a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Singapore: wonderful botanic gardens and the world's largest bird park

What Stephen and I enjoyed most about Singapore were the world famous gardens and parks throughout the city. Next to the huge Marina Bay Sands complex is the incredible "Gardens by the Bay", 250 acres of planned gardens on reclaimed land. The Singapore government has an intentional strategy to make Singapore not just a "Garden City" but a "City in a Garden" for the health and well being of its residents. Most of the space is public and free.
There are creative information portals like this telescope looking one.
Pointing it in different directions gave us information about the plant and animal life or the man made structures.
It was raining on one of the days that we walked around the gardens but we didn't mind a bit. Rain in the tropics is sometimes really nice, when it's not a downpour that is.
There are special features that have an entrance fee: the Flower Dome, the Cloud Forest, and the walkway up in the Supertree Grove. We went into the Flower Dome first, a cooled conservatory.
 If I lived in Singapore, I just might purchase a season pass to the Flower Dome.
After a couple of hours in the Flower Dome we went to the Cloud Forest, also a cooled conservatory. It replicates the climate of tropical mountain regions at 3000ft-9800ft above sea level found in Southeast Asia and South America.
"Cloud Mountain" is 138ft high. This manmade structure is completely covered with plants like orchids, ferns and mosses.
At the very top we saw crazy pitcher plants and fly traps.
We took the elevator up to the top and walked down on the escalators and walkways.
The walkways are grating that you can see through to everything below. I'm not very keen on heights, so I marveled at a little girl I saw squatting and peering down through the grating clearly fascinated by the view. It was pretty cool actually.
We didn't go up in the skyway in the Supertree Grove since we could see and enjoy them from the ground. The Supertrees are fitted with technologies that captures solar energy. That energy is used to help light the trees at night and cool the conservatories. All part of a larger scheme to make Singapore one of the "greenest" cities in the world.
To get to the world's largest bird park, Jurong BirdPark, we took the green line almost to the end.
Then transferred to a bus, using our tourist subway cards. Did I mention how much I love public transit in Singapore?
The penguin exhibit was the only air conditioned part of the bird park, everything else was open air. And with 50 acres of park to walk and explore, I easily sweat buckets. Ha! But it was super fun to be in such lush manicured surroundings seeing unique and amazing birds.
Like these Crowned Pigeons, the world's largest pigeons. They look more like peacocks than pigeons to me.
"Royal Ramble", the habitat for the three types of crowned pigeons, was one of several interactive aviaries in the park. It's really cool to get right in with the birds.
Other displays were cages that I could get close enough to get a clear shot. Like this parrot with personality.
Or this hornbill, native to Kenya.
My favorite part of the bird park was the "Lory Loft". We could walk along these swinging walkways inside the lorikeet flight aviary. These colorful birds were everywhere and because they are used to being fed they came right up to you.
Stephen was a good sport and fed them so that I could take close up photos.
Wildlife photography is challenging but fun. The birds were almost constantly moving so every second was a different pose. I think I got a pretty fun one here. :)
Even the bathrooms were fun at this exhibit. There was a screen across the whole wall behind the sinks so you could look out and watch the birds while you were washing your hands!
The two hours we had at the park before it closed flew by and we didn't have enough time for all the exhibits. So just before closing time we ran (almost) to the "African Waterfall Aviary", Stephen's favorite place.
If we ever get a chance to visit again, and I hope we do, then we'll start in here first. There were some beautiful birds flying in the trees.
As we made our way to the exit of the park, I spotted this giant lizard totally motionless in the foliage.
The other big garden that we went to was the 183 acre Singapore Botanic Gardens. It's the only botanic garden in the world that is open from 5am-12 midnight every single day of the year and does not charge a fee except for The National Orchid Garden. Bravo Singapore!
Near the entrance of the park (which was right on a subway station by the way, brilliant!) we came upon this black swan. It was really not concerned about me at all and I could get quite close.
The National Orchid Garden was well worth the small entrance fee. I was amazed by the variety of orchids!
Just look at how crazy beautiful they are! I took hundreds of photos while Stephen waited patiently. :)

So it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip. We love Singapore. Not only are there these wonderful places to enjoy and relax in nature, but the city appears to be a remarkable blend of East and West. It's definitely one of the most intriguing places I've ever visited.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Singapore 2.0

Our second trip to Singapore was twice as long and a whole lot more fun. After a day at Raffles Hospital for follow up tests for Stephen, we spent the rest of the time relaxing and enjoying the city.
One of the great things about Singapore is the mass transit system. We took the subway from the airport to our hotel for $2.40 Singapore dollars each, which is $1.91 US dollars each. We only had to change trains once and it was a lot easier, faster and definitely cheaper than a taxi.
Our first hotel was The Porcelain that I booked after reading almost two dozen customer reviews in which nearly every person wrote that the rooms were too small.:) But for Stephen and me square footage is not the most important quality of a space. We are definitely fans of creatively designed small spaces. Like the Citizen M hotel in Amsterdam or the model apartments in IKEA. From the information I could glean online, I suspected the The Porcelain was in this category. Turns out I was mostly right.
There was a lot I really liked about our room: comfortable bed, soft lighting, rain shower head, iridescent tile, great air conditioner. And the location of the hotel was in Chinatown just minutes from the Chinatown subway station so we had quick easy access to the whole city.
Our first meal in Singapore was a feast of Chinese food. Authentic Szechuan food is super spicy. We ordered "less spicy" but everything still came packed with red chilies  Our eyes were watering and our noses were running but we willingly suffered through because the food was so delicious! :)
Singapore is a great walking city. As soon as we dropped our bags off at the hotel, Stephen and I set out walking. It just felt great to get out and about. This is another thing I love about Singapore: lots of clean open sidewalks.
Singapore is still hot and humid, the typical high is about 87 degrees fahrenheit year round, so not quite as hot as Cambodia but walking around is a lot less treacherous. Plus there are whimsical and interesting features like these benches.
And these water features.
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is a landmark for the city. (It's the one that looks like three buildings connected at the top by a spaceship type thing.) The top is a skypark with a huge infinity pool.  The giant lotus looking structure in the lower left of the photo is the ArtScience Museum. Connected to the hotel is a shopping center and we went there to eat several times. At one restaurant we ordered the "Mediterranean Platter". So many flavors and all delicious.
There are many shopping malls in Singapore and I did a bit of shopping in our first few days. Shopping is hard work so we made sure to refuel with bubble tea often. :)
In Singapore you get to choose your sugar level. Stephen and I both chose 20%. :)

When it was time to do some laundry, Stephen found a laundromat in Chinatown that was about a 5 minute walk from the hotel. It was so awesome to have our clothes cleaned by good commercial machines! I tell you, after 2 years living in Cambodia, these are the things I appreciate!
I also appreciate first world coffee shops and for breakfast a couple of mornings we went to either Starbucks or Tully"s.
Coffee shops are where I like to journal and Stephen reads. Plus I like hot coffee better than iced coffee and it's much more pleasant to drink hot beverages in the air conditioning. :)

Starbucks had two stores on Marina Bay and one morning we walked to the one furthest from our hotel because outside the first one we came upon was wall to wall groups of Korean and/or Japanese tourists all wearing matching shirts. It was madness. When we walked back later that morning there were still tons of people around the MerLion fountain.
We even went to a couple of new movies in an actual theater during our trip to Singapore. I love going to the theater and these ones had really nice seats. But it was freezing in those theaters. Before going to the second movie I remembered to put a jacket in Stephen's backpack!
Singapore is great in the evening. A lot of people work really long hours so they like to go out late after the workday is done for drinks and food. The temperature cools off and the lights are are so pretty and reflecting off the water. It just feels really relaxed and pleasant. We loved it.
Stephen had a dark ale like he likes and we ordered some chicken wings, real pub fare in an Asian setting.

For the second half of our trip we stayed in a different hotel called Studio M in one of their loft rooms. We booked it because we thought by that time we'd feel more like resting than exploring the city so we wanted a nice space with a good view.
We did rest a bit more because our hotel room was so nice and comfortable but we still did plenty of exploring. Singapore has a number of amazing and beautiful parks and gardens. I filled nearly a whole 16GB disk with pictures from these wonderful green spaces and accumulated quite a bit of reference material for artwork! Yay! In my next post I'll share some of the fun shots I got and how lucky the people living in Singapore are to have these places to go to in their city.