Saturday, October 22, 2011

Singapore Sights, Sound & Smell

The last time I was in Singapore, it was my hometown - exactly 8 years ago and to be honest, I wasnt a huge fan of the country at the time.

But Singapore in 2011 is a whole new city – and I like it!!!

The city/country has undergone an amazing facelift. New art centers, hotels and other developments on the waterfront, awesome super-malls, endless entertainment options, great food courts (that dont smell repulsive anymore) and outdoor restaurants, new and improved Little India, and see-it-to-believe-it kind of redevelopment of the quays along the Singapore River.

I planned this trip with family mainly for two reasons. To show my daughter the world-famous zoo, night safari and bird park as my husband, daughter and I are wildlife enthusiasts, and visit our dear friends Sruthi and Venkatesh.

Day 1: Jurong Bird Park

The day we landed, we took off to Jurong Bird Park. This is the biggest and the best bird-park in the world with free-ranging colourful birds, the world's largest walk-in aviary, bird shows and discovery centers.


A horn-bill in the bird show

Day 2: Shopping and Fun

A day of retail therapy :) and lots of yummy food.

On Sruthi's insistence, we had thai food for lunch at Thai Express, and I must say I was pleasently surprised. I expected foul-smelling weired looking oriental food - however all the
dishes were aromatic, fresh and very tasty. Ofcourse we had to specifically tell them that we are pure vegetarians and not to use fish oil and the likes :)

We started with Yam Mamuang (raw mango salad). Very fresh, crunchy and tangy!

Yam Mamuang (raw mango salad)

Followed by Phat Benjarong (veg stir fried five treasures). This was an amalgamation of mushrooms, spinach and three other greens. Tasty but rather dry.

Phat Benjarong (veg stir fried five treasures)

The best dish we had here was Khao Ob Nam Leab Phak (fried olive rice). Absolutely delicious aromatic rice with the delicate flavor of green olives, a tangy after taste and just a hint of spice!

Khao Ob Nam Leab Phak (fried olive rice)

For dessert, we went to Yogurt Place. I felt the yogurt here was more like melted gellato. The flavours were mostly fruity with a sprinkling of berries and such. Yumm never-the-less!

Yogurt Place

Day 3: Universal Studios, Sentosa & Night Safari

This was one of the most exciting but tiring day of our holiday. We managed to cover Universal Studios, Sentosa and Night Safari. While Universal Studios is non-stop entertainment,
underwater world in Sentosa was a breath-taking experience. An oceanarium showcasing exotic marine life from around the regions - it was thrilling to have small sharks, sting-rays
and other creatures swimming all around. And not to forget the dolphin and seal show.

Sting Ray

Jelly Fish

The Singapore Night Safari is the only night safari in the world. The safari covers eight geographical regions via walking trails and tram routes. A great chance to closely observe various nocturnal animals from different parts of the world. The best part of the night safari is that all the geographical regions have been recreated. The night at the safari ended with an action packed show called 'creatures of the night '.

Creatures of the Night Show - my daughter as a volunteer

Safari staff with a constrictor

Day 4 : The Singapore Zoo

A refreshing change from the depressing caged- animal zoos around the world. This is an open zoo, where animals are housed in open and creative enclosures apart from a variety of
free ranging animals.

The Singapore Zoo is very very close to my heart. Way back in 2001 and 2002, I used to work as a docent at the reptile section. Walking in to the zoo brought back lots of fond memories from my docent training days. My daughter was as excited because I had told her lots of stories about the snakes and crocs.

White Tigers at the zoo

Free ranging animals in the zoo


Re posting an entry from my old blog during the docent days:

Fangs and hisses…

I have always been fascinated by Steve Irving of the crocodile hunter fame on Animal Planet. And I so wanted to be like him…

I trained for 12 rigorous weeks at the Singapore Zoo (to become a volunteer for a reptile conservation project). I gathered facts and figures on conservation, learnt each
snake’s/crocodile’s routine, which species were endangered and which were not, their habits, traits and more. By this time, I had developed a very healthy respect and a little fear
for snakes and their cousins. Handling tame, non-venomous snakes and displaying them for visitors was part of the program. And the time had come for me to make my first physical
contact with a snake. A full grown, 4 -and -a -half feet male rock python called Carl. Carl is 3 years old, the keeper told me. “He’s very calm and is used to human touch too” he said.…

The keeper had casually flung Carl across his shoulders. He had a combination of dark brown, beige and black patterns all over. His shiny black eyes twinkled. The keeper came towards me. And my heart started beating wildly. Can Carl hear my heart beat? I wondered. And before I realized, the keeper was holding Carl in his outstretched arms in front of me.

“Go on, hold him”, he said. “Oh…ok”, I said nervously. I took the python in my hands. He was cold, dry and smooth. He wriggled at the new touch. He turned his head to look me in the eye, pink fangs flicking in and out…making it look like he was ready to strike me. He made a couple of hissing noises, and I started making a mental note of the snake-bite first aid classes I had attended.

But suddenly, much to my astonishment, Carl slithered up my arm and made himself comfortable on my shoulders. He’s heavy, I thought. His fangs touched my skin, but nothing happened. And I sighed with relief. But I was profusely sweating. “Relax, pythons can sense your uneasiness”, the keeper said. I relaxed a bit, just in case my new friend perched on my shoulders actually had extra sensory powers and suddenly decided he wanted to taste my blood. His tail coiled around my waist. And I sharply sucked my breath in and gingerly uncoiled it. The keeper had told me to never let a python coil around any body part. Would he squeeze and suffocate me, I wondered. But of course, he was only playing. For the next couple of minutes I just let him lie there on my shoulders. He wriggled every now and then. But seemed like he was getting used to me.

Slowly, I started walking with him around the enclosure. By this time I had got past that little primal tingle at the base of my spine. And once I knew that Carl posed no danger, I was fascinated. Fascinated at the way he slithered noiselessly, the way he hissed often, and the way his eyes either twinkled in sunlight or glowed in shade.

I realized what a beautiful creature Carl was. So very vulnerable and harmless. From that day onwards, Id pick up Carl fearlessly and carry him across my shoulders and proudly walk
around the enclosure, as visitors watched amazed, fascinated and a little horrified.

They had that look in their eyes. The same awe-struck look that I used to have, while I watched Steve Irving on Animal Planet. Steve has dedicated his entire life for animals and its a
very noble thing to do. But Im glad that Ive been able to do my two-bits. Even if it was just to spread awareness on conservation of snakes.

After an exciting day at the zoo, Sruthi and Venkatesh took us out to take in the sights of the city by night. We drove along colorful Orchard Street, stopped by the Merlion statue for touristy pics, gazed at the Marina Bay Sands and Singapore Flyer in wonder! We also drove down Serangoon Street and Little India. Bustling with desi crowd, the street was abuzz with Happy Deepavali signboards and decoration.

From there, we headed to Boat Quay to catch a glimpse of the belly dancing that is pretty famous and settled down to dine at Iguana Cafe. After some beers/cocktails and a Mexican dinner, we trooped home exhausted!

City lights

Day 5: Last day at Singapore

Some more retail therapy before packing up to fly home :)

After another round of crazy shopping, we stopped for some delicious cupcakes at CupCake & Doughnut.

Cup Cakes

Special thanks to Sruthi and Venkatesh for making our vacation so memorable!

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