It was after 6 pm or so when we finally left the Singapore Science Centre. We walked to a shopping centre where we were informed we could catch a bus that would take us directly to the Singapore Zoo. We were looking a bit haggard, tired and a little bored, especially after the non-rewarding experience of the Science Centre.
While waiting for a bus to come, I noticed something that warmed my heart a little bit. A car (a Mercedes Benz, if you must know) arrived and parked at the bus stop. Yes, a driver parked his car on a spot designated for buses only.
Suddenly, I felt like I was back in KL again. *sniff*
But then a police car came and spoiled my moment of nostalgia by forcing the driver out of the bus stop zone. Darn. Imagine what would happen if Malaysian police did the same thing? We’d actually have to wait for the bus at the bus stop as opposed to our current practice of swarming on to the busy roads and flagging down buses who can’t pull over at the designated stops because of the cars already parked there.
I mean, where’s the thrill in that?
Anyway, the bus came as scheduled and whisked us away towards the Zoo, which appararently was the final stop in its route. While my travelling comrades were probably feeling a little bored during the bus ride, I was being entertained by a cute little baby who decided to throw mini-tantrums and scold everyone on the bus in her indecipherable baby-talk. Her parents were having quite a tough time in trying to keep her quiet, but well, a baby gotta do what a baby wanna do, ya know? There’s reason #684736 for not having children, right there.
It was already dark outside by the time we got to the zoo. We headed off towards the entrance of the Night Safari, and about this time, my lack of sleep the previous night was catching up with me. I was becoming grumpier, less focused, and easily annoyed at the slightest things. I was no longer looking forward to the Night Safari as something to experience, but as something to get through as quickly as possible so I can get back to the hotel for a nice, long, restful sleep…
We paid for the tickets and queued up among the masses to wait for the trams. I think there were walking tours too, but we were feeling lazy, and why walk when you can ride a tram? Besides, in my sleepy state of mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up walking right into a dinner feast hosted by a pride of lions.
Just before queuing up, I asked a Night Safari staff member whether it was all right to bring in a camera and take pictures. She said yes, but no flash, of course. Of course.
So we waited patiently for the trams to come and whisk us away into the dark, mysterious night. I must say the staff were well-trained, patient, and above all very efficient in dealing with the logistics of getting groups of people into the tram coaches. They made sure groups travelling together were not separated and were seated together, and always responded clearly and politely to all queries. Good customer service – I commend you, staff of the Night Safari.
When our turn finally came, we three got on the first row on the second coach, with me sandwiched in the middle – not by choice. However, since I was the guy with the camera, it made some sense to be in the middle so I could have a decent view from both sides of the rather than a good view from only one side. Still, I’d rather I had a good view than a decent view… and as it turned out, it didn’t matter anyway.
The tour guide at the head of the tram then began introductions and made her spiel about the Night Safari, it’s reputation, the animals, etc and then, we were off!
The tram ride, to be honest, felt a bit surreal. For one thing, you couldn’t really engage or interact with the actual experience. You couldn’t make any loud noises, and it didn’t seem proper to hold conversations with your friends – unless you were speaking in whispers. It was much like watching a movie. Damnations, it looks like I have been desensitized by watching too much TV! Real life will never be the same again!
And there’s the thing about taking pictures. While there was some ambient lighting provided by strategically placed lights in order to simulate moonlight (and it was nicely done too), my cheapo camera unfortunately wasn’t smart enough to adjust to that minimal lighting. All my pictures kept coming out dark, with only the barest hints of shape and lines. That’s why you won’t see any pictures of the animals in this post – there are none to show. I kept fiddling with the various features and menu items on my camera settings, but nothing worked. It was during one of my attempts at fiddling with the settings when, at a time when the tram came across a group of lions looking cool and relaxed, I pointed my camera and pressed the shutter – and immediately jerked the camera back when a bright flash illuminated the area.
Yup, it looked like I had accidentally enabled the flash during my fiddling. The tour guide immediately admonished me, and I was so embarrassed that I gave up, switched off the camera and decided not too take any more pictures during the ride. And just to make things worse, when I later checked the pictures stored on the camera, the lion picture didn’t come out right at all since I had jerked the camera back as soon as the flash appeared. Damnit!
The picture fiasco and the surreal-ness aside, the Night Safari was pretty cool. Despite remaining seated in the tram during the whole ride, we still got a lot closer to many animals than it would have been possible during the regular day-zoo trips. Rhinos, lions, hyenas (and listening to their evil laugh at close range was pretty eerie, let me tell ya), and some other animals I can’t quite remember (I wasn’t taking notes due to the… err… darkness).
Then the tram ride stopped at the East Lodge near a cafeteria, where we were given the option of returning later to continue the second-half of the ride. In the meantime, we could refresh ourselves with a drink or something to eat, or take a walk on the several walking trails available.
We decided to do the walking trail.
The walking trail was probably more fun since it gave us the illusion that we were in control of our own entertainment as opposed to being a passive observer. We crossed paths with a flying squirrel that kept us amused by jumping from one vantage point to another. The curious creature even startled a elderly person who was in an Arabic-speaking tour group by landing on his shoulders before taking off again. How cool was that??
Then we walked into an area where giant fruit-bats were just hanging round on small trees, doing nothing. In fact they were so completely, err, immobile that we didn’t even spot them in the beginning. Then fortuitiously, a Night Safari staff member walked in and began feeding them. This stirred the quite impressive creatures into moving in towards the man, some gliding in in (with their 3 foot or so wingspan quite breathtaking), some just sidling up to the guy by gripping the branches. The cool thing about the darkness was that occasionally you could hear them instead of seeing them (more accurately, you could feel the air disturbance generated by the flapping of the wings). It almost felt like they were on top of you – it was scary in a cool thrill sort of way.
Then we found our way into the leopard trail where a family of big cats were on display and were separated from us by a few inches of thick glass. One leopard kept walking to and fro across the glass display, and I’ve watched enough Animal Planet documentaries to know that its behaviour was a sign of agitation, so we left immediately. Not so the idiot tourist who decided to take – not one, but TWO – pictures of the animal – up close – with the flash intentionally enabled. *roll eyes*
We eventually got back to where the tram dropped us off earlier, and clambered on for the second-half of the ride, which was quite like the first-half. More animals spotted at close range, including giraffes, elephants, antelopes, giant anteaters, tapirs (and these cute creatures waddled up so close to the tram you could have touched them – not that anybody did)..
Anyway, pretty soon the tram ride was over, and we found ourselves in the midst of a large queue. This queue was for the Creatures of the Night Show. It was quite long and we waited for nearly half-an-hour or so before we were finally admitted in to the show, which was quite enjoyable and pretty funny too. Again, the dark condition was unfavourable for taking pictures, and using flash is of course a no-no. So no pictures, sorry.
A few things I remember from the show were environmentally-conscious otters (who deposited trash into the correct recycling containers), a large owl that swooped in over our heads on the arm of its handler, and a funny skit involving a ‘frantic audience member’ who lost his pet – a large python. (The guy was obviously a zoo staff member, but it was still funny though).
Finally the show ended and we left for the exit, only for member of my party to be distracted – again – by the gift shop. Giving in to the lure of commercialisation, I bought a S$10 Merlion paperweight as a souvenir. I don’t even know where it is now.
We hung around for a few more minutes doing the obligatory picture taking sessions to make up for not taking any pictures inside the zoo, before tiredness took a hold of us.
By now, it was nearly 11 pm, and we decided to call it a night, and walked to the bus stop.. and somehow or other, we ended up back in the hotel (for some reason, I can’t quite remember how we got there – I must have been so fatigued, I might have been operating purely on autopilot).
So that was the end of the first full day of the Singapore experience. We weren’t quite sure of what to do the next day, but I was sure we’d think of something – and we did.
And now I leave you with some shots of some faux-animals we found outside at the entrance to Night Safari.