Thursday, January 13, 2005:

By today we were starting to lose track of what day of the week it was, but fortunately the carpet in the elevators told us. Every day at midnight the Shangri-La changes out the carpet in the elevators with a new rug with the current day of the week. We can see how this would be a very good feature for travel weary tourists. We went down to the breakfast buffet, which was included in the cost of our room. Thankfully it was, because breakfast for the both of us was S$84, a little steep for a run of the mill buffet. What the buffet did have, though, was bacon – mmmm, sweet bacon.

After breakfast we got a taxi to take us to the Singapore Zoo. We had seen a few months back a special on the Singapore Zoo (and the Jurong Bird Park , which we will be visiting later) on the Crocodile Hunter show. We set up Tivo several months back to record anything listing Singapore , Thailand or Malaysia in the info portion, and ended up seeing a number of very good shows. The Singapore Zoo show we saw had the Croc hunter walking through the zoo with a bunch of monkeys, and it made it seem as though monkeys roaming the grounds was commonplace.

Once we got to the zoo, we wondered if it was closed, because there was no one there. We bought tickets for the zoo, the night safari (next door) and the Bird park for a discounted rate. Inside the gates we started making a counterclockwise circle around the zoo. The zoo is very unique in that there aren't really cages of any kind – usually there were just large moats that acted as natural barriers. This made photo opportunities very good, and allowed us to get closer to animals than common in the US.

One of the first stops was the lion area, and some of the lions were actually awake. And unlike other US zoos, they weren't hiding – they were right in front of us. All of a sudden one started roaring, then another, then another, and in no time at all there were about 10 lions roaring, one after another, for about a minute. We caught all of this on videotape, and almost assuredly it turned out well. It was a very unique experience, and we didn't have to book a long flight to Africa to see it.

We went on to see some more big cats, including a leopard, a caracal, and several jaguars. The leopard (which has always been one of Justin's favorites) was also awake, and was right up near the glass. We were just on the other side of the glass (again, literally no one else was around), so we got several photos where the distance from the camera to the leopard was less than 2 feet.

Past the big cats was a biodome with a miniature jungle. Inside the dome, with no cages at all, were several mouse deer, exotic tropical birds and butterflies, a few sloths, some sort of small bear, and a handful of monkeys. A sloth was hanging out low in a tree, and we were able to walk up right alongside it and catch some pictures. We were also able to walk up to many of the mice deer, who look like miniature deer – maybe the size of Debo but not as sturdy.

We went to the primate area which housed a number of different types of primates to see feeding time. It wasn't that exciting because the monkeys stopped playing and just waited around for some grub. From there we went on to an area that had many of the animals of the Ethiopian rift – apparently there is a low lying valley in East Africa where the Eastern portion of the continent is breaking away from the rest of Africa, and in this area there are a number of different animals that appreciate the water in the low valley. There were a couple baby goats that had gotten out through their cage, and were just standing there for people to pet them. It was like petting a puppy, as they were very soft and docile. We're not sure if they were supposed to out, but it seemed like it would be a regular occurrence given the size of the goats and the spaces in the cages.

There were a couple places in addition to the food court to eat lunch, and we ate at Forest Fare, which had traditional Singapore food. Singapore food is hard to describe, because it's a mixture of many different cultures – Western, Chinese and Malaysian mostly. We both had the signature dish that had some miso soup, white rice, boiled chicken with a choice of sauces, and some steamed vegetables. It was very good, especially for zoo food, and was relatively inexpensive, also a rarity for zoo food. Also, the bathrooms in the area (for the food court and the restaurants) were easily the nicest we'd seen anywhere. The “wall” opposite the stalls was a waterfall, with a small lake and plants everywhere behind the waterfall.

After lunch we went to get our picture taken with a couple of orangutans. For a small fee, which goes towards support of the orangutans, you can get your photo taken with them. You get a 5x7 shot, and there are several additional items you can purchase if you really like the photo. We got a digital copy of the photo. After the monkey picture, we were going to go on an elephant ride, but decided against this since we figured we would take an elephant ride in Thailand later in the trip.

We happened to be walking past the manatees when we saw it was feeding time. For a small donation, we got to hand feed the manatees (one of Crystal 's favorite animals). The staff gives you a small bucket of vegetables, and you can put them in the manatees' mouths. There were between 2 and 4 manatees during our feeding, as some came and went – one stayed the entire time. The manatees let you pet and rub them on the head – the skin was neither smooth nor rough, it was a little like rubbing a potato.

As we got near the end of the zoo, one of the last attractions was a treetop walk that had an elevated walkway up near the treetops of some rainforest trees. The area (again, not fenced at all) had mouse deer, birds, and a couple different types of monkeys. There were a couple very small monkeys – full grown they couldn't have weighed more than 10-15 pounds, as well as some more normal sized monkeys. While we were watching them play, they started going nuts, jumping up and down, running around near full speed, swinging onto branches chasing each other around. This was all happening less than 5 feet away from us, and Justin couldn't zoom out the video camera enough to get all 5 or 6 of the monkeys – maybe just one or two at a time.

The last thing we did at the zoo was go through a heliconia walk – they had a small area dedicated to many different kinds of heliconias. We've probably seen most of the common varieties by now from our various trips to tropical areas, and all of Justin's research in books over the last couple years. One of our favorites in a pendant purple and pink variety. We would have stayed longer in the heliconia garden, but the mosquitoes were very bad there, and we were getting annihilated.

We were about to leave the zoo, and decided to get our hand stamped, just in case. Luckily we did, because about 30 seconds after leaving we realized that we had not picked up our 5x7 photo of us and the Orangutans. We went back in and got it, decided we liked it, and ordered a soft copy as well. Then we did leave, and started walking down towards the Mandai Orchid gardens. It was a nice walk, and again there was no one around. Everyone here (the tourists at least) seem very lazy, taking trams and buses and any transportation not involving feet. The orchid garden was about a half mile down the street from the zoo, past the night safari entrance.

The Mandai Orchid garden was very nice, and very well laid out. From the way it was laid out, it was apparent that this was a commercial grower that decided to open its grounds to the public. There were some small areas that were laid out for visitors to see, but most of it was rows and rows of production orchids. All of them looked great, but there were a couple of real stunners, with one variety that was orange, one that was almost red, and one very vibrant purple that almost looked blue. In another part of the gardens was a tropical garden, devoid of any orchids. This area had many heliconias, gingers, palms and flowering trees.

The orchid garden was very nice, but didn't take as long to traverse as we had planned. The night safari didn't open until 6:30, and it was around 5pm, so we killed time by going back to the zoo and hanging out. We started looking through all the pictures we had taken during the day, and realized that we had taken over 200 pictures at the zoo and orchid gardens. It took quite a while to go through all of them.

We then walked over to the night safari, a very short walk from the zoo. To our surprise, the night safari was packed with people, at least comparatively. The crowd was about what we expected for the zoo, and much more than what we expected for the night safari. It appeared that most of the people there were parts of large Asian tour groups. There was a buffet open, and it was decent, but overpriced – again, the opposite of the zoo.

After dinner we boarded a tram to traverse the night safari area. While nice, it was nowhere near as nice as the zoo. One, it was mostly dark, so it was harder to see. Two, we were on a tram, so we couldn't stop to look at anything. Three, we weren't near as close to the animals as we were at the zoo. There was one spot where we got off the tram for a little bit (before boarding again later to complete the tour), and on our short walking tour we went through an area with some flying squirrels. They glided more than they flew, but their gliding was very effortless and they went quite fast. It was very dark in the area, so we kept seeing these darting objects out of the corners of our eyes.

There was also one other area, also almost completely in the dark, that was full of bats. We were able to walk up close to a couple of hanging bats, and they didn't look that scary or dirty. But in the dark, when they started flying around, it was a little creepy because you couldn't really see them or know which direction they were heading.

Lastly on the walking portion of the night safari was a giraffe area. There were three giraffes, but only two were doing anything. But they were either playing or fighting, and really getting into it. They were scurrying around, smacking their heads against one another, sometimes intertwining their necks. This was the one part of the night safari where no one went (everyone walked the other way), and again, it was the best part. Oh well, our gain and everyone else's loss.

We left the night safari, caught a cab, and were back at the hotel by around 10pm, totally exhausted. We figured we had walked somewhere between 10 and 15 miles over the course of the day. The Singapore Zoo has to be the nicest Zoo we've ever been to, much better even than the San Diego Zoo. The number of activities available was very high (we didn't really scratch the surface), you couldn't get any closer to the animals without being lunch, and again, there was no one there. No strollers, no crying kids, no crowds of people tapping and banging on the glass – none of that. It was phenomenal.



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