A Walk Around Singapore

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Singapore’s skyline above the Esplanade Bridge

I love walking; it’s one of my favorite past times, especially when exploring a new city. Walking gives me fresh air, exercise, and a chance to see things at my own pace. I think to truly appreciate a city’s unique vibe a person must walk through its streets, at least once, preferably without a destination in mind. It gives you a chance to look people in the eye, stop and smile, smell the food, fumble through your repertoire of words in that language, and glimpse down side streets that might just provide your next adventure.

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The Marina Bay Sands

 

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Below the Esplanade Bridge

 

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Merlion!

When I visited Singapore I knew it was above my overall budget for my trip, especially compared to the rest of Southeast Asia, but I just had to see it.  When he was a sailor, Joseph Conrad used to pick up his mail at the Fullerton Hotel. Somerset Maugham and Ernest Hemingway used to frequent the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel, which also invented the Singapore Sling. As a bibliophile, that was enough to peak my interest to travel here. Sadly, I couldn’t even afford a glass of water in the Raffles Hotel, let alone a Singapore Sling, but I did take a wander through the building.

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“The Window of Hope” by Sun Yu-li at Collyer Quay

 

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“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

 

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“Momentum” by David Gerstein

As a result of the high price tag on everything in this impressive city state, I spent the majority of my time in Singapore walking the streets, enjoying the views of the river, photographing the beautiful old buildings, and hunting down cheap hawker food.

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Outside Capital Tower

 

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Telok Ayer Park

 

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Samsui Women sculpture

 

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Ann Siang Hill Park

A simple walk around Singapore won’t  disappoint. There’s a Merlion (or three), free art and sculptures everywhere, a boat straddling the tops of three mighty tall buildings, beautiful parks, and memorable views of the skyline.

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St. Andrew’s Cathedral

 

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View of downtown and the Singapore River

 

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Cavenagh Bridge

 

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“The First Generation” by Chong Fah Cheong

And if you are feeling more adventurous you can always take a ride on the cable car or a walk through the notorious neighborhood of Geylang.

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Flying High

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I am terrified of heights. When I was in Singapore I decided to be brave, put my big girl pants on, and take a ride on the cable car to Sentosa Island. Unfortunately, I ended up on Mt. Faber.

The first time I got onto the cable car I was so concentrated on not chickening out that I forgot there were two destinations from the Harbourfront, Mt. Faber and Sentosa Island. So I ended up taking three trips on the cable car that day. On my first ride to Mt.Faber I was shaking, hyper-ventilating, and sweating hard. A full on panic attack. I held onto the rail inside the car until my knuckles turned white. The second trip from Mt. Faber to Sentosa was easier. I kept thinking, “Well, I didn’t die the first time.”. And my third trip back to the Harbourfront was actually enjoyable. As the sunset into the sea, I took a couple deep breaths and I really allowed myself to appreciate the beautiful panoramic view.

My cable car trip started out pretty rough but ended up being a great experience I will always remember. I showed my acrophobia I’m the boss and got some beautiful photos of Singapore.

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Beauty in the Beast

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My visit to Singapore was short and not entirely enjoyable. Despite my high expectations for the city state, I found myself disappointed from the moment I arrived. I had read about the history, culture, and food before my visit and I was expecting something different than the flashy, snooty, rat race of a country I found. I think my disappointment came from my expectations and my poor choice of hotel in the sleazy neighborhood of Geylang. I’ve had time to reflect and I now use this experience to remind myself that part of traveling, or any event in life, is about appreciating the experience for what it is, not what I wanted it to be.

That said, I did spend an absolutely lovely day at the free Singapore Botanic Gardens. I even splurged and paid the $5 for admission to the Orchid Garden. I passed almost an entire day walking around, smelling flowers, admiring the black swans and other animals, and ducking out of the brief thundershowers into the restaurant to eat a piece of delicious, but overpriced, carrot cake. If you are in Singapore and need a mental pick me up, this is the place to come.

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Gentle Giants of the Elephant Valley Project

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The Elephant Valley Project provides a unique ecotourism experience to visit elephants and observe them in their natural environment. The project supplies an alternative for elephant rehabilitation and conservation by offering local mahouts a place to bring their overworked, injured, or sick elephants. Coordinator Jack Highwood states the sanctuary is a place where “they can learn how to act like elephants again”.

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In conjunction with the EVP, the NGO’s other project is the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (E.L.I.E.) which works with the Bunong people of Mondulkiri to help improve the health and welfare of domestic elephants. E.L.I.E. also helps assess and recognize the pressures placed on the people who rely on the elephants for their livelihood.

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Based in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri, Cambodia the Elephant Valley Project offers several different visitation and volunteering options. I chose the full day elephant visit and followed two families of elephants through the jungle. The cost was $70US per person and included a delicious lunch and transportation to and from Sen Monorom.

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I had already spent three months in Southeast Asia and I had been tempted on numerous occasions to go for an elephant ride with different trekking companies, but my gut instinct always told me the elephants were badly treated or abused. Upon further researching elephant training practices, I discovered the horrific ways young elephants are taken from their mothers in the wild and then beaten into submission in what trainers call “the crush”. I’m glad I held out and chose to find a humane organization that is making a positive difference for elephants.

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The staff of Elephant Valley Project were incredibly knowledgeable. I learned about elephant care and welfare, but also gained great insight into the Bunong culture, forestry practices, and economy. The staff’s love and dedication to these beautiful animals is very obvious.

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I am grateful I was allowed the opportunity to spend a day shadowing these amazing, intelligent, gentle creatures through their forested valleys. In an experience I will never forget, I watched as the elephants bathed themselves, ate all kinds of plants, scratched themselves on trees, and touched each other affectionately with their trunks. Just to sit on a log and observe their natural behaviors and interactions was better then any inhumane ride, show, or set of cruel tricks could ever be.

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Battambang’s Bamboo Train

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On a hot December morning I took my $10US ticket to ride on the notorious Battambang, Cambodia tourist trap, the nori, or bamboo train. The train’s iconic clickety-clack  is exhilarating and terrifying as it reaches top speeds of up to 40km/h over some seriously dilapidated, jagged pieces of track.

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This tourist train is an ultra-light bamboo frame with bamboo slats and a 6 HP gasoline engine. The Cambodian railway that was laid by the French during the colonial age was destroyed in many areas by years of civil war and the Khmer Rouge and stopped official service in 2009. The bamboo train that operates in the Battambang area was originally started by locals as an ingenious way to transport food and other goods short distances on the useable parts of the existing train tracks. While there is an official project to rehabilitate Cambodia’s railway it seems to be lacking initiative or funding.

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Because there is only one track and the tourist train runs both directions, when a train approaches the car with the least passengers must hop off, dismantle, and hop back on the track after letting the other train pass.

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The only minor irritation, on this otherwise peaceful 40 minute round trip journey, is the 10 minute stop at the turn around. The makeshift village seems to exist just to sell tourists over priced souvenirs or drinks. I smiled politely, said no thank you, and stood in the same spot where I was dropped off until the driver came back. This quaint tourist trap is a little overpriced but as such an unique experience it is definitely a must-do if you are in the Battambang area.

Lost Resort: Ruined Beauty of Koh Samui

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On the southwestern coast of the tourist mecca of Koh Samui there is a beautiful, formerly enticing resort that has fallen off the radar and into disrepair. I walked down the long, winding driveway towards the beach followed by several barking dogs who disapproved of my journey down the hill.

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At the bottom of the driveway I found the old reception hall dark with a wind torn plastic sheet on the front of the building. Inside was a shirtless man lounging in a broken deck chair. I honestly was not expecting anyone down here so I smiled politely and asked if I could cut through his building to get to the beach.  He sized me up for a brief moment then lazily nodded me through.

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On my way out the other side of the once glorious reception hall, I turned around to thank him and noticed his security shirt hanging off the pillar. I wondered if he was security here at the abandoned resort or if he was squatting at the resort and works security else where.

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I passed the murky, green, frog-filled pool and I walked towards the secluded, rocky beach. Among abandoned mattresses, a hot tub hanging from the eroded hillside, bungalows with caved in roofs, and overgrown bougainvillea is a lost resort of wild beauty that contrasts starkly with the polished up tourist haunts on Lamai and Chaweng Beaches.

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I wandered through the grounds undisturbed by nothing larger than a mosquito. Some paths and stairways were too overgrown to pass through. Many buildings were too dilapidated to enter and others were locked, but the outside view was still well worth the walk.

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Sometimes you find the most surprising things off the beaten path.

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