Well, our time in Singapore has almost come to an end. It's been an incredible six month adventure for both Joe and I, and I've loved every minute of it!
Before we journeyed to the Far East, I felt overwhelmed by all of the opportunities to explore the region. How were we going to do everything we wanted to do and see everything we wanted to see? However, we accomplished more than I ever could have imagined.
In just six months, we traveled to 11 different cities (not including Singapore) and thoroughly explored the multitude of history and culture the region has to offer. I took a total of 3,330 photos and love reliving our travels through them. The memories we've created here are amazing and I'm really glad to have had this opportunity.
My favorite thing about Singapore was the diversity of this country. It was really neat to meet people from different countries and to enjoy the many cuisines here. A second place favorite was the accessibility and comfort of Singapore. The transportation here is awesome, and you never have to worry about needing a clean place to eat or take a break. Third, I really liked the hot weather here. There were times I could have used a little more sunshine (we were here during rainy season), but it sure beats suffering through a cold winter in the states!
My favorite experiences during these past six months were our trips to Bali and Koh Phi Phi because there were a few "firsts" for me. In Bali, I loved learning how to surf. It was difficult, but a ton of fun. In Koh Phi Phi, I loved island hopping and snorkeling with the tropical marine life. I've never seen such beautiful ocean in my life! Plus, it was nice to share the experience with the Lopez family.
I hope all of you have enjoyed reading about our adventures through my blog. I made it a goal to document everything, both to keep in touch with friends and family and so that Joe and I can remember our trips for years to come. Our next adventure, house hunting in North Carolina, won't be nearly as exciting, but Joe and I are looking forward to returning back to the US. However, don't think our travels are done for a while... we're already planning our next few trips for 2013. The travel bug has gotten the best of us!
Adios Southeast Asia... until next time!!!
Posing in front of a lake on Pulau Ubin
It's hard to believe that this past weekend was our final weekend here in Singapore. We made the most of it with two very active day excursions.
On Saturday, we journeyed to Pulau Ubin with our German friends, Katharina and Soeren. Pulau Ubin is one of Singapore's islands, and is a quick ferry ride away. The island is known for its nature trails on which you can walk or bike.
My first thought when we docked on Pulau Ubin is that it doesn't look anything like Singapore. In fact, it reminded me more of Vietnam. There is very little infrastructure and the bike rental stores are run down. There are also a ton of island dogs that appeared to be strays, although I suppose they could have been pets. What surprised me the most about the island is that people actually live there. I had imagined that it was solely a nature reserve, but we saw several shoddy shacks along our path. This was also a striking difference as you don't generally see these types of houses in Singapore.
Pulau Ubin was a great escape from the concrete jungle. It's lush and tropical, and probably resembles what Singapore used to look like. I'm glad the government didn't build too many modern structures on the island. It was refreshing to bike around on dirt trails and I enjoyed exploring the scenery.
Docking on Pulau Ubin
Huts where you can rent bikes
One of the trails is an ocean trek - a platform was built above the ocean so that people can see the native wildlife. We read signs that explained there is a reef with flatworms as well as a seaweed lagoon. Unfortunately, the tide was really high when we were there, so we couldn't really see anything.
Along a different trail, there is a really tall watchtower. We climbed to the top and had a spectacular view of the island as well as Singapore off in the distance.
At the top of the watch tower
View of the jungle
Boar wrestles with a coconut
And of course, a nature trek wouldn't be complete without a few animal encounters. During one of our pit stops, we came across a wild boar and her baby. The boar was extremely funny and comfortable around humans. She wrestled with a coconut, trying to bite it open. However, the coconut was muddy and slobbery, so it kept slipping out of her snout. Every so often, the boar would get frustrated and then walk around the bike parking area, sniffing baskets to see if she could steal any food. I was shocked at how close we could get to the wild boar!
We also encountered several monkeys along a different trail. At first, they watched us cautiously, keeping their distance. Then, one of them caught sight of the shiny granola bar wrappers in Joe's backpack. The monkey tried several times to sneak up on Joe, but ran away every time Joe turned. Although the monkey stayed away from Joe, it sprinted at me and looked like it was going to jump on my back (just my luck!). Joe yelled at it and I screamed and pedaled my bike as fast as I could. Luckily, I got away untouched but it certainly gave me a heart attack! I can't quite figure out why monkeys always try to attack me!
Joe gets close to the boar
On the pier at East Coast Park
On Sunday, we went out to the East Coast Park of Singapore with our friends Kim and Eric. The East Coast Park was another great getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city (Joe and I kept asking ourselves why we waited so long to discover these tranquil places!). The park is very extensive and follows the coastline, and there are paved running and bike paths that guide you along the way. The view of the ocean was really pretty, and I was shocked at how blue the water looked because the water around Singapore is generally brown.
Overall, we enjoyed our exploratory and active weekend. We'll certainly miss this awesome, warm weather when we're back in the states!
Monkey at the entrance of the zoo
The Singapore Zoo is awesome! Joe and I enjoy it so much that we've visited the zoo twice. What makes it especially entertaining is that it's quite an interactive experience.
At the entrance of the zoo, there are a few different types of monkeys that roam around freely. They hop from tree to tree and allowed us to get pretty close to them for photos. I'm amazed that they don't try to escape through the front entrance (which isn't blocked off by gates or anything that might keep them in), but I suppose they enjoy the consistent feeding times and attention.
The main attraction of the zoo at the moment is the panda exhibit. Two pandas, Jia Jia and Kai Kai, came to Singapore from China just a few months ago, around the time that we arrived in Singapore. I remember seeing all of the advertising and banners that promoted the new duo.
As you can imagine, the exhibit is really popular. Zoo visitors have to buy a separate ticket to see the pandas during one of the showings, and tickets sell out fast. The day Joe and I wanted to see the pandas, tickets were sold out. We got lucky because a group of guys happened to have two extra tickets (their friends left the zoo early) and offered them to us. With tickets in hand, we waited in a really long line to enter the exhibit. Once inside, we were restricted to enjoying the animals for only 15 minutes.
The pandas are housed in a really big enclosure that is temperature controlled as Singapore is too hot for the pandas. The air conditioning was a nice perk for us as well! The walkway for visitors was built above the enclosure so that we could see the pandas without having to deal with a restrictive glass wall. The bears are extremely cute. The day we saw them, they lazily walked around enjoyed some bamboo.
The exhibit also features red pandas, which were Joe's favorite animals at the zoo. The red pandas are actually free to roam around the exhibit and walk around on logs that are suspended over the tourist walkway. We were able to get really close to one, so close we could have pet it (totally wish this was an option)!
Cute red panda!
Don't remember if this is Kai Kai or Jia Jia
The line for the panda exhibit - and this was just our 4pm showing!
Joe feeding giraffes
A neat aspect of the zoo is that you can follow the feeding schedule of all the animals to see them in action and even feed some of the friendlier ones. The second time we visited the zoo, we made sure to get there bright and early so we didn't miss anything. It's funny how entertaining it can be to watch animals eat. Joe and I felt like little kids as we lined up to feed the various animals or to get a good view.
We started off by visiting the elephants during their bath time. Although we didn't feed the elephants, we got a good laugh as we watched a little girl carefully give the animals fruit and veggies. I could tell she was nervous and didn't want the elephants to touch her. So, she would walk up slowly and just close enough for them to grab the food, then back away quickly.
Joe and I got to feed giraffes, which was cool. I wasn't sure what to expect and thought feeding a giraffe might be similar to feeding a horse. However, it was very different. Giraffes have really long tongues which they use to grab their food. The giraffes at the zoo were very aggressive as we held out bits of carrots and celery. The male giraffe in the group got greedy when it was Joe's turn to feed them and kept pushing the female out of the way.
We were slightly late to the feedings of both the kangaroos and goats, but Joe and I still had an opportunity to pet the animals. Kangaroos are super soft and super cute. This was one of the highlights of my day! Joe loved petting the goats. One in particular, which we named Atticus, was the friendliest goat I've ever encountered. He stood completely still as we pet him and enjoyed the attention like a dog. Joe tried to pester him a bit by touching his horns and I thought Atticus might nip at him. Instead, the goat kind of shook Joe's hand off, gave him a dirty look, and then repositioned himself under Joe's hand so that he could be pet in the right place.
Kangaroos are so soft!
Joey and the joey
White tiger tries to catch his meal
Some of the most incredible feedings were the ones with the big cats. While we didn't get to participate in these, we had a great view of the feedings. The zookeepers stood out in the crowd of zoo visitors and had huge buckets of chicken and meat. They then threw pieces into the animals' enclosures.
The cheetahs were really graceful as they waited for their meat and chased it down. The tigers and lions were a little more aggressive with their meals. The leapt up and tried to swat the meat out of the air. They are incredible beasts!
Cheetah waiting for his meal
The lioness is ready to eat!
Meerkats eating worms - I threw this photo in because these animals are cute
Orangutan swinging around
Another neat aspect of the zoo is that there are quite a few animals that are allowed to roam around freely without being enclosed in a cage or behind glass. This is far different than what I've experienced in the US. I was actually quite shocked by the fact that humans can get so close to the animals and vice versa. I guess the zoo has never had a problem with this.
Near the entrance of the zoo, a family of orangutans are allowed to roam around freely (and they are huge!). They have a "playground" that looks like a high ropes course and they swing around above the heads of visitors. They can come down to the trail at any time. I can't imagine what it would be like to come face to face with an orangutan that decided to say hi to humans. I wonder if an angry orangutan has ever tried to attack anyone!
The next animal encounter we had was in the rainforest section of the zoo. This is a very large area that we had to enter through a series of doors (multiple doorways ensure the animals don't get out). Once inside, we were face to face with dozens of different animals that we could have touched, although signs throughout the exhibit said "no touching of animals." The little kids, of course, did what they wanted to. A few tried grabbing the tails of monkeys, some successful. I was nervous for the children because I was afraid the animals might bite them!
The creepiest animals were bats that hung upside down along the trail, presumably trying to sleep. I've never been so close to a bat before! During our walk a lemur leapt out in the middle of the trail and then let us follow him for a bit. This was certainly amusing! The only creature we didn't catch a glimpse of was the sloth. I was disappointed about this! Maybe next time...
The lemur that leapt out onto the trail
A monkey that got its tail pulled by a little boy
View from Mount Faber
Singapore's Underwater World aquarium came highly recommended by a few of my former English students, so Joe and I checked it out a few weekends ago. Underwater World is on Sentosa Island. This location conveniently happened to give us a reason to combine our trip to the aquarium with another Singaporean experience - the cable car ride.
The cable car ride has three different boarding sites. The highest is on Mount Faber, which is actually more of a big hill rather than a mountain (although, I believe this is one of the tallest points in Singapore). The station on Mount Faber is called the Jewel Box and is surprisingly really nice. There are several upscale restaurants in the station and the bathrooms (yes, the bathrooms) are quite stunning. The view of lush greenery is a nice contrast to the concrete jungle.
And as I've mentioned before, Singapore LOVES Angry Birds, so all of the cable cars are decorated with this theme. We even got some Angry Birds masks to wear for the ride and some souvenir themed cups. It was all extremely cheesy, but extremely funny and cute.
I had to include a photo of one of the bathrooms!
Angry Bird Ana
From Mount Faber, the cable car ride to Sentosa takes roughly 15 minutes. It was fun to see Singapore from above. The cars made a quick pit stop at the mid-point station at Vivo City mall, and then went on to the final destination on Sentosa's Siloso beach.
From the station, we made the 20-minute trek to Underwater World. There are free buses on the island, but we decided to enjoy the view and walk. It is surprising how much nature there is on Sentosa compared to the rest of Singapore. Joe and I imagined that much of the greenery is native to the island, and that Singapore's jungles must have been beautiful at one point in time.
We finally made it to Underwater World and joined the crowds of families that were excited to see the marine life. I felt like a little kid as I "oohed" and "aahed" at everything we saw. As we entered the venue, Joe and I were immediately drawn to a petting tank filled with fish and sting rays. Joe was braver than me, and stuck his hand into the water. Joe started petting a fish, and we were amazed when it stopped swimming and held still for several minutes. It was almost as if the fish liked getting pet... like a dog! Joe said the fish was one of the softest things he's ever felt!
An employee then showed us how the sting rays eat by holding a piece of squid in the water. The sting ray came up to his hand and sucked on it... gross! You can see this in the video below.
The soft fish that Joe pet
My favorite shrimp... looks like a flamenco dancer!
A huge spider crab
Another highlight of our visit was the pink dolphin and sea lion show. The sea lions were first to come out. They wowed the crowd with their tricks and dancing. They listened to their handlers' commands just like dogs! They were super cute. A member of the audience was chosen to lead one of them in a trick and then got to pet it. I was jealous!
Next, the pink dolphins came out and did some tricks. Pink dolphins are native to Southeast Asia. We learned that they are born grey but slowly lose this color as they get older. As this happens, they turn pink. I've posted some videos of the show below.
If you're ever in Singapore, I recommend a visit to Underwater World. It was a ton of fun!
... especially here in Singapore. Joe and I get a kick out of seeing all of the Angry Birds gear and displays. For those of you who play the game, you might know about the new space version. It's all the rage at Singapore's Changi airport. Joe and I did some moonlighting as astronauts at one of the many Angry Birds interactive zones the last time we were at the airport.
New Year's Eve dinner
Happy new year from Singapore! I hope all of you had a great holiday season. Joe and I enjoyed spending the last few weeks together relaxing on the beach in Boracay, Philippines as well as here in Singapore (hence my absence from the blog).
We rang in the new year with new friends, Kim and Eric, at an Irish Pub and then enjoyed drinks by our pool. As I look back on 2012, I can't believe how adventurous the year was for both me and Joe. It was certainly a year of firsts as we traveled to new countries and had new experiences.
Some of our friends and family back home have asked about the winter weather here in Singapore, so I thought I'd write a posting on this topic. In short, the weather here is always hot and winter is no different. We're only a few degrees from the equator, so thankfully (for me at least), we won't see any snow while we're here. It does feel a little strange to be in balmy 90 degree weather everyday because it makes me forget what month it is!
However, there is one negative to being in a tropical climate. Winter in Singapore means it's monsoon season here. We are pelted with rain everyday, usually in the afternoon around 2pm. One minute the skies are sunny and blue, and the next minute it's a grey, thunderous apocalypse outside. The showers here are heavy and violent... so much so that an umbrella won't keep you dry. And, as you can see in the video below, the rain hinders visibility. You can barely see our neighboring buildings during a storm (compare the video with the photo of a sunny day).
Needless to say, monsoon season has kept me indoors more often than I'd like to be!
Joe and I discovered this shirt at a TOPMAN store here in Singapore. It was random to see a Columbus, Ohio shirt in Singapore, even if TOPMAN is an international brand. I wonder if the graphic designer had worked at Abercrombie & Fitch in his/her past. In any case, it was a nice and random reminder of home! Wonder how well this is selling with the Singaporeans, considering Columbus isn't as well known as cities such as NYC and LA...
Masjid Sultan Mosque
The month of November was certainly a whirlwind of travel for Joe and I... speaking of, our update on Myanmar is coming your way soon. However, we did take some time to explore a part of Singapore we'd never been to before - Arab Street.
Just as it sounds, Arab Street and the surrounding area (a few blocks) is a little nook that is known for its Middle Eastern influence. The main building in this area is the impressive Masjid Sultan Mosque. It's a beautiful building that towers over stores and restaurants.
Textiles are a booming business in this area. We saw several stores full of beautiful, colorful fabrics as well as fine oriental rugs. Aside from raw materials, Arab Street is also known for boutique shopping. There are many cute stores that sell interesting, unique clothing at a reasonable price. It's a nice change from the brand name stores in the Orchard area. I'm definitely going to go back to Arab Street to search for some hidden treasures. I like finding one-of-a-kind pieces.
The Arab Street area also houses quite a few Middle Eastern restaurants, offering Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian, and Moroccan food. Joe and I have really missed this type of cuisine since being in Singapore, so discovering these restaurants was quite a treat. We were lured in for Turkish cuisine at Derwish Restaurant by a man who I'm guessing is the owner.
Derwish is ornately decorated with murals and intricate designs. Joe and I had hummus and an array of lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs. Although not quite like the Middle Eastern food back home, the food at Derwish was good and satisfying. I wouldn't be surprised if Joe and I visit Arab street a few more times before returning to the states.
Colorful fabrics at one store
Kebabs at Derwish
Celebrating Thanksgiving with Nina
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home!
While we didn't have a traditional holiday, we improvised with a Thanksgiving buffet at Brewerkz restaurant. We were surrounded by more Americans than I've seen in one place in a long time, and our German friend, Nina, joined us for the special occasion. We pigged out on a good spread of food... I think Joe literally ate about five pounds of mashed sweet potatoes!
Joe, ready to fill a big plate with food
The buffet line
Joe is satisfied!