My Travel Diaries: Merlions, Museums and More

“This place possess an excellent harbour..
Singapore is everything we could desire”

-Sir Stamford Raffles , 1819 ( On 6th February, 1819, he made Singapore a trade post of the British as a strategic move to “secure to the british flag the maritime superiority of the Eastern Seas”)

Breakfast was again complimentary and we had it in the hotel’s congested cafe. After breakfast we began our  City tour. After a brief intro to the history of Singapore, we headed to our first stop, The Baby and Mama Merlion at Merlion Park.

The Merlion is a symbol of the city and is supposed to bring good luck to the city. Singapore is named after the Lion and its an island city hence they decided to have a suitable mascot and the Merlion was born. Incidentally in mid August , the Youth Olympic games were to be held there and the city was covered with promotions about the Games which had their two Mascots, Merly and Lyo. You can see they are derived from the Merlion. So now back to the Merlion Park. Well Here’s where the Mama Merlion has been relocated ever since the auspicious shifting of it from its previous location a few hundred metres away. Story goes that after a bridge connecting the banks of the River the eyes of the Merlion were blocked from a view of the ocean this coincided with the economic decline in the growth of the city. Superstitious as these guys are they decided to shift it at an auspicious time. Thats how eventually the Mama Merlion ended up at its present location.

So after all the picturesque pictures i could manage with the Merlion in almost every possible position we headed out to the next location. The Chinese temple was located in Chinatown. The Chinese Love the colours Gold and Red and hence most of their decorations are of that colour. So the Temple looked beautiful! We had a brief introduction to the Chinese Religion before we entered. Did you know that the Doors to the Temple have painted generals of a particular Chinese Emperor who found that he didn’t get any nightmares about an impending assassination if his two top generals stood outside his room while he slept inside. However realising that they could not perform their duty if all they did was stay guard outside his room He decided to Paint their likeness on the doors which worked just as good and that was that. The Chinese temple is an official one, One of the few outside Mainland China. Also this morning we had a stop at a brief stop at a duty free shop where most shopped quite a bit. I bought a Dragon bookmark , Couple of Tshirts and quite a bunch of chocolates.

One of the interesting things i learnt at the temple was about the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu. She could control sea conditions and is attributed to have saved lot of lives. She was born around 950 AD in China and is supposed to have died in 987 at the age of 28 atop a mountain on Meizhou  Island and rode the clouds into heaven. Reminds you of a mutant, an X-men, Storm maybe?

Next stop was the Singapore Gems & Metals Co. Limited. Here raw ores are polished into Gems and treated to create masterpieces which are as super expensive as they are beautiful! The work is intricate and delicately made. After that trip we ogled some cars at the showrooms outside 😛

Our last stop before Lunch was the National Orchid Garden. This is a part of the Singapore Botanic Gardens which includes The Botany Centre, Swan Lake, Ginger Garden, Rainforest and some more gardens all fitting into 63 hectares ( 155.7 acres). I clicked a lot of macro photos of most plants. I wished i could have spent more time at the Orchid Gardens because the rain played spoilsport midway and we all got a bit wet. Disappointed i clicked a few more pictures as i negotiated my way under my jacket towards the Exit.

Lunch was at a place called Hotel City Hub. Then we proceeded to Sentosa Island. Now this is one of the smaller islands near Singapore which has been developed as a tourist destination somewhat in the manner of how Genting is developed in Malaysia. There is a Resorts World Singapore over here with a Casino too. There are two casinos and both are extravagantly designed and built. One has a restaurant designed to look like a suspended ship on top of a building which curves its way up and the other is The RW Singapore. The RW Singapore boasts of a number of attractions, 6 world-class hotels, Universal Studios Theme park and lots more! But our destination was not RW. What we were here to see first was the Underwater World. This is the World Famous Underwater park and Dolphin Lagoon. Most of us has heard about the Tunnel Travelator wherein you are surrounded by Fishes all around and all you need is to stand in a location as the travelator ferries you through the entire length. We entered the Island on one of the Islands Buses, other vehicles are not allowed inside. Our stop was called Imbiah lookout near the Siloso Beach. We entered Underwater World and had some time to spend before the Dolphin show started at 3:30pm. We had a look at the Ray pool where you could touch and feed the Rays. I was not brave enough to touch their leathery backs. We moved fast through the aquarium sections showcasing shark development, the crabs, the octopuses, the cuttle fish, Living Reef, the jelly fish and a little something known as The Sea Angel; that was a truly amazing creature. I hurried through the Tunnel which housed Sharks, Rays and was built like a reef colony. The Aquarium is split into three levels and there is a Vertical tube housing fish around which a staircase is built connecting the bottom Tunnel Level to the upper Level One.

Soon it was 3pm and we trooped to catch seats at the Dolphin Lagoon. I decided to get them close to the pool because i would get better shots. The Show was a short one and i missed the football trick while trying to check if another section had been filmed. Unfortunately both didn’t end up being filmed. So at around 4:15pm we were out of Underwater World. Interested people could opt for the 4D ride. Basically you get a 4D experience with the given adventure programmed to make you feel as if you are a part of the movie. It cost $18 per person and we were the only youngsters who didn’t. Hey, we got to indulge ourselves with Walls Chocobars which you don’t get here in India. They costed $5 each! I also got a chance to explore sections of Imbiah Lookout which were not part of our itinerary.

Our Next stop was the Images of Singapore museum where we had a guided tour of the history of Singapore. It was lengthy and had statues depicting the ways of life followed from the beginning. It also showed the ways of life of the 4 main ethnic diversities of Singapore; namely Malay, Chinese, Indians and British. I wasted quite a lot of my camera battery clicking pictures of this unique museum tour. By the time we came out it was around 6. We then proceeded to the Merlion tower. The Papa Merlion is the biggest of them all and you can climb all the way to the top with the help of a elevator. Tourists pose for photographs at its mouth and on its crown.  The View from the top is breathtaking. Its offers us a 360˚ view of the Island. We were also given a brief video presentation about the Singapore-Merlion connection and a token. On coming down from the Merlion we were guided to a set of Merlion statues where you could insert your token from the top and you would receive a number from its mouth. There were 3 numbers ( 1,2,3) each of which entitled you to a souvenir. 1 gave you the most common Hand Fan, 2 a postcard/mouse Pad and 3 gave you the rarest of the three which incidentally i don’t quite recall…think it was a mousepad too.

By the time we came out , it was about 6:45pm. We had been booked to attend the Lazer Show, “Songs of the Sea”. However it was scheduled for 7:40pm. We headed out to the beach location of the show. By the time we reached there around 7pm, there was already a crowd of tourists who had taken the best seats; the centre ones. This is one of the most famous attractions here and the shows are booked tight all year round. There are only 2 shows a day and one show can seat around 1000 people easy. So we had to wait in the best possible seats available till the show started. It was a long wait. The kids in the next column of seats were all busy playing with their PSP’s, DSi’s or Cellphones. And these were all school kids. Sentosa island is a tourist destination and right now the neighbouring countries had vacations. The schools organised tours to visit all the famous places. We saw many such school groups during our trip.

As the show time neared i was worried about how long would my camera batteries last. The flash photographs during the “Images of Singapore” had depleted them. I didn’t want to miss this event. So i rationed the camera. I Clicked a few shots as and when needed. Even after the show began i was stingy with my shots and the darkness posed a very difficult challenge to get good pictures. I still managed to get a few good ones.  The Show was enjoyable with its singing, lazer play, fogs and fireworks. The story was a classic one. I really liked the fire display. As i watched the show i wondered why we here in Mangalore cant develop a similar lazer show on our beaches. Here in Singapore they had organised one on an artificially created beach. We simply don’t make use of our resources to develop tourism!

By the time we were out of Sentosa it was almost 8:30 and we had yet to journey back to our hotel. A short dinner followed at a restaurant in Little India owned by the Chennai based Woodlands group and we headed to our lovely beds for some well needed rest. Tomorrow would be our last day in Singapore and also abroad!

Next Up:  Birds and adieu to Singapore!

My Travel Diaries: Singapore Beckons!

We had lost our breakfast coupons but we were still allowed to enter the cafe for breakfast. Our lunch was also prepacked. The Bus today morning for our trip to Singapore was a different one. The journey was going to be around 5 hours. We were warned of Singapore’s strict rules. They say its a FINE city, an oft used pun. High on the not to take things is chewing gum. Chewing gum is a banned item in Singapore after authorities found people sticking the used gum on the doors of the monorail. After lunch at one of their rest stops which are developed along the highway , i joined the guys at the back to play cards. Thus began our card playing, Donkey nonstop.
Singapore is an Island so to get there we need to cross a bridge. After that we have to go through Singaporean authorities. Before the bridge is where the Malaysian border ends and we have to submit our Exit card and get the stamp on our Passport. The Singapore visa is a E-visa and valid for 2 years. After a quick check through we were back in our bus and journeying towards the centre of the city. Singapore!
Our hotel was The Village’s Albert Court, which was located near Little India and the Famous Mall, Mustafa Mall. Mustafa Centre is Singapore’s only 24-hour shopping mall. Mustafa was founded by Indian businessman Mustaq Ahmad in 1971, and at first sold mainly clothing. In 1985, Mustaq moved his business to the ground floor of Serangoon Plaza. As his business expanded, Mustaq bought over a shophouse on Syed Alwi Road. Subsequently, he also bought the neighbouring units, but decided to build a new shopping mall to house his business. Thus its grown really big nowadays!
There was still time before the day ended so everyone opted for a quick visit to the mall as long as we made it back for dinner at 7:30. Walking through the streets of Little India i couldn’t help thinking that ‘You can take the Indian out of India but not the India out of the Indian’. It reminded me of Chennai actually. After we trudged through the labyrinthine passages exhausted by the vastness and by the fact that this was a building that grew as the owner bought the neighbouring shops to add to the mall. You keep going into the next building only at a particular level and its confusing to navigate through it. Add to the length of a floor, I assure you , you will be exhausted. Things to buy here: Cosmetics ( Soaps, Perfumes) and Food. Other than that there aren’t anything thats “cheap”. As far as electronics goes you are better off buying them in India because they’ll have a valid guarantee/warranty. What we bought included Rechargeable batteries for the camera ( Rs 350 for precharged 2100Am) , cosmetics , perfumes and ofcourse Chocolates! But this was later on day 7, the day after tomorrow.
So quite empty handed we headed back to the hotel, exhausted. Dinner was in the nearby Sheesh Mahal attached to our hotel plaza actually. The Hot tub soak was definitely something required! I have always loved bath tubs. They were that elusive luxury when i was little and i never got round to having a bath in one till i got to go on this trip.
Watched some quality tv before dosing off, The Foo Fighters live at Wembley i believe. My room looked over the street below.

My Travel Diaries: Go KL!

After Breakfast we started off on the half day city tour. First stop was the King’s Palace. We were told about the government and history of Malaysia and about the present Kings and his selection. The Sovereign is separate from the Government headed by the Prime Minister. He is more like a religious Leader. He is selected from one among the Sultans of Malaysian states. Each one holds the post for about 5 years and every State’s First Family gets a chance in a round robin manner.
The King’s Palace is just his Office. He stays elsewhere and we heard there’s another palace being built somewhere. It s the First stop on every City tour and it was a crowded place. The Guards are reminiscent of those at Buckingham’s Palace and on some special pre-assigned days there will be mounted guards too. We were lucky to visit on one such day. We took our pictures and posed at all the classic ‘touristy’ positions. The Police officers were riding huge Police choppers and we got a chance to pose on them which was Cool 🙂

Next Stop was the National Monument which is in memory of the soldiers who had lost their lives for the country in Malaysia’s struggle for freedom, principally against the Japanese occupation during World War II and the Malayan Emergency , which lasted from 1948 until 1960.This was constructed in 1966. The monument is 15 meters (49.21 feet) tall, made of bronze and was designed by Austrian sculptor Felix de Weldon, who was also responsible for the famed USMC War Memorial in Virginia, United States. We Went through the gardens after the Group Photo was taken.

Our Next Stop was the National Mosque which was very beautiful. The ladies had to wear the customary Burkha to enter. Then we got back into the bus to our brief stop at Independence Square where the Flag of Malaysia flies high. Its placed around an old Cricket club ground which doesn’t seem to be used now that the colonial English are gone.

Our Next Stop was the Beryl’s Chocolate Kingdom where after a brief introduction to how chocolates are made you can go crazy tasting the various chocolates and also buy some for yourselves and your friends.

After the chocolate binge while we hurried to keep our appointment with the Petronas towers we had a brief stop for a photo session at a point where we are able to catch both the highlights of the KL skyline; the KL tower and the Petronas twin towers.

Finally we made it to keep our date with the Petronas towers. Now this is not normally included in the itinerary but we had to pay 15 RM per person for our free tickets. Petronas give away a limited amount of free tickets per day but the crazy rush of tourists causes touts to come in who stock up and kinda sell them in the black so as to say. Anyways so we got our tickets and we were also watch a small documentary about the history of the towers. After that we could take the Elevator to the 41st floor. Now the bridge connecting the two towers is a two floor one connecting the 41st and the 42nd one. The 41st one is open for tourists while the 42nd one is for the businesses. We were ferried up there in one of the fastest elevators i’ve been in. It was faster than 1 floor/second. We got to spend like 10 minutes there before back down we trooped and headed to our final destination, The KL tower. Lunch awaited us at the bottom of the communication tower which stands 421 metre tall. But we decided to go up and look around before lunch. The tower also contains a revolving restaurant on one of its higher levels. We saw adverts of people getting married on top the tower. Up on the observation deck we get a 360 view of the city, KL.

Lunch was again buffet Indian food which was quite good and the restoran D’Tandoor boasted of Indian Movie stars who had visited it. That was pretty much the end of our Half day city tour. I did have a detour on my own while we waited to head back to the bus and had a quick look at a mini zoo at the entrance to the KL tower.
With the end of the sightseeing came the beginning of the shopping. Our destination was a shopping mall at Bukit Butang. We had time till 5 or so to shop. It was basically a mall area spread into 5 floors and stocking almost every brand there is. This is where i bought some mementos for some of my friends. The Petronas towers too contains a mall but you can the prices are out of this world to most of us. Here is where i bought a Shonen Jump which had the 500 chapter of Naruto out. Although written in a language undecipherable by me i still wanted to buy it. I had already read that chapter anyway but consider this as a way of contributing towards Manga literature. After a tiring shopping session during which i didn’t buy anything else we went back to our Hotel, the Grand Seasons using the Monorail! Now that was an experience. You get surprised seeing the queues maintained to get into the train and there’s minimal shoving. The ticket back to our stop cost us 1.60 RM each. Chow Kit, our stop was 5 stations away and was the last but one stop on the line. Dinner again at a Indian hotel where there were a couple more groups for dinner too. It was noisy and we were too exhausted.

Back to the hotel and a good Bath tub soak later i went to sleep. Little did i know there was so much more tiring journeys up ahead as we travelled to Singapore the next morning.

My Travel Diaries: Fun at the Amusement Park

The next Day we had our date with the outdoor amusement park the whole morning. After a heavy breakfast we queued up to enter the park. We were each assigned a waterproof wristband which while intact allowed us unlimited entry for a whole day to the theme park. Almost all the rides save a few were free for unlimited use provided you had the patience to stand in lines; lines which got bigger as the day went by.

The First ride we took was called ‘Pirate Train’ and it was a dud because it was a Family ride. Next with the Map as our guide we started crossing out things that we would not want to try(Family Rides) , were too old for(Children Rides) or had finished once. In the process we tried out Bumper Boat, Spaceshot , Rolling Thunder Mine Train, the Spinner. By now the crowd had gotten thicker and the lines started getting huger. We couldn’t wait in the roller Coaster line due to that. The other two roller coaster weren’t operational as yet in the morning so we tried other stuff like the Chocolate Kingdom, Parrot Lane, Musical Fountain, etc. We then went on the Pirate Ship which is the ‘Columbus’ that usually we see at Karavali Utsav and went back again to try out something because we had time till 12pm and wanted to find our parents. I saw that a new ride had started operation just some time back and so we headed towards it. The line had gotten huge but suddenly within seconds we were at the front of the line. I guess this was due to the fact that the ride was a wet one. It was called the Sungai Rejang Flume Ride and it basically was a log ride with two Climb and falls into Water. The ride was guided by small water waves and at places by a conveyor belt. After the first fall we were wet and i was considerably dry due to my jacket which also kept my camera safe. Then there was a little time before the next climb. After the Next one, Man! We were wetter than ever and wondering what our parents would say 😛

We hurried off to the entrance because there was hardly anytime left to 12pm. Lucky we found them and decided to opt for the Flying Coaster Ride costing an extra 10 RM each which comes to Rs. 150 INR. After that we were off. We were leaving Genting which was our first stop and this time we were doing so by Cable car. Retrieving our Luggage from the stop below we were off to KL , in the process we also learnt some rudimentary knowledge of Malaysian language, essentially the use of phrases and replies to standard questions. I remember a bit of that still.

Our ride back to KL also meant that we would have a detailed stop over at Batu caves, Before which we had a stop at a duty free place which sells mainly watches. Not interested. Didnt buy anything. At Batu Caves , we had to climb the 272 steps to the top and then go into the cavern to see the temple. The Climb was tiresome because the steps were steep. After the Darshan that other tourists had we were down and off to KL. It started raining and by the time we reached our Hotel, The Grand Seasons, it was Pouring.

We Checked in and were told to be punctual and be down at 7 pm because we were going out for dinner to a Indian Restaurant. The Rooms were good with lovely views. Some had the Petronas towers while ours looked out into the other side of the city, overlooking the swimming pool. It was raining. Had a quick bath before we were off and the Hotel was called Olive tree. It was situated near the KL tower area and the food was good.

In the regions of Malaysia and Singapore there are a lot of Indian themed restaturants. This is due to the fact that there are a considerable number of Indians in the local population and also these places are regulars in an Indian’s Foreign destinations list. I could see this for the fact that i had encountered so many Indian tourists so far itself.

Back to the Hotel and a good night’s rest awaited us. We were heading off at 9am tomorrow and we were notified to be ready after breakfast at that time.

That was Day 3.
Next Up: Half Day City tour, Shopping and More.