Wednesday, October 16th - Singapore

Singapore is an interesting place. Not sure if I like it but it does have some things that are quite interesting.

By the time we were out of bed and downstairs in the lobby we had just missed the breakfast buffet in the main restaurant so we satisfied ourselves with a visit to the bakery - Pan o Raison and chicken pie for me, while Mel had mixed fruit and a nut loaf-bun thing. Better than nothing and it was nice to have a sit and soak up the modern interior of the hotel lobby.

Our Hotel - The Carlton

Across from the hotel is an attraction that had been pointed out by my friend Paul. Before planning this trip I had asked him for advice on places to visit and things to see as he has visited many times in the past on business (similarly for Hong Kong I had asked Natalie at my work for advice on what to see since she had lived in Hong Kong for a number of years - Yes, I had been to Hong Kong many times in the past but I am always interested to hear what people would recommend). He had mentioned “Chijmes” which is a former Catholic convent that has been converted into restaurants and shops. From the outside the low walls give away nothing of the interior so entering we were pleasantly surprised as the space opened up with gardens and grass surrounded in the walls around us a number of small restaurants and shops. Of course, this time of the morning (10:00) not much was open so we wandered around to see what we could see. Off to the side is the convent church in white with it’s pointy spire. The place gave me the impression of a bit of a maze with corridors everywhere zig-zagging their way through the complex as well as levels below and above us. A few shops spilled their goods onto the walkways and we had a bit of a look before continuing on.


Across the street from Chijmes (and “kitty-corner” to our hotel) is Raffle's City shopping centre (with the Fairmont Singapore hotel above) which we visited briefly for a, er, comfort break (and for me to pick up some money from a bank machine). I amused myself while waiting by looking around at the various restaurants here in the basement including a donut shop (thin on the ground in London), an all-you-can eat buffet that seemed to be featuring crabs right now at a very good price, a “Moss Burger” restaurant which I only really know from Japan as well as the familiar Kentucky Fried Chicken and the like. I think you can tell a lot about a culture by the food they eat. Not sure what this tells me…

Raffle's Hotel Main Entrance

In front of the Raffle’s Hotel we had a seat in a bus shelter to wait for a tourist bus to come by. There are a number of “hop-on-hop-off” bus services here in town and this was where we had been told we could catch them. When we arrived a gentleman was talking to some other tourists about the cheaper service provided by his company. He eventually moved onto us and was trying to get us to buy tickets from his booth…I declined. Still not really sure of how things work here and I am a bit inclined to be a bit weary, at least at first. A double-decker tour bus eventually arrived and it was the one the guy was trying to get us to buy tickets for. After boarding we were given the low-down on how it worked (three routes in the city and the ticket included a boat trip, tickets good for 24 hours from issue - “CityTours” if you are interested). All of these tourist buses use a small bus terminal at the base of the Singapore Flyer. It turns out, the Singapore Flyer and the harbour is only about 4 or 5 streets from the hotel so it was a quick trip.

Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer is very large but quite similar to the London Eye with circular capsules here taking passengers around in about half an hour or so. I think we will try to catch this at night where we will be able to see the lights of the harbour all around us. What surprised us here though was the sight of Singapore Formula 1 track immediately beside us - The pit lane is still set up and was clearly visible from the top deck of the bus. What is surprising is just how accessible it is but I suppose this should have come as no surprise given that the race is a street circuit: Where else would you expect to see on the streets over which it runs?

As the bus pulled out from the terminal after a few minutes wait we actually traveled over the streets on which the race runs with a few barriers set up to prevent people from traveling down the final stretch leading to the start/finish line and the pits.

The Formula 1 Street Circuit

Amazing. Anyway, enough with that, the tour…

Leaving the Singapore Flyer behind us after first passing under the vine wrapped legs of an expressway we passed by a road bridge with a pedestrian bridge immediately beside it - but, oh, what a pedestrian bridge! It is called “The Helix” and it is a curved bridge with the double helix strands of DNA twisted around it - A very cool looking bridge. Both of these lead across the harbour to Marina Bay Sands. The hotel is truly amazing with it’s two tall, gently sloping towers surmounted by the large surf-board shaped roof that overhangs quite some ways on both sides. On this “surfboard” there is a small park, restaurants and an “infinity pool” that is only open to guests (all other parts are open to the public to visit for $20). Across the road from the hotel is a shopping centre “The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands” that has the large “upwardly raised hand”-shaped building that houses the “Art Science Museum”.

Continuing our trip around the north side of the harbour we passed by the permanent grandstands that we saw being used by the grand prix (the cars travel through a tunnel under one end of these stands very close to The Helix bridge). There are several large and very impressive (likely expensive as well) hotels along the waterfront as might be expected so we continued passed the “Esplanade Mall” with it’s large glass egg-shaped roofs then crossed to the other side of the harbour by the Esplanade Bridge which offered us our first full view of the harbour with the fantastic space-aged architecture that surrounds it (Marina Bay Sands does look amazing). At the end of the bridge, opposite the traditional looking eddiface of the Fullerton Hotel is the Merlion park with the Merlion fountain clearly visible as we passed by, spitting water 30 or 40 feet into the harbour at his feet. Sorry? Oh, the Merlion, yeah, it is a 20 foot (or so) white sculpture of a half-lion-half-mermaid…thing…that sits on the edge of the harbour (with a smaller “cub” behind).

At this point the bus made it’s way through the financial core of the city with it’s modern office buildings - Again sporting some amazing looking architecture and some impressive looking public art. We passed quickly by a “Wendy’s” hamburger chain restaurant that took Mel’s interest as back in Canada this is one of her favourite places to eat. Interesting what you focus on when you are in a big city! (smile) Though, admittedly, it caught my eye as well - I think sometimes you seek out the familiar in the unfamiliar. With all the glitz around us it quickly loses it’s appeal and you start looking for something else.


We continued around the tour route passing through Chinatown which consists of a number of two-story buildings (much like Chijmes and many other colonial buildings that are everywhere here) with various Chinese restaurants and shops. The ornate exterior of the Sri Mariamman temple caught our eye as we snapped away on the cameras. I did notice a few of what they call “Hawker Centres” - These are collections of small street food vendor gathered into one place outdoors with a central eating area, much like a food court in a shopping centre but the food here being far more local and the atmosphere far more “energetic”. We saw several of these in the ground floors of apartment buildings but there were a few larger ones that were standalone complexes as well. It would be great to try some of this food as I think this is the real Singapore - Not the multi-national glitz of the city.

Interesting Architecture

The bus continued it’s journey turning north up across the harbour again at Clarke Quay which looks quite interesting with a number of restaurants along the water and a shopping centre looking like a large (white) circus tent opposite. It was here we were told we could catch our boat trip but we stayed on board and continued along the route. Eventually we ended up at the far end of the tour - The Singapore Botanic Gardens but we were not really in the mood to wander around gardens right now so we stayed on board. Heading back east into the city we passed along Orchard Road which has a large number of modern shopping centres that look quite high end - We are not all that keen on shopping so we are unlikely to make a specific visit here. Eventually we passed by our hotel and returned once again to the Singapore Flyer.

A bit more oriented to the area we disembarked to have a bit of a look around. We headed immediately over to check out the pit lanes of the Formula 1 track. Amazingly, we were allowed to just wander around on the starting grid, start/finish line, and the garages of the various teams with the names of the teams and drivers still displayed above each entrance.

The F1 Garages

Looking at the surface we could see the black rubber that must have come off the race cars. They were dismantling the start/finish grandstands while we were there but they did not pay much attention to us snapping pictures…I am sure we could have wandered through the garages themselves without anyone taking much notice.

Pole Position

From here, looking out into the harbour opposite us we could see the twin glass domes of the biomes in “Gardens by the Bay” with the tops of the “Supertrees” poking up out of the surrounding park beyond. To the right of this is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the like making for an amazing view.

I tell you, it was hot. We were walking along the track fully in the sun and were getting uncomfortable even with my Tiley (panama hat, for lack of a better description) so we headed back to catch the next tourist bus to return to Clarke Quay for the boat trip. The bus dropped us at the entrance to the shopping centre where we were told how to get to the boat. On the way Mel and I stopped by a handy 7-11 to cool down with a…guess? Slurpee! How did you guess that? Wow.


It was a bit odd with normal sofas set out in the bottom of the bubble-glass roofed boat. Sitting we noticed that we could move the sofas around with very little effort…Anyway, the boat (with no commentary) took us past the restaurants lining the curving route of the river into the harbour. Most have tables and chairs on the pavement in front of them that are covered from the punishing sun. We spotted more interesting art with a sculpture of several boys jumping into the water on the embankment - Evidently this a tribute to the boys that used to work in the area before it was developed. Days of innocence and simplicity long gone. Some trees growing on the embankment have tendrils down into the water giving it quite an ancient feel. Mel noticed a thermometer on the boat: 38.2 Celsius. We passed under a few old bridges then into the harbour around the Merlion where we docked.

On Board the Boat Tour

At this point we were getting hungry so we headed up the road to return to the Wendy’s we had spotted earlier. It was quite a walk as we made our way around the office buildings. The area is not really meant for a lot of walking outside with our having to walk along some areas I am sure we were really not supposed to be. We passed by Lau Pa Sat shopping centre…that is currently under development. It is beside this that our destination was located. By the time we arrived into the blissfully cooled interior we were VERY hot. I had a double cheeseburger with fries that was quite tasty. Mel enjoyed her cheeseburger as well.

Visiting Wendy's

We returned back to the Merlion past where the boat had dropped us off. A large number of tourists were here taking pictures of this iconic Singapore attraction. A small jetty stretches into the harbour in front of the sculpture so you can get a good shot…The small surrounding park has a few trees in it and a small cafe.

Trip Across the Harbour

We caught another boat across to the Art Science Museum at the foot of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. In the shadow of the museum is a lily pond - This city is full of surprises.

Marina Bay Sands hotel and the Art Science Museum

Heading up the stairs we made our way back across the harbour by crossing over the funky Helix bridge - Amazing. The twisting metal all around you as you walk along the curved bridge is amazing. At points there are lookouts so you can look back at the tunnel you have been following and out into the harbour around you.

Helix Bridge

We continued back to the Singapore Flyer bus station to catch a different route - a bus that runs far less often, the “FunVee Marina and Heritage Hopper Orange Route” (evidently). We had been intrigued by the view of “Gardens by the Bay” from the Formula 1 track so wanted to have a closer look…The bus took us by the base of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel so we had a neck straining look up as we passed by. The route took us around the back of the hotel into the Gardens by the Bay. This is a large area that has recently been developed as gardens with two massive biomes and a series of “SuperTrees” which are 45m high tall artificial tree sculptures with a thin main trunk leading to a circular canopy at the top (like a trumpet stuck into the ground).


Mel was sitting outside in the last row in the bus with her arms spread out on either side enjoying the sun. She was by herself for the most part. I was inside relaxing in the cool and quiet.

Enjoying the Sun

After passing by the container port we continued again through Chinatown but then we passed across to the north side of the river and past Little India. It is set up for Diwali so there are decorations across the road but it looks a lot like Chinatown with two-story buildings on either side of Serangoon Road - Small shops and restaurants.

Little India

I will say the recorded commentary on this particular route was awful (the trips earlier in the day were all live commentary and very interesting too) - A recorded man and woman with such insight as “Do you know how far it is from one end of the garden to the other?” “Why, no, I don’t.”, etc. The volume on the commentary outside was extremely loud as well so Mel not just heard it, she FELT it. She kept trying to find ways to avoid it…

We left the tour and returned back to the hotel where we visited the hotel swimming pool outside on the fifth floor. We exited the elevator and passed through the glass doors with the pool in front of us and a small bar to the left. Beyond there were a number of loungers with the spa and gym beyond that. We found some loungers then had a bit of a swim in the busy pool full of kids. As we swam around we were told it was happy hour and all drinks were two for one so paddling over to the side we ordered a couple of drinks (fruit juice) that were delivered to our seats a short while later.

Another item on Paul’s list was the Night Safari. This is something I have never seen before or even heard of so we wanted to go as soon as we had heard about it. Our time here is short so we figured we would get here as soon as we could. It is basically a zoo that is only open at night. This is interesting because many animals are most active at night so this is a great opportunity to see some animals you might not normally see in a zoo if you were to visit during the day.

Leaving the hotel we headed down the street to the Bas Basrah subway station which was only a short distance away.

Transport Ticket

The subway trip was quite long to Ang Mo Kio station where we left the train to find the bus that would take us to the entrance. It was very confusing as it was rush hour - The Night Safari opens at 7:30 so we using the subway right when everyone was returning from work (we had been standing the whole way on the modern train). We went out the wrong exit and had to back track to find that we had to go in a pedestrian tunnel under a busy road into a bus station where we managed to find where to catch the 138 bus. Helpfully there were signs indicating that this was the correct bus for the Night Safari and we also spotted a number of tourists in the large queue waiting for the bus to arrive. We managed to find the exact change for our ride which shortly pulled in (well, close enough, it was $1.90 but we paid $2 each).

It was a very long bus ride taking about 45 minutes much of which we were standing, only sitting minutes before we arrived at the zoo. The route took us through a number of residential areas with many tall apartment complexes (and more “Hawker Centres”). Not much more really to see. The apartments gave way to forest and parkland as we got closer to the zoo.

Leaving the bus at about 7:45 we crossed the street to the Night Safari where we picked up our tickets ($35 each) and headed towards the main entrance.

Night Safari Ticket

There are a number of restaurants here which were quite tempting but we knew our time was a bit tight as we had been told we had to catch a bus fairly early if we wanted to catch the last subway train back into the city. We did stop for a few minutes to watch some fire breathers. Quite amusing particularly when they were freaking out someone they pulled out of the audience. A good bit of fun before heading in.

We had been told that the first thing you should do is join the queue for the trams so this is exactly what we did as it snaked its way through the queue ropes. The queue moved quickly as the long trams took group after group around the park. Soon enough we were on board and, oddly, by ourselves in a seat for four. This turned out to be great though as we were able to shuffle from side to side of the tram as we went around to see things on either side. It was, of course, quite dark and the lights were quite dim making it quite a magical and exciting experience. I am not entirely sure this is something for small children though…it was a bit scary. The tram followed a winding paved road through many different enclosures with all sorts of animals that were all up and easily spotted - Lions, zebras, giraffes, wild boars (many different kinds), hippos, hyenas (many different types of these as well), water buffalos, sloth bears (yeah, I had never heard of them before either, but they are quite cute), etc. What we found most amazing was that we got so close with animals often within feet of the tram as it passed directly within the enclosures. The light in the different areas meant it was easy to spot the wildlife. It was always exciting as we passed from the pitch black (the trams did not have lights inside) into the lit up areas…What would we see next? Listening closely to the commentary clued us in on which side to look and what to look for. One animal after another - All were there and active. Absolutely amazing.

After the tram dropped us back at the main entrance we took off to follow the various trails around the park. We started with the “Wallabee Walk” which had a wallabee house that we walked through with the animals walking freely everywhere including across our path.

Wallabee Walk - Yeah, dark!

There were several of these buildings here including a bat house that we entered with some trepidation - As soon as I entered a bat came within inches of my head. We spoke quietly, looking around fervently as we made our way through…The masses of fruit bats and flying foxes hanging from the roof were quite amazing. Mel stopped for some time to watch a flying fox eating some fruit right beside the path.

As we made our way along the dimly lit paths it was good to find staff making sure that if you had to pass over the tram road that you were not hit! We walked pretty much around the whole of the park but ended up going quite quickly to make sure we did not miss our bus. Returning here again we would have to make sure we had transport that left a bit later…I had noticed several groups at the entrance offering bus services to the city centre. Our pace did mean we were quite hot with the extreme humidity amongst the foliage of the park. The walking very much mirrored our experience on the tram with us wondering what would be up next - We were disappointing only once or twice not seeing animals but, unbelievably, every other animal was clearly visible and active. There is something about standing in the pitch black watching hyenas pacing back and forth in an enclosure 4 or 5 meters from where you are standing or watching otters swimming in a pool right in front of the path.

Night Safari Sign

Returning to the main entrance no one was waiting for the trams as we exited to catch the 10:40 bus back to the train station. It was a quiet ride with very few people on the bus or the train.

Train Platform

It has been a very long day and I think we have a good idea of what is here now and what we want to do with our time here. After only about 6 or 7 hours of sleep last night I do hope we get a good amount of sleep tonight.

⇒ Continue to Thursday, October 17th - Singapore