(Posted by Xavier — mostly, photos by Kristin — mostly)
Besides the visiting the orchid gardens at Singapore’s botanical gardens, we opted to do two other excursions. One to the Night Safari, and the other to Pulau Ubin (aka Ubin Island). We could have chosen to have gone to Sentosa island, but it looked like Disneyland on steroids. And along with that theme park stuff comes all the crowds. We chose not to go there.
Our excursion to Pulau Ubin started off with a long subway ride out to the other side of Singapore. All along the way there were countless numbers of construction projects for all sorts of highrise buildings.
Once arriving at our subway destination, we hopped on a local bus to the bumboat ferry terminal for a ride over to Pulau Ubin. What is a bumboat you ask? Humm, well in a nutshell it’s like a old fishing boat that has been converted into a ferry boat, but with probably the same fishermen doing the driving.
And don’t ask us where the life jackets were. Got the picture? Lucky for us it was a short ride to and back from Pulau Ubin.
Now the best way to see this relatively small island is by bicycle. And as soon as you jump off the bum boat and take a left (the correct way to go once on Pulau Ubin) you run into a gauntlet of bicycle rental shops.
The only problem is that these shops badly need some newer bikes or at least some bike parts, or perhaps just to perform a little maintenance. We discovered this the hard way as we pedaled off down the road to our island destinations. Once we got to a hill where we needed to put some serious pressure on the pedals, Kristin’s chain popped off and she proceeded to get her hands all dirty putting the chain back on. This happened more than once, so of course we traded bikes so that I would be the one with messy hands. And to make things worse, you know those rain torrents I mentioned before in the other Singapore blog? Well they followed us to Palau Ubin — but at least it wasn’t a torrent that day, just a drizzle to start off the bike ride. We bought a couple of inexpensive plastic parkas (against our better eco-judgement) and a-pedaling we went.
The island is sparsely populated with very few cars, and people there live much like they did 50 years ago — including no electricity (except for generators). The attractions on the island are some temples, mangroves and a protected preserve with a tall viewing tower and boardwalk through the forest, mangroves, and shoreline. If you are lucky you might see some wildlife, such as birds, crabs and mud lobsters. As we arrived at the preserve and rode up to the bike racks we were greeted by a wild boar lazily eating whatever the tourists had dropped on the ground (and a plastic bag).
I would like to say it was great walking the boardwalk and climbing the tower, but we had seen similar scenery before in New Zealand and Australia, and with much more wildlife. The only wildlife sightings for us was the lone boar we saw at the bike racks and a mud crab or two.
And then it was off to the return ride on the bum boat — we didn’t want to be late for our date with a fellow hosteler, Sarah, from Germany!
The Night Safari is next to, but not part of, the Singapore Zoo, and only showcases nocturnal animals. Our night began with a awesome show by some very fit, bare chested, short short wearing fire breathing performers. It was a real hit with the crowd, along with Sarah and Kristin (although it was hard to see from the back where we were).
We then followed the crush of people and entered the Safari. After snaking through an orderly line, we got on a tram that took us all around the zoo for about an hour, with the guide describing the animals and their quirks — all the while pleading (in multiple languages) for people to stop using the flash on their cameras.
All was good, and off we went to do close up walk through on the four different trails. By this time it was around 8pm, and the animals were active. It was quite amazing just how close you were to them. With the moats cleverly hidden, it was at times a little worrisome just how close we were. We would have like to have taken more pictures, but since it was night time it was just too dark and most of our pictures came out blurry.
The more dangerous animals, like the leopards and tigers, were also behind thick glass panels. A few of the exhibits allowed you to walk right into the cages, such as the bat exhibit, wallabies, and birds. As we walked over a bridge I saw a rather large crocodile sink slowly underwater, only to see the tail about 8 feet from where I saw the head go under. Okay! We’ll just keep walking.
The giraffes were graceful to watch and the highlight of the night was the flying squirrel. We walked into the dark forested cage not really expecting to see much, when on cue, we looked over to some tree limb moving over head of us and swoosh! Down comes the squirrel flying right between the three of us. Okay, now that was really cool.
But the cute guys we really loved watching were the tarsiers. It was feeding time and the zoo keeper entered their cage and they went bonkers! As if they weren’t cute enough jumping around, but now all of them (and there were a lot) were going gaga (way too fast to get a picture). Something about those little guys with huge eyes and long tails, and curious as heck, made you just want to stay there and watch them all night. We left the Night Safari with big smiles.
We thought our adventures for the evening had ended there, but our subway ride back to the hostel came unexpectedly to a stop about half way home. What we didn’t realize is that the subway stops running soon after 11pm. Oops. So we got off the subway in a place unfamiliar to us. So now what? Catch a bus? Where and which one? Oh, did I mention that the buses stop running at midnight. Yikes! If it had not been for the help of a good samaritan Singaporean showing us the way to a bus that would, get us closest to home (followed by a short taxi ride) we probably would still be walking the streets of Singapore. Just another story and adventure to remember.
We left Singapore feeling good about all we did, making new friends, enjoying the rich cultures and wonderful foods. But as we prepared to make our way into Malaysia we were told by our new friends of how wonderful it was there and that the food experience was only going to get better. We can hardly wait!