A Travellerspoint blog

February 2014

Singapore Part Two

The final destination

sunny 35 °C

Friday 7th February

We were not to be as lucky with our return bus journey from Melaka, which took an extra hour and had a twenty minute break two hours into the trip. We finally crossed the border into Singapore at about 6pm; just in time for rush hour. We found our hotel, part of the Singaporean Fragrance group chain, which is also known for its hourly rates. Judging by the area in which we were staying and the great big sign outside saying 'business hotel', I am sure our hotel would be more than obliging should you need a room for an hour or so, with one of the plenty of girls lining the street just outside.

In the evening, we headed down to the waterfront to see the tail end of a parade before walking around the bay, which had colourfully lit up fabric models of dragons and horses and Chinese displays for Chinese New Year.

The following day we decided to visit the resort island of Sentosa to visit Adventure Cove. Sentosa is a small island to the South of the main island of Singapore and is home to the various theme parks, attractions and resorts. Adventure Cove is a water park aquarium. There are a number of water slides, all of which you go down on either an inflatable ring or a float mat. These were good as you could get single or double ones, so Chris and I were able to go down together. Chris was somewhat put out that the heavier person always had to go at the back; however on one of the whirlpool slides we ended up facing the wrong way and so for the final section Chris got to lead.

There was a wave pool, which was actually fairly tame, as well as an assault course over four metre deep plunge pools. The assault course involved a balance beam, an tight rope with a lax rope above to help you balance and a cargo net. There was also a dive in and climb up the rope 5m or so to ring a bell at the top. I did not quite manage this one as the ropes really hurt my feet. (And probably having no upper body strength did not help either).

At this park, you can pay considerable amounts of money to go diving (£500) or swim with dolphins (£250); however included in the ticket is snorkelling with 20,000 fish in a huge fish tank. This tank was full of beautiful, colourful fish, a lot we had seen either diving or on snorkelling trips, as well as a lot of others we had not seen. Despite the slightly false feel of this and the lack of the thrill of discovering these fish hidden amongst the corals yourself, it was still pretty incredibly swimming amongst the schools of tropical fish. This attraction is definitely the highlight of the park.

The final attraction is a lazy river, which runs around the whole park, acting as both an attraction and a route around the park and to the slides. The first time we went round, it must have taken a good twenty minutes to complete the circuit on inflatable rubber rings. The second time, we decided to swim in the one metre deep water while wearing life jackets, which actually turned out to be more fun than the rings, particularly when you sit in them and allow yourself to float around.

Most of this circuit is various scenes with statues and music playing as you go around, but the last section takes you past a sting ray tank before going into a glass tunnel with fish swimming over the top. It had been a challenge to stop on the rings the first time to get a good look at the rays and fish, which is why we opted for doing the second half with the life jackets to return to the entrance.

Friday night was the last night of our trip and so we headed back down to the harbour front, where there are the gardens by the bay. Each evening at 7.45pm, there is a light show put on at the gardens. These gardens have your normal maintained flower beds with winding pathways in between, but what makes these gardens original are the giant trees which have been constructed out of metal frames. They tower far above so that you can see them from pretty much any point within the harbour. The circular metal frames, which make up the trunks of the trees, are completely covered with plants so that from a distance they almost look like very tall hedges. At the top of these towers, the metal branches splay out to create a funnel, inside of which lies a large upside down plain lampshade type object, which by night is lit up, creating a silhouette look with the branches. Between two of the tree towers runs a walkway, high off the ground, overlooking the gardens. As part of the light display, the trees and walkway are lit up in various different coloured and styles of light, which are accompanied by rainforest music.

In the centre, the highest tree tower has become a restaurant and tree top bar and so Chris and I took the lift up and enjoyed a couple of drinks overlooking the Singapore skyline by night. Chris had a Singapore Sling which he would describe as 'fruity'.

Saturday 8th February - The Final Day!

After checking out of our 'business' hotel, we returned to Senstosa Island to visit the S.E.A. Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world. This gave us a chance to take photos of the various fish we had seen snorkelling and diving, as well as seeing a lot of others we had not seen. This aquarium is home to the largest viewing panel, which was absolutely massive.

Although this aquarium is supposedly the largest, we still preferred the aquarium in Osaka, Japan as this had a greater selection of fish as well as other aquatic wildlife.

After lunch, we decided to go on the Luge, which was like tobogganing down a road. To reach the top of the run, there is a chairlift, which offers great views back over Singapore as you climb the hill to the top. From the top, you are given a quick lesson on using the brakes on your sledge before you set off down the 700m course. One of the routes had quite a few twists and turns, but on the other path, you could travel much faster to the point where your toboggan would lift off on one side. We had three runs on this before heading back to the mainland of Singapore, if you can call it that?

We spent the last couple of hours browsing the shops, where Christopher bought himself a new coat, which I am going to be very jealous of when we land in Gatwick at 6.30am tomorrow morning. After a cup of coffee it was time to leave, pick up our bags from the hotel and head to the airport.

How did we get to the end of our magnificent trip?

Posted by Roaming Rolts 12:30 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Melaka, Malaysia

One final trip before home!

sunny 40 °C

Melaka, Malaysia

Tuesday 4th February

We had both been dreading the four hour bus journey from Singapore to Melaka, hoping that the bus would be Singaporean rather than Malaysian as the one and only bus journey we had taken from Georgetown to Ipoh had taken several hours rather than three. And of course there were the Kuala Lumpur airport buses with the driver sniffing goodness knows what while maintaining an average speed of 80mph. We were pleased that we were potentially in with a chance of a reasonable journey as we booked with a Singaporean bus company; however this is Asia, so we were far from surprised when we were shown to a Malaysian bus from a completely different company. We were obviously lucky though as this bus did set off only 10 minutes late, had no unscheduled stops and arrived as timetabled four hours later.

We arrived at 11pm and so did not see any of Melaka until the morning.

Wednesday 5th February

Melaka is a UNESCO World Heritage town, due to its Dutch style shop houses, as opposed to the more recent British influenced shop houses found in Georgetown. The shop houses here still have the five foot walkway; however most are separated by a wall to create a veranda for each property. Unfortunately this means there is no pavement for pedestrians to walk along, which makes visiting this town a less pleasant experience. Pavements you can walk along are something of a luxury in Asia, but I would say Melaka is one of the worst places we have visited. Here you have to slalom in and out of parked vehicles, minding out for great holes in the drain network, while watching for moving cars and mopeds who will not allow you any room to move.

Once you have successfully navigated the side streets to the centre, you will find a beautiful church which has been rendered a deep red to match the various buildings around it. In front of the church is a fountain in memory of Queen Victoria and surrounding that are some colourful and well maintained flower beds. Parked up right in front of the church is a line of traditional trishaws, which have been decorated to within an inch of their lives, most with Hello Kitty in order to appeal to the majority of tourists who visit Melaka, the Japanese.

Around and behind the church runs a heritage trail which takes you up and over the hill. On the top of the hill is a dilapidated church with no roof, with a large clock tower to the front. If you carry on down the back of the hill, you are taken to another run down church, although this one is less of a ruin and considerably smaller.

On one of the streets just off from the centre, there is a former shop house, which is considered the most authentic in Melaka. This shop house has had very few alterations since it was first built in the 1800s. The original shop at the front had been converted into a museum, which explains what makes a shop house original and different to buildings constructed today, showing examples of which materials were used and where. As part of the UNESC status, this house has been restored, while staying true to the original. The walls have been stripped back to the original limestone used and the floor is back to the original terracotta tiles in places. The man who works there gives you a little tour and description of the house and clearly very passionate about ensuring the history of these shop houses in Melaka continues to be preserved and shared.

We walked along the river, which has various properties backing on to it, some of which have opened cafés off the back to face on to the river. Along the river are various water villages, although these seem to be reached more easily by land, rather than linked with jetties. It looks as though it is only the backs of the properties which are in the shallow waters.

Thursday 6th February

On the Thursday, we had hoped to catch the bus back to Singapore at 8am; however this one was booked up and so we could not get a bus until 2pm. With hindsight this was actually better as we had not relaxed or taken it slowly for a good few weeks and were still exhausted from our incredibly long day travelling back from Australia. This meant a lie in (until 8.30am) and a chance to visit a former Chinese mansion house before coffee and a cake in time for the bus.

This Chinese mansion house was three terraced houses, each approximately 200ft long and linked together to created an impressive maze of rooms. During the Dutch rule, houses were taxed according to their width, and so properties tended to be long and narrow. To allow light into the middle of the houses, double height open roof lights, let the light to flood in to the courtyard and rooms below. These are also perfect for Feng Shui, as they stop negative energies from being trapped in your house. As they are open air, the rain will come in too, which is apparently also lucky.

Our tour guide was quite entertaining, partly from her accent and the way she told some of her anecdotes and stories. She liked to link marital life from the 1800s with similarities in today's marriages and the importance of the woman really being in charge of all good marriages. The house itself was magnificent and contained the original ornately carved furniture as well as about five different sets of china, used depending on the importance of your guest.

In one of the bedrooms, there were the hundred year old wedding robes and in another room there was a red outfit and cloth worn and used to celebrate birthdays. On the opposite wall was a navy blue cloth, which would be hung up to show the family was in mourning, with a matching blue outfit. Below that sat a cloth used to cover the family coffins. There was some implication that it had not been used for a long time, but the two brothers were now in their 80s so it might get an outing soon.

Her favourite joke was to remind us to smile for her retired boss who had noticing better to do than watch us on CCTV all day before removing a 10cm square section of floor board, which opened up over the front veranda allowing for 19th century CCTV.

After our delicious cupcakes at Heerem guesthouse café we commenced our final bus journey of the trip back to Singapore. It feels strange that the idea of doing a 4-5 hour bus journey really is no big deal now. Prior to our trip, any journey over two and a half hours had to be for a good reason or a significant amount of time at the other end, rather than just over 24 hours. I am sure after a couple of Great British traffic jams my mind will have changed again. Here is to our last stop, Singapore!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:15 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Singapore, Singapore - Part One

Our last new country to visit on this trip.

sunny 28 °C

In the interests of saving money, we had booked a flight for 6am from Melbourne back up to Sydney. I can't remember how much we saved by not flying direct from Melbourne to Singapore, but I do hope it was a considerable amount. We got up at 2.45am and left our apartment at 3am to do the 2.5km walk across town to the bus station. Being a Saturday night, the streets were still relatively busy. The man selling the tickets for the 4am bus later turned out to be the driver too. We arrived in Sydney shortly after 7am, which meant a wait of nearly 7 hours before our next flight at 2pm. We landed in Singapore at 6.30pm local time, which being 3 hours behind Australia meant we had already been up nearly 20 hours. We arrived at our accommodation like tired hungry zombies, having barely eaten all day, had some dinner and went straight to bed.

Monday 3rd February

We decided that to make things easy and not have to plan what to do with our day before going to bed the night before, that we would spend the day at the zoo and work out a plan for Singapore the following day.

Singapore zoo is the best zoo we have ever been too. I still prefer Woburn Safari Park, but as zoos go, this is by far the best. The animals do have good sized and well equipped enclosures. They all look pretty happy, with none of them pacing around looking as though they have gone crazy. Most of the enclosures are not really enclosures at all with a moat separating you from the animals. The oragnutans have free roam around the park should they want it, with a massive area with ropes and platforms for them to swing between.

This zoo was very well stocked, with a lot of animals from Malaysia and Singapore of which we had never even heard of before. Also as you wandered around, there were various other creatures within the grounds. We saw a few lizards, one about a metre long, and a small snake.

Next to the zoo, there is another zoo called the Night Safari. You could get combined tickets for the zoo and the safari, which opened at dusk after the zoo had closed. At the Night Safari, there is a tram, which does a huge circuit around the animals as well as four trails, which allow you to visit the remainder of the animals on foot. We set off on the first trail to find we were the only people walking around the zoo, which was a welcome break from the hoards of noisy visitors with whom we had just spent the day.

We wandered through the wallaby enclosure, which was a path winding through the middle of a wooded area with wallabies behind a one foot wooden bar. If they wanted to join you, they could and they were more than happy just sitting at the edge of the path.

The night safari had a lot of the same animals as the zoo; however all the animals were a lot more lively after dark. A few of the big cats appeared to have gone out for the night, leaving their enclosures looking empty, but we managed to spot most of the other animals, which included some incredibly aptly named slow loris, a lot of otters, civits, a tiger, deer, lions and flying fox bats.

We caught the bus back to town at 10pm after spending 11 hours at the zoo. So much for a more relaxed day to recover from our long day travelling.

Tuesday 4th February

We ran out of time in Malaysia and didn't make it to Melaka, which is 4 hours from Singapore and so we booked a bus for 7pm this evening to spend a couple of nights there before returning to Singapore for the last couple of days before flying home.

First thing, we browsed one of the shopping centres next to Bugis metro station. Afterwards we wandered across to the National Museum, which had about five different exhibitions. One of the exhibitions looked at the history of Singapore through the medium of black and white photos. Some of these were fascinating, with the pictures giving you an insight into Singaporean life during the 20th century. Another exhibit looked at the significance of street food and hawker stalls in Singapore's history, particularly during the 19th century, when the male population outnumbered the female populations 10:1, creating a flourishing demand for cheap yet good fast food. Some of the best food we have had on this trip has been from street stalls.

The main part of the museum looked at the history of Singapore in a more traditional style museum. This section came with an audio guide, which if you listened to it all and followed the tour around all the exhibits, you could have easily filled a day. After introducing early Singapore, the majority of the museum focused on stories from the various different communities which migrated to Singapore during the 20th century.

There was an art gallery, which Chris and I whisked around and some nuclear energy exhibit, which we clearly missed the point of. The room was pitch black, yet on entering, you were given a thick booklet to read. Inside, there were about 30 luminous green chandeliers, which were various different sizes, each representing a country which uses nuclear power and how much. In the far corner were about 30 cardboard cut outs with people projected on to them, which just seemed to be milling around. They looked like if you went over to them, they'd speak to you or something but nothing happened. We quickly left, confused, returning the booklet.

After a cup of coffee, it was soon time to catch the bus to Melaka.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:33 Archived in Singapore Tagged history zoo museum safari Comments (0)

Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Exploring Australia's most European feeling city.

sunny 35 °C

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

The final drive around the bay of Melbourne from Phillip Island to the centre of the CBD took just under two hours. Our car was to be returned with an empty fuel tank. As we approached the CBD, the fuel light came on to alert us there was 50km of fuel left, which was fine as we only had about 10km to do; however the digital fuel calculator disappeared to be replaced with a flashing last bar on the fuel gauge. Chris suggested we pulled off the freeway, but seeing as we were a matter of kilometres from the drop off and further from a petrol station, we continued. Fortunately we managed to drop off our bags at the apartment before taking the car back and running out of fuel. We would have been fine though, we were uphill from the car drop off point!

After returning the hire car, we headed down to Federation Square where we met up with my cousin, who I have not seen for 10 years. It was also lovely to meet up with my Aunty and Uncle, her parents, who were over visiting. We all had a coffee in the sun before heading across town to visit Cooke's Cottage.

Cooke's cottage is a small country cottage which was brought over from England and rebuilt here. It's a very small two up two down and is set amongst beautiful gardens.

After having lunch, we all went our separate ways and Chris and I began to explore the city and decided to sight see on the free circle route tram, which used an old fashioned tram car.

In the evening we visited Queen Victoria market, which holds a night market every Wednesday evening. This was a lot busier than we had anticipated and there was a good variety of food from all over the globe available. We feasted on some delicious Moroccan style lamb burgers.

The following morning, we visited the state library, which much be one of the best libraries I have ever visited. (Have yet to visit the British library.) this building from the outside is an imposing building with columns out the front. Leading up to the library is a pleasant little garden terrace area with plenty of benches and shady lawns to sit on. Inside the library, there are your relatively conventional square box rooms which 'do their job' of housing all the books, which are rather grand with their double height ceilings. The real reason for visiting though is to see the dome room, only recently restored after having the glass ceiling dome boarded over for the best part of a century. This room is truly magnificent. It retains its original charm with the reading tables from the turn of the 20th century. The room is set up in a circle, continuing the flow of the dome roof. Overlooking the great room are balconies which are home to yet more books. Around the edge of the ground floor there are bookshelves reaching high above your head. You can head up to the balconies, giving you an aerial view of this great room.

Around the edge of this room, on the balconies are various temporary exhibits, one of which explains more about the history of Victoria and how it came to be an independent state, separate from New South Wales in the middle of the 19th century.

In the afternoon, we visited the former gaol, which used to look after all of Melbourne's growing criminal population. Hundreds of executions were carried out within the gaol, where the original hanging platform can still be seen. Within the museum, you can explore the various different cells, which contain fact files on some of the gaol's residents. These include background information leading up to their crime and if they were executed or not.

Some of the cells contain death masks, which were made in order to establish if their was a link between skull shape and size and brain to the likelihood of someone leading a life of crime through the studying of phrenology. You can explore all three floors of the male cell block; the women's cell block has been demolished.

Alongside the gaol is the watch house, a remand and overnight cell block, which was used for short term stays, usually of a few nights, up until the 1990s. The gaol had been a free tour, this one was a guided experience tour. You were lined up outside before being arrested and given a character to play. As part of the tour, you are walked through the various parts of the station and shown to the cells. In Australia, they have wet and dry cells. Dry cells have wooden floors, wet cells are smoothed painted concrete with a drain in the middle so that they can easily be hosed down after a drunken guest or two.

On Friday, we wandered around the centre, stopping to look at the old treasury building and Parliament House. We walked along the river, and up along the South Bank.

In the afternoon, we visited an exhibition in Federation Square. The exhibition called Spectacle looked at how music videos have changed the way we listen to music and showing how sometimes the video can be more popular than the song itself. The exhibition looks at different techniques used over the years and documents those which, for their time, were deemed adventurous and daring. The exhibition went up to present day, with the latest craze of people remaking the music videos and posting them on YouTube.

In the evening, we took a tram down to the bay to visit the town of St. Kilda. This is a popular little seaside town, particularly with kite surfers. There are plenty of cafés along the streets and after a walk along the promenade, we stopped for dinner at a comical Italian restaurant. All the staff were foreign, and we didn't hear any native English speakers, most sounding European and a few were French. Anyway, boss man (potentially Italian?) didn't seem to have too much patience for his staff, who to be fair, were relatively incompetent. It was quite entertaining watching him become frustrated when they didn't understand or asked questions, from the customers, which he deemed irrelevant and pointless. For example, what's the house white. (It's dry white and $12 (£6) a litre, what more could you possibly want or need to know?) The food was good, even if the starter did come out sometime after my main.

At one end of the seafront, there is a Luna Park, which was relatively deserted, but at least everything was still lit up with brightly coloured lights. Just up from that there is a pier, which extends some way out into the sea with a beach section off to one side. Along the beach, meeting the pier are loads of large rocks and within the gaps of these rocks are various little penguin nests. As it was sunset, we sat and watched and saw about five different penguins coming in and wandering around. Chris was not impressed that we had paid to see this the other night, but you couldn't really compare it as at this time of year there are a lot fewer penguins.

The following day, Saturday, was our last day in Melbourne. We started the day by visiting the Eureka tower which has an observation deck on the 88th floor, considerably higher than any of the buildings around it. The views were great and you could see right down to the bay. There is also 'the edge' experience, which is a glass cube which extends three metres out from the side of the building and once fully extended, the frosted glass floor clears so that you are standing on a clear glass platform. The views were no better in the cube, and seeing as it extends over a car park, the view down is nothing special either. This is definitely one that is more for the novelty factor and the ability to say you had done it.

All around the observation deck were some forty viewfinders which you would look down to see a specific labelled building or monument. This was a really easy way to clearly know what you are actually looking at, compared to when we went up the Petronas Towers in KL, where the pictures showing the skyline were about 10 years old and incredibly outdated!

In the afternoon, we wandered around the shops, and sat in the park before heading back to our apartment to pack, have dinner and get an early night as we had to get up at 2.45am to catch the bus to the airport to fly to Sydney.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 17:39 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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