After settling into the room, mom and I took a taxi to the Singapore Botanic Garden. Taxis are plentiful and very cheap here. Singapore is definitely the neatest, cleanest city either of us has ever seen.
Singapore had a Prime Minister in the 1950's-70's (he is in his mid-80's now and retired) who was a real visionary and leader. He managed to convince the residents of this tiny nation (one city on a small island) that they needed to be a first world nation in a third world area in order to thrive and survive. Many of the jokes about Singapore being a "fine city" (it's even on coffee cups and t-shirts) are true. Among other things, he imposed fines for smoking, littering, gum chewing, spitting on the streets, jaywalking, etc. and encouraged people to be happy and friendly. Even today, they make announcements on inbound airplanes about not chewing gum in Singapore. You can't even buy it here. Crime against tourists is almost non-existent, and the place sparkles. Because of the extreme heat, the city planted hundreds of thousands of trees. Today, many of these are humongous and gorgeous, providing shade over the wide, gum- and spit-free sidewalks. Every bathroom -- even the public ones in tourist spots -- are clean (and western style). You do not tip taxis, but a 10 percent service charge is added to everything, along with a hefty tax, so this city is expensive.
Our first day in Singapore (May 1) was Labor Day across Asia, so the city was packed with people enjoying a long weekend. However, since everyone obeys the traffic laws, which was quite different than Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, things seems to move smoothly. We took a taxi (less than S$5) to the Botanic Gardens, which have a free entrance. Before wandering around the gardens, we ate a light lunch in the food court. It was packed with families and was great people-watching for us. The gardens were just like the city, well planned and crystal clean. It was very hot, so we took our time, searching out frequent shade to rest in. The Orchid Gardens were especially nice and well worth the S$5 charge. The Singapore Botanic Gardens are definitely a must-see, especially if you love flowers and lush tropical gardens.
We got back to the room in the mid-afternoon and took a very short rest before going to Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling. Even though taxis were cheap, we rode the subway (MRT) to see if it was as nice and easy to navigate as in Hong Kong. It was. We only rode 3 stops (about $1 per person) to the City Hall stop and walked the short distance to Raffles, the oldest hotel in Singapore and one of the world's most famous.
Raffles Hotel was built in English colonial style, with beautiful grounds. The Long Bar, which invented the Singapore Sling, was very casual. It has a long wooden bar, and serves small peanuts in their shells for snacking. Unlike the rest of Singapore, Long Bar patrons are encouraged to litter, so the floor was strewn with peanut shells. We both thought the Singapore Sling was way too sweet, and certainly overpriced, but we can say we've "been there, done that". While sitting in the bar, we ran into two couples from the ship, who were doing the same touristy thing. Price for two sweet, practically non-alcohol drinks was S$55. Reminded me of having a Bellini at Harry's Bar in Venice.
One thing you will quickly learn in Singapore--drinks are expensive wherever you go. A small bottle of water was about S$5, a local Tiger beer was S$8 or more, one cup of coffee (non-Starbucks, not at the hotel) was S$3, etc. The exchange rate was about S$1.45 to $1 US, so it's a little less than it seems, but still expensive, especially when visitors are constantly looking for something to drink.
We took a taxi back to the hotel, cooled off, and freshened up a little before heading out to dinner at Clarke Quay, an entertainment/restaurant district on the river. We got there about 6 pm, walked around a little, and settled on pizza and beer for dinner (S$50). Prices reminded us of London.
From the Clarke Quay, we took a long taxi ride to the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo. Talk about a madhouse. It was packed with tourists. What a mistake. Due to the holiday, we had to share the park with thousands of citizens (and tourists). Poor planning on my part. The Night Safari opens at 7:30 pm, and they have a "Creatures of the Night" show (geared at kids) and a tram that rides you through the park where you can see nocturnal animals. They also have several trails for exploring, but it was way too hot and we were way too tired to do the trails after our long day. The animals were definitely more active at night than in the daytime, and the park has special lights allowing us to see the animals, but not disturbing their normal behavior. I think mom and I were a little spoiled since we had such exciting game viewing in Africa just three months before. Oh well, the Night Safari was a top 10 tourist attraction, and what a great idea for the zoo to open at night. It just had too many lines -- a line at the ticket window, a line for the show, a line for the tram, and a line for a taxi home. Standing in the lines reminded me why tours are good since the guide is often standing in the line or you get to bypass the lines all together to stay on schedule. We got back to the hotel about 11:30 pm, had showers, and fell asleep.
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