Our first day in Singapore was spent mostly at sea, since we weren’t scheduled to arrive until 6:00 on March 13. It was foggy & rainy all day; we could hardly see the many ships anchored off Singapore as we approached. We had a nighttime excursion booked beginning shortly after our arrival & we were becoming more & more convinced that it would be a disaster in the rain, since most of it would be outside. We even went up to the shore excursion desk to see if we could back out of the tour, but it was closed for the day.
So imagine our surprise when we trooped out of the ship to the tour bus to find that the rain had pretty much stopped & the fog had lifted, just in time! The night tour turned out to be great, & we were glad the shore excursion desk had been closed. (Please note that some of the pictures in this episode are a little blurry because they were all taken at night & many from a moving vehicle. But they are worth seeing anyway.)
Our bus dropped us off at Bugis Street, once a very rowdy neighborhood but now a crowded covered marketplace. Bugis (pronounced “boo-gis”) is the name of an ethnic group in Indonesia known for their seamanship. They built the schooners we saw in Jakarta. At one time there were fierce pirates among them who preyed on shipping in the area. From this comes the saying “the boogey man will get you,” used to scare small children into behaving.
First on our agenda was a ride through the area in a trishaw. This is a 3 wheel vehicle comprising a bicycle attached at the side of a 2 seat cart. There was a long line of these carrying the passengers on our excursion.
Our drive through the area passed the Maghain Aboth Synagogue, built in the 1870’s, which is identifiable from the Stars of David on the walls. Best was the drive through Little India, because it was Sunday and many thousands of young men (and a few women) were out & about, overflowing the sidewalks into the street. Quite a scene.
From here we went for a ride on the Singapore Flyer, a 540 foot tall ferris wheel, the tallest in the world. It has glass enclosed capsules that hold about 8 passengers each & it moves very slowly, completing one turn in about 30 minutes. It is lit up at night (as is most of this part of the city) & the colors are constantly changing. You can even arrange to have dinner served in your capsule! When it was first opened the builders were surprised that hardly anyone came to ride. It turned out that the wheel was turning the wrong way under the principles of feng shui, draining the area of good luck. Reversing the direction of rotation made it a success.
The views of the city from the Flyer were nothing short of spectacular. We were very thankful that the fog seemed completely gone & the night was very clear.
Our last outing of the night was a ride on a bumboat on the Singapore River. The bumboats are traditional cargo boats, with tires on the sides & eyes painted on the front, that brought goods up the river from the port to the “godowns” (warehouses) in the city. The river is now blocked as part of Singapore’s massive effort to eliminate the need to import fresh water from Malaysia, so the boats are now used just for tourist rides. It starts at Clarke Quay, which is now one of the hottest nightspots in town with a lot of restaurants & bars. There is a ride here similar to a bungy, but you sit in a little cage that holds 2 or 3 people that is suspended on a long cord from two towers, bouncing up & down & back & forth. We didn’t do that.
It was not a long boat ride, but pretty colorful with so many of the bridges & buildings lit up in various colors. Some of the places we would see in daytime later included the Fullerton Hotel, the Dunes Hotel, the Cavanagh Bridge & the Merlion, where the boat trip ended. The Merlion – half lion & half fish – is the symbol of Singapore, but it is not some ancient mythological creature. It was created by the Singapore tourist board. We saw a lot of signs & tee shirts calling Singapore the “lion city” & thought this was just a tourist oriented slogan based on the Merlion. But it turns out that the city’s name is thought to derive from the Sanskrit word “Singapura,” which means “lion city.” You just never know.
We drove back to the ship, happy that this excursion had turned out so much better than anticipated a few hours earlier, & went to bed after a quick meal so that we would be rested for our first full day in Singapore.