Saturday, September 6, 2008

Day 2: Singapore, Arrival in Phuket

I was surprised by how modern, Western, and amazingly clean Singapore is. Our cab driver said Singapore used to be called a "fine country," meaning residents were fined for nearly everything, including litter. It obviously worked, because there's no trash to be found anywhere. It's also supposed to be one of the safest cities in the world. And it's beautifully lush.

We got up early today and headed out first for the Botanic Gardens. The first challenge, though, was to get past the mob outside the Marriott. That was apparently the popular place to be. First, it's the Mid-Autumn festival, so that means mooncakes. Mooncakes are baked filled pastries, and a lot of higher end restaurants and hotels come up with new and interesting varieties each year. The Marriott introduces a new signature mooncake flavor each year, and the stand outside was bombarded with taste testers and people buying boxes of mooncakes. On top of that, Formula 1 Racing is coming to Singapore for its first-ever night race, and there was a full-size Formula 1 car replica on display outside the Marriott. Construction is going on all around the city in preparation for the race, and we caught a glimpse of the spectator grandstands that are going up along the streets when we were headed back to the airport.

We walked to the Botanic Gardens and strolled through the Gardens (which are free to the public), which reminded me a lot of walking through Central Park. We headed directly for our intended destination, the National Orchid Garden located inside the park. Admission to the Orchid Garden is a little over $3 US per person, and for that, we were rewarded with the most spectactular exhibits of orchids you could imagine. I was overwhelmed by how many varieties there were and how gorgeous they are. I think I took at least a hundred pictures of orchids, most of which don't capture just how beautiful and delicate these flowers are. My favorite were the fragranced varieties, and the vanilla one in particular. Really lovely.

After a few hours at the Garden, we caught a cab to the Jurong Bird Park, which was not even on my radar for this trip. But our guide book flipped to it when I was looking for something else, it looked interesting, and it was closer (and smaller) than the Zoo, which I would have loved to have seen if we had had more time. Admission was more expensive ($12 US) but well worth it. The Bird Park was incredible. There were thousands of species of birds, many of which I'd never seen, and the exhibits and enclosures were amazing - huge, lush, and resembling natural habitats as much as possible. Many of the exhibits were actually free-flying aviaries, so once inside, it was a game to spot as many birds as possible. We could have spent hours in one aviary just trying to pick out the hundreds of birds inside. After seeing how beautiful the Orchid Garden and the Bird Park are, I was even more disappointed that we didn't get to the Zoo, which I have heard is one of the best in the world. Next time, I guess.

We had no problems getting to Phuket, which was a huge relief. We arrived after dark, though, so haven't yet had a chance to see how beautiful the island is. Driving ourselves from the airport to the hotel in a rental car was scary as hell, but we made it and checked in around 8:00 p.m. The service here has been impeccable, everyone is so friendly and nice, and the condo is fabulous. I can't wait to relax here for the next seven days.

Entrance to the Singapore Botanic Gardens:

Entrance to the National Orchid Garden:

One of about a hundred orchid photos I took at the Garden:

Waterfall Aviary at the Jurong Bird Park:

This cute little guy greeted us in our condo upon arrival in Phuket:

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