Singapore-Thailand Trip: The Alcazar Show – Pattaya

Day 5: 29th May – Singapore, en route to Pattaya

I woke up for the last time in Singapore, really sad about our stay there coming to an end. The only thing that cheered me up (as it had done in the past few days) was the superb breakfast. We had a tough time checking out (the elevators were always too full to accommodate all of our luggage) and ended up spending a quarter of an hour trying to board one of the elevators to the lobby. I felt an enormous sense of relief when we finally made it to the basement with our luggage. The honesty of the tour operators was the source of a huge sense of relief. Our driver had found the iPod Touch that we had mistakenly left in the van a day earlier and he returned it to us before we left.

With a huge smile on our faces we proceeded to the Changi Airport, from where we had a Tiger Airlines flight TR-2104 to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. The plane left at 12.30pm and we looked forward to another dose of adventure. The beauty of the Changi Airport made me doubt if I was actually in a mood to leave Singapore. After clearing Immigration we boarded our flight and our hour-and-a-half journey began. With increasing altitude we saw the Marina Bay Sands shrink and in a matter of minutes disappear altogether.

The airplane was relatively smaller than the Jet Airways one we had boarded while going to Singapore. About half the seats were vacant and hence I had the option to choose my seat. The only drawback was that there was absolutely nothing to do – I had to settle with seeing the sights outside the window, which wasn’t half as boring as I expected to see. An hour later the fluffy white clouds soon gave way to the huge landmass below. We could see the shadows of the clouds on the land – a pretty interesting sight. As we lost altitude we could see the highways of Bangkok, and soon the ant-sized vehicles gained size.

 

We reached on time and proceeded to the waiting area, from where we were given a new SIM card and the travel itinerary.  Cox and Kings had a tie up with DS Travels for the Thailand portion of our journey. The thing that I found really amusing was the fact that the representative from DS Travels chose to rush us outside even before we could finish our tea. We weren’t even given the time for having lunch (ouch!) as we hurried to board the two vans proceeding to Pattaya. I don’t recollect much of the journey as I was asleep. The only thing that I remember well was that I had a feeling that I was back in back in Mumbai. The weather and the slightly bumpy roads added to that feeling.

I woke up just in time as we reached the Centara Pattaya hotel. The staff was pretty quick as they had already allotted rooms to us and had the key-cards ready. On being requested to provide rooms on higher floors, they were pretty quick. Our guide for the day, Pimmi, was very much better than the representative we had at the airport. She was warm and made us feel really at ease and gave us a fair idea about the itinerary. She knew a few Hindi terms which made the elderly more able to comprehend with what she was saying. The room we got was pretty good and spacious. The only problem I had was the stench in my room in the beginning. Other than that I was more than happy with what we were allotted. The best part was the free WiFi provided to all rooms, unlike the hotel at Singapore. I was surprised with myself as I spent 5 whole days without absolutely any internet.

 

After resting for a couple of hours we proceeded to the Alcazar Show in the evening. The auditorium was barely a two-minute drive away. We reached there in time for the show and got decent seats. Pimmi told us that the show was about 70 minutes long and this show was something we have never experienced before. Alcazar is a transvestite cabaret show which could be enjoyed by the entire family.

The show had a lot of acts and each act required a change of set. Having studied drama in high school I was more than amazed by the way they managed the stage and time. The precision was such that not even a single second was wasted. It was surprising to see that most of the audience comprised of Indians and thus gave rise to the feeling that we were watching continuous live performances at an award ceremony. The whole package – costumes, stage design and lighting was really very grand. The best part about the whole thing was that the performances weren’t limited to Thai culture – off the top of my head, I remember a Japanese performance, a Jazz show, a performance where the statues came alive, a really awesome performance in which a guy played a girl and a guy at the same time, a dance performance in the court of a King, Gangnam Style (yeah – that one brought a lot of life in the audience) and yeah, my favourite, Aaja Nachle.

We just sat there, completely enthralled, wishing that the show never ended. The finale was the grandest of all – all the main characters of all the acts came to take a bow and bid us bye. After the performances ended, the dancers came outside and one had opportunity to click photos with them. I had a really wonderful time at the show. It was a pity that the dinner that followed at the Annapurna restaurant was not half as grand. We retired to our rooms, to recharge ourselves for the ton of adventure planned for the next day.

 

Here are a few tips regarding the Pattaya experience:

  • Thailand is more of a singles-place. If you are travelling with family it will be preferable to stay in a 4 star hotel, if the budget is not an issue
  • Centara Pattaya is a good hotel. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and the staff is very efficient.
  • Alcazar Show and the Tiffany’s Show are the two main transvestite cabaret shows in Pattaya. While I haven’t been to the latter, the Alcazar experience was very good.
  • Finding good Indian restaurants may be an issue. It would be preferable to carry your own food. If you want to eat outside, it would be advisable to consult travel websites to get a better idea.

 

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Singapore-Thailand Trip: Jurong Bird Park and Wonder Full

Day 4: 28th May, Singapore

It took me only three days to fall in love with Singapore. I was having a hard time accepting the fact that the Singapore leg of our journey was bordering to an end. However, the fact that cheered me up slightly was that for our last day the itinerary only covered the schedule until 2pm. We had more than half the day to ourselves.

The Penguin Coast

The Penguin Coast

The only place in the itinerary was the Jurong Bird Park. I was thrilled again, mainly because of the great experience my cousins and best friend recollected having there. We reached around 9.30 am. The first place we visited was the Penguin Coast. Jurong Bird Park is the home to 4 species – the King penguin, the Macaroni penguin, the Rockhopper and the Humboldt penguin. For a while I was confused if a few of them were statues as they were staring at us without the slightest hint of movement. Then I saw a couple of them take a dive in the water.

The Lory Loft

The Lory Loft

We moved on to the tram ride, with the help of which we got a decent idea about the exhibits in the park. We passed by the Heliconia Walk, the Hornbills & Toucans and the Window of Paradise and came to the first stop – the Lory Station. I was just amazed at the colour of the birds’ feathers. They were very vivid and bright. The birds were pretty sharp. They held the feeding cups in their talons and ate the little food that remained in them! On exploring the Lory Loft a little we caught sight of a majestic pair of peacocks strutting by.

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We caught a tram to the next stop – the Waterfall Station. We passed by a quite a few exhibits on the way – the Birds of Prey, which housed a variety of Eagles, Kites. I felt that the Himalayan Griffon Vulture was majestic. I also remember passing by the Jungle Jewels. I passed by the exhibit I really wanted to see the most – the Dinosaur Descendants.

I really enjoyed seeing the Waterfall aviary. We were just in time for the morning feeding session at 10.30 am and got a chance to see many varieties of birds, with the backdrop of the world’s tallest man-made waterfall (30m high). It was a sight to remember. The Crested Guinea Fowls looked just amazing. I enjoyed seeing the crowned pigeons strut on the bridge – they looked kinda royal and were so much bigger than the pigeons we see back home.

On hearing about the High Flyers show we rushed to the Pools Amphitheatre. We reached just before the show started and hence didn’t really get the best seats. But I was thrilled to see Sassy the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo fly to a volunteer and perch on his arm. Other beauties included Amigo, a Yellow Naped Amazon, who said “Hello”, sang happy birthday and mimicked a host of sounds (including that of a telephone) and a pair of parrots, who flew through hoops. The interesting thing about the parrots was that they managed to fly through every hoop (no matter how small the size was!) with ridiculous precision. The most informative part about the show was about the hornbills – Alfred and Vicky. We learnt a great deal about their nesting habits. The grand finale was seeing more than 70 super-excited flamingos on the stage at once.

The World of Darkness

The World of Darkness

As we had covered almost every show we could, we got a little spare time, during which we decided to split up and explore in smaller groups. My sister and I decided to check stuck together and decided to explore the World of Darkness first. The World of Darkness is the home to species of owls such as the Snowy Owl, Malay Fish Owl, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Barn Owl, Great Grey Owl and the Boobook Owl. I had never seen so many species of owls at once (except at the Hogwarts owlery). They stood perfectly still, waiting for their prey. I was surprised to learn that the owls have a binocular vision and exceptionally sharp auditory sense, and that they never miss their prey.

Cassowary

Cassowary

We moved on to the Heliconia Walk and then passed by the Flamingo Lake on the path to the Dinosaur Descentants. I was amazed by the Ostrich, Rhea and Emu, but the Cassowary was the one that really caught my eye (and yeah, it gave us a really hard time while capturing on camera). The final place we visited in the park was the Bird Discovery Centre, where we learnt quite a bit about the feathers, talons and eggs.

 

Having the afternoon free, we decided to visit the Orchard Road. Orchard Road has a host of shops, ranging from for those on a limited budget, to those on a relatively high one. After exploring for the better part of two hours we decided to return to the hotel.

 

After resting for a while at the hotel we proceeded to watch Wonder Full (the Light and Sound Show) near the Marina Bay. We decided to walk from the Peninsula Excelsior to the Marina Bay, passing by the Cricket Ground and the War Memorial. The distance is about 900 meters but the walk was totally worth it. The scenery by the Marina Bay was much grander at night than it was by the day. The Singapore Flyer in particular looked really spectacular by the evening. We sat down, waiting for the show to begin and enthral us all the more.

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The show began sharply at 8pm. The lasers, the searchlight and the 140-piece orchestra music just made it a lot more magical. The three years of hard work of 100 specialists became more evident by the second. Although I didn’t understand the theme of the show at that time, I was lost in its beauty. It was just picture perfect, and by far the best evening I ever had. Following the show, we returned to our hotel rooms for the last time, with a heavy heart. Our time in Singapore was coming to an end.

 

Here are a few tips regarding Jurong Bird Park:

  • There is a lot to cover. Although the tram ride covers most of the stuff, it is advisable to go through the entire trail by foot for a better experience
  • You can choose to photograph yourself with the birds at the entrance, or feed the birds at the Waterfall or the Lory Loft for a reasonable price.
  • Keep a track of the show timings for the High Flyer Show and the Kings of the Skies Show. We had to miss out on the Kings of the Skies show due to time constraints
  • You can see a lot many birds from up close during their feeding time. Keep a track of that
  • The Bird Discovery Centre and the Breeding and Research Centre are very informative. Try visiting them if you have a chance
  • You tend to save more if you visit the City Zoo, the Bird Park and the Night Safari on the same day
  • Try wearing similar clothes as that of the caretakers. The birds may be more attracted to that.

 

For the Wonder Full Light and Sound Show, here are some tips:

  • You might want to get a closer look from near the Merlion (which gets pretty crowded pretty quick), but the bridge also offers a decent view
  • Although the show begins at 8.00, you might want to reach a little early to enjoy the evening and the scenery
  • The show lasts about 13 minutes. Enjoy it to the fullest
  • There are quite a few decent shops in the area if you are looking forward to it. The Peninsula Market is only a kilometer away.

Singapore Thailand Trip: The Universal Studios Experience (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second installment of my Universal Studios experience. Here is the link for the first part: https://nehaslife.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/singapore-thailand-trip-the-universal-studios-experience/

 

Day 3: 27th May – Singapore

Part 2

The Lost World zone was dedicated to the Jurassic Park series. There were quite a few activities here. The Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure was something I wanted to visit the very second I read about it in the studio guide. The idea of the ride is pretty cool. It is a ride through the Jurassic Park by the means of a river raft. The only reason I was reluctant was because the guide said that there was a high possibility of us getting soaked and I was in absolutely no mood to get my new denims wet. One of the girls who had just completed her ride was kind enough to lend her “survival gear”. I reciprocated the generosity by giving it to someone else after my ride was done.

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Our circular raft floated through the river and we saw dinosaurs in their “natural habitat” on either sides. The dinosaur automatons of stegosaurus, parasaurolophus, velociraptors and tyrannosaurus were so realistic that I almost believed that I was a part of the Jurassic era. The highlight of the ride was the “Hydroelectric Plant”. The raft was elevated to a height of about 40 feet and then stopped. The creepiest part was seeing the tyrannosaurus roar at us, after which we fell down the slope, most of us getting completely drenched. As we moved to the unloading station the two dilophosaurus shot water at the raft drenching the riders who got the least wet. It was a good experience and totally worth it.

The one with the longest queue was the Canopy Flyer, which incidentally had the shortest ride time, and was the waiting period of 70 minutes did absolutely no justice to the time required to complete the ride, which was barely half a minute. We had a bird’s eye view of the park but it was essentially a roller coaster ride without the thrill of one. I was really disappointed.

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There were two attractions in this zone we couldn’t explore – Dino Soaring and Amber Rock Climbing. Dino Soaring is basically a ride for children. Amber Rock Climbing, on the other hand, looked time consuming.

We proceeded to have lunch at Friar’s and Goldilocks but unfortunately the vegetarian options were limited and expensive. Unfortunately for us, the food we ordered was too dry and we had a hard time eating it.

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The next zone was “Far Far Away”, which had attractions like the Enchanted Airways and the Shrek 4D Adventure. I really love the “castle” where the show was being screened. And the pre-show with characters like the Magic Mirror, Gingerbread Man Gingy, Pinocchio and the three little pigs was amazing. I really liked the fact that they had named the 3D glasses as OgreVision Goggles.

We enjoyed the 4D show as our seats bobbed up and down with Shrek’s horse and carriage. Our faces were sprayed with water on two occasions. The first being when Donkey sneezed (eww!) and the second being towards the end of the show. Unlike the experience I had a day earlier I genuinely enjoyed this experience as I had not seen the movie.

The Enchanted Airways was another attraction in this zone. It is a junior roller coaster (compared to BSG 75). The ride was short but fun while it lasted. We skipped attractions like the Magic Potion Spin and Donkey LIVE because of the not-so-great reviews we got from others.

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The next place on the studio guide was Madagascar. There weren’t many attractions there and hence we decided to go to the Crate Adventure. After experiencing rides such as the Transformers and the Revenge of the Mummy, I felt that this one was very boring, although my younger cousin seemed to enjoy it. My sister and I almost fell asleep in the ride.

We went back to the Sci-Fi City and Ancient Egypt to have another go at the Transformers and Revenge of the Mummy rides respectively. I really wanted to experience the treasure hunt ride that I had missed out on earlier in the day. I was glad that the estimated wait time was 5 minutes but it was only after reaching the ride that the attendant told me it was closed down for the day (for maintenance). Slightly disappointed we proceeded to the zone we hadn’t checked out yet – Hollywood.

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Hollywood was exactly as I had imagined it to be. There was only one attraction there – Monster Rock. I should have noticed the thing earlier in the morning. It was 5.25pm by the time we reached the Pantages Hollywood Theatre and unfortunately missed the first 5 minutes of the last show for the day. It was spectacular seeing monsters like Phantom, Dracula, Frankenstein, She-Wolf and the Mummy sing and dance to the songs. I really liked them singing “The Time” by Black Eyed Peas. The thing that amazed me the most was them performing to Justin Bieber’s song “Baby” and making it actually sound infinitely better than what it originally was. I was amazed at their ability to sing and dance non-stop for 25 minutes. Those were definitely the most entertaining 25 minutes of the day.

I missed out on the “Lights, Camera, Action! Hosted by Steven Spielberg” show in the New York zone due to lack of time. We saw a couple of performances and sipped on Coke as we waited for our driver to pick us up. Overall, it was one of the best days I had in the trip.

Here are a few pointers if you are planning to visit the Universal Studios

  • An entire day to explore the Universal Studios is essential. Have a Studio Guide with you in advance before you visit the Studios. It will help you plan better. Avoid wearing clothes that take time to dry.
  • Express Pass is slightly more expensive than the normal pass and allows you to experience fast without waiting much. The catch, however, is that you are allowed on a ride only once.
  • There are some rides which are a must-visit. Off the top of my head I can include Transformers, Revenge of the Mummy, The Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure and Monster Rock in this category.
  • There are some rides which you can avoid to save time. I can put Accelerator and Canopy Flyer in this category (if the wait period is too long)
  • There is an entrance to WaterWorld from within the Universal Studios. Enquire more about it before you visit the Studios.
  • If you plan to visit the Rapids Adventure in The Lost World zone, it would be desirable to have a raincoat or a spare set of clothes.
  • Lockers are available and the usage for first 45 minutes is free of charge. You may need this for some rides like the Revenge of the Mummy
  • There are separate queues for those going solo. You tend to get a chance faster.
  • Character meets-and-greets happen throughout the day in different zones. Don’t miss out on a selfie opportunity with the characters. My favourites were the Soldiers of Anubis and the Velociraptor. Check the Studio Guide
  • Monster Rock is a spectacular show. Do not miss it. Check for the show timings as soon as you enter the Studios.
  • Battlestar Galactica BSG75 Roller Coaster ride has been closed to the public for good. It will be replaced by a new ride by end of 2014.
  • There are a lot of gift and souvenir shops. Minion Mart was really cute.
  •  Lastly, I was not satisfied with the vegetarian food. Carrying your own food items might be a good option.

Singapore-Thailand Trip: The Universal Studios Experience (Part 1 of 2)

Day 3: 27th May, Singapore

Part 1

I had awaited this day with bated breath ever since we started planning for Singapore. My friends had described it to me and I couldn’t wait to experience the whole thing myself. A day full of adventure, fun and fantasy. There was only one place to visit – Universal Studios…Yay!

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After another supertasty continental buffet breakfast we left for our destination. We were picked up sharply at 9am and dropped off at Sentosa Island in a short while. I was too excited to visit the theme park. As we moved up the escalator from the parking lot, the only thing that caught my eye (other than the gigantic Universal Studios globe) was Hershey’s Chocolate World. I was hoping it was something similar to the chocolate factory in the USA, but was disappointed to see that it was only a retail outlet for Hershey’s chocolates. We proceeded on to the Universal Studios after that.

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On seeing the map of the place my face lit up even more. There are about 7 themed zones in the park, some of them being my all-time favourites. We started with Sesame Street. I began feeling nostalgic about my childhood the very moment we entered the area. The only attraction we visited was the Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase. It brought back a few faint memories of the Hershey Chocolate Factory ride from a very long time ago. I felt another wave of nostalgia hit me as I saw an Elmo doll (almost identical to the one I had as a kid) in the gift shop. After clicking a few photos with the characters we decided to move on to the next zone, which was Sci-fi City.

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Sci-fi City was by far the coolest place in the entire park. I have enjoyed watching Transformers in my school days and hence was thrilled when there was a ride dedicated specially for them. The queue was really long but the ride was totally worth the wait. It was surreal and I felt as though I was actually a part of the adventurous fight between the brave Autobots and the evil Decepticons. We were seated in an evacuation pod and the aim was to escape the city (which was going to be destroyed in minutes). It was a 3D show and hence was very realistic. Rising in the air, getting sucked into a Decepticon, getting thrown off a high-rise building by Megatron only to land into Bumblebee’s arms, and seeing Optimus Prime kill Megatron with the All-Spark was an experience that really left me at a loss for words. It was like living the ultimate childhood dream. One experience was just not enough. We decided to get back to this ride after experiencing everything else.

We walked past the life-sized figure of Bumblebee. I was in love with this place already! On the way to the next themed zone we passed by the mean looking Battlestar Galactica BSG 75. It has two roller coasters: Human and Cylon. Although I am not a big fan of roller coasters, the sheer size of this one (It was the world’s tallest at 42.5 meters) made me want to experience the thrill once. Too bad, the roller coaster was HUGE but the ride wasn’t open to public. I learnt only a little later that the ride had been shut down for good in April this year, as it was repeatedly developing cracks.

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The most disappointing ride was the Accelerator. Simply put, it was almost the same as the Cup and Saucers ride in Essel World (Mumbai). The speed of the cups wasn’t much and the ride actually started slowing down when we were supposed to attain the maximum speed.

 

We proceeded towards the next themed zone, which happened to be Ancient Egypt. It was evident that a lot of work had been put into this zone. Everything about this place screamed of Ancient Egypt. I loved the character meet-and-greet as I learnt quite something from it. Although the detailing was very good, the costume looked kinda funny and weird. It was the attitude of the guy – staying in character and not giving a damn about how he looked – that made him really stand out. This is when I learnt that attitude makes one hell of a difference. Sadly I don’t have a decent photo to upload for it.

The star attraction of this zone was the Revenge of the Mummy ride. The wait period was a little long but we didn’t mind. Again, like the Transformers experience, this one was well worth it. Twelve of us were seated in a coach. The aim of the ride was to escape the wrath of the mummy while trying to find the book of life. The ride was very interesting as we witnessed a whole lot of things in a matter of a few minutes, such as passing by a roomful of gold, crashing against a wall (only to crack the wall and be attacked by thousands of bugs that emerged from it), and falling backwards as we attempted to escape the bugs. The end of the ride was the most spectacular as we were right under a ceiling of searing flames (we could feel the heat on our necks!). The only term that describes the experience adequately is “sickeningly awesome”.

My cousin found the experience very fascinating and was interested in coming for the ride again. We decided to go for the experience again later. The most shocking thing for me in relating to this experience was the interest shown by my grandfather. It was surprising that he was the first one to be all ready for the ride. He all of a sudden became more adventurous than the rest of us put together. He would have been the first person to jump in the coach, had we not strongly advised him against it (I was actually worried about him as the carriage would fall backwards during the ride).

The next adventure in the zone was a treasure hunt. It essentially was a car ride but we decided to skip it as the queue was too long (waiting 40 minutes for one ride was too much). We proceeded to the next zone, which will be covered in my next post. Here is the link:

https://nehaslife.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/singapore-thailand-trip-the-universal-studios-experience-2/

Singapore-Thailand Trip: Sentosa Island

Day 2: 26th May, Singapore

Part 2

After a hearty lunch at Ananda Bhavan (Little India) our driver dropped us at Mount Faber. We took a Cable Car from there. The cable car had three stops in total – Mount Faber, Vivocity Mall and Sentosa Island, the total distance covered being about 1.65km. Each cable car can seat a maximum of eight. As we were 12 (including Elsy), we decided to split in groups of 6. Elsy was very concerned about my grandma’s comfort and did everything to ensure the same.

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The ride was fun. The view was enthralling – the ground beneath must have been must be a few hundred feet away. We could see the lush greenery underneath. The view was just picture perfect.  Elsy had earlier told us about the Merlion. I tried recollecting the total number of Merlions that we came across within 6 hours – two at Marina Bay (Elsy referred to them as Grandmother and Cub), one at Mount Faber, and finally the gigantic 37 meter tall Merlion we just saw through the cable car window. We stopped briefly at Vivocity and continued to Sentosa Island.

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Sentosa is a leisure island and has a lot of activities, some of which are Underwater World and Dolphin Lagoon, Sentosa 4D Magix, Songs of the Sea Show, Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, and yeah, Universal Studios. As we had barely any time (we reached there about 3.15pm), our schedule was pretty tight. Taking a cue from my cousins who visited Singapore a few years ago we decided to visit the Underwater World, Dolphin Lagoon and the 4D show.

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I loved the concept of the Underwater World. Apart from an oceanarium (which is a marvel in itself) there are pools where we can feed the marine creatures like the rays! My sister joked that quite a few characters from Finding Nemo were present – we saw the clownfish, the regal blue tang, the ray and last but not the least, the shark. We passed by the pool where we could feed the rays. The mini-exhibit showcasing the stages of shark embryo development left me intrigued, as the ‘specimens’ were very much alive.

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We saw a host of other fishes and sea animals including critically endangered species of turtles, sea angel, seahorses, jellyfish and an interesting species of a crab which appeared like a spider. I found the experience very enriching as I didn’t have much of an experience with marine animals. We saw enlarged models of ammonite fossils. An interesting fact about the ammonites is that they became extinct together with dinosaurs about 70 million years ago.

We got a little more than we had planned for. We had seen a peacock while entering the Underwater World. We caught sight of a peahen and peachicks (yeah, ‘peachick is a legitimate word’). I have seen enough of peacocks and peahens. This was the first time I saw peachicks.

The next stop was the Dolphin Lagoon. This was by far the most favourite part of my day. We saw the pink dolphins (yeah, they were pink) play tricks, like jumping through hoops a few meters high in the air, synchronised swimming, imitating the trainers and tail-walking. It was absolutely a delight to see them so lively.

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Accompanying the dolphins were the fur seals. The seals kept the crowd lively by clapping, bouncing and balancing balls. I was awestruck by the way the seals managed to catch every single ring the trainers threw – be it on land or in the pool. The seals have very powerful vision. A few volunteers from the audience got the opportunity to interact with the dolphins and play with the seals. I really enjoyed watching the animals have so much fun and was in no mood to leave when the performance ended.

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We caught up with Elsy outside and proceeded towards Siloso Beach as we had a little time left before the next activity. Siloso beach is one of the three beaches in the area, the other being Palawan Beach and Tanjong Beach. The place was calm and serene, barring the activities for children. Our eyes followed the zipcord coming from half a kilometre away. It was one of the main attractions of the MegaZip Adventure Park, which was unfortunately not a part of our package. I was very enthusiastic about the experience as it had been described in pretty vivid detail by a classmate who had been to Singapore a year back.

 

The last activity planned for the day was the 4D show. We reached a little late, because of which the wait period was estimated to be about 40 minutes. The 4D movie in question was Journey 2 (the one with Dwayne Johnson), which had been shortened to about 20 minutes. I found the clip shown before the movie more interesting than the movie itself. The experience was decent for the people who were seeing the movie for the first time. As I had already seen the movie beforehand, I felt that the experience wasn’t worth waiting so long.

 

Thanks to Elsy, by the end of the day, my knowledge about the Chinese culture and underwater life had increased significantly. We saw a completely different side to Singapore (literally!) and enjoyed ourselves to the fullest. The only regret I have is missing out on Songs of the Sea show and the MegaZip Adventure Park, which I will hopefully cover the next time I go to Singapore.

 

Here are a few tips for those visiting the Sentosa Island:

  • I guess I have already said this before, but let me say it again. Research about the restaurants in advance if you have special dietary needs.
  • Although sneakers are comfortable, avoid wearing them if you are going to the beach or if you are interested in volunteering for a dolphin/seal activity
  • The above principle also applies to your clothes. Wear clothes that dry quickly, preferably short ones.
  • I came across this tip recently. If you are interested in interacting with the dolphins/seals, try wearing similar attire as that of the trainers/caretakers.

Singapore-Thailand Trip: The Singapore City Tour

Day 2: 26th May, Singapore

Part 1

The morning couldn’t be more beautiful. Morning was the time I eagerly awaited (the primary reason being the continental breakfast buffet with salads, fruits, muffins and what not!). We had a busy day ahead (perhaps the busiest in the entire trip.) The idea was to have a short tour of the city and then explore a little bit of the Sentosa Island.

As promised, the tour guide arrived sharply at 9 am. Her name was Ho Ah Chin, but she asked us to refer to her as Elsy (my sister pointed out that her name sounds similar to that of the lead character of the Disney movie Frozen – Elsa). She could communicate well in English and Mandarin. She was of Chinese origin and had come to Singapore in her youth. She barely looked 50 but was about 65 years old. And I was shocked because she was more active and agile compared to most of us! She took a special liking to my grandma and made sure that my grandma was comfortable at all times. The thing I really admired about her was the infinite amount of patience she had, and that she answered every question with a smile. She is the living proof that smiling reverses the effect of aging!

We passed by many important landmarks as we approached the Marina Bay. The ones I remember prominently are the old Parliament House, the new High Court Building and the Civilian War Memorial. The memorial honours the civilians killed during the Japanese occupation of Singapore during the Second World War. It is made of four identical pillars that are about 70 meters tall. Each pillar represents a race constituting the population of Singapore – the Chinese (who constitute about 70% of the country’s population), the Eurasians, the Indians and the Malays. A memorial service is held every year on 15th February, commemorating the surrender of British to the Japanese in 1942.

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On stopping near the Merlion Elsy told us how the figure became the icon of Singapore tourism. It was pretty interesting. A 12th century prince from Bali (Indonesia) was out hunting (in the area that is presently Singapore and saw a huge lion running through the forest (hence the head). As Singapore was basically a fishing village, it was befitting that the lower body of the icon would be that of a fish. The name Singapore (or Singapura) literally translates to Lion-City. After posing for and clicking ample photos we left for the next place on the checklist – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

 

Elsy mentioned that the Chinese in Singapore were predominantly followers of Buddhism. The next area we visited was Chinatown. I was pleasantly surprised to pass by the Shree Mariamman Temple and a Mosque in Chinatown. We couldn’t visit the temple as we were pressed for time. We stopped near the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in a short while. The temple had a distinct Chinese touch to it.

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My jaw dropped when I went inside. The temple was grand. 99 golden dragons adorned the walls. In Chinese culture the dragons are considered auspicious and the number 9 is considered very lucky and is synonymous with longevity. Hence the temple had ninety nine dragons. The designing had been done by architects called specially from China. The most interesting part of the temple was the tapestry behind the Buddha statue. It had been hand-woven by Chinese artists. The cultural richness made me believe for a short time that I had somehow been magically teleported from Singapore to China.

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We proceeded to the museum (in the same building). Through various relics and sculptures we captured the essence of the Prince Siddhartha’s journey from his birth to transformation into the Buddha (the Enlightened One). The museum helped me broaden my knowledge about Buddhism.

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The trip to the museum was followed by that to the most sacred place – the Tooth Relic Chamber. Unlike the other chambers, we were instructed to leave our shoes outside. I was really amazed by the fact that there was a part of the great Buddha within 20 feet of us. It was unbelievably true. How sacred must the place be!

We saw a bunch of red envelopes on the way out of the Tooth Relic Chamber. Elsy threw some more light on the Chinese traditions. The red colour is considered very auspicious. Each envelope had a design and a message. The significance of the envelopes is that on occasions such as New Year and birthdays, the elders present envelopes with money. My sister and I took one each as a souvenir. We visited the rooftop garden of the temple before leaving.

 

We had covered all the main places we had originally intended to. Left with some spare time, suggested visiting the Singapore Flyer (It wasn’t originally a part of the itinerary). The Flyer is a huge Ferris wheel, about 150 metres in diameter and is built along similar lines as the London Eye. It doesn’t stop at all and takes about 32 minutes to complete a rotation. I found it intriguing that the Flyer has about 28 coaches each having a capacity to seat 28 people. In an hour more than 1400 people can enjoy the experience. Elsy told me that the number 2 and 8 are very auspicious in Feng shui and both symbolise prosperity (inflow of wealth). She also mentioned that people booked the Flyer for special occasions like birthdays and proposals, and that people could have a sky-dining experience complete with a butler.  I noticed that one of the coaches had been reserved exclusively for the champagne brand Moet for special occasions.

After getting the tickets we hopped on one of the coaches. The coach was a lot larger than I had thought. I was glad we made the decision to visit the Flyer. Elsy pointed out the solar powered supertrees – 18 structures ranging from 25 to 50 meters in altitude that mimic the functions of trees. The most interesting part was that the energy from the trees is used to power 2 huge conservatories. Singapore is ridiculously more innovative and interesting than I thought!

The view became more interesting with the increase in altitude. After a point we could actually see a couple of Indonesian islands. I really enjoyed the 3600 view of the city from the top. It was an unparalleled experience. Before leaving we saw a black Lamborghini near the Race Track below. It looked just like a beast waiting to run wild

 

The next stop was for lunch. We went to Little India for lunch. We searched for exclusively vegetarian restaurants near Mustafa and found Ananda Bhavan to be the best possible option. While having lunch I noticed that one of the walls there made me wonder. It compared the digestive system of humans to that of carnivores and herbivores. Almost every feature of humans – right from the type of teeth to the length of the small intestine matches that of the herbivores. It basically said that we humans are herbivores by design and that we should ideally stick to vegetarianism. The food was decent. After shopping for a short while in the huge Mustafa store we decided to continue to Sentosa Island.

 

Here are a few tips that might come in handy:

  • It is advisable to carry an umbrella with you. The weather can be unpredictable.
  • Carrying a cap with you is advisable while going out in the sun.
  • If you are going through a tour operator then building rapport with the driver of the vehicle is advisable.
  • While visiting the Tooth Relic Temple make sure that your attire is decent. Shoulders should be covered. Avoid wearing Bermuda shorts and half-pants.
  • Singapore Flyer should be a part of your itinerary. It is the experience of a lifetime.
  • If you are an Indian, avoid choosing any hotel in Little India for your stay. It is exactly as the name suggests – Little India. You will feel like you haven’t come abroad at all.
  • It is slightly difficult to find vegetarian restaurants. However, if you plan to have lunch in Little India, restaurants like Saravana Bhavan and Ananda Bhavan have a lot of vegetarian options.

PS: Photo Credits – My sister 🙂

Singapore-Thailand Trip: The Singapore Night Safari

Day 1: 25th May, en route to Singapore

I saw the lights of the Mumbai city become dimmer and slowly get enveloped by the darkness of the clouds. There wasn’t much to do other than blankly stare at the LCD screen attached to the seat in the front while the Wolf of Wall Street was playing. It was past 1 in the morning and I gave up on the movie shortly after. We were served drinks at 1.50 in the morning and breakfast at 2.15! Despite the unearthly hour the cabin crew was very sweet. Maybe that’s what makes Jet Airways better than JetKonnect.

I was not as fortunate as my sister and my cousin, who somehow managed to sleep despite the non-reclining seat. After struggling for a while I resigned myself to checking the distance remaining and the estimated time needed to cover that distance. As I looked out the window I noticed the colour of the sky lightening slowly. Somewhere under the cottony-white clouds, I could distinguish a red orb. With every passing second the orb grew brighter and bigger. Soon the aircraft was filled with bright yellow light that emanated from it. I don’t recollect seeing such a magical sunrise ever before.

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Aerial view of the Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer

Almost quarter of an hour later we could make out the faint outline of land. As we descended I could point out some structures clearly – the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Merlion, the Esplanade and the Flyer. Seeing the photos online is something, but experience of seeing these structures from an aircraft is in a different ballpark altogether. We touched down at Changi Airport minutes later and made our way to Immigration.

 

The lady at the Immigration counter was very warm and welcomed us with a smile. It is these little things– punctuality, a simple thank you, or a smile in this case, that can make somebody’s day. We tend to usually underestimate the power of such simple acts of kindness. When I told her that I felt Singapore was a beautiful place, she smiled. The reply she gave really struck a chord. She said that Singapore doesn’t have any natural beauty. All the attractions of the place were developed by people. We Indians, on the other hand, had access to natural beauty. I didn’t know what to say.

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Changi Airport

 

We were picked up by the local tour operators and dropped at the hotel in two vans. The drivers were really accommodative and polite. During our stay in Singapore we stayed at the Peninsula Excelsior. The rooms were decent and the location good. The only issue we could have possibly faced was food. Second day onwards, the continental breakfast was included in the hotel package. The rest of the meals were to be taken care of by us. Our group comprised of vegetarians and we preferred to eat in exclusively vegetarian restaurants. We were fortunate enough to find one right next to the hotel – Nalan Restaurant.

The programme for the first day was simple enough. We had only one place to visit – the Night Safari. The pick-up was scheduled at 6 in the evening. We hence had a few hours to ourselves and decided to make the most of it by shopping for local stuff in the malls nearby. The whole scene appeared as if it was a real-life version of Fashion TV. Everything and everybody looked so picture-perfect! After shopping for jewellery we went to explore the electronics store and came across really interesting and innovative gadgets.

 

The tour operators were very particular about time and arrived sharply at 6. A twenty minute ride later we were at the Night Safari. The actual show was scheduled to begin at about 7 in the evening. We were glad we made well in advance as the place turned out to be jam packed. We caught a glimpse the Thumbuakar Performance (fire show) at the entrance plaza before going for the safari. It was quite a spectacle.

The Thumbuakar Performance

The Thumbuakar Performance

The safari was pretty interesting. Set in a rainforest, the enclosures are divided into seven geographical zones, mimicking the natural habitat of the animals. The lighting of the exhibits appears almost like the moonlight. The thing I liked the most about the safari was that the animals were separated by natural boundaries rather than the cages.

Speaking of the ride, there were three coach open trams, each coach with a capacity of about 20. The ride itself was about 40 minutes long. The safari guide Damian joked that he expected more than half the people on the tram to be asleep because his voice was too soothing. I really enjoyed the show as it was very informative. It was the first time I got to see animals like the Asiatic Black Bear, Spotted Hyena, the Hippopotamus and the Scimitar Horned Oryx. I found it fascinating that the rhinoceros, although having a poor vision, can attack with a speed of 55km/hr when it feels threatened. The animal weights a freaking 1000 kg!

I enjoyed the chance to see tropical animals that are indigenous to the region, such as Babirusa and Malayan Tapir. We didn’t get much of an opportunity to see the lions as they were sleeping but we were completely stunned by the Malayan Tiger exhibit. It was an unparalleled experience seeing so many animals within 10 feet of us. I would have had a lot more to share if my camera had captured the animals like my eyes did.

It was rather regrettable that we had to miss the Creatures of the Night show due to time constraints. I was really looking forward to it. The Safari celebrated its 20th anniversary a day after our visit.

 

We had dinner at Nalan’s before retiring to our rooms for the day. My sister and I were perhaps the most fortunate as our room provided a good view of the city.  Here is the view as seen from the room. (See the Singapore Flyer in the right 🙂 )

 

 

Here are a few essential tips to be kept in mind while planning for a tour abroad

  • Be aware of the check-in and check-out times of the hotel. Choose your flight accordingly so that slack time is cut down.
  • If possible accustom yourself to the new time zone in advance (2-3 days before the journey) so that effect of jetlag is minimum
  • If on a limited budget try booking through tour operators as they get better deals.
  • In case of a planned tour, it is essential to have a basic idea about the places to visit. Research about the popular places, shopping malls and local markets
  • Keep the schedule flexible (In case things don’t work out as planned you should be able to adjust it accordingly).
  • It is advisable to find out a little about the restaurants in advance if you have special dietary needs (we had a hard time searching for exclusive vegetarian restaurants)

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Here are a few tips while planning to visit the Night Safari

  • Have enough rest before going to the safari. You will surely miss out on something interesting if you doze off in the middle of the ride
  • The place has almost tropical weather. Having an insect repellent is advisable (I learnt this the hard way).
  • If you are enthusiastic about seeing as many animals as possible, I suggest experiencing all the four walking trails (the Fishing Cat Trail, the Leopard Trail, the East Lodge Trail and the Wallaby Trail) in addition to the tram ride.
  • The safari is a treat to the eyes. Enjoy the moment and forget the camera. Most cameras fail in low light anyway