enjoyed it so much that she demanded that the bartender teach her how to make it. He was happy to oblige.

Kat Learning to Make a Singapore Sling
“First, take some delicious juice, then ruin it by adding booze or whatever”

Having been saddened by our inability to take decent photographs at the Night Safari, we returned to the Singapore Zoo on our next and last day in Singapore. We had an amazing time.

We started off our day with “Breakfast with Orang-utans”, which is more-or-less what it sounds like – we ate breakfast, and there were orang-utans. We did not actually eat with the apes, probably because their table manners might embarrass them.

The Group with Orang-Utans
“Hey, have you tried that naan bread? No? Just… Just bananas, huh?”

Continuing on with food-related exploits, the Zoo also featured a number of feeding times that we managed to attend. We fed elephants, giraffes, rhinos and baboons. This was actually a tremendous amount of fun. The elephants had a habit of spraying water at people, the giraffes seemed to enjoy licking tourists as much as they liked eating food, and the baboons would compete for bananas by doing tricks (such as flips or handstands). The rhinos were pretty chill though.

Amelia Feeding an Elephant
Elephants get awfully grabby. No apples were safe.
Kat Feeding a Giraffe
Kat made a new friend, and may need to have an uncomfortable talk with her parents.
Chris Feeding a Rhino
The rhinos were more my speed. They showed up, they got fed. No theatrics.
Amelia Feeding the Baboons
“Entertain me or starve, puny monkeys.”

We had other chances to get up-close-and-personal with the local fauna. The hall of insects was hands-on, much to Amelia’s delight – she did minor in biology, after all. We also got to feed archer fish, who spit water at dangling food to make it fall into the water (they did this much too quickly to get a photo, unfortunately). Not being done with elephant-based amusement, we also hitched a ride on one of our well-fed pachyderm pals later in the day.

Amelia with Insect
Before you make any comments, remember: the one on the right is my wife.
The Group on an Elephant
I’m not sure why we needed a driver; the elephant seemed to remember the correct route.

Now, I know earlier that I said that this blog isn’t really about photos of flowers, and the same thinking applies to photos of animals. That is why the above photos are all of us doing cool stuff with animals (insofar as “giving food to” is “doing cool stuff with”).

But.

We got some really amazing photos of animals. We took over 1700 photos over the course of 6.5 hours, and we dearly love just about all of them. With that in mind, here are four of my favourite photos of animals from our day at the Singapore Zoo.

Bat in Flight
I learned a lot about my camera in the half-hour it took to set up this shot.
Adorable Baby Monkey
Not a technically amazing photo, but it’s full of adorable baby monkey!
Snake Close-Up
“Pleasssssssssed to meet you.”
Lazy Komodo Dragon
Even Komodo dragons can have lazy Sundays.

Having fully explored the Singapore Zoo, we returned to the airport and flew back to Hong Kong. Next week is an off-week, meaning that we’ll be exploring Hong Kong rather than travelling to even-more-exotic locales. We’re thinking we’ll travel to Kowloon, located in the north.