Kuching to Singapore


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January 24th 2020
Published: January 24th 2020
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While Kuching was a bit of a bust when it came to wildlife, it was also full of pleasant surprises. It is the capital city of Sarawak which in turn is a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. The city is built beside the Sarawak River and has a wide walkway along the river which provides great views of the distinctive state legislative building (Dewan Undangan Negeri aka DUN) as well as the Astana (built in 1870 by the white rajah and now home to the Governor of Sarawak). There are many colonial buildings in Kuching - remnants from the rule of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946 by the Brooks family of Britain - they were known as the White Rajahs. In the evening, the waterfront is lined with restaurants and street food stalls as well of heaps of people promenading and enjoying the cooler temperatures. Definitely not many white tourists in this part of the world. At night time the Christmas decorations became prevalent - which was somewhat of a surprise in this predominantly Muslim country - a cab driver informed us that everyone celebrates everyone else’s holidays. There were no religious connotations to the decorations - just Christmas trees and lots of lights everywhere.

Joining the north and south banks of the river is the Darul Hana pedestrian bridge - shaped like the letter S and 335 m in length. The 2 towers are shaped like hornbills (the state bird) and there are 2 large viewing decks. The bridge comes alive at night when it is illuminated with ever changing lights. One of the highlights of Kuching was the nightly music, fountain and light show in front of the DUN and alongside the bridge. There were jets of water up to 25 m in height as well as a “water wall” that had scenes projected onto it. Add in laser lights and music and it was thoroughly impressive. The first two nights we watched it, it was rather culturally inclined with local music and cultural movie footage projected onto the water wall. Then the program was totally changed up with pop music and flames added to the mix.

On the north side of the river was the 15 acre Orchid Garden. An easy ( but hot) walk from the hotel via the pedestrian bridge, this garden had a fabulous display of flowering orchids in the conservatory. I took far too many photos.

Food wise, Kuching was also a hit. Laksa is a spicy noodle soup and each region has its own version - same same but different. The Sumatran version was quite delicious. Breakfast was available at our hotel for an exorbitant price ($30 each) and luckily we found a couple of small restaurants within a 5 minute walk that opened early - ice coffee along with a roti stuffed with egg and served with curry was a favourite breakfast. The worst for me was the barely cooked, snotty boiled eggs and toast I had one morning - no one spoke any English and obviously I misunderstood the picture on the menu. A favourite place (we ate there twice) for the evening meal was the James Brooke Bistro (named after the first white rajah) where they had a variety of Laksa on the menu along with salads (a rarity on this trip) and delicious desserts. The restaurant was located right on the riverfront with open air dining. For snacks we ate far too much Sarawak layer cake - a layered cake that is supposedly served on special occasions but of course, was available everywhere, all
the time, including stalls on the waterfront and in malls as well as in dedicated shops along the Main Bazaar (tourist shopping area). The bad (or good depending on how you look at it) was that you are able to sample the various cakes before deciding what to buy.

The last day we were in Kuching, it rained for much of it and we were able to put our recently purchased umbrellas (and my plastic sandals) to good use - although we mostly left the hotel only to eat.

December 23, 2019. When we first arrived at the Kuching airport, we had to go through a laboriously slow immigration procedure (even though we are still in Malaysia). So, as our flight to Singapore was international, we thought we should be at the airport extra early to allow for whatever complicated processing was in front of us. So of course we breezed through the formalities and had a couple of hours to kick our heels in a boring departure area - there was not even anywhere to get a snack, but fortunately for us, one of the small restaurants behind our hotel was open 24hrs so we had already had an early egg roti and coffee @4:30 am.

And now we are at our final destination for this trip. Singapore has a great (and cheap) MRT -light rail system - which did not take long to get us to Tanjong Pagar station that was next to our hotel - the Carlton City. After checking in, it was time to formulate our plan for the next three days- which was, of course, very weather dependent.

Top of the list was visiting the Super Trees which we had seen on the TV show “Planet Earth”. They were located in Gardens by the Bay - about an hours walk away. The gardens themselves consist of 101 hectares of a waterfront nature park, unbelievable greenhouses or conservatories (the Flower Dome which has plants from 5 continents and the Cloud Forest - more on that below) and of course the 18 distinctive Supertrees - “25m to 50m tall vertical gardens that collect rainwater, generate solar power (used for the nightly sound and light show) and act as venting ducts for the conservatories”. During the day, the trees were an awesome sight but we really wanted to see the Garden Rhapsody, the nightly sound and light show. This show is normally free but as it was Christmas and because Singapore (18%!C(MISSING)hristian) goes a bit over the top in Christmas decorations, there was a Winter wonderland in the Super Tree Grove AND the Garden Rhapsody was a special Christmas version- so of course we had to buy entrance tickets which did not go on sale until 5pm - nearly 3 hours away.

So what to do in the meantime.....a massive cloudburst helped make up our minds pretty quickly and we visited the Cloud Forest Conservatory. From Wikipedia -“The Cloud Forest is contained in a futuristic looking greenhouse that replicates the cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions between 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) and 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) above sea level, found in South-East Asia, Central- and South America. It features a 42-metre (138 ft) "Cloud Mountain", accessible by an elevator, and visitors will be able to descend the mountain via a circular path where a 35-metre (115 ft) waterfall provides visitors with refreshing cool air.

The "Cloud Mountain" itself is an intricate structure completely clad in epiphytes such as orchids, ferns, peacock ferns, spike- and clubmosses, bromeliads and anthuriums.” The cool air was so refreshing after the outside heat and the first sight we saw was the waterfall -the worlds tallest indoor waterfall. There were sculptures and amazing plants everywhere - a total walk around with your mouth open experience with various geographical zones represented as we ascended the mountain and then walked back down the circular pathway. The highlight for me was the Pitcher plant - a carnivorous plant that I had hoped to see at Bako National Park in Sarawak and here there were so many varieties.

We still had time to kill so we walked back to the Shoppes at the base of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (this is the hotel with 3 towers and that looks like it has a boat on the top) to hopefully find somewhere to eat and yes there was a food court with a wide range of choices at reasonable prices - we settled for 2 bowls of Singapore Laksa - yum. Around this time, kelly decided he needed to buy a pair of socks as his still damp sandals (from 2 days ago) were starting to give him blisters. Seriously? We are in a mall that is described as “browse a wide collection of international luxury brands and emerging labels”) and where I saw a sign that said if you spent over $3500, you would get a gift card worth $150. This is not your local shopping mall. Luckily there was a NorthFace store among all the designer clothing stores where socks were somewhat reasonable priced. And then it was back to the crowded Super Tree Grove for the Christmas Version of Garden Rhapsody - a fabulous light show on the “trees”. On our last night in Singapore I went back and watched the show from an outside vantage point and although it was still impressive, it was not as good as being right under the trees and looking up at the ever-changing light display.

When we first arrived in the city, we thought that we could walk most places we wanted to go - I have no idea why we thought that as this is a huge city. After some investigation (and some help from MRT customer service), we each purchased an EZ link card (which we loaded with $17) which gave us access to all trains and buses. Using this tap and go card made
travel pretty cheap as each trip was up to 50% cheaper than if we paid cash for each trip. You can also get also a 3 day tourist pass for $20 (non refundable). We actually got a refund of $4 when we cashed our card in so our method was cheaper. You would have to do a lot of travelling to use up $20 in three days.

We did not want to pay the ridiculous breakfast prices at our hotel and as luck would have it, there was a food center just across the street in Tanjong Pagar plaza. What used to be street food stalls are now amalgamated into little stores grouped together in what are called “hawker” centers. Being on the edge of Chinatown, this one was all Chinese food - some of it looked a bit weird for breakfast so we settled for Hainanese Curry Puffs (curried potato and egg in pastry) and coffee. Delicious. We were not quite so fortunate when we visited the Tekka Centre (a recommended hawker center in Little India) - the most disappointing Indian food we have had for ages. But the worst meal we had (even worse than the icky
boiled eggs I had in Kuching) was our Christmas dinner at a Turkish restaurant near Arab street. When we were exploring this area, we were so excited to see something other than Asian food - we should have read the reviews!!!!! Our final evening meal in Singapore was great though - waterfront dining on Marina Bay at the Over Easy, billed as an American style diner. And I nearly forgot “satay street” - a pedestrianized street lined with satay stands - beef, chicken and prawns.

Some mediocre food aside, we had a great time exploring - Arab land, little India, Chinatown. Singapore has a bit of everything and my camera was getting a bit of a rest as we had seen so much similar in other places - although certainly not as clean or well maintained as here.

There was a water and light show every evening in front of the Marina Bay Sands. Instead of walking the whole way, we took MRT to Promenade Station and then made our way to the viewing area in front of the Shoppes via the Helix Bridge (which is designed like a left handed DNA). Massive amounts of money were spent
on all these fabulous structures and buildings in this area. The city skyline provided the back drop for the light show, which although very entertaining, was not as good as the one in Kuching (in my opinion).

December 26 - we visited the zoo. According to the zoo website: “Set in a rainforest environment, Singapore Zoo's world-famous "Open Concept” offers the opportunity to experience and be inspired by the wonders of nature. Home to more than 2,400 specimens of over 300 species, 34 per cent of which are threatened, the Zoo has attained a strong reputation internationally for its conservation initiatives and breeding programmes”. And it was pretty incredible. All the creatures we had struggled to see in the wild (like orangutans and Probiscus monkeys), plus so many more - many monkey varieties, reptiles, birds and even some Meercats. The 26 hectare open concept made it appear as if the animals were free ranging (which they weren’t).

And finally 9 weeks on the road has come to an end - it was a bit long but a wonderful experience all round.

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