A Travellerspoint blog


Singapore’s Delightful Gardens by the Bay

My favorite city in Asia never disappoints with its over-the-top high tech sights

rain 88 °F

The interior of the Cloud Forest Dome at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

When I talk about traveling in Asia, I tell people that Singapore is my favorite city in Asia. Those who prefer their cities chaotic and a bit crazy, will disagree. You can read my entries from my 2016 visit there on this blog, for more details about it why I like Singapore so much. Earlier this year, I made the decision that I was not going to refrain from traveling abroad like I did last year. With all of the health problems my parents are experiencing, I opted out of a summer trip in 2018. However, when I saw a good round trip price from LAX to Singapore, I pulled the trigger and bought it.

The indoor waterfall at the Cloud Forest Dome

As it turned out, I would have extremely limited time in Singapore. My main destination for the summer was Bhutan, and I was at the mercy of when I could schedule a tour to this hard-to-visit, Himalayan country. Still, I had enough time to hit one spot that I was upset I didn’t get to in my last visit - The Gardens by the Bay. You can think of Singapore as a Dubai in Southeast Asia. There are a number of over-the-top attractions just like Dubai has, and the Marina Bay Sands Resort and the adjacent Gardens by the Bay are two examples. I had visited the towering, futuristic Marina Bay complex in 2016, so the gardens were the number one attraction that I wanted to see here in my short stay.

Painted masks in the style of New Guinea aboriginal cultures

It is essentially a sprawling botanical gardens, though with a high-tech, Singapore twist. It’s most signature sights are the two, climate-controlled domes with thousands of plant species suited for that biome. My first stop was the Cloud Forest dome. There are six separate levels of pathways and walkways - some suspended high in air above the floor level. The dome is designed to simulate a mountain side climate, with lowland tropical vegetation at the bottom, up through rain forest, and gradually changing to cloud forest at the very top. You begin your visit circling the ground level, where you find an elevator to take you straight to the top. As you step off, it is noticeably cooler. You walk out onto skyways that circle the “mountain” that is the center. Each of the thousands of species are arranged attractively at their particular environmental niche.

Suspended six stories about the ground level, the Cloud Forest Dome’s skyways are an awesome experience

Another cool aspect is the reproduced examples of artwork from around Southeast Asia - painted masks from New Guinea, statues and totems from other islands — all are placed aesthetically amidst the colorful flora. Some represent the mythology of the cultures, others the craftsmanship. I have to admit that I am not normally a botanical gardens type of guy. But I love taking pictures, and the arrangements of the flowers and other plants were so artistically eye-catching that it was a joy to photograph them.

The Gardens by the Bay’s exhibits art often an eclectic mix of plants, native crafts, and modern art

I slowly wound my way downwards, passing the source of the enormous indoor waterfall, a crystal cave explaining the geology of cloud forests, and squeezing past more selfie-takers than should be permitted under one roof. I try to be polite and not walk between a photographer and his or her subject, but there IS a time limit for snapping your pictures. It is rude to expect others to wait more than 10-15 seconds or so while you line up your model shoot or Instagram post. Those taking half a minute or more deserve the photo bombs they get, in my opinion!

Carnivorous plants in tiny glass globes

There were displays with orchids, carnivorous plants, and a bedazzling rainbow of flowers. Nearly all of the plants were labeled, and the Gardens does a great job trying to educate visitors about eco systems. The domes and climate within them are designed to simulate nature and be as ecologically friendly as possible. The water that falls as spray rain (or from the waterfall) is collected at the lowest levels and circled back into a closed environment. At the very lowest level are numerous exhibits about the importance of protecting our environment. One theater with an all-around (including the floor) screen walks viewers through the climate change and its projected effects world-wide as the global temperatures rise. It shows vivid video of species loss, deforestation, glacier melt, droughts, flooding, and more. It makes an impassioned but scientifically-based plea to viewers that now is the time to reverse this process, and make our modern world more friendly to the environment. I can think of a certain U.S. president and his supporters who could do well with learning from this film and other exhibits in the Cloud Forest Dome.

A theater showing the long-term effects of climate change on our planet’s future

Next, I was off to see probably the most recognizable symbol of the Gardens by the Bay - the towering, artificial trees. These actually function as mammoth sized trellises, and are home to real flowers and plants the climb up their towering, conical sides. At the top, they flare out forming artificial branches that are embedded with lights for the evening light show. There is a sky walk - an elevated pathway that winds amongst their heights. It was closed due to weather during my visit (winds? forecast thunderstorms?), unfortunately. I had planned to come back in the evening for the light show, but in the end decided not to return. I have to leave something for future Singapore visits, right?

The towering artificial trees at Gardens by the Bay

The base of the artificial trees were home to a Toy Story 4 exhibit and kids area, timed to coincide with the recent release of the movie. I was a bit disappointed in this veer towards crass commercialism. Of course, the fact that the area surrounding and amongst the artificial trees was swarming with dozens and dozens of kids had NOTHING to do with my feelings, I am sure! In all, I felt this part of the Gardens was somewhat disappointing. Though with the skywalk closed and not viewing the light show, that might have something to do with it!

Statue marking the entrance to the Heritage Gardens

There are a number of Heritage Gardens in the park, too. They celebrate the different cultures that compose Singapore’s cosmopolitan mix. There was an Indian Garden, Chinese, Malay, and more. There are some informative placards talking about cultural medicine, food, and customs, but this part of the Gardens is definitely outclassed by the domes. Speaking of which, it was time for me to hit up the second one - the Flower Dome. I took the long way around the dome to photograph its outsides. Inside, I found it swarming with visitors - much more so than the Cloud Forest had been.

The Flower Dome with the skyline of Singapore visible through the glass panels

This dome was arranged by various biospheres and types of plants. These ranged from water-filled ones from desert environments like yucca and cacti, to the bulbous tree trunks like Africa’s baobab trees, to the Mediterranean climate’s flora. There was also a special exhibit on roses, so there were thousands of brilliantly-colorful arrangements of roses inside the dome. Once again, statues and other artwork were placed in amongst the plants in an eye-catching way. Many were made of wood fashioned to look like ordinary branches whose intertwined shapes just happened to resemble a dragon, leaping deer, or horses. The ones in the Mediterranean section were white plaster, flower-draped replicas of Classical Greek and Roman statues.

The Roman statues in the Mediterranean section of the Flower Dome

Once again, the sheer over-the-top aspect of the domes wows the visitor. Looking through the glass panes of the dome, you see downtown Singapore and the Jetsons-esque Marina Bay Sands. The displays use height to their advantage, aesthetically rather than biologically like in the Cloud Forest dome. I slowly, thoroughly worked my way through the dome. However, as the crowds grew, I found it became more and more like work. There were too many people expecting others to wait while they were photographed standing in front of this or that statue, or a particular spray of colorful flowers. I knew I was getting irritated by the press of people. Once I had seen it all, I bolted for the exit, not stopping much in the displays underneath, at the end. Once out of the dome, I made my way through the park to the nearby Bayfront MRT station.

Some of the artwork mixed among the flora in the Flower Dome

Which brings me to one of the things I like so much about Singapore - it’s top-notch public transportation system. The metro is one of the easiest and most efficient to use that I have ever encountered. And the only air-conditioned one. I am not referring to the interior of the metro trains themselves, but to the whole thing. As soon as you begin to descend on escalators from the city streets, you feel the air conditioning wafting past your face as a cooling breeze in Singapore’s tropical heat. The signage inside is easy-to-understand, and everything is clean and comfortable. Just as importantly, when you reach your destination, maps and signs help you figure out which exit from the metro you should take for your destination.

Singapore’s easy-to-use metro system

Transferring from the metro to city buses is probably one of the easiest in the world, too. I normally avoid city buses like the plague. I find it is too hard for someone unfamiliar with a city to know which stop to get off on. However, Singapore’s buses are more like trams, with designated and named stops. You can go online and print off (or save on your device) your route and simply count your stops to your stop. That is one reason I always prefer trains and trams over buses. If you pay attention, you know where you are, and how soon you need to get off. However, in Singapore, I take the buses, too. Occasionally, I will lose track and scramble to get off in time, but overall they are easy to ride. Paying for your ride is just as easy. You buy a credit card sized pass, and load it up with as much as you will need at electronic kiosks or at 7-Eleven stores. It works for all public transit, of course.

Some of the gorgeous flowers in the Gardens by the Bay

The food in Singapore is usually great, too. I visited the Indian restaurant near my hotel again for dinner. Their butter chicken and naan bread is top notch. I also love my usual Singapore hotel - the Village Hotel Katong. The rooms are large and comfortable, and there is a grocery store in the shopping center attached to the second floor. I know this entry is short on words, so hopefully the extra pictures of the Gardens by the Bay will convince you to consider Singapore as a future destination. I think it will become one of your favorites, too!

Awesome dragon looming over the Flower Dome






Posted by world_wide_mike 03:59 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Hiking in Singapore's Garden

A selection of canopy walks

sunny 91 °F

Singapore's downtown district amidst the greenery of its parks and green spaces

I had a bonus day of sightseeing when I returned from Laos, and before my next flight out. I'd seen quite a bit so far, but one thing I hadn't gotten to yet were any of its parks. Singapore is supposed to have quite a bit of forest and hiking trails, including walks in the tree canopy. My guidebook had a great day's of walking mapped out, so I decided to follow its lead.

Statues of Malay soldiers at Reflections at Bukit Chandu - a museum dedicated to Malaysian troops who defended the island in WWII

I took the subway to the Pasit Panjang stop -- at more than a half hour, easily the longest ride I'd taken on the city's metro. From there, I followed by smartphone's map app up a forested hill to Reflections at Bukit Chandu. This tiny museum tells the story of the Malay regiment that defended this ground tenaciously against the overwhelming Japanese advance in WW II. There were two audio-visual presentations, one a standard overview of the battle and another a mildly cheesy narrative by a dramatized Malay soldier. It was neat to see a couple examples of the bicycles that Japanese troops used in WW II to advance quickly down the Malay peninsula. There was an attempt to personalize the stories of the soldiers, but it was not nearly as extensive or emotional as the Changi Chapel Museum I'd visited last week.

The elevated pathway and canopy walk at Kent Ridge Park in Singapore

I had to read between the guidebook's lines to interpret how to get to the canopy walk at Kent Ridge park. It was a short walk on a wooden platform that ranged in height above the ground. Of the three canopy walks I'd do today, it was probably the least impressive. The different types of trees were signposted, but the views of the forest and city beyond were mediocre. However, the walk was the beginning of a string of hiking trails that thread their way across the spine of Singapore, so things would go up from here. The walk through Holtz Park would be very interesting if I was into the different types of plants that grow here. It is a series of gardens that are well documented for visitors, but I was looking for elevation. I kept following the signs to the Alexandra Arch Bridge, and eventually arrived.

The pathway truly does snake its way in and out of the treetops

The bridge itself is just the beginning of a spiderweb of metal walkways high above sprawling forest. It is really cool how these parks thread their way through the concrete jungle of the metropolitan area. Singapore's government has stated that it wants to transform itself from a "garden city" to a city inside a garden. The view out over the city kept getting better as I followed the aluminum skyways ever upwards. The signs pointed towards my next goal, Henderson Waves, but I was enjoying my journey there. The walkway zigzags back and forth, with the way ahead hidden by the trees. Strangely, I thought this would make a great setting for a Jurassic Park movie, with the characters being chased along the metal walkways.

The surface of the pathway on the canopy walk is easy to walk along with plenty of stops for great views

No dinosaurs appeared, but I eventually came to Henderson Waves. This is a clever, architectural bridge that has a series of arches undulating high above the city. The tops of the arches are converted into shaded alcoves where residents were picnicking and enjoying the view. The surface of the bridge itself is teak planks, and it curves both side to side and ripples up and down. It is much shorter than the Alexandra walkways, but easily had the best views of Singapore, so far. The pedestrian bridge leads to Mt. Faber Park -- Singapore's highest point. There are restaurants and a cable car at the peak, and I'd planned to relax and cool off there after my hike, and maybe spare my feet with a ride down.

Singapore's architecture is futuristic - check out the high walkways (with trees!) connecting the buildings!

The view continued to improve, and from the top of the hill, were simply spectacular. I found a breezy cafe to rest from the muggy, 91 degree heat. A pint of cold Tiger beer help refresh me, as well. A fan blew on me as I admired the view of the city spread out beneath me. I read some review online about the cable car, and decided to take it. Touristy, yes, but at just over $20, it was reasonably priced for this relatively expensive city. After finishing my beer I walked to the cable car. Singapore is a clean, efficient, and well-run city. I'd rarely felt overwhelmed anywhere by hordes of tourists. All bets were off here, though. It was a mob scene. No signs pointed towards a counter to buy tickets, and the line to ride snaked back and forth like an amusement park. The crowd clamored loudly as it waited its turn to be stuffed, eight at a time, inside the black plastic shells. When I finally did find the ticket counter, both positions were marked "Closed," despite a bored-looking attendant seated at each. There was one self-service kiosk, and a line of people trying to get it to scan and approve their preprinted vouchers. Was it worth it? Would I really enjoy being completely enclosed inside a cable car with seven strangers? Would I even get any good pictures through the tinted windows? There WAS a pathway down the hill. If I took that, I would enjoy the view in silence and not have to jostle strangers for photographs.

Riding the cable car is a good way to either begin or end your canopy walk

I decided to go with nature and hiked down the hill. It took a surprisingly short amount of time, and the views in the first five minutes alone made me happy I chose that path. In fact, most of the way down was stone steps, which meant I did not envy those I passed toiling their way up. It was getting late in the afternoon by the time I arrived at the metro station at the bottom of Mt. Faber. I made my way back to my hotel, a bit sore from the hiking, but pleased with my sunny walk in Singapore's garden.

The walk has many amazing views of the city as you wind your way among the trees high above the ground

Posted by world_wide_mike 05:15 Archived in Singapore Comments (1)

Stormy Skies, Scenic Views

A slower paced day two & day three

storm 89 °F

One of the mirror spheres outside the Asian Civilizations Museum

My second full day in Singapore began early. I was awakened by the sound of a howling wind outside the sliding glass door to my balcony. It sounded like a typhoon blowing between the skyscrapers. I sat in my bed and listened to its banshee shriek for awhile. Then, a torrential downpour began. I opened the door and stepped out onto my balcony to watch sheets of water falling. I crawled back under the covers, hoping the storm really wasn't a typhoon, and the rains would end by morning. I woke up late in the morning, and checked outside. Rain was coming down hard enough that I postponed any sightseeing until after lunch.

Singapore has the easiest-to-use bus system in the world -- at least that's what I found

When I finally did venture out, I decided to add the local bus system to my repertoire. The front desk of the Village Hotel Katong graciously explained what bus I needed to catch to reach the Metro station -- saving me a 30-minute walk in the rain. Singapore's buses are every bit as organized and easy as the Metro, and air conditioned, too! I was headed to the Changi Chapel and Museum, and found it with no problem. Each bus stop has a name, and by taking a picture of the route sign with my smart phone, I could look at the window and follow our progress. It reminded more of a train or tram travel than a city bus line.

Entrance to the Changi Museum, which commemorates the POWs of the Japanese during WWII

Changi Museum is built on the site of a chapel that WW II POWs built for themselves after they were captured by the Japanese, following the surrender of Singapore. The museum's signs are all in English, and do a great job setting the scene of the British blundering defense of the island they considered impregnable. The attacking Japanese were outnumbered 3-1, but did have air superiority and much better equipment. All of the allied prisoners were rounded up and interned in various overcrowded and inadequate camps. Even European civilians were imprisoned and squeezed into cells, the men kept separate from the women. One of the best features of the museum's audio guide were the recorded oral histories of various prisoners. The gut wrenching account of a Chinese woman tortured for passing messages for the allies brought tears to my eyes. There are numerous letters from former prisoners or their children, spilling their feelings and telling their stories as a form of catharsis. I was disappointed that no photographs inside were allowed, but you could take photos of the reconstructed chapel outside.

Looking like something out of the Jetsons cartoon, Singapore's Marina Bay Sands Hotel

I actually took it very easy on day two, partially to let my blisters I'd worn into my soles on yesterday's death march heal. I took advantage of the supermarket in the hotel's shopping center to buy some nice, waterproof band-AIDS, which would come in handy until my foot healed up. And they were actually feeling much better the next day, when it was time to explore more of Singapore.

View from the observation deck of the Marina Bay Sands

With the sun shining again, I decided to start at the top, literally. I rode the Metro down to the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It is a futuristic looking building that I could easily see featured in an upcoming Star Wars movie. It is composed of three modern hotel towers topped by what -- for all the world -- looks like a giant hovercraft. It extends past all three towers and contains an observation deck, restaurant, infinity pool, restaurant, bar, and garden. All of Singapore is laid out beneath you as you stand atop it, 56 floors up. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and you could see for miles in every direction. Even though it was a weekend, the observation deck was not crowded. The other visitors and I wandered slowly around, enjoying the panorama, and taking pictures. One of the things that struck me was the multitude of cargo ships in the bay, moored, or waiting to dock. It looked like the movie scenes of the allied fleet at D-Day, gray ships receding into the distance. The next thing that strikes you are the towering skyscrapers. All the of them are sleek and modern, and they dwarf the tiny two to three story, more traditional buildings of Singapore's earlier history. There are numerous stadiums, including a twin pair nicknamed "The Durien" after Asia's notorious, spiky-skinned fruit. To me, they looked more like an aluminum spiky brassiere, discarded by some titanic Madona. There's even a floating field in the bay that can be used for sports or concerts. The view was amazing, and that would prove to be the theme for the day.

Singapore's harbor as seen from the Marina Bay Sands observation deck

Descending, I crossed back to the main island on the pedestrian Helix bridge. The walkway is encapsulated in a gleaming aluminum structure looks like a monstrous DNA strand. There are four observation platforms along the way, each providing wonderful views and massive selfie opportunities for strollers, their cell phones, and social media. Speaking of which, anyone who thinks the obsession with our phones is an American thing has not been to Singapore. There are just as many faces glued to miniature screens on subways, in restaurants, and even walking down crowded streets. It is a world thing, now. We are all captivated by our connection to the Internet and our friends and family. I retraced my steps from day one's night time stroll along the waterfront, this time enjoying it under blue skies. I wanted to visit the Merlion, a massive fountain of a hybrid fish-lion. It was here that I truly ran into throngs of tourists. Many of them were doing my all-time, least-favorite thing: posing so the jet of water issuing from the statue's mouth appeared in their friend's camera to fall into their cupped hands, mouth, whatever. The Singapore equivalent of "holding" up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Bleh. I took some photos and moved on.

Very cool walking bridge in the Marina Bay area

After a brief stop to get photos of the giant, mirrored balls (think a half dozen, spherical versions of Chicago's famous bean), It was off to Chinatown. I know, it seems odd to me that a city of mostly Chinese descent would have a specified Chinatown. However, the island is on the tip of the Malay peninsula, so there is a significant population of Malaysians, Indian immigrants, British, and more. Along the way, I stopped at another Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman. Even though it is billed as Singapore's most colorful, I actually preferred the Kali temple from day one. The temple was thronged with worshippers in colorful garb, offering sacrifices and praying. The afternoon sun beating down was getting intense, so I backtracked to a pub I'd spotted on the walk here and enjoyed an ice cold water before savoring an excellent Archipelago Irish Ale. It hit the spot and fortified me to push on in the heat.

The Merlion - an iconic fountain in Singapore that people come to photographed standing beside

Next up was the five-story Buddha Tooth temple. This modern, gleaming building with its gray-green, pagoda roofs was air conditioned, airy, and spacious. Hundreds of statues from the Buddhist pantheon of every size lined the walls. Worshippers and tourists made a circuit, one lighting joss sticks and bowing in prayer while the other admired the beauty and took pictures. Coming here, I'd noticed several streets with market stalls, so I spent some time roaming them, looking for souvenirs. I did find a lapel pin of the Singapore flag for my map at home, and was intrigued by the lacquered wood screens painted with various scenes. I really liked the one with the Great Wall, and mentally made a note to keep an eye out for more like this in other shops. I was actually killing time with my shopping, waiting for the 6:55 pm Lion Dance which would be performed on the streets. From the picture, it looked like one of those cool, multi-person costumes the Chinese are famous for using in celebrations. When I headed back to get a good viewing spot, I noticed the fine print on the sign: "Cancelled today"...d'oh!

The gleaming, modern Buddha Tooth Temple, which houses a...well, I think you can figure it out!

A quick Metro hop brought me to the day's final stop, Clarke Quay -- Singapore's river walk of restaurants and bars. Boats leave regularly to cruise along the waterfront, and at night it colorfully lit up with lights. After a couple days of Asian food, I was looking forward to more choices. I ended up having shish kabob at a Middle Eastern place. I finished the day off with a Tiger beer at a cafe along the waterfront, watching the boats cruise by. Although much less packed with sights than day one's overdose, day three was a pleasant way to wrap up my first half of this trip. Tomorrow, it was off to Laos for a week. I'd be returning here again later, before I flew back home.

The Clark Quay area in Singapore where there are lots of restaurants and bars

Posted by world_wide_mike 17:04 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Singapore - So Much More Than Just Another Big City

What to do on Day 1? Why, a "Death March," of course!

sunny 94 °F

Statue of Stamford Raffles, the Brit who won the rights to build a trading base in what would become Singapore

Before I began researching it, I guessed that I would need 3-4 days to see the sights I wanted to in Singapore. I mean it is just a big city, right? There would probably be one or two museums I'd want to hit up, a few historic sights, a couple nice views, and then I'm done. Right? I'm not necessarily a big city guy. I've never wanted to live in L.A., fuggiddabout it New York, and I really only like Chicago because of its pizza! Boy, was I wrong about Singapore!

Waterscapes and tall, modern buildings are a major part of walking around Singapore

As I was compiling my list of things to do, it kept growing and growing. So many amazing temples or religious sights from a half-dozen faiths. Outstanding nature, great museums, History -- my notes kept doubling in size. I came to the realization I should have budgeted a lot more time when I purchased my plane ticket. I decided I would simply make do, and check off as much of the things I wanted to experience as I could. Those who know me realize what that means. And those who have traveled with my were probably breathing a secret sigh of relief that they wouldn't have to endure that interesting -- but potentially excruciating itinerary -- the Worldwidemike Death March. Toss in the 90+ degree Southeast Asian heat and you're talking serious potential for injury!

Singapore's lovely Perankan-style, traditional homes

A few days before I began my 30 hours and three flights to get from Columbus, Ohio, to Singapore, I had one of those moments when I thought: "Wait a minute, did I...?" The question was, since my flight arrived after midnight, did I book my first night's hotel for the correct date? Even though I technically arrived on the 23rd, I would need to reserve a room for the night of the 22nd. After more than a solid day of travel the last thing I would want to do would be to cool my heels in a hotel lobby for half a night! I checked. Nope. Booked it to start on the 23rd. Sigh. What's more, my awesome deal for the normally $200 a night Hotel Village Katong (for just over a quarter of that price!) was no longer available. Oh, they had rooms, but they'd charge their normal rate to extend my reservation a day forward. So, I ended up instead at the $50 a night Noble Hotel in the Little India neighborhood, finally checking in at 3 am.

Whimsical bronze statue of children playing along the waterfront

You'd think I'd sleep half a day, but I was awake and couldn't get back to sleep by 8 am. Checkout wasn't until noon, so I went through my list and marked what was nearby in Little India. As it turns out, today would be my Temple Day. I began at the Daoist temple, Leong San See. The smell of incense filled the air, and Daoist music played from hidden speakers. I love the look of Eastern temples. The statues, the gold, and the tiny offerings and devotions of the worshippers. There was an inner sanctuary beyond the first room, all of it gilded and colorful. My guidebook pointed out the carved wooden beams, but frankly, I would have missed them amidst the splendor.

Ceramic statues in the Daoist temple, Leong San See

Next up was a Buddhist temple I just happened to see while I was walking towards the one I'd picked out to visit next. When I peeked inside and saw the massive, brightly-painted, sitting Buddha, I had to check it out. The temple loans visitors a laminated card, which goes into great detail to explain the decorations. It was fascinating reading, and explained everything I was seeing. There were quite a few more worshippers than at the Daoist temple, and as always, I was carefully to stay out of there way and be as unobtrusive as possible. Besides the 45-foot tall statue, my favorite part was the story of the life of the Buddha told through more than 20 dioramas with painted, 2-foot tall statues. The temple even had a relic -- a piece of the tree under which the Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment. I'm sure historians would scoff, much as they do about the pieces of the "true cross" that Crusaders found 1,000 years after the crucifixion. Still, it is belief that makes a religion -- not peer-reviewed sources.

Towering seated Buddha in a Singapore temple

A Hindu temple was next, the first of two I'd visit that morning. Sri Srivinasa Perumal Temple was built in the 1850s, and features one of those towering gopurams that make Hindu temples so colorful to visit. What's a gopuram? It is a tower carved with layer upon layer of brightly-painted statues from the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. This temple's tower was 60+ feet tall! and the temple was dedicated to Vishnu the Preserver -- one of the three main gods. An interesting aspect of Hinduism, which many say is the world's oldest active religion, is that all of its hundreds of deities are actually considered to be aspects of one overall God -- Brahman. The individual gods and goddesses are just avatars of how he manifests himself on our world. I explain it to my students to think of him as the giant video game player in the sky, and Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh and the rest are just his "characters" he's created to play this game called life.

Slightly-faded statues along the roof of Sri Srivanasa Perumal temple

The coolest and most colorful Hindu temple I'd see in Singapore was my next one -- Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. It was dedicated to the goddess Kali, who Indiana Jones gave a really bad reputation to in "The Temple of Doom." She is a somewhat gruesome goddess, usually depicted trampling or killing some unfortunate soul, and wears a necklace of skulls. I didn't see any priests pulling beating hearts from sacrificial victim's chests, but both Hindu temples I visited had active worshippers making offerings, praying, and wearing traditional garb. I loved the statues encrusting the roof and walls of the building. Kali was there, along with my favorite -- a lion-headed God roaring his ferocity. The sun shone on them brightly, and against the backdrop of the blue sky, they were an awesome sight.

The Hindu goddess Kali reigns in her intimidating glory at her temple in Singapore's Little India neighborhood

I changed gears next, with a 20-minute walk to the Muslim Malabar Jama-Ath mosque. The Malabar Muslims are from the southern Indian coast, and were some of the first of their religion to settle in Singapore. The interior was very plain, and devoid of worshippers, since it wasn't during one of the prayer times. I was actually disappointed, as there was very little decoration and the blue tiles my guidebook described were nothing compared to the exquisite, Persian-style mosques I'd seen in the Middle East. I had to cross the street to get a decent picture of the mosque, and then left soon after. Checkout time was at noon, and I hurried back to finish packing and take a taxi over to my main hotel.

Colorful statues of Hindu gods make visiting their temples a beautiful and photogenic experience

Village Hotel Katong was gorgeous, easily a four-star hotel (above what I normally stay in, but hey, when hotels.com gives you a great deal, you take it)! I'd booked the entire vacation's worth of nights through hotels.com. I really like how you can read reviews, look at the map view and compare the hotel's location to what you want to see, and make your decisions at your leisure. I unpacked, and relaxed and enjoyed the cool air conditioning. I dug out my map and guidebook and planned my afternoon sightseeing. This is where the "death march" know kicks in, for those who aren't familiar with how I travel. The closest metro station was a 30-minute walk away (tomorrow, I'd learn how to take the bus there). Along the way, I wanted to check out some of the Perankan-style homes. The Perankans are the community that grew up from Chinese immigrants who had intermarried with the Malay locals. There homes are two-story, brightly-painted homes known for the upper level terrace which can be closed off with wooden shutters. The homes are also elaborately carved with columns, animals, and sometimes bright tiles inlaid in the walls. I took lots of pictures, and would notice this style of home throughout my stay in Singapore.

Perankan homes, colorful and ornate, line many of Singapore's streets

After my circuitous route, it was after nearly an hour's worth the of walking under the bright sun and humidity before I arrived at the metro station. I had purchased an EZ-Link card from a convenience store, which you merely tap on the reader to have it automatically deduct the fare for any public transport you take in Singapore. The metro was air-conditioned and modern, with a lighted display board showing exactly where you are on that line. Announcements in English and Chinese detail each stop, along with a British-style reminder to "mind the gap." I alighted at the Raffles Place metro station, found my bearings, and headed towards the waterfront. My first stop would be the Asian Civilizations Museum, which my guidebook quite rightly raved about. I took my time wandering the three stories of exhibits. Everything was thoroughly explained in English, with pamphlets available in each room translating it into other languages. If I neglected to mention it before, English is the official language of Singapore. So, it you're looking to explore a Chinese or Asian culture, Singapore is an excellent introduction for the beginner. It is modern, efficient, friendly, and packed full of sights -- just like this museum. What's more, you are permitted to photograph the exhibits. Some of my favorites were the stone, Southeast Asian style temple carvings. I also enjoyed the intricately carved wooden boxes and furniture, and the brightly-painted porcelain. One really interesting part of the museum is the room containing the cargo hold and relics recovered from a Tang Dynasty ship that had sunk on its way to the Middle East. It was a fascinating treasure trove.

Southeast Asian carved relief in the Asian Civilizations Museum

I wandered along the waterfront for awhile, taking pictures of the massively tall skyscrapers that stretch towards the heavens from Singapore's central business district. Many had interesting or unique silhouettes, or shiny or unusual facings. I was reminded of Dubai and its intriguingly shaped modern buildings. After a fountain soda to cool off, I navigated my way to St. Andrews Cathedral -- completing "Temple Day" with Christianity's most important religious site on the island. It's ornately-carved, pure white spire rises nearly 200 feet above the ground, but still is dwarfed when you compare it to Singapore's skyscrapers.

Singapore's skyscrapers loom in the background over a downtown park

Some destinations have the iconic "thing" you have to do if you're a visitor. For Singapore, it is to head to Raffles Hotel and have a drink at the Long Bar. The Singapore Sling was invented here, and the hotel does brisk business with tourists bellying up to try one. I stuck with a pint of the local Tiger Bear, instead. I was surprised to find bags of peanuts on the bar for patrons to crack and munch on, tossing the shells onto the floor. It seemed somehow un-British to toss your refuse on the floor. I indulged, though, chiefly because I hadn't eaten all day except for two small chocolate buns that were complimentary in my morning hotel. Oh, that's another aspect of one of my death marches -- an almost ascetic, self-denial of food. I honestly think fasting can hone your senses. Plus, airlines tend to over feed their passengers, and it is also partly in attempt to right the balance that I eat little in my first day or so. The peanuts hit the spot, and I would actually go to bed that evening having eaten no meal all day.

The historic and iconic Raffles hotel in Singapore - inventor of the "Singapore Sling"

As I left Raffles, dusk was settling in on Singapore's bustling streets. I headed for the bay to get pictures of the skyscrapers lit up at night. My feet were getting sore, as I'd been walking for more hours than I cared to think about. I was rewarded with a delicious panorama of the city lit up by night. It was also my first real look at the Marina Sands Hotel, a building that should feature in a Star Wars movie. Three futuristic hotel towers are topped by a gleaming boat-like structure that is home to gardens, an infinity pool, restaurant, and of course, observation deck. I would visit it later on the trip, but it rose out of the bay like a science-fiction model, and is surrounded by similarly futuristic looking buildings. The lights of the city skyscrapers gleamed brightly, reflecting on the water. The mirror images of the buildings were sliced apart periodically by boats cutting wakes across the placid surface of the bay. I always carry a tiny, collapsible tripod with me for moments like these. I circled the half moon of the waterfront, taking pictures along the way and savoring the view.

Singapore's harbor lit up at night like a Christmas tree

Finally, it was time to head back to the hotel. I limped a bit, having foolishly warn my Teva sandals rather than walking shoes. It would turn out that I had developed and torn a blister on my left foot. After the uncomfortable half an hour walk from the metro station, I picked up a package of Band-AIds to wear for the next few days. Having a shoppingi center -- including a supermarket -- in your hotel is a handy thing. After a refreshing shower, I thankfully settled into bed and slept away the rigors of one of my signature death marches.

Posted by world_wide_mike 21:57 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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