Singapore Zoo

Landing from Borneo with 12 hours before my flight home, there was time enough for more exploring of Singapore. Having already seen a barrel load of monkeys on this trip, I decided to enlarge the barrel!

With my finances in end-of-trip mode I decided against an airport taxi, and opted for public transport to Singapore Zoo (it’s an easy ride to Ang Mio Ko MRT station, then a 138 bus, should you ever wish to try it for yourself).

You can buy a joint ticket for the Zoo and Night Safari but, having visited the Night Safari at the start of my trip, I can confirm it’s not worth bothering (too dark to see most animals properly. Or at all, in some cases).

Top tips:

1. Walk round, don’t take the zoo train. It’s not a huge area to walk round even in the heat (and/or heavy rain), and going at your own pace means you get to spend more than seven seconds with each animal.

2. After the entrance, turn immediate right for proboscis monkeys. Easy to miss, hilarious to look at with those noses.

3. The best bit (of course!) is the orangutans. Head to the center of the zoo, behind the middle restaurant, and you can see them swinging on ropes directly over the footpath. And your head! Here’s the most expressive Mother and her two babies (she’s carrying one) playing tig
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4. Don’t ignore the Primate Zone (oh, and the zoo train can’t get in here), which has about eight different species.
Walking round a corner to see the Hamandryas baboons, in their enclosure carefully built to resemble their natural habitat of the African Rift Valley, I thought I’d stumbled upon a war council on the Planet Of The Apes
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By the way… what is the collective noun for a group of baboons?
I’m going to refer to it as a ‘bum rush’ from hereon in!

5. Observe all signage
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Other animals are, of course, available, but I concentrated on those looking a little like small dinosaurs in a certain light
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…the ‘cool as’ penguins
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…and otters . Who move too damn quickly to photograph (they probably have a very good agent who’s fiercely protective of their image rights. Or something).

Anyway, back to the monkeys…
I was taking this selfie with a statue of a famous former resident when the lazies in the zoo train (see above) came past. Cue much laughter.
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I think I’m in a lot of people’s holiday photos.

Christmas day in airports

Last Christmas I gave you my heart…uh, wrong piece of writing…I worked an incredibly heartwarming shift in the Crisis Rough Sleepers Centre in London, followed by a sandwich and Doctor Who in a Premier Inn at Gatwick airport!

This Christmas started off in Singapore, with an inexplicable brass rubbing counter at Changi Terminal 3??!

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After a 1 1/2 hour flight was a 4-hour layover in Kuching (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo). Which, sadly, is the only dry airport I’ve ever found. Not even a single Christmas drink. In the end, I found some Ferrero Rocher and had a Christmas tea party with Travel Paddington.

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Only one tip for Kuching: clear immigration even if you’re only in transit. Three separate airport staff told me to remain airside. That led to “squeaky bum time” (though not literally…no, ahem, intimate searches for me!), when I finally arrived at Kota Kinabalu. Apparently Malaysian law (at time of writing) is to clear immigration on first touch of soil, even if you don’t leave the airport.

Tropical rainstorms meant it was unsafe to take off, so we sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour before heading to Kota Kinabalu. Through dense clouds on the bumpiest flight I’ve ever had the “privilege” to endure.

Still, travel is made of such fun moments. And a short taxi ride later I was at my hotel.

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I hope you all have a great Christmas X

Sinister Singapore

Day two, and I have rapidly come to the conclusion that this a crazy city full of whack-jobs.

After a visit to a Hindu temple I went for a wander around the business district. Dreadful, dreadful place, reminiscent of Canary Wharf, Dubai & central Chicago. Full of skyscrapers, and essentially a cathedral to obscene people making obscene amounts of money for sport.

A little further north is the Marina, and the relatively new Marina Bay Sands hotel (below), which has an observation deck and swimming pool “perched” across the three towers. As it was howling a gale, and zero visibility due to fog, I decided not to bother going up.

Oh, and guess what? Underneath the hotel is yet another shopping centre and casino. Who’da thunk it?!

I wondered around the Marina, past the Singapore flyer, and basically did the entire F1 circuit on foot (well, I’m sad like that). Here’s the Merlion (or is it meh-lion?!) spouting water over the marina, with the business district behind.

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Next stop was back on the tourist trail, to the Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling (when in Rome, an’ all that…)

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Later I passed through the Psychobabble of the world’s largest shopping centre, Vivo City, as you have to pass through it to get the monorail to Sentosa resort world. I’ll have to tell you about that later as I’ve a plane to catch, but suffice to say that from the start it’s sinister.  On the monorail you’re fed propaganda about how this is “the most amazing place you will ever experience”, which led me to wonder what happens if you DON’T have fun there (I’m now having to leave the island in fear of being shot for insurrection).

William Gibson was right: Disneyland with the death penalty. Bring on the airport, and Borneo.

Soggy Singapore

After a slow start, I headed off to the local Hawker Centre to play food lottery. I ended up (having decided against the frog porridge: too Heston Blumenthal!) with some spicy dumplings and noodles, washed down with a cappucino soya milkshake with worms and leeches floating in it (OK they probably weren’t, but I don’t have a clue what they were).

I then had a bimble through some of Chinatown’s shops and alternative remedy supermarkets, quickly realising that half of what I was looking at is illegal back home. If only I knew which half…

Heading for Clarke Quay I ducked into what I thought was a hotel to shelter from a cloudburst, only for it to be a shopping centre. I beat a hasty retreat, out into the heaviest tropical rainstorm I have ever seen in my life. As it showed no signs of stopping, and as I can’t stand shopping centres, I called it as pub o’clock and found a bar on Boat Quay.

Two drinks later the rain was worse, so I jumped on the MRT to see a different bit of town. Sad to say that Orchard Ion has nothing to do with protons, electrons or indeed electrical charges, and is in fact another damn shopping centre. Still, I did continue my amazing streak of being able to find comic book stores in strange cities (I think I can just smell ‘eau de nerd” from a mile off!), and now own a title called “The Zen Of Steve Jobs.” Nice.

Onwards to the north of the island (it’s an easy ride to Ang Mio Ko MRT station, then a 138 bus, should you ever wish to try it for yourself) to the Night Safari at Singapore Zoo. Getting inside and onto the train, the attendant said “make the baby sit inside, it’s safer” to the couple behind me (what was going to happen? Were there baby-gobbling rhinos inside?!), but me having that thought was, sadly, as exciting as the visit got. Extending the public service broadcasting bit… don’t go.

I know it’s a Night Zoo (the title sort of gives a hint) but it was way too dark to see most animals properly (or at all, in some cases) and certainly to take photos of anything at all. The fact that the sum of my “useable” photos extends to a few chronically underexposed shots of a shy leopard, plus a Malaysian porcupine’s arse, probably says it all. Here’s the aforementioned leopard (NB. there may be a slightly better one on my other camera):

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There was also a distinct lack of monkeys: inexcusable for a zoo. The Tarsier (more of a lemur, really) managed to save the night by being unfeasibly cute and the squeaky, hide-and-seeky otters helped too. Kudos also due to the Indian Rhino for having the ability to look like a triceratops if I screwed my eyes up, too. Finally, a mention in dispatches to:

  1. The animals I’ve never seen (or even heard of) before… civet, babirusa, red dhole, gaur, banteng (the latter, I assume, being a distant relative of former Aston Villa and Middlesborough football player George Boateng?)
  2. The Indian kid who, at the Hog Badger enclosure, started bouncing up and down singing “badger, badger, badger, badger, mush-room, mush-room…”. Nice to see Weebl’s Stuff is popular the world over 😉

End of day one, so first impression of Singapore?

  1. Besides the obvious places (Chinatown & Little India spring to mind) it’s a much more westernised place than I imagined.
  2. There are an awful lot of places designed to part you from your money (NB. I do, at this stage, still remember that I live in London, but I try to avoid the shops there).
  3. Singapore island is bigger than I thought it would be (particularly given how quickly the Japanese crossed it in WW2. Sorry!), but I still managed to find a part that reminded me of Scarborough out north towards the Zoo…!
  4. Singaporeans + Escalators = danger. Particularly at busy times. They stop at the end to think about where they’re going next, oblivious of the people jam behind them.

Right, of to bed now, to work on that sinas pain peculiar to sleeping in a room with an aircon unit (ah, the things you forget when you’re not travelling…).