Port of Call: Langkawi, Malaysia




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The third port of call on our Southeast Asia cruise was Langkawi, an island at the northern end of Malaysia near its border with Thailand. The ship docked at the Star Cruise Jetty, the southernmost tip of the island.

The Star Cruise Jetty where our ship docked.
The Star Cruise Jetty where our ship docked.

We had seven excursions to choose from and, unfortunately, we happened to pick the worst one. It was promoted as an Island Overview. “you’ll visit a functioning rubber estate,” it read, as well as see “working paddy fields with buffaloes”, “quaint Malay Kampungs” and the “Mausoleum of the Martyred Princess”.  It sounded good. But it was more a dreary bus ride than anything. Luckily, the tour ended early enough for us to explore a bit on our own, saving the day.

Our bus took us inland to the rubber plantation where we stopped for ten minutes to watch a guy tap a rubber tree. Now this is interesting in itself. The tapper takes a sharp knife and cuts a spiraling line along the trunk of the tree. This forms a route for the rubber sap to flow along and into the collecting pail.

The tapper uses a sharp blade to form a conduit for the rubber sap.
The tapper uses a sharp blade to form a conduit for the rubber sap.

But to me, visiting a working rubber estate meant more than a ten minute road stop in the middle of nowhere to watch a guy tap a tree. I expected a tour of the plantation, seeing where the pails of sap are dumped, what happens to the sap then and so on. I expected a much more detailed tour. This was just lame.

Rubber sap flows into the collection pail.
Rubber sap flows into the collection pail.

We left the rubber plantation for a drive along some open fields and to the Mausoleum of the Martyred Princess. This was an interesting stop as we saw native entertainers doing traditional music, as well as some with a more contemporary repertoire.

Woman playing a native drum.
Woman playing a native drum.

We learned about the legend of Mahsuri. Her husband was away at war and a wandering poet received permission to visit and teach her the art of poetry. She became a popular hostess. A sister-in-law, jealous of her popularity, spread scandalous stories, and when her son was born, she accused Mahsuri of adultery. The slanderous lies were believed and Mahsuri and the poet were both condemned to death. She was tied to a tree and stabbed to death with sacred knife. White blood flowed signifying her innocence as she cursed the island to seven years bad luck.

The Mahsuri memorial site also has a reproduction of a Malay Kampung village. There were several buildings which you could enter and explore, all of them elevated on posts. One was a replica of a house similar to the one Mahsuri and her husband shared.

Reproduction of the native Malay house that Mahsuri lived in. These homes are on stilts because of occasional flooding.
Reprodution of the native Malay house that Mahsuri lived in. These homes are on stilts because of occasional flooding.

Behind this tourist area were large rice fields. We did not actually visit a rice paddy as such. We could see them out the bus window as we went along. And buffaloes were few and far between. The drive through the paddy area took us back to a major highway and we headed for the ferry terminal.

Large rice paddies.
Large rice paddies.

The ferry terminal is also a large shopping plaza, with some of the shops duty free. Nearby was Eagle Park, which we decided not to visit. We browsed through a few shops and found a Starbucks where we had a drink.

Eagle park. There are many wild eagles on and around Langkawi.
Eagle park. There are many wild eagles on and around Langkawi.

After the ferry terminal, the bus made one more stop – at a roadside stand that sold naturopathic medicines made from sea slugs. I don’t know why tours include such things. A later tour in Phuket had us stop at a cashew vending place. I strongly suspect that these businesses give kickbacks to the tour operators. In any event, it was lame – a boring waste of time, though some people bought some of the medicines, none of which had English labelling or instructions. Go figure.

The bus finally took us back to the ship and it was early enough for us to explore for a couple of hours on our own. There is a beautiful boardwalk near the jetty which passes a resort with some nice restaurants. We strolled along here taking in the sights and came to a small village.

Boardwalk at the jetty. An enjoyable walk.
Boardwalk at the jetty. An enjoyable walk. Our cruise ship is in the background.

The village had a lot of long boats on the beach. The boats were for hire but a bit pricey for just two of us. A group of four or more would have made this economical. One of the excursions we didn’t take was called island hopping. It had a tour on one of these long boats to various places along the way  including a stop for a swim on a sandy beach.

A village near the jetty. Many Malay long boats were docked here.
A village near the jetty. Many Malay long boats were docked here.

The tour was called Island Hopping because Langkawi is surrounded by many small islands including ones with mangroves. Mangrove trees grow in salt as well as fresh water and many of the islands are submerged at high tide. Our guide told us that Langkawi did not suffer much damage in the tsunami of 2004 because these islands took the brunt of the force.

Some of the long boats, like this one, were fishing boats. You can see the myriad islands in the background.
Some of the long boats, like this one, were fishing boats. You can see the myriad islands in the background.

After a walk through the village we went back to the boardwalk and spent our remaining ringgits on a couple of drinks. Then back to the ship.

Here’s a suggestion for Royal Caribbean, and any other cruise ships that include the Island Overview tour – take it off your available list of excursions. It sucks the big one. I asked a few others on the tour and they also thought it a waste of time and money.

But there was one good thing came out of it. Our next stop was a two day layover at Patong Bay in Phuket. We decided to splurge on one of the more expensive excursions and that turned out to be our best experience of the cruise.

Previous stops on our cruise:




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The Temple of 10,000 Buddhas – Penang, Malaysia




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The second port of call on our Taste of Southeast Asia cruise was Penang. More specifically, the city of George Town on the island of Penang. We opted for one of the ten excursions offered, a trip to the Kek Lok Si Temple, sometimes known as the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas, which is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.

The Kek Lok Si Temple has many buildings and sits at the base of Air Itam Mountain on the outskirts of George Town.
The Kek Lok Si Temple has many buildings and sits on the lower slope of Air Itam Mountain on the outskirts of George Town.

We assembled in the ship’s theatre in the morning and disembarked as a group to catch a bus for the half hour drive through narrow residential streets until we finally got there. Our first impression of the city was that it was not as wealthy as Kuala Lumpur. Our bus took a route through a poorer section of town. But the city is fairly modern with a bustling downtown as well.

We found a long row of Buddhas in the parking lot and looked up to see the temple rising high above us. They could have called it the Temple of 10,000 steps because we then started a long climb to the top and it sure seemed like it!

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Parking lot Buddhas at the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas.

The walk took us through rows of market stalls at the beginning selling souvenirs and other goods. We then emerged at the turtle pond. Buddhists give turtles to their temples to ensure long life, but you have to feel sorry for the turtles. They appear vastly over-crowded. Sometimes they seemed to be crawling all over each other.

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Tunnel of market stalls on the way to the temple grounds.

Another hallway with more shops took us past the restrooms. Okay – if you’re going to visit this temple (or any other older tourist site in Malaysia), you should know about the unsanitary washroom conditions. They don’t use toilet paper.

The toilets usually are squat toilets with maybe one or two western style toilets, but no toilet paper. In the temple washrooms, each stall had a tap on the floor with a hose attached. The idea is you turn on the tap and spray down your butt instead of using TP. We had a previous experience and my wife carried a roll of toilet paper in her purse – a very good idea. Also, the washrooms have no paper towels or anything to wipe your hands after washing them. Frankly, by western standards, the toilets are gross. Be forewarned and carry TP with you. Maybe even a paper towel or two.

This hallway finally took us out to the temple itself, which is a large number of buildings of various designs, some of them exquisite in their beauty. One of the main attractions is the beautiful Pagoda of Rama VI, a seven story structure which apparently has 10,000 alabaster Buddhas inside. We did not have access to this building but only saw its exterior, which is magnificent. Interestingly, the pagoda was built in stages and has three different architectural styles. The lower third is in Chinese style. The middle third is Thai, and the top third is Burmese.

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The Pagoda of Rama VI with its three different architectural styles.

Along the way we encountered something we thought a bit unusual – a very lovely elegantly dressed Chinese girl posing for photographers. Some magazine or ad agency was conducting a photo shoot and we came across a half dozen models throughout the temple, cameramen in tow. We thought it an odd location for a fashion shoot.

A fashion model poses for photographers. There were around a half dozen spread around the complex.
A fashion model poses for photographers. There were around a half dozen spread around the complex.

We wandered through some exterior hallways festooned with lanterns for Chinese new year and on to another building. All the while we passed through beautiful gardens, rich with blooms and greenery.

Janis along a lush garden path at the temple complex.
Janis along a lush garden path at the temple complex.

We entered a courtyard which featured another long row of Buddhas. Each had a swastika on its chest. The swastika (svastika in Sanscrit) is an ancient symbol of good luck that has been used since the Second Century. It is widely used in eastern religions. Unfortunately it fell into disrepute when it was adopted by the Nazis. The Buddhist swastikas at the temple has arms trailing to the left whereas the Nazi swastika’s arms trail right.

Buddhas with swastikas on their chests. The swastika is an ancient religious symbol.
Buddhas with swastikas on their chests. The swastika is an ancient religious symbol.

Past the garden we walked a round another open air temple and then back through some passages to another building with three large Buddhas and then another with one large Buddha and some figures of warriors, all in glass cases. Finally a long set of hallways through yet more shops took us to a funicular tram to take us to the top level.

Three large Buddhas.
Three large Buddhas.

We exited the tram through yet another gift shop out to a parking lot. So there must have been a road leading there. We noticed something unusual as we emerged, a row of small statues lining the parking lot that resembled, of all things, Disney and other cartoon characters. There was Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Porky Pig among others. Whether these characters are revered by Buddhists is a mystery to me. I tried to look it up on the Internet and found no explanation.

Statues of Disney and other cartoon characters. Revered by Buddhists?
Statues of Disney and other cartoon characters. Revered by Buddhists?

This upper level formed the base for a 99 foot high bronze statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. The pagoda surrounding it was built after the statue and there was some scaffolding on one side as work was still being done on it. On either side of the pagoda there were tall bronze statues of warriors.

The bronze statue of Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.
The bronze statue of Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.

Our guide told us the statue of the goddess cost around $8 million to build. My wife and I wondered why they couldn’t have sprung $100,000 out of that to build some decent washrooms!

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Looking down on the monastery buildings, the funicular tram and the city in the distance.

We wandered around this top level for a while, taking in yet another temple and a large fish pond well stocked with goldfish or koi. And some interesting park benches, one in the shape of a weiner dog. My friend Squire Barnes as well as Gary Larson would love this!

Yours truly and the weiner dog bench!
Yours truly and the weiner dog bench!

Finally it was back through the gift shop and the maze of trails back to the bus. We had an enjoyable visit despite the crappy washrooms. The bus took us back to town where we had lunch at a food court (New World Park) specializing in Asian dishes. We weren’t particularly hungry and were pleased to find a Starbucks nearby. After a short stay, it was back to the ship.

Fort Cornwallis is the largest fort in Malaysia.
Fort Cornwallis is the largest fort in Malaysia.

While we enjoyed our visit to the temple, cruisers who opted to explore on their own would find an old fort near by – Fort Cornwallis – the largest standing fort in Malaysia and open to visitors. There are other attractions nearby including the Queen Victoria clock tower. And it is a short walk to the bustling city itself.

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Photo Gallery: Temple of 10,000 Buddhas, Penang, Malaysia




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Here are some additional photos of the Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang.

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The Kek Lok Si Temple with its many buildings and structures.
The turtle pond. Every Buddhist temple has a turtle pond. People donate turtles to the temple to bless themselves with long life.
The turtle pond. Every Buddhist temple has a turtle pond. People donate turtles to the temple to bless themselves with long life.
Unfortunately, many of these ponds are overcrowded. Not a particularly pleasant place for our shelled friends.
Unfortunately, many of these ponds are overcrowded. Not a particularly pleasant place for our shelled friends.
The Pagoda of Rama VI
The Pagoda of Rama VI
Navigating a passageway bedecked with lanterns for Chinese New Year.
Navigating a passageway bedecked with lanterns for Chinese New Year.
Elegant fashion model on a photo shoot at the temple. There were a half dozen models with photographers in tow scattered throughout.
Elegant fashion model on a photo shoot at the temple. There were a half dozen models with photographers in tow scattered throughout.
Long line of Buddhas. Each was sporting a swastika, an ancient Buddhist symbol, on its chest.
Long line of Buddhas. Each was sporting a swastika, an ancient Buddhist symbol, on its chest.
Looking out over the city from one of the pagodas.
Looking out over the city from one of the pagodas.
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Two large statues, a musician and a warrior, in a large glass case.
One of the beautiful pagodas.
One of the beautiful pagodas.
Incense pots in front of one of the many temples in the complex.
Incense pots in front of one of the many temples in the complex.
The funicular tram leading to the upper plaza.
The funicular tram leading to the upper plaza.
Odd little statue of Minnie Mouse on the upper plaza.
Odd little statue of Minnie Mouse on the upper plaza.
Janis and some statues of cartoon characters and Buddhas.
Janis and some statues of cartoon characters and Buddhas.
A pagoda tower surrounded by a pool.
A pagoda tower surrounded by a pool.
The statue of Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.
The statue of Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.
One of the smaller warrior statues on either side of the Goddess of Mercy
One of the smaller warrior statues on either side of the Goddess of Mercy
The souvenir shop at the upper plaza with a giant figure above it.
The souvenir shop at the upper plaza with a giant figure behind it.
Another exotic model posing for pictures.
Another exotic model posing for pictures.
Overlooking the funicular tram and some monastery buildings.
Overlooking the funicular tram and some monastery buildings.
And we leave you with these sleepy heads. After a long tour through the temple, you may want a nap too!
And we leave you with these sleepy heads. After a long tour through the temple, you may want a nap too!

 




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The Joy of Cruising




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“They called her the Ship of Dreams. And she was. She really was.” You may remember those words spoken by old Rose in the movie Titanic. The Titanic was spectacular as the movie shows, with gilded dining rooms, gorgeous wooden staircases, luxury suites and more.

Replica of the staircase of the Titanic at the Titanic Exhibit at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre until March 20, 2016.
Replica of the staircase of the Titanic at the Titanic Exhibit at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre until March 20, 2016.

Of course, not all passengers travelled in such style. They also had a steerage section with bunk beds and much poorer amenities. And much of the more luxurious parts of the ship were off limits to steerage passengers.

Third class passenger facilities on the Titanic as shown at the Titanic Exhibit in Perth.
Third class passenger facilities on the Titanic as shown at the Titanic Exhibit in Perth.

But the Titanic was doomed! She hit an iceberg and did not have enough lifeboats to save everyone. Nor did the crew have training in how to get people to the lifeboats they did have and many of them went out only partially filled. The sinking of the Titanic was one of the most tragic maritime disasters ever.

Today things are significantly better. Not only are many modern cruise ships much larger (the 60 largest cruise ships in the world are all larger than the Titanic), they are as luxurious, probably even more so. And while the price of suites varies, the poorest suites are still very comfortable and everyone has access to the fine dining rooms, the swimming pools and all the other facilities of the ship.

Modern cruise ships truly are Ships of Dreams. They really are.

Unfortunately, my wife and I got into cruising a bit late in life. We took our first cruise in 2005 when our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them on a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. I was 57 then. The cruise was on board Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. It was a terrific experience and got us hooked on cruising.

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The Mariner of the Seas at anchor in Batong Bay, Thailand.

In all we’ve taken the following six cruises:

  1. May 2005 – Radiance of the Seas – six night repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver with stops in San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon and Victoria, B.C.
  2. March 2006 – Vision of the Seas – seven night Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta and back to L.A.
  3. April 2009 – Navigator of the Seas – 14 night repositioning cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, Spain with stops at the Canary Islands, Lisbon, Portugal, and Cadiz, and Malaga in Spain. We stayed an extra three days in Barcelona.
  4. Sept. 2011 – Navigator of the Seas – 7 night Eastern Mediterranean starting and ending at Civitivecchia, Italy with stops in Sicily, Athens, Kusadasi (Ephesus) in Turkey, and Crete.  This trip started with a week in Paris before flying to Rome. We spent an extra day in Rome after the cruise before flying back to Paris and then back to Vancouver.
  5. January 2015 – Ruby Princess – 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise beginning and ending in Fort Lauderdale with stops at Eleuthra (an island that is part of the Bahamas), St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, and back to Nassau in the Bahamas.
  6. January 2016 – Mariner of the Seas – 7 night Spice of Southeast Asia cruise beginning and ending at Singapore with stops in Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Penang and Langkawi, both in Malaysia and two nights in Phuket, Thailand.

I’ll write about the different ports of call for each of these cruises over time in this blog. But today, just an overview of cruising in general.

When you consider that the cruise includes accommodations as well as all meals, it is certainly one of the most economical ways to travel. Many cruises can be had for just over $100 a person per day.

Repositioning cruises are usually a bargain. What’s that, you ask? Cruise companies have some of their ships do seasonal runs. For example, there is a regular Alaska run from Vancouver to Alaska during the summer months. But in the fall, the Alaska run ships are moved down to Los Angeles or elsewhere. And vice versa. Our first cruise was an end of season run from San Diego to Vancouver. The ship had finished up a Mexican Riviera season and was heading north for the Alaska run

Our third cruise was a repositioning cruise as well – from a Caribbean season to a Mediterranean season. Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona. I don’t recall the price but I believe it was under $100 a person per night.

Boarding usually takes several hours so if you board early, you get the run of the ship for a few hour before leaving port. You can dine at one of the many dining rooms, or hang out at one of the pools soaking up the sun and sipping a Margarita.

Three story dining aboard the Mariner of the Seas. You can enjoy a meal minutes after boarding.
Three story dining aboard the Mariner of the Seas. You can enjoy a meal minutes after boarding.

Before the ship leaves port, however, all passengers are assembled for a muster drill. The Titanic notoriously was short on lifeboats and many people died in that tragedy. Nowadays muster drills are mandatory. All passengers are shown where their lifeboats are and how to use the life vests that are in every cabin. After the muster drill, it’s time to leave port.

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Asembled for the muster drill on our latest cruise. Our lifeboat was D9 above us.

All the ships we’ve been on make a big deal of leaving port with a poolside party, a live band, and special drinks at a discounted price. (While meals are included on a cruise, alcohol and some drinks are not). We always enjoy leaving port. It’s always a party atmosphere.

Band plays as we leave Fort Lauderdale aboard the Ruby Princess - January 2015.
Band plays as we leave Fort Lauderdale aboard the Ruby Princess – January 2015.

On most cruises, you have the same dining companions every evening for dinner, and one or two evenings are considered formal. You get dressed up in your best bib and tucker. You’re not obligated to have the same dining companions for the entire cruise, but we have always done so. You get to know your dinner companions and can develop new and lasting friendships.

Janis and I on formal night aboard the Navigator of the Seas - April 2009
Janis and I on formal night aboard the Navigator of the Seas – April 2009

Meals aboard every cruise we have been on have been superb. First class food and first class service. You have three people attending to you – your waiter, your assistant waiter and your head waiter. Like all staff aboard modern cruise ships, they come from all over the world. We have forgotten most of their names over time, but we always remember our assistant waiter from our first cruise. She was a delightful person with a delightful name – Lily. Made memorable because she was from South America and always introduced herself as Lily from Chile!

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Ray, one of our dinner companions on our first cruise, was from New York City. And that smiling gal beside him is Lily from Chile. Still our favourite wait person of any cruise.

Most modern cruise ships have many amenities to keep passengers entertained. Every ship has a swimming pool, usually several. Hot tubs too. Many have large theatres for live shows. And some of the fancier ships have such things as skating rinks, ziplines, waterslides, flow-riders (so you can learn to surf), rock climbing walls, video arcades for teenagers, basketball courts, miniature golf and so on. You’ll also find spas, hair salons, gyms and fitness centres.

Each cruise also has a Cruise Director who is the manager of entertainment on the cruise and acts as Master of Ceremonies for most shows and events. On our last cruise, our cruise director was a fellow named Fang from Mainland China. Back in Mao’s day he would probably have been shot for such decadent behaviour.  China’s come a long way, baby! There were, in fact, over 500 passengers from China on that cruise.

Each ship has its own orchestra and singers and dancers. On our tran-Atlantic cruise, we were seven days at sea without seeing land and the dancers offered hip hop dance lessons for free. My wife and I and our friends all took part and performed in the last evening’s show!

On three of our cruises, the ships had huge promenades with shops, pubs, and coffee shops. They were on either side of a large boulevard down the middle of the ship, as wide as a street. An overhead walkway provided the centre stage for occasional street parties.

Our stateroom overlooked the promenade on the Mariner of the Seas. Its the last one before the DJ booth, second level up.
Our stateroom overlooked the promenade on the Mariner of the Seas. Its the last one before the DJ booth, second level up.

Most modern cruise ships stop along the way and there are organized excursions at each port of call. You can take an excursion or just leave the ship and wander around on your own. The excursions cost extra but sometimes are well worth it. Prices vary.

On our cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, we took an excursion in the Canary Islands to Mount Teide, a dormant volcano and the setting for the movie One Million BC with Raquel Welch. I wrote about that in a previous blog post. But we decided to wander on our own in Lisbon, Cadiz and Malaga and enjoyed those visits immensely, discovering things on our own we would probably have missed on an excursion. I’ll write about those in upcoming posts.

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One of the pleasures of creating your own excursion is the unexpected finds, like the feral cats of Cadiz. Now that’s a story! (Watch for future posts!)

On our last trip we took excursions at each port of call, but regretted one of them – it was remarkably dull. But it was mercifully short and we had some time to wander on our own. Other excursions were money well spent, particularly one we took in Phuket, Thailand. We also enjoyed our excursion to Kuala Lumpur which I’ve also written about earlier.

All in all, we have really enjoyed cruising. It’s a relatively economical way to see a lot of the world in a short space of time. Most of our cruises have been for a week. Our longest was for two weeks. But there are many cruises that last over a month.

We will cruise again. So far we have only been on two cruise lines – Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises, but we would like to try other lines. In port we have seen the Norwegian Cruise Line ships and they look terrific. The Disney Cruise Lines also look good, but probably have lots of kids aboard and are not as geared to adults. My parents, because they were Dutch, always cruised with Holland-America Lines, partially because many of the crew spoke Dutch.

More on cruising and specific cruises in later posts.

 




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Photo Gallery: Caversham Wildlife Park

Here are some more pictures from our visit to the Caversham Wildlife Park.

Map of the Caversham Wildlife Park. The park includes a farm which we did not visit.
Map of the Caversham Wildlife Park.
A joey nursing.
A joey nursing.
Janis and Sarah petting a kangaroo.
Janis and Sarah petting a kangaroo.
A barking owl at the Caversham Wildlife Park. The sound it makes sounds like a barking dog.
A barking owl at the Caversham Wildlife Park. The sound it makes sounds like a barking dog.
A kookaburra
A kookaburra
A bettong, an Australian marsupial the size of a large rat.
A bettong, an Australian marsupial the size of a large rat.
A cuddly looking wombat. They are actually quite fierce when threatened.
A cuddly looking wombat. They are actually quite fierce when threatened.
Koalas like to eat and to sleep. It only eats eucalyptus leaves.
Koalas like to eat and to sleep. It only eats eucalyptus leaves.
Did I say sleep? I think I could get used to being a koala!
Did I say sleep? I think I could get used to being a koala!
This was taken through a window earlier in our visit. A bit grey but the koala's pose is classic.
This was taken through a window earlier in our visit. A bit grey but the koala’s pose is classic.
Can't remember what these birds are called. Some sort of water bird.
Can’t remember what these birds are called. Some sort of water bird.
Close up of one of these birds.
Close up of one of these birds.
A black swan. We've seen them in the wild quite a lot, but always at a distance.
A black swan. We’ve seen them in the wild quite a lot, but always at a distance.
We'll close this gallery with a pic of Janis and a koala.
We’ll close this gallery with a pic of Janis and a koala.

 

 

 

 

Caversham Wildlife Park near Perth




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When you visit Australia, you want to see kangaroos. Don’t ask me why, but you do. It is the iconic animal of that country and they are very common and you see signs everywhere warning of the possibility of kangaroos crossing, just as in Canada we have signs warning of deer crossing.

But actually spotting a kangaroo is not as common as you would think. When we were visiting our daughter and her fiancé in May, we didn’t actually see a kangaroo until we visited the Margaret River area. The first one we saw was road kill. In fact, the risk of hitting a kangaroo in wilderness areas is high enough that many people fit their vehicles with roo bars – sort of like cow catchers for kangaroos to protect the vehicle from damage. Our daughter reported a work colleague had her car badly damaged from hitting a roo a couple of weeks ago.

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An SUV outfitted with a roo bar. It is recommended that you hit the kangaroo if one jumps out in front of your car, rather than swerve to avoid it.

But we did see some troops of kangaroos over the next few days in Margaret River, and on our wine country tour we spotted a number of them hopping across the road ahead of us. We even spotted a couple out in the vineyards.

And in Perth, you can spot them in open fields occasionally, and on golf courses. Recently we were going to family dinner and spotted quite a few in a field. Jamie pulled a u-ey and parked nearby and we got our first close look at them. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera handy.

But if you really want to get up close and personal with kangaroos, I really recommend the Caversham Wildlife Park near Perth. It’s about half an hour northeast of the city in the town of Whiteman.

The entrance to the Caversham Wildlife Park.
The entrance to the Caversham Wildlife Park.

Our daughter took us there recently and we had a wonderful time. The park is home to many of the species indigenous to Australia. The privately owned and operated park receives no government funding. It charges an admission fee of $27 for adults, $12 for children and $19 for seniors.

The park is divided into various sections, each featuring different types of animals. And there are special presentations to make your visit even more enjoyable. But the highlight for us, and probably for most people, are the kangaroos. There are a lot of them. You enter the kangaroo exhibit area through double gates, each about twenty feet apart. Sort of an airlock to keep kangaroos from sneaking out as visitors enter.

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There are dozens of kangaroos in the Caversham Wildlife Park.

You actually get up close and personal with the kangaroos. You can pet them (but no touching joeys or the pouches) and feed them. There is a large bin filled with food pellets for that purpose. The kangaroos are very tame, quite used to humans.

Sarah feeding a couple of roos. The park has both red and grey kangaroos.
Sarah feeding a couple of roos. The park has both red and grey kangaroos, though they look more white than grey.

We were there in February and a good number of the roos had joeys. We saw a lot of tails and legs sticking out of pouches, and the occasional head as well. As often as not, the roos are completely tucked inside, not visible except for the bulge in mom’s tummy.

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Mama roo with a joey’s head and legs sticking out of its pouch. Australia is home to many different kinds of marsupials.

The park has a lot of birds on display from all over Australia, everything from cockatoos and budgerigars to black swans, owls, ducks and other water fowl and even an eagle, a buzzard and a couple of emus. The enclosures are, for the most part, quite large and spacious with netting over the top to keep the birds from flying away.

Colorful parrot at the Caversham Wildlife Park.
Colorful parrot at the Caversham Wildlife Park.

We went in the reptile house, but it had frogs, lizards and pythons. It did not have any of Australia’s indigenous poisonous snakes of which there are a great many. I have seen the poisonous dugite three times in the wild now. One of them was this morning, a small juvenile less than a foot long slithering across our path as we walked the dog. These juveniles are considered aggressive and dangerous despite their small size.

A tree frog indigenous to Australia.
A tree frog indigenous to Australia.

Meanwhile back at Caversham, our schedule told us there was a special 2 PM up close showing of wombats and friends. So we headed over. Several curators were there with different animals which we could see up close and sometimes touch. These included a bobtail lizard, a couple of owls, a kookaburra, a python, a bettong, and, of course, a rather fat and sleepy wombat.

The kookaburra, an odd looking bird with blue wing feathers and bright bluetail feathers. It makes a laughing song as noted in the song, "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree."
The kookaburra, an odd looking bird with blue wing feathers and bright blue tail feathers. It makes a laughing song as noted in the song, “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree.”

We had seen the bobtail lizard in the wild a few times and told to avoid getting too close as they have a very strong jaw like a snapping turtle. But this fellow was raised in captivity and quite used to people and not dangerous.

We couldn’t touch the owls but they sat on perches less than two feet away so we could look at them up close. But we could touch the python, though Sarah and Janis declined.

Yours truly with a black-headed python.
Yours truly with a black-headed python.

A curator sat on a bench with the large wombat on her lap, lying back quite contendedly. He was also raised in captivity and quite used to people. I asked her (the curator, not the wombat) about the critter and she said they could be quite fierce in the wild. They can run fast and their chief defence is a bony plate on their lower back. They have only a stubby tail.

A fat wombat snoozes on the curator's lap. No! We are not pointing at its privates. We are stroking its legs, the only part we were allowed to touch.
A fat wombat snoozes on the curator’s lap. No! We are not pointing at its privates. We are stroking its legs, the only part we were allowed to touch.

This bony plate is quite hard and the wombat has strong leg muscles. If pursued, usually by a dingo which is its main predator, the wombat will wait until the right moment and smash its bony back into the dingo’s face, breaking its nose.

Isn't he just so cute and cuddly? He's actually quite fierce when he has to defend himself.
Isn’t he just so cute and cuddly? He’s actually quite fierce when he has to defend himself.

Wikipedia relates that the wombat will often duck into a burrow and when the dingo moves its head over its hind quarters to get at its fleshy upper back, the wombat will thrust with its legs, smashing the dingo’s skull against the ceiling of the burrow killing it.

Our wombat looked more like sleepy-eyed Joe than a fierce animal. Looks can be deceiving.

Later in the afternoon, the koalas were on display. We had passed the enclosure earlier, but you could only see through a window. Now the koala pen was open and we could venture in. Several curators were on hand to talk about the animal and there were two we were allow to pet. Their fur is not as soft as you might expect. It was actually a bit coarse. But they are cute all the same. Several were sound asleep in their eucalyptus trees.

The koala is cuddly looking, but his fur is actually quite coarse.
The koala is cuddly looking, but his fur is actually quite coarse.

We saw many other animals that day including a small crocodile, a quokka, a quoll (Aussies seem to like the letter Q), wallabies, a Tasmanian devil, giant flying fox bats and a couple of dingos. All in all, a great excursion.

Giant flying fox bats are native to parts of Australia.
Giant flying fox bats are native to parts of Australia.

And if you want to make a full day of it, there are other attractions nearby including three transport museums, one devoted to tractors, children’s play areas, an operating vintage tram and shops and a restaurant.

Links of Interest

 




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Mandurah, Western Australia – a modern day Venice




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For Valentine’s Day, my wife and I decided to take a day trip to Mandurah and stay overnight. We had never been there before so didn’t know what to expect. What we found was beautiful city of waterways, canals, parks and restaurants.

Getting there is easy. Mandurah is part of the greater Perth area which extends from Mandurah in the south to Yanchep and Two Rocks to the north. The TransPerth transit system covers most of that area. The rapid transit electric trains run in five directions from Perth like the spokes of a wheel. The northern line ends at Butler, not far beyond Mindarie.

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One of Perth fast electric trains pulls into a station.

We usually catch the train at Joondalup but Sunday our daughter and her fiancé were off on a trip to Ikea so they dropped us near there at the Stirling Station. Now weekends and holidays are the time to travel on TransPerth. They have what is called a Family Rider pass. For just $12.10, you and your family (up to seven people though only two can be standard fare – the other five must be children or seniors) can  travel all day on the transit system. So for $12.10, my wife and I could travel all the way to Mandurah, 72 kilometres from Perth.

After switching trains in Perth we rolled on the our destination. The TransPerth electric trains are amazingly quiet. No clickety clack of the wheels, a smooth ride all the way.

When we arrived in Mandurah, which is Western Australia’s second largest city with a population of just over 83,000, we hopped a bus to the city center where our hotel was located. We stayed at an older hotel called the Atrium Resort. It was comfortable, though not a first class hotel. It is a bit older and could use some upgrading. But for us it was perfect. The location was fabulous – right smack in the hub of activity that is the waterfront.

We checked in and dropped off our knapsack, then walked the short distance to the boardwalk. The town hall is on the end and just past is a visitor’s center and a long park, the Eastern Foreshore, which was festooned with small tents for a craft fair and carnival. We decided to save that for later and turned onto the boardwalk. There we saw people aboard a small cruise boat run by Mandurah Cruises. The boat was to leave in twenty minutes so we asked where it went and what it cost.

It was the 1 PM sailing and it was a half hour longer than the usual hour long cruise as it included a stop to pick up optional lunches. The tickets were $22 each for seniors so we said, “Heck yeah, let’s go!” We bought a fish and chip lunch to split for $12 as well. The boat had a licensed bar aboard so we could get drinks with lunch too.

The map above should help locate the places I’ll mention. You can zoom in and move the map around as needed.

The Peel Inlet channel runs to a large inland waterway which is almost a lake except it is salt water and connected to the ocean. Our cruise boat left the dock near Cicarello’s Restaurant and headed around Stingray Point to the entrance to the Mandurah Ocean Marina and docked by Nino’s Restaurant at Dolphin Quay to pick up the food. Then we headed back out to the channel. Along the way we passed some canals surrounded by apartment buildings – the little Venice area.

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The Venetian Canals in Mandurah – man-made canals surrounded by luxury apartments. We walked through the area later in the day.

Back in the channel, we headed towards the entrance to a series of man-made canals surrounded by million dollar homes. But before we got there, dolphins were spotted. We had been told sightings were a distinct possibility and we were pleased to find the boat attracting a pod of around six dolphins. They swam around the boat, under the boat and traversed in front of the bow. My wife and I were sitting right near the bow so we got a great view of the dolphins as they frolicked around.

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A group of dolphins near Stingray Point. We saw around six of them.

A lad of four named Liam was standing beside us and he was very excited by the dolphins. A real chatterbox and quite bright, he was lively company on our trip. He was quite intrigued by my camera and asked to take pictures. His mom intervened when he got a bit too rambunctious, but we found him almost as entertaining as the dolphins.

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A dolphin swims past the bow, upside down no less.

After the dolphin encounter, we headed into the canals with the million dollar homes. The land used to be a farm – Sutton Farm, but was turned by developers into a luxurious and wealthy enclave within Mandurah. We coursed through the channels admiring the houses and their docked boats. Must be nice to have that much money, though we heard that real estate prices have dropped around twenty percent in Mandurah and many of these homes have lost a significant amount of their former value. We saw a few for sale including one by auction.

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Million dollar homes along the canals of Mandurah. The Mandurah Cruises tour is the best way to see these homes unless you have your own boat.

We emerged from the canals on the other side, a wider part of the channel leading to the Peel Inlet. There are nature preserves here and we saw black swans and pelicans as well as man-made osprey nesting posts.

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More homes along the canals. Some kept their boats out of the water. The house on the left is for sale by auction.

We then headed back through the canals and back to port. A very enjoyable cruise and worth checking out on any visit to Mandurah.

After that we walked along the Eastern Fireshore checking out the vendor tents. It was pretty typical stuff. They did have camel rides at one location. But what caught my eye as we walked along was some activity in the water itself. We saw a guy on jet shoes flying high above the water. We walked on and got in for a closer look from a dock.

The jet shoes (actually called a jetboard but they look like a connected pair of shoes) are attached to a hose which is attached to the propulsion system of a jet ski. Jet skis suck water in the front and blast it out the back to move. They have quite a bit of power.

We watched the guy on the jetboard bob and weave and move all around. Looked like a heck of a good time. Flying around like Buck Rogers! I checked at their truck and they offer lessons for $149 for a half hour with discounts for two or more people. The company is called Jet X-treme. They’re only there on weekends. I didn’t want to do it right then but was pleased to learn they also offer their services at Hillarys Boat Harbour which is close to where we’re living in Ocean Reef. On my bucket list for sure!

We continued walking and spotted some kids jumping off the old Mandurah Bridge so we thought we’d cross the bridge to Hall Park. I filmed some of the kids jumping off the bridge. Oh to be 16 again! Looked like a hoot. Who cares about the signs saying no jumping off the bridge!

Hall Park has an interesting war memorial but we didn’t walk that far. We crossed, watched the jumpers for a while, then headed back. One of the interesting things about Australia is the many different forms of wildlife. We’re always pleasantly surprised to see cockatoos in the wild as we did on our walk back through the park.

These cockatoos were feeling the Valentine's Day mood.
These cockatoos were feeling the Valentine’s Day mood.

We decided to visit the Dolphin Quay area. We walked over the footbridge and through the many interesting shops and small restaurants along the way. Then we made our way past the marina to the breakwater. That’s one very large breakwater!

Janis on the foot bridge to Dolphin Quay.
Janis on the foot bridge to Dolphin Quay.

We then circled around some apartments and back to the shopping area, back over the foot bridge, and off to the Oceanic Bar and Grill for dinner. We had an Asian sampler and and some pizza bread along with a bottle of New Zealand’s Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. A very tasty meal.

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The Oceanic Bar and Grill at Dolphin Quay, Mandurah.

After that we walked through the Venetian Canal district and up around Stingray Point which has a very old and very large fig tree. We enjoyed a magnificent sunset and headed on.

Giant fig tree at Stingray Point in Mandurah
Giant fig tree at Stingray Point in Mandurah

We were pooped by then and decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel around 7:30 PM. All in all, a very enjoyable day in Mandurah.

 




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Sentosa Island – Singapore’s Playground




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On our second full day in Singapore we decided to visit Sentosa Island. We had heard a lot about it as a must-see destination. We weren’t sure what to expect. The description we found on the Internet made it sound like a large amusement park. It is that, but a lot more besides. So hopefully our experience will give prospective visitors an idea of what they will find.

We made our way to Chinatown where we boarded the subway, the Purple Line to HarbourFront Station. Exiting the subway, you find yourself in a large shopping mall. There are a lot of them in Singapore!

Our online search led us to believe that the island was accessible by another train, the Sentosa Express. It is, but there is also a covered boardwalk across to the island as well as a cable car ride. We opted to save money and walk to the island. A very pleasant walk. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes to walk across.

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Metal scultures of a couple of jazz players part way across the boardwalk bridge to Sentosa Island. The picture looks back towards the Harbour Front station and mall. Cable cars in the background.

On the other side we found a ticket centre and looked over the various options. In retrospect you should know that you can visit many of Sentosa’s attractions without charge. If you just want to spend the day walking round and taking in the sights, you can do that. There is a lot to see and the island is easy to walk around. There are lots of plazas, trails, gardens, beaches and restaurants.

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There is a lot of greenery on Sentosa Island and lots of trails to walk.

But the island also has lots of paid attractions and you have an option of ticket packages at different prices. A $79 pass give you admission to twenty attractions. You can also get a five attraction pass for $59 and a 3 attraction pass for $44. Universal Studios also has a presence on the island and there is a waterpark with a dolphin exhibit. None are included in the passes and must be paid for separately. But there were premium passes that included the waterpark and the cable cars. Three attractions for $79.

We figured we never could visit all twenty attractions so we bought a five attraction pass. We had no interest in Universal Studios since we had seen the ones in California and Florida already. In the end, we only used four of our attractions but they were good ones. Some were must-see in our opinion.

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One of several fountains and plazas on Sentosa Island. There are lots of shops and restaurants as well.

We walked through a few plazas and up to the Merlion, a feature attraction and the symbol of Singapore. A merlion is exactly what it sounds like – not a mermaid or a merman, but a merlion – head of a lion with the body of a fish. The Merlion stands 37 meters tall or around 120 feet. It is one of the twenty attractions so you can use your ticket to go up to the top for a view of the island. We were content to see it from below and did not go up.

The Merlion, symbol of Singapore.
The Merlion, symbol of Singapore.

We looked at the map we had of the island and decided a cable car ride would give us a nice overview. Our tickets gave us a discount on cable car tickets and we bought all day passes for $24 each. There are two cable car rides – one goes across the island from the Merlion Plaza to Siloso Point.  The other goes from Sentosa Station to the Harbour Front complex and on to Faber Peak on the main island of Singapore.

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Singapore is in the background in this shot from the cable car. Sentosa Island, despite all the attractions, plazas, hotels, shops and restaurants, remains heavily wooded.

We took the cable car across to Siloso Point and disembarked. Nearby was the Shangri-la Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa, one of several hotels on the island. Also close by was Fort Siloso, one of the attraction we could visit but which we declined. It’s an old fort and museum and has a laser tag park. Instead we walked down to the nearby Siloso Beach.

The beaches have beautiful, white sand and there is no charge to use them. You can swim or sunbathe but bring suntan lotion. It is hot in Singapore and sunscreen is a must for the beach.

There are a few small islands across from the beach, one of which has a bridge to it. We walked across and watched some zip liners coming in from across the water. Zip lining is an additional cost, although our tickets did include a Parajump at the Megazip Lookout. We never got around to checking it out.

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A zip liner comes in for a landing on a small island off Sentosa Beach.

We walked along the beach a way and came across the Wave House. This is a wave riding facility. Our ticket included one try and though I had my swimsuit and was tempted, decided not to as one try would not last long. Better to pay for a fixed time period so you can actually get the hang of doing it.

Wannabe surfer trie out the Flo-rider wave machine on Sentosa Island.
Wannabe surfer tries out the Flo-rider wave machine on Sentosa Island.

We continued along the shore trail and passed the Skyline Luge. This was included in our ticket and it looked like fun so this was our first use of our tickets. The luge is a gravity operated go-kart with handlebars for steering and braking. We took a chairlift up and then raced down the concrete course. It was a blast!

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Janis passes me on a curve on the Skyline Luge ride. You can get up a pretty good speed on these things. The company has five locations worldwide including one in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada.

After that we stopped for a light lunch and a couple of margaritas. Yum! Walking along further we saw people riding along on Segways. This was included as an option on our ticket but counted as two rides. We opted out.

Next we came to iFly Singapore – a simulated skydiving experience. Big fans under a grid generate enough wind to keep a person airborne. This cost extra but looked like a lot of fun and a good way to experience skydiving without risking going splat on the ground if your chute fails. Some experienced staffers demonstrated significant skill doing flips and rolls. We didn’t do it, but it or real skydiving is on my bucket list!

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Skydiving in a wind tunnel at iFly Singapore. Looks like fun! A bit pricey though.

We next found the location for an evening show we had decided to use our tickets for. A light show called Wings of Time. Our tickets gave us access to a grandstand on the beach where you could get a good view. We reserved for the 7:40 PM show. It was mid-afternoon and we had a lot of time so we headed back up to the Merlion, The walk took us along a long artificial waterway made of mozaic tiles. It looked like it was designed by Antoni Gaudi, the flamboyant Spanish architect. Very reminiscent of Gaudi Park in Barcelona.

Janis beside the mozaic waterway. Looks like something from Gaudi's Parc Guell in Barcelona.
Janis beside the mozaic waterway. Looks like something from Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona.

At the Merlion we boarded the cable car again and headed for the Tiger Sky Tower (sponsored by Tiger Beer). This was the third attraction on our tickets we would use. The revolving ride up gave us a panoramic view of the entire island and the city in the distance.

One of the options on our tickets was the S.E.A. Aquarium. We had enough time to do that and dinner before the evening light show, so we headed over there. The aquarium is world class. One of the best aquariums I have visited. The size and scope is enormous.

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Giant ray at the S.E.A. Aquarium in Singapore

The variety of ocean life on display is terrific. There was one tank that had a side open for viewing as large as an IMAX movie screen. It was immense and we watched schooling fish as well as numerous rays swimming by. There was a walkway to another part of the same aquarium where you walked underneath the passing rays. Marvellous!

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Many colourful tropical fish and corals were on display.

Near the end of the tour we came across something quite unexpected. The above ground dolphin show, which I believe you have to pay extra for, had an underwater viewing window. We arrived just in time to see some of the dolphin show from a different vantage point. I managed to get a greatr video of five dolphins breaching the water and re-entering again – twice!

I took so many pictures but can only put in one or two here. I’ve posted a separate gallery of pics for you. The aquarium is a must-see attraction in my opinion.

The aquarium tour took an hour and a half and we still had time for dinner so we headed for the Hard Rock Cafe. I had a burger and Janis had Nasi Goreng. The food was delicious.

After dinner we still had some time before the show so we hopped on the other cable car, the one to the main island. We didn’t realize that the first stop was not the terminus and the cable car continued on to Faber Peak. Here we discovered a hidden treasure.

On the stops, the cable cars bunch close together as they go through the station and we noticed one of the adjacent cars had a couple with a table between them eating dinner. When we pulled into the Faber Peak station, a waiter came and took their dishes and another waiter brought the next course and they continued on their way, dining in the sky. I quickly inquired of a platform attendant how one might order food for the tram ride. She said you had to book a reservation.

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Faber Peak – terminus of the cable car ride from Sentosa Island and home of Spuds and Aprons, a restaurant that will serve you dinner on the tram. A terrific idea for Valentine’s Day.

If we had the time and money and were in Singapore longer we would have taken advantage of it, but alas, we could not. But the idea of having a four course dinner as you ride around on a cable car is more than a little romantic. What a Valentine’s treat that would be. The restaurant has the unlikely name of Spuds and Aprons.  $288 per couple for a four course meal. Or you can have a less expensive rendez-vous for $59 a person.

We left the cable car after its half hour round trip journey to walk back to the locale for the Wings of Time show.

I’ve seen light shows, laser light shows, water fountain shows, fireworks displays and shows with blasts of fire. This one has them all. A tour de force. It starts with a couple of young teens, a boy and a girl running long the beach lip-syncing speeches coming from the P.A. system. They disappear off to the left and a short time later, a set of eight wooden triangles and a kite-shaped piece take to life with a dazzling light show, alive with pyrotechnics, fireballs, lasers and jets of spraying water. The boy and girl reappear in a hologram with a giant bird and narrate a story about the passage of time. The story is pretty lame but the show is dazzling. This show was the second must-see attraction.

That ended our journey and we headed back. We opted for a cab ride back to the hotel which cost us around $12. All in all, a fabulous day in Singapore!




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S.E.A. Aquarium on Sentosa Island, Singapore




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A maritime museum was part of the aquarium exhibit.
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One of the features in the Maritime Museum at the aquarium was this replica of Noah’s Ark.
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Sharks swim all around us in this walkway.
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Colourful fish and corals.
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Schools of fish, sharks and rays are some of the sea life seen in this giant tank.
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A school of jellyfish.
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Here’s a close-up of one of those guys.
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A nice looking jellyfish.
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Colourful tropical fish.
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More colourful fish.
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An eel says hello.
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This creature is called an Emperor Nautilus.
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This octopus was very active.
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The underside of a large ray.
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A dolphin performing for crowds above, plunges back into the water after a mighty leap.

 




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Photo Gallery: Supertree Grove and Marina Bay Sands, Singapore




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The Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay lit up at night.
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Two of the Supergrove trees.
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The Supertree grove at night. An elevated walkway connects the two tallest trees.
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The tallest of the Supertrees is 160 feet high.
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One of the Supertrees during the light show. Still pics don’t do it justice. It’s a fabulous light show. And it’s free.
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Supertrees during the light show.
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Janis on the OCBC Skyway, a walkway 70 feet above the ground connecting the two largest Supertrees.
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Close up of the top of a Supertree. Note the greenery starting to grow into the top area. Vines and creepers are growing up all of the Supertrees.
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The Marina Bay Sands Hotel. It is adjacent to the Gardens on the bay and accessible by a pathway. We walked over after the light show.
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The atrium of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. It’s huge!
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We walked through the lobby and outside where we found a boardwalk that went around the Marina Bay Sands Shopping Mall and Convention Centre. We found this interesting view of the city through some lattice work.
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A spectacular view of Singapore at night from the boardwalk. There were hardly any people there on a Saturday night so it may not be very well known. Definitely worth a visit, especially at night.
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After going around the convention centre on the boardwalk, we took an escalator down to the mall. Like most malls in Singapore, it is huge and very high end. Lots of restaurants too. And it had a large indoor public skating rink.
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No one was using this very large skating rink in the mall when we were there though there were plenty of diners from nearby restaurants.
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One last pic of Singapore’s skyline at night to close off this photo essay.

 




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