My Travel Diaries: Jurong and Bye Bye.

The schedule showed us that we would have the Bird Park visit in the afternoon after a morning of shopping. But since it was a Saturday, plans changed and we were on our way to the Jurong Bird Park in the morning! We reached when there was barely any crowd around. Lucky us! We got our tickets and took the ride on the park Panorail which services three stations. We got down at the Lory Loft. This is the world’s largest walk in aviary. You can feed the birds for $3. They hop on you to have the food and soon you ll have around 4 or more birds trying to eat from your hands. An awesome experience! The Bird park is the World’s Largest and it also has shows for the visitors at regular timings. The Panorail ride was how we saw most of the rides as we were ill pressed for rides. After the Lory Loft experience we got into the Panorail to go to the “Bird’s of Prey” Show. I sat in the front because i wanted to get good shots! The seating area was not very big! So the show started and First came the Secretary Bird which was followed by Owls, Hawks, Eagles and some more birds of prey. An interesting show with audience participation too! Next we headed to watch the macaw’s and the parrots and the flamingos. We also got to see the Nocturnal Bird exhibit ‘The World of Darkness’. We were going to watch the next show at a different venue. Birds n Buddies Show had a bigger seating arrangement and we were advised to sit at the top so as to be able to get out more easily. I was the only one sitting so near the arena. All for a better shot 🙂

The show started and this was a more imaginatively created one with entertaining the kids one of the main ideas. It had flamingos, toucans, parrots, macaws, Pelicans, Storks..etc. They played basket ball, recited numbers , sang a happy birthday song , flew through hoops and did many more tricks!

The bird bark was an unforgettable experience but we didn’t get a chance to check it out entirely due to our schedule. The Jurong bird park is one of the 3 wildlife parks in Singapore. The Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari are the other famous Parks. We couldn’t visit them as they weren’t included in our tour. Maybe next time?

Okay so i had missed indulging in my philatelic interest in Malaysia but wasn’t going to do the same here. I had already marked the nearest post office and wished i could visit their Philatelic museum but it was too far away from the hotel to go on my own.

So after lunch and a short rest we were out shopping. We tried the OG. This is a nearby mall which is a famous Singapore mall for the Singaporeans. Its not a place Indians usually visit but we were told by our tour guide Ling that since it was the end of july it would be the shopping season and the OG would be a place where you get great deals. And boy was she right! If you wanted to buy branded  clothes this was the place to go. We bought quite a bit here after roaming a lot for the elusive money changer. For every purchase of $20 or more we were entitled to a free pearl at the OG. That was a fun purchase!

So my family wanted to go to Mustafa which was still some way away from the OG and i decided to detour to the nearby post office but sadly when i found it, it was closed. I had forgotten that it was a Saturday so i trudged back to Mustafa disappointed. But hey atleast i tried!

I cut through Little India armed with my map and made it just as my family reached it. We then proceeded to buy the stuff that we had previously noted down to buy. After which we proceeded back to our hotel for lunch at 7:30pm. Our flight out of Singapore was scheduled that night at 11pm.

We managed to stuff the newly bought stuff into our luggage’s and we were off to the Airport. The Singapore airport is one among the best in the world. Its huge! The shopping area was one of the biggest i have seen, boasting the biggest brands there are! Oh and the joy when i saw a mobile post office! Finally i could buy some stamps. I ended up spending slightly more than $20 but it was worth it. I got a Grand Prix Singapore, Old Singaporean theatres, an embroidered Flower stamp and a Singapore City. I had already picked up a Bird stamp from the Hotel’s reception. Finally i got what i wanted. We also browsed the net and i tweeted my status just before we left. There were also Foos ball tables but they were occupied!

Singapore like most tourist countries has a GST(goods and service tax) on its products. So when tourist buy items, there is a scheme to reimburse the GST to them. This can be done so by producing the relevant bills of purchases. A maximum of 3 bills can be held together to produce a sum of $100 minimum to be able to get your GST refund. Mustafa however has a different procedure wherein you need to fill out a form at the mall and after you get the necessary authorities to stamp it you can drop it at the airport and in a few weeks you’ll get a demand draft delivered to you at the address of your choice. The other stores have a normal GST refund method where in you can get the cash as soon as you check in.

So We were finally leaving Singapore. I wished we could have stayed longer and visited more places but there was not much that could be done on a planned trip.

Next up: Mission Kashmir

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.