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

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
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

Other animals are, of course, available, but I concentrated on those looking a little like small dinosaurs in a certain light
…the ‘cool as’ penguins
…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.
I think I’m in a lot of people’s holiday photos.


Day 14: Chengdu take two

(Yep, there’s going to be a lot of backfilling on this blog. It’s just so hard to get onto WordPress when I get internet access…

Firstly, have just heard that there was an earthquake out this way overnight (UK time). It was about 500km north-west of here, and I didn’t feel a thing.

We’re just back from 3 days in the Emei Shan mountainous area, staying at lovely, peaceful monasteries enjoying the scenery and the quiet).

I didn’t sleep much on the first night at Bauguo monastery on Mount Emei Shan, and seemed to spend most of the night sitting in front of altars drinking the most fantastically fresh jasmine tea. By 4.30 I’d had enough of trying to sleep, and got up to listen to the amazing sounds of singing, percussion and brass horns of monks’ morning prayers in the semi-darkness.

Night-time at Bauguo monastery

After breakfast and the doling out of ‘monkey sticks’ (apparently we’d need them later?) we set out, taking the lazy (bus) option most of the way to the Golden Summit of Emei Shan. Leaving the bus, we walked through a monkey area (and a seriously naughty food-snatching and bag-grabbing simians they were, too) and learnt the old Chinaman’s trick that monkeys can be scared off by wooden snakes. Yes really.

I was introduced to the job of Monkey Policeman (where do I apply?!), and heard one man utter the immortal words “trust me, I’m a Monkey Policeman. I’ll get them” before  basically going in kung-fu-style on the wee blighters with his stick. That sounds cruel, but tourists feeding monkeys without thinking have trained them into bad habits (above is evidence they can easily unwrap a stolen processed sandwich). If the wooden snakes training trick fails, a small bash with the stick is the only way to keep them away.

A cablecar ride took us above the drizzle and clouds just below the 3,000m summit. We were rewarded with glorious sunshine and amazing views of mountains (Mount Gongga, 200km away, was the highest we could see) peeking out from above the cloud sea.

The Golden Summit

We still had the crap local guide with us (no, Pandas did NOT live at the same time as dinosaurs Jimmy), and so the group consensus was to do our own guiding around the summit and its various temples and statues (Chinglish sign-reading was more informative. And funnier by far). I also got ‘papped’ by a bunch of Chinese tourists who’d clearly never seen a pale-skinned ginger kid before, and had no clue that other, better-looking westerners were available.

Of course, setting out in wind and rain but hitting glorious sunshine above the clouds has it’s disadvantages: littlegingerkid sunburn. My arms have been generating their own heat for the two days since.

We then descended again, to start a full climb (not lazy this time!) from the Wuixangang gate up another part of the mountain. We started hiking along a river with many tourists, passing stalls and a couple more temples. But once the day pilgrims turned back it started getting quieter as we walked through the Jokung monkey zone (Tibetan macaques, for the monkeyologists out there), where the afternoon’s surreal diversion was provided by a guy trying to get a monkey to smoke. No I don’t know either (and the photo didn’t come out).

At the far side of the monkey area, we started the climb (1200 steps. Clearly advertised as such, though I did see two ladies attempting it in foolishly high heels!) to Hongchungping Monastery. By this time the famous Hongchungping drizzle and mists had set in and, given the close forest cover, you couldn’t see much beyond the slippery concrete ahead.

At the top was the monastery, built in 1782. Everything was wooden, creaky, damp and fiendishly cold, but we had beautiful surroundings, amazing tranquillity and even electric blankets (a luxury. Which I subsequently found was never to be repeated across the whole trip) to warm us up after the freezing cold showers.

A hundred or so steps below the monastery we also had hot (both temperature and Sichuan spice) food courtesy of Betty, the indomitable proprietress of the Hard Wok Cafe.

The legendary Hard Wok Cafe

The next morning we breakfasted with Betty (surely she is the stuff of traveller legend…there were certainly many messages from happy customers on the walls) then started our descent down the steps, back through the Swiss Family Robinson-esque walkways of the Jokung monkey zone, eventually returning to the Bauguo temple.

Peaceful valley scene

Everyone else opted to get out of the incessant rain and take a trip to the health spa, but I decided to carry on hiking and exploring. I walked about another ten miles, visiting the Laofeng Nunnery and the Fuhu Temple

Fuhu was lovely from the outside, right up until I headed into an auxiliary temple called the Albert Hall. Inside were several many-headed goddesses and hundreds of golden buddhas whose eyes followed you all around the maze-like room. A a lot of them had very strange faces, a few were doing Nazi salutes and one seemed to be eating his babies!

All in all a really creepy place. I managed to go the wrong way out, stumbling upon a strange, semi-hidden compound with massive satellite dishes. By this point my sci-fi influenced and insomnia-addled brain had gone into overdrive, and I thought I was in some kind of Jackie-Chan-baddies-meets-Bond-villain’s lair, with an annexed (Doctor Who) Cyborg Industries farm for mechanoid generation. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and may have run until my path was blocked by tree fellers just short of Chunyang Palace!

(I’m writing this having travelled back to Chengdu for the night. We leave to fly to Lhasa early in the morning. I can’t wait!!)