Homeward Bound - sort of

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Asia » Singapore
March 4th 2007
Published: March 6th 2007
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Leaving PerthLeaving PerthLeaving Perth

From the air
Farewell to wet and windy Perth. Our last couple of days has seen a dramatic shift in the weather - frequent heavyish showers with intermittent hot, sunny spells - a pain in the but when selecting what to wear.

We spent the last morning in Perth killing time - we had planned to take a walk through their botanic gardens and adjacent parks (overlooking the estuary) but given the unpredicability of the weather decided against it.

Our flight was extremely comfortable or as comfortable as being cooked up in a tin can flying through the air can be. Singapore Airlines lived up to expectations, flight staff were friendly, helpful and as pretty as their adverts suggest. Not only that the flight landed some 30 mins early!

We had intended to take the shuttle bus or MRT to our hotel, but the shuttle bus was booked up for the next two trips, it was dark, hot, humid and we were tired out, so we just took a taxi.

Our introduction to Singapore was pretty drastic suddenly we were in a major cosmoplitan city - bright lights, traffic like we hadn't seen since LA and lots and lots of people. Our first impressions were that it was busy and the buildings went up high.

The hotel was recommended by the Guardian Weekend pages, but we didn't know that before we booked it: we just found somewhere on the net that we could actually afford. It's just been upgraded from a backpackers, has beautiful mahoganny floorboards and is really pretty amazing for the money ($140 (Singapore) a night about 50 pounds. We're going to find everything really expensive when we get back.

Once we had booked into the hotel we went out to explore, briefly, our immediate surrounds. We are staying in a really nice little hotel (Hotel Perak) on the edge of Little India. Turning a corner we ran into a religious procession, a Hindu shrine was being transported on the back of a lorry along one of the nearby thoroughfares totally disrupting traffic. The smells were all of India itself, spices and incense. There were lots of tiny shops selling all sorts fron silks to reconditioned PCs and bits of every mechanical or electronic device ever manufactured. Llife was most definitely being lived on the streets. It reminded me in some ways of the bit of Preston around Christchurch Street in the seventies.

Next morning we set off for a walk around town. It was hot and humid, so after a while we hopped on to the Singapore airlines hop on tourist bus (really cheap at $3 all day each) and were transported in air-conditioned splendour to the Botanic Gardens (where else would we go?). It was very impressive: bonsai trees, a lake full of terrapins, fantastic rain forest, bamboo, amazing lush tropical flowers and ridiculouly coloured birds all over the place but they wouldn't come out to be viewed. We drew the line at the orchid garden, because by now it was noon and heat and humidity had both become overwhelming. So we hopped back on our tourist bus and went back to our hotel for a siesta.

In the evening we went out for a Moroccan meal - the variety of food available is quite incredible. After dinner we took a moonlight cruise on a bumboat along the Singapore river with its converted shop houses and godowns. (A godown is a warehouse: I first heard of Singapore's godowns in about 1973, when my mum was marking Geography "O" levels from
 Botanics - sculpture Botanics - sculpture Botanics - sculpture

This was called Transfer of Knowledge
posh private schools in Singapore, who sent (and still send) their exam papers to the UK to be marked. In fact, most of what I know about Singapore comes from these exam papers, which always have at least one Singapore question). The cruise was really good - like most trading towns teh river was originally the main thoroughfare so all the most important older buildings tend to be alongside the river. After that, Willy watched Liverpool and Man Utd play live in a pub near the hotel, while I went to an internet cafe to fight with the machine and try to read emails. Odd that such a western, technlogically oriented society has such crap internet cafes.

We decided that we both really liked Singapore: it's hard to say how much of that is genuine and how much just a welcome contrast after 4 months in countries with a lot of space between cities and low-rise cities rather than tower blocks. I never thought I'd feel happy at the sight of a sky-scraper.

Next day (Sunday), we bought MRT cards and took the MRT(Mass Rapid Transit - or Tube) to Jurong Bird Park. We spent a lot
 Botanics - up close Botanics - up close Botanics - up close

I was playing with the "macro" button on the camera - guess what - it works fine. (Willy was worried that I was about to poke the insects and make them sting me, the camera was so close to them)
of time in the Penguin House, which was nice and cool and a welcome change from the intense heat outside. It was very impressive with large aviaries (some the height of trees, so birds were genuinely flying free). Some birds including their raptors eg eagles were kept in smaller cages, which was a shame and Willy was tempted to return after dark with wire cutters.

We were then going to go to the Chinese Gardens near the bird park, but were just too tired, hot and sweaty - so we went back and showered and siesta'd again, before going out for a curry. Little India was absolutely heaving. We learned afterwards that all the migrant workers have Sunday off work and congregate there. It certainly felt like it - and there was an odd male bias, cos they leave their families in India, so there were only men on the street. Our vege curry was fantastic - two gargantuan thalis and a lassi each, came to something like seven quid total.

I forgot that we did make it to the Museum of Asian Civilisations, which was very interesting - it looked at the many different Asian cultures, religions
 Botanics - Stage  Botanics - Stage Botanics - Stage

This is used for concerts and is above Symphony Lake where the turtle picture was taken
and traditions that have come to Singapore: Chinese, Malay, Indian, Javan, Islamic, Confucian, Hindu, Buddhist It was huge subject to tackle and it does it very well. Impossible to take it all in: the mind becomes numb. There was some beautiful Islamic writing: ancient medical documents with anatomy, beautifully scripted Koranic verses and an amazing collection of bronze age stuff from a recentish find in China - they had these huge castings of heads some 3 to 4ft in diameter - really weird.

Despite the number of people on the street, it has felt a really safe city. A ten year old girl could safely be out on public transport at 9pm and one of our guides told us he never worries about his teenage daughters, who sometimes don't come home till after midnight. "They're always safe in Singapore".

We managed to miss the grand finale to the Chinese New Year Festival, which in Singapore lasts for the entire lunar month. We were told it was very good, with processions and fireworks - there's a photo of the post-party debris, which was just being cleared whem we turned up on the Tuesday.

Willy has in the last
 Botanics - terrapin Botanics - terrapin Botanics - terrapin

This is an introduced species. They come from the States. Kids get them as pets, when they're tiny and release them into the wild when they're too big to be cute. They thrive!
few days developed a love of shopping, that one has to see to believe. "We must go into this mall", "Let's go in here" etc, etc. The malls are, of course, air conditioned and therefore cool, if not actually glacial: I almost wanted to put on a cardigan to go in.

The highlight of our trip was Monday morning's dawn bird watching visit, guided by Subraraj Rajithurai (I think), who is an expert in his field). In the three hours between 7 and 10 am we saw 42 different birds through his telescope. They ranged from eagles to tiny song birds and waders to rain forest residents. We watched sunrise by a reservoir, stopped at a couple of spots along it amd finished up in the rainforest up a 6 storey wooden and steel tower. It shook a bit in the breeze, but didn't feel unsafe.

The 5.45 am wake up having been a bit much for us, we grumbled and grumped our way through the rest of the day, visiting shopping malls in China town. We wanted to go to the night safari at the zoo, but it took us so long to get there: 1 and
Elephant bus shelter.Elephant bus shelter.Elephant bus shelter.

Bus shelter near our hotel - it's an "advert" for the zoo.
a half hours by public trasport, including a half hour bus ride, that we only had time to take the tram tour, stopping at the station in the middle to walk through an area with flying squirrels and the enourmous bats we'd seen in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. This time they were hanging a foot from your face, and occasionally flying off in front of you: that bit was really good. Less good were the pacing big cats and the bored and sad bull elephant. Even though their enclosures were large, they were bored and restless. We saw a lot of nocturnal grazing herd animals, which was good. All in all, I'm glad we went, but I wouldn't go again. The bad thing was that we didn't get any tea - we'd intended to eat at the zoo, but got there late and everywhere was sit-down, no take ways. Then when we got back to Little India at midnight on Monday night, it was just closing. We found a 24 hour newsagents and bought crisps and juice, so with Toblerone from Perth duty free, we managed a two course meal! We were humgry at breakfast time though.

Tuesday, that's today: nearly up to date. We began with breakfast and then went to SunTec tower to see the largest fountain in the world. It maybe the largest, but is not the prettiest. We had planned to go down to the harbour and take the cable car up Mount Faber park to get a view of the city. We noticed that you could get a rooftop viewing from the top of the tower, 45 floors above us. Our guide was a very friendly and informative Sigapoream Chinese man - his great great Grandfather was born in China, but since then, the family has been in Singapore. We went up in a very smooth lift that didn't feel like it was accelerating at all. We climbed the last flight of stairs and out onto the roof, along past lift gear, chimneys and vents: very untouristy. The views were great, but would have been better if the humidity and haze had been less. We saw the posh flats, the high rises that normal people live in, the new Singapore Eye (bigger than London's), the straits full of container ships waiting to dock in Keppel Harbour. It was a real high spot of our visit, partly cos it was so unexpected.

Seeking escape from said humidity and heat, we went to the Art Gallery. One particular artist, somebody Chen Wen Hsi was very impressive. I especially liked his take on traditional Chinese brush painting: especially gibbons and sparrows. I also liked Georgett Chen (no relation).

After our burst of culture we found a decent internet place and downloaded a whole heap of photos: this lot in fact. We we trying to defer the evil moment when we had to go back to the hotel, collect our packs and walk to the tube station with them. We did just this, then squeezed onto a crowded tube train. We were crammed in, standing, and couldn't move. People got on and off, but no space materialised. Stupid idea to take rucksacks on a rush hour train: it would really piss me off if someone had done it when I was travelling in rush hour.

Changai airport is great - just had another cheap vege curry here and are blogging at the free internet points (no seats and the machines throw you off after 15 minutes, cos they're just meant for a quick check

Merlion, symbol of Singapore, seen from the river on our romantic night cruise
of emails, not wordy discourses like this.

Luggage all checked in, so we're going to be in Cairo in the morning.

For those who care, Willy ran out of Golden Virginia today, but found and bought more here! (also an ipod).

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


Jurong Bird Park - crested craneJurong Bird Park - crested crane
Jurong Bird Park - crested crane

Jurong Bird Park - crested crane
View from the hotel window  View from the hotel window
View from the hotel window

At dusk. A juxtaposition of old and new

Yes we did get up very early for our bird watching trip - and this was our just reward.

our incredibly knowledgeable and talented guide. He can whistle to birds with their own calls and get them to respond (and pose!)
Sun Tech City 1  Sun Tech City 1
Sun Tech City 1

From the top of Sun Tech City with our guide.

Chinese Dragon leftover from Chinese New Year celebrations

8th March 2007

Have loved the photos and tales of your great adventure. Your blog has cheered me up during the wet cold and damp Winter, bet you missed it haha. Willie you look like a despotic leader sitting in that restaurant. Pasha Graham. Enjoy the rest of your trip and I look forward to hearing of your adventures over a glass of wine and for you Willie maybe Golden Virginia

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