Singapore Zoo and Night Safari

 Well, this was my main reason for stopping off in Singapore – the Zoo and it’s associated Night Safari. Both are located in the same area, and as the former closes, the latter opens its doors for the night.

Getting there was easy with the directions provided and the superb public transport system in Singapore. A short walk to the MRT station, about 50p for a ticket, arrive at interchange and swap to the bus for another 50p and I was there. In total, it took about an hour. Everywhere I had to stop and ask people, they were incredibly helpful. Schoolkids who needed to get past me said “excuse me”. Anyone I thanked said “you’re welcome”. I’m in the land of polite people and it’s such a refreshing change.

At the Zoo, I bought a 3-park “hopper” pass for the main zoo, the Night Safari and the Bird Park for tomorrow. The grand total was S$40 – around £12.50. This is an astoundingly good price considering Singapore’s reputation for it’s “touristy” attractions. And let me tell you, that reputation is well-deserved.

 Now, I loved Auckland Zoo. Edinburgh’s not bad. Chester was wonderful – the first I’d been to in years at the time. Barcelona is eye-opening. But Singapore Zoo really is superb. I mean no disrespect to the others as Singapore has one major advantage over many others – the climate. Many of the animals here (and in other zoos) come from hot, humid climates: Africa, Asia and South America. Edinburgh can’t hope to keep, say, a tiger in the right conditions without some kind of environmental control whereas Singapore can keep them in the open air all year round.

This aside, the layout is superb. So much thought has gone into everything from the signposts to the names of the burgers at the attached restaurants. The range of animals is just wonderful, the conditions they are kept in just as good as you could hope for in most cases (sadly, cages are still necessary in some cases) and the place is spotless. Staff are also very knowledgable, enthusiastic and helpful.

Singapore Zoo has the largest primate collection in the world, and they know what to do with it. Orangutan roam freely in several areas and could, I’m sure, just clamber down from the trees should they wish. Two very small primates did, in fact, do just that. They were fed just off one of the pathways and took to running back and forth near the visitors.

There are several areas where tourists can walk around with no cages, bars or glass between them and the animals. The best by far (in my opinion) was the Fragile Forest exhibit with sloth, tree kangaroo, flying foxes, ring-tailed lemur and countless butterflies and parrots. Absolutely awe-inspiring. I can’t believe how close I was to some of these beautiful animals, and able to get some of the best photos I’ve ever taken.

 In addition, some shows are put on during the day at the amphitheatre, as well as many “feedings” where visitors can watch or participate (usually for a few dollars). I watch one of the shows and paid S$5 to have my photo taken with a sealion and a monitor lizard. Worth every penny as it goes towards the zoo’s own conservation drive.

What else? Blimey. Well, I saw my first ever Komodo Dragon in the flesh. It took some doing as he/she didn’t want to come out at midday and just poked his/her head up out of the burrow. Later in the afternoon, he/she finally went for a wander and I got some good pictures.

A bizarre one, but I saw two Giant Tortoises attempting to make baby Giant Tortoises. And who thought tortoises were quiet creatures? Without too much detail, the male makes a fair bit of a hollow gaspy grunt each time he … erm… thrusts. So now I know how to tell the difference between male and female tortoises. The male’s the one on top.

Singapore Zoo also has the only three white tigers in captivity. These stunning creatures are not albino – they have pink noses, blue eyes and pink pads on their feet. They’re also completely mesmerising.

I could go on.

I will.

It has the only “research and study” exhibit I’ve ever seen at a zoo. Nobody else seemed to either find it or care, but this small boxed room near the entrance has some interesting information on animal care and health. And… windows into the veterinary surgery where animals are taken for treatment. While I was there, I could see a small hooved animal having work done on one of its feet. I couldn’t see much more as there was someone (with a very nice bum) leaning over the table from the side I was looking from. That kind of thing would be pot luck, but the surgery seemed geared up for most of the “not huge” animals.

 The amount of educational material available at all the exhibits is top notch. There are mildly interactive things for kids to play with, a water fun park for them to splash in at lunchtime and no fewer than two KFCs. I admit to using both of them, but only as the burger joint that’s part of the Night Safari was so expensive, I had no other choice than to double back and have a KFC for dinner – it was less than half the price of a meal at Bongo Burger.

Onto the Night Safari and as the name suggests this attraction is geared at nocturnal creatures. As such, I have very few pictures as flash photography isn’t allowed in the park. This, of course, doesn’t stop some idiots. Bumping into them and making them drop their camera so it smashes, however, does.

The walkways and tram both open at 7pm, just as the sun’s starting to go below the horizon. Night falls within roughly 30 minutes of this time, and being on the equator this time doesn’t change year-round. Some of the animals they have here are just beautiful, and you’d simply not get the chance to see them in other zoos without keeping them indoors and messing with their body clocks.

Several of the animals are “repeats” from the main zoo – giraffes, lions, tigers and so on – but it’s worth seeing them in the near-dark. Their behaviour is different. For other animals, night-time is simply the only time they’ll move. Watching a leopard pace around through just a centimetre of glass maybe isn’t the closest I’ve been to a wild cat this year, but it’s still enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. The lesser bush-baby has the opposite effect and I just wanted to cuddle it and take it home.

The Night Safari is less than half the size of the main zoo, but is definitely worth a visit – especially for the Creatures of the Night show which was packed to the rafters for the performance I saw. On the way in there had been another show – again I’d paid S$5 to have some pictures taken with a serval, a python and an owl. There are also a place on the way round where you can have a snap with a corn snake.

Afterwards, I opted for the easier single bus back for $4. A whole 30p more than public transport, but less faff. I couldn’t believe that I got stuck in a traffic jam at 10:40pm. Only in Singapore, I guess – it really is a 24-hour city.

I’ve only been able to pick a small smattering of pics to post with this entry. The rest of the ones I like will go onto Fotopic when I get the chance. Posted by Picasa

Hanoi on a motorbike

 Another early rise as I had to get to the Blue Dragon to meet Van who was going to show me around Hanoi. One of my two regular motorbikes drove me up for 9:00 and Van arrived shortly after. We decided on a rough route and then set off.

Our first stop was to be the My Dinh National Stadium which lies somewhere to the north of Hanoi. On the way we drove past the older pagoda in Hanoi (Tran Quoc) which I hope we get a chance to stop at the next time.

After maybe 20 minutes, we arrived at the stadium. The road in front is a huge open space. Van assured me that when a national match is on the whole area is rammed to the gills with fans, only a fraction of whom will have a ticket. When we were there, however, the area was barren lending it an almost spooky feel. The arches over the top remind me of Bolton’s ground.

I had only intended to see the ground from the outside, but Van drove up to the guard’s shack to see if we could go around. He was told that we couldn’t as there were “staffing issues”. He called the information line and was told this wasn’t the case. His reasoning is that it’s because I’m a foreigner and the stadium’s in an awful state internally. Apparently the building was given to the highest bidder – a Chinese firm – who cut corners left, right and centre. As a result, despite it’s impressive opening it has fallen into a scary amount of desrepair over the last year or so.

This, as I said, is only a theory. He did say he’d find out if there was likely to be a game there while I’m in Hanoi – in which case we can get tickets.

I managed to get some snaps of the outside, and also of the National Swimming Stadium across the plaza. Again, we weren’t allowed to even drive around the building. Ah, well.

Van then asked if I wanted to stop for a drink in Hanoi’s largest superstore. OK, different! It’s called “Big C” and Van used to go there to study on weekends as his university library was closed then. It is pretty big by Vietnamese standards – in fact it’s just large – but compared to placed like the Metro Centre it’s small fry. It is larger than most out-of-town supermarkets in the UK, though. And they have a shop that does smoothies and fruit drinks which gives it the edge.

 Refreshments drunk and bottled water in hand, we cycled off towards the zoo. I’ve heard some horror stories about Asian zoos, including Japan surprisingly enough, but Hanoi’s isn’t as bad as I was expecting. I would best describe it as similar to the UK’s zoos maybe 25 years ago. Far too many cages, not enough free space for the animals and just that little bit too mucky.

The animals themselves seem to be in moderately good health (except the ostriches, two of which seemed to be regrowing half of their feathers after being near-bald), but the enclosures simply weren’t big enough by today’s standards. Also, there was no policing of people feeding the animals so I’m sure they’re not getting the right diets. Sadly, this is going to be typical of any country with more pressing monetary concerns.

 Passing through one of the areas where Van used to live as a student, we stopped for lunch. I’ll let you guess what we had! Afterwards, we drove to the Museum of Ethnicity. As Van put it when we paid for the tickets, “espensif”. 20,000d to me isn’t a great deal, but when other places are as cheap as 2000d, 5000d or 12000d it is comparitively pricey. However, it is well maintained and large. Allow 90 minutes to an hour if you ever go. Inside, there are many exhibits of tools, weapons and the like used by many of the ethnic tribes, plus a large section about the years during which Vietnam was essentially run on food stamps.

Outside, however, are the best exhibits. Hand-built houses, meeting halls and funeral pyres crafted using proper materials and methods. These are all full-sized and can be climbed into and walked around. Van gave me a lot of interesting information about the farmhouse as he was born and brought up in one!

 The heat was beginning to get to both of us (it was 40 degrees C) as we biked back towards the Old Quarter and the Temple of Literature. This isn’t a huge structure, but is beautifully made and laid out – in great nick considering it’s around 1000 years old. It also houses the first Vietnamese university and statues dedicated to all the doctors who graduated from it over the centuries.

It was after we’d been there that Van confessed he wasn’t feeling too well, so we cut the day slightly short. He’d been off work for a day or so but hadn’t wanted to let me down for the day out! He took me back to the hostel and headed home for a rest as he’s away in Hue on business later in the week.

There were few people around when I got back – quite a few had been dragged up to Barracuda to watch Australia destroy South Africa in the rugby. Eamonn doesn’t even like rugby that much and he came back… merry. The less said about Mike (Aussie co-owner) the better!

Before they returned, though, I popped out to lunch with Beckie – an Aussie from Brisbane. She only got out of bed around 3am with a hangover and a cut in her foot she didn’t remember getting. She managed to force down three milkshakes and a serving of lasagna while I demolished a chicken burger and chips. And some beer. Just to annoy her. She went back to bed when we got back, surfacing only to retrieve some pizza from the fridge.

Two other English girls, Louisa and Laura (I think!) from Brum, had arranged to go for drinks with the two Danish girls. Eamonn and I tagged along and we did the usual route: City View, Bia Hoi and then hostelwards via the street market. With Sunday morning and football looming, I opted for an early night. Posted by Picasa

Zoo!

 My last full day in New Zealand was spent on a worthwhile expedition to the local Zoo. The guidebooks listed it as “disappointing” mainly as it only has a small number of indigenous NZ species on show.

Having spent a good few hours wandering around in the nice “winter” sunshine, I can say that the place is far from disappointing. The major disappointment was the number of displays with no animals visible, but given that this is winter that makes sense. Many of the creatures are obviously from different climates and had opted to hibernate. Sensibly given the later afternoon temperatures once the sun had started to drop.

 Entry is $18 for an adult and a full visit will take around 5 hours, more if you have kids in tow. More again if someone like me doesn’t resist the temptation to get them to shut the hell up and stop frightening the animals. Not that I’m saying some of the children were less than well behaved.

OK, that’s a lie. Some of the children were less than well behaved. In museums I’ll tolerate it. You can’t scare paintings into hiding in a museum. At least, I’ve yet to see this happen. If I did, I’d be impressed.

 
I managed to take well in excess of 200 pictures over the course of the day (let’s hear a cheer for high-capacity digital cameras), some of them even worth looking at more than once. The variety of animals was quite impressive, and the enclosures pretty good by modern standards. There are many places where you can get near hands-on experience with the animals, and by booking in advance there are “behind the scenes” tours. If I have the time in future, I’ll definitely investigate these. As it was, I got to feed a giraffe – worth the trip alone. Anyone who’s heard me rattle on about Chester Zoo will know how much I like giraffes.

There’s not a lot more to say about the day. We wandered round a zoo and saw animals. Some I really liked (the ring-tailed lemurs and red pandas probably topped the list) and some were moderately dull (alligators refusing to show more than their eyes – boo!). However, if you visit Auckland, it’s worth the time. The zoo’s also semi-attached to the MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology) but we didn’t have time to visit both. Maybe next time!

 
Later in the evening we managed to lose another pub quiz with Indy and Lisa (and some other people, who also helped us lose – very kind). I’m just happy with the pictures I took today. Very much worthwhile. And I want a lemur as a pet. They’re the most laid back animals I’ve ever seen!