Singapore - Day 2
Note: Captain's Log Update: Nha Trang & Singapore - CLICK HERE
Our trip from Cruise Bay to the Night Safari required a 45-minute bus ride as the complex is located on the northern tip of Singapore. The sun hadn’t set when we left the port at 6:30, so the journey north was very scenic, giving us an opportunity to see parts of the city we missed last year. I dislike repeating myself, but there’s not an unpleasant, adverse, or troublesome area anywhere to be found in Singapore – the entire city is the hallmark of clean, healthy living!
The Night Safari multiplex is situated on just under 100 acres – it is only open to the public between sunset and midnight, and features about 2,500 nocturnal animals. Via tram, they take you through what they describe as 7 geographical regions of the world – the trail is completely dark, & the tram is no louder than a golf cart. The adjacent rainforests & other natural settings have very dim lighting, allowing you to just barely see the animals but not bright enough to disturb them in their natural habitats. Yes…there were lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) – but also Elephants, Leopards, Malayan Flying Foxes, Flying Squirrels, Wallaby’s, Raccoons, Wolves, and a first for us…a Striped Hyena. Other ‘firsts’ included Bearded Pigs, Malayan Tapir, Asian Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Red River Hogs, Mouflon, Markhor, Pangolin, & Himalayan Tahr. As you would expect, absolutely no flash photography allowed – we took dozens of photos but only managed a few good ones. After the tram tour concluded, we were ushered into a bowl-type stadium that accommodated about 1,000 folks – all seats had a good view of center-stage. We were then treated to a 30-minute show of some of the trained unique animals, such as the wolf, who would ‘howl’ for food – quite a crowd-pleaser! One of the attractions NOT so popular was a mammoth python snake, placed in a long box under several unsuspecting spectators’ seats. When those folks were asked to stand and the trainers revealed this monster, several in the stadium actually screamed and left in fear! It took about a dozen trainers to lift and carry this ‘hulk’ through the crowd – one brave volunteer actually allowed the snake to wrap itself around his body! Great show – a good time! Some advice to the regular Holland America travelers following this blog – the ship-sponsored tour for this attraction is almost twice the price of admission (as you would expect). I checked ticket prices at the gate – US $45. You can easily take public transportation to & from this venue and save yourself quite a bit of money. Another lesson learned.
We left the park at 10:15pm and were back at Cruise Terminal by 11:00. From there, it was up to the Lido for pizza, then a quick shower and bed.
We were up very early the morning of day #2 – no ship-sponsored tours – we planned to spend the day on our own exploring the city. Last year, we barely scratched the surface. We weren’t sailing until 11:00pm, so we had plenty of time. We were off by 8:00am and caught the subway outside the terminal for a short trip to Sun-Tec Center where we could catch a ‘Hop-on/Hop-off’ bus. For just a few dollars each, we could ride these double-deckers (open air) all day if we wanted. We started with the ‘Red’ line which covered much of the inner city, then switched to ‘Yellow’ for the financial district & peripheral areas. If asked to define this city in terms of culture, it’s really a combination of British colonial vestiges, Hindu, Islamic, Chinese, Confucian, Buddhist, & Malay – ALL exhibited & governed with a level of ‘class’ and pride found nowhere else in the world. Even Chinatown, a city within a city, is meticulously clean & safe. And the people?? Unlike Hong Kong, the residents here are of a much different demeanor & personality – very happy, friendly, & helpful. Most speak fluent English, as learning the language is mandatory as early as grade school. Most all road & directional signs display English translations, contrasting Hong Kong where you’re on your own to figure it out! It’s very easy to find your way around. We were able to visit the Singapore Flyer, the largest Ferris wheel in the world, and not far from that, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel…the 3-building structure with what appears to be a ship stretching across the top of them – actually, it’s a park, complete with retail shops and swimming pools! Singapore Botanical Gardens – spectacular – so lush with over 60,000 plants, the majority being Orchids. The Supreme Court & Parliament buildings are just a few blocks from the Kallang River, and close by, the Asian Civilization Museum. Housing here is predominantly supplied by the government – over 80%. Private residences are few and far between – those that exist cost millions because land is so scarce. When I say government housing, you think of ‘the projects’ back home. Not so – these are nice buildings with modern dwellings and the residents pay the government monthly rent or a lease. People take care of their ‘homes’ – you don’t see any rundown, trash-filled neighborhoods or dilapidated, decaying structures. Folks have pride where they live! It’s refreshing, and again it begs the question, is there something we can learn from this in America? Interestingly, prior to our arrival we once again received cards warning us against bringing into the country any chewing tobacco or imitation tobacco products, chewing gum, cigarette lights of pistol or revolver shape, firecrackers, obscene articles, publications, video tapes/discs, and software. We were also reminded about selling drugs – it’s pretty simple – if you sell drugs, you die – period. You’re not put in jail at taxpayers’ expense and allowed to file appeals for several years – once convicted, you’re put to death within 30 days. Guns? There are none. Crime here? Minimal. I would walk any street in any neighborhood – day or night. Why can’t we live this way in America?? OK…enough said.
Between the Red & Yellow bus, we decided to take the ‘Duck Tour’ – you know the one – the land-based vehicle that doubles as a boat. We thought this might be a way to cool off a little because by Noon, the temps were approaching 90 with humidity to match. Poor choice! Even with a covered roof, it was even warmer on the water, and the humidity of course, was even worse. The ‘Duck’ moved slowly through the water, so there wasn’t much air circulating and to top it off, we had an domineering, rapid-firing tour guide (or commentator) who didn’t shut-up the entire time and to make it worse, every sentence started and stopped with the word “OK” or “Alright” – it got old quickly!
A visit to downtown Singapore wouldn’t be complete without a bit of tradition, and that’s a stop at the Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar for a Singapore Sling! The hotel itself is spectacular – it looks like a small version of the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego – beautiful architecture & stunning gardens. We arrived around 3:30, and the place was already packed. At the bar, we ordered two Singapore Slings (of course) and they went down pretty quick. Two more please…they tasted great but were light on the alcohol (surprisingly) – and even more of a surprise, THE BILL! Each drink, US $32! Next visit, we’ll skip the tradition and have a cold beer! You’re paying for the location & name, period. I’ve had much better Singapore Slings back home for $5! A quick aside on personal transportation while I’m thinking of it. Ownership of a private vehicle in Singapore is the minority – there are about 4.5 million residents, but only 20% own cars – the government discourages ownership as the city strives to keep the air clean, and they do! The emphasis is placed on public transportation. To own a car, you pay sticker price, then a 100% tax. So, you buy a car for $30,000, and then pay a $30,000 tax – that’s $60K. You then pay several road-use fees, which can reach between $500-$700 each month. At the end of 10 years, you must then relinquish ownership of the vehicle – it’s gone – repossessed by the government. To apply for a permit to own again, you must pay a NON-REFUNDABLE application fee that can be as high as $10,000 – again, non-refundable – your application MIGHT be approved, and it might not! Either way, your application fee is gone. That said, the public transportation here is second to none. I was impressed with Hong Kong – Singapore is MUCH better. The Rapid Transit System in Singapore is big, extremely fast, and easy to understand & navigate – you can get anywhere in the city very quickly, and at a reasonable price. If Rapid Transit isn’t ideal for your trip, the bus system is great too. The upshot of all this is clean air and a large city with minimal traffic congestion – it’s awesome!
Back out in the heat & humidity by 4:00, we decided to change transportation modes and switched to air-conditioned Rapid Transit. Twenty-Seven stops later (a complete circle of Singapore) we were back at the Cruise Center. Rather than board the ship for dinner, we decided to walk over to Sentosa Island – a beautiful resort island featuring restaurants, shops, and just recently opened, Universal Studio Theme Park. This was still under construction when we were last here, along with much of the resort. We decided to have dinner at the Hard Rock Café, a first for us. It was crowded, loud, but the service & food was good. As we arrived on the island, we noticed several, then dozens, then hundreds of teen & preteen kids lining the sidewalks and other public areas, and we assumed it was because Universal Studios had recently opened and the kids were probably taking some type of school field trip. As we were having dinner, several families came in and their kids were carrying large cardboard signs reading “We love you, Demi!” Hmmm…we knew something was up at that point. Our window table had a direct view of the main island entry point, and the longer we sat, the larger the teen crowd swelled. Everyone was well-behaved and as mentioned, most sat in groups or stood peacefully in line behind roped barricades. We paid our dinner bill, left the restaurant, and started our walk out of the park. At one point, a few feet from where we were walking, a door opened, and out emerged a young lady flanked by several security guards. Immediately, the kids started screaming and the stampede was coming directly at us – hundreds of them - we had NO CLUE – either the young lady with the guards was this strange person named “Demi” or the young Chinese kids suddenly developed a dislike of Americans! Either way, we were directly in the path of these charging, squealing, high-pitched, ear-piercing kids!
After the thundering tornado passed, I approached a very nice security guard and asked, “Who is Demi?” She looked at me, somewhat surprised, and said, “A famous pop-star”. I said, “Oh, here in Singapore, or in China?” “No” she said, now with a big smile…”From America!!” Cheryl and I just looked at each other and replied simultaneously as though we rehearsed it, “I guess we’re just too old!” The guard had a good laugh as did we, but here it is a day later, and we still haven’t found anyone on the ship who knows who Demi is, but then, everyone else here is even older!
The Boardwalk between Sentosa Island and the Cruise Terminal is now complete – lined with trees, plants, moving footpaths (if desired), a few restaurants and colored lights along the walkway – about a 20 minute stroll – VERY nice! We were back onboard by 8:00 – immediately took showers & rather than go to the show, put on our robes and sat on the verandah. It was much cooler by then – we stayed out long enough to watch our departure at 11:00 and navigate into the main harbor entrance. Lights out on beautiful day!
On to Malaysia – approximately 450 miles northeast – Malai, Langkawi, a new port for us. Scheduled arrival, Wednesday morning.