Elephant Parade Singapore

Anyone who was reading this blog in summer 2010 will know that I got just a little bit obsessed with the Elephant Parade statues in London.  I spent lunch times, evenings and weekends combing London, map in hand, trying to photograph all 250+.  This even involved making an appointment for a viewing at a private members’ club to see one of the elephants who was deemed too risque for public display.  On the last weekend when the elephants were on display, I still had 30 left to spot and I devoted all day to it.  I bumped into a lot of other elephant-hunters on that day, and discovered that I was a member of a rather geeky sub-set of people.  Maybe not as bad as trainspotters, but getting there.

Still, I bet few of them were geeky enough to travel to another continent for an Elephant Parade in another country.  But it turns out that I was.  I didn’t plan it – honestly – I just turned up at Singapore zoo and there was a beautiful elephant waiting for me.  Also, I timed it perfectly because it was the end of the exhibition and all the elephants were getting moved to the Botanical Gardens for the last weekend, so I didn’t have to schlep round the whole of Singapore to find them all.

Last time, I faithfully blogged all 250+ elephants.  I won’t bore you with them all this time – anyone keen to see the full set can check out my set on flickr.  But here are my favourites.

1. Ele Fun-Asia

Ele Fun-Asia

2. Orangephant – he smelled like orange

Orangephant

3. Delightful Durian – thankfully he didn’t smell like durian

Delightful Durian

4. Nuts over Elephants

Nuts over Elephants

5. Lily

Lily

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parkrun on tour – 7 January 2012

My first run of 2012 was in Fort Canning Park in Singapore.  It’s pretty small but full of history as it was the site of the British command during the Second World War. Plus, there were a couple of elephant parade statues there.

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I missed three parkruns while I was in India, so in an attempt to catch up (before I get to the jungles of Borneo and running becomes impossible again), I did an extra run on Monday in Singapore’s Botanical Gardens.

Lol parkrunning in Singapore Botanical Gardens

Singapore

Ahhh…Singapore…home of polite people, calm traffic and clean toilets. Never are your charms so appreciated as when people arrive after four weeks in India. We felt like we were treading water a bit in India, so when we arrive in Singapore we hit the sightseeing and we hit it hard.

On our first day, we had to hit one of the many (many, many) shopping malls for a few bits and pieces. Mr Beet was thrilled and a little bit emotional when he spotted…a Nando’s. Singapore just gets better and better.

Mild Boy

In the afternoon we went to Singapore Zoo. Long-term readers of this blog will know that I got a little bit obsessed when they had those Elephant Parade statues up in London a couple of summers ago. I totally geeked out and combed the entire city photographing all 250+ elephants. There was nothing but elephants on this blog for weeks. You can imagine my delight when I arrived at the zoo and discovered that Singapore is having its own Elephant Parade at the moment and there were lots of elephant statues dotted not only around the zoo but all over Singapore. We had arrived at the zoo only about two hours before closing so there followed a Supermarket-Sweep-like dash around the place trying to find all the elephant statues, and to see all the real-life animals as well.

My first Singaporean elephant – I will do a separate post for these rather than bore you with them all now.

Rainforest Zoo-phant

Kangaroo with joey

Kangaroo with joey

Baby orang-utan getting hauled up by its mum and not too happy about it

I wanna play...

Sloth

Sloth

Mr Beet and me with a ring-tailed lemur

Col and Lol and ring-tailed lemur

Flying fox

Flying fox

Next door to the zoo is the Night Safari; basically another zoo where you get to see the animals at night.  It’s very cleverly done with low-lighting and some animals like the big cats are much more active at night than during the day.  Plus there was a cool fireshow thing at the start. 

Fire breathers at night safari

More photos of the zoo and night safari are on Mr Beet’s flickr page.

The next day was a Saturday, aka parkrun day, so we headed to Fort Canning Park for a few laps and there were some more elephant statues here as well.  Fort Canning is where the British army was based in the Second World War and where the decision to surrender to the Japanese was made.  They’ve turned the military bunkers into a little museum called the Battle Box, where animatronic generals re-enact the last few days of British rule. 

For our second museum of the day, we went to the National Museum.  It’s a big, beautiful building but really empty – we had some trouble actually finding any exhibitions.  Not only did they have the usual history of Singapore exhibition, but there was also an exhibition of paintings on loan from the Musee d’Orsay including Cezanne’s The Card Players and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  Then we hit the Singapore Art Museum, which is all modern art and we particularly liked an exhibition of the finalists of some pan-Asian competition including a set of photographs of Cambodian “bomb ponds” – ponds that have formed in the craters left by American bombers during the Vietnam War. 

Singapore is very compact and we had no plans to do a walking tour of the sights, but we just seemed to drift from one interesting-looking building to another without too much effort.  We wandered from the Art Museum to Raffles Hotel;

Col in front of Raffles

Then to the Esplanade, a crazy-looking building that is home to a theatre and arts complex. 

The Esplanade

Then along the waterfront, where we got some shots of the business district skyline and of the Marina Bay Sands Towers – the only buildings I’ve ever seen with a ship on the top.

Singapore's business district

Marina Bay Sands Towers reflected

Then we loop round to see the Merlion (the symbol of Singapore) up close. 

Merlion

We stroll along Clarke Quay – a trendy bar area where we find an English pub selling pints of bitter.  Despite the exorbitant price, Mr Beet has to have one as he has not had bitter in five months.  He is quite pleased by his pint of Old Specked Hen.

Col finds a pint of bitter in Asia and is moderately pleased

Then we head into Chinatown, which is getting ready for Chinese New Year (of the Dragon) with lots of lights, lanterns, stalls selling brightly-coloured tat and about a billion people.

Chinatown gets ready for New Year

That’s enough for day two, we decide to get out of the crowds a bit on day three and hopefully get some training in for climbing Mt Kinabalu by doing a hike. However, the travel guide makes the route sound a lot more strenuous than it really is; it’s more of a stroll than a hike. Still, it’s a pleasant route that takes us along a network of parks from Kent Ridge Park, through the horticultural gardens, over a couple of tree-top walkways and up to a place called Mt Faber which has a cable car taking people over to one of the smaller islands.

Forest Walk

Cable cars

More photos of Singapore on Mr Beet’s flickr page. 

Wayanad – The Indian Illness Chronicles continued…

So after a few days shivering in Ooty, we decide to move on to our next location which is Wayanad in Northern Kerala.  We have to decide between two towns in which to stay, and with nothing else to base it on I decide that a town called “Assault and Battery” (ok…Sulthan Bathery) sounds too violent so we opt for Kalpetta instead.

After a 5 hour bus journey on windy roads I arrive feeling even worse than when I left Ooty.  When we get to the hotel, the proprietor shows us the room and asks Mr Beet if it’s ok.  By this point, I have already got on the bed and fallen asleep, so he decides that we will take it.

Apart from a busy schedule of sleeping 16 hours a day, we manage to squeeze in a trip to a local lake where there are spiders as big as my hand and lots of monkeys.  Plus lots of holidaying Indians surreptitiously taking photos of the Westerners on their camera phones.  Little do they know that we love posing for other people’s holiday snaps so would be more than happy to oblige.

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We also got up very early one morning to take a jeep safari around the national park.  We saw elephants, deer, peacocks, giant squirrels and … err… a wild chicken.

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Some more deeply unimpressive wildlife shots from Wayanad are available on Mr Beet’s flickr page.  

Chiang Mai

We were allowed to cross the border from Laos to Thailand despite looking and smelling like a couple of hobos, and got a bus all the way to Chiang Mai.  We immediately noticed how much more developed Thailand is compared to the other countries we’ve been in recently.  After travelling in Laos and Cambodia, we have a new-found appreciation for tarmac.  We arrive in Chiang Mai in the middle of the bustling Sunday night market, take a room in the first guesthouse we can find and immediately collapse for the night.

The next morning, we take full advantage of being in a tourist centre by popping to the Irish pub for breakfast.

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You can imagine how good this tasted after nothing but rice for a week.

We had scheduled a day in Chiang Mai to go to the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for rescued elephants.  We got to feed the elephants by hand.  They each get their own special basket of food made up depending on their favourites; some have more bananas, some like pumpkin.  Some of the elephants are very polite and take the food daintily with their trunks.  Others are a bit more snatchy and will throw the food away if they judge it to be too small to bother with.

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After lunch, we got to go into the river with the elephants and give them a wash.  Some elephants like to be washed by the tourists, others prefer to splash around by themselves.

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Thanks to a smooth trip from Laos (the yellow bracelets have still not let us down), we arrived in Chiang Mai a day earlier than we expected. So we had an extra day to spend on one of the many tourist activities on offer. I vote for white-water rafting, Mr Beet chooses batik painting.  Since we have been doing a lot of adventure type activities recently and nothing creative, we ultimately decide on batik.  Then I remember that I still have “paint a picture” outstanding on my list of things to do before I’m 30. So it’s an opportunity to tick that box as well.

Our teacher is a very friendly Thai woman called Anne, who takes us through the whole process; sketching a design, canting on the wax, painting, fixing and finally putting the whole thing in boiling water and hoping for the best. We are pleasantly surprised by the results. I’m sure this is not due to our latent artistic prowess, but rather the subtle guidance from Anne.

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Some more pictures are on Mr Beet’s flickr page here and here, but the batik photos have been censored as someone may be getting one of my efforts for Christmas and I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Ban Lung

From Kratie we head North-East to Ban Lung, a small town up by the border with Laos. The town is nothing special, but it’s a good base from which to explore some Cambodian countryside. We stay in an eco-lodge, in a little thatched bungalow with a hammock outside. There are cute little striped squirrels living in the tree next to us. And I think also living in our roof, at least there’s something living up there and I prefer to believe it’s cute squirrels.

Lol chilling in her hammock

Most travellers we meet seem to have embraced the ubiquitous moped as their mode of transport, but I’m still too nervous and Mr Beet is not keen either, given the state of the roads. So we stick to hiring a couple of push bikes to get us around. In a dusty country, Ban Lung is famous for its dust, and all the trees are coated in a reddish-brown layer, making it permanently autumnal. We have to do as the locals do and where scarves over our faces when cycling, as if we are making our getaway from a bank robbery on two geriatric bicycles.

Lol cycling

Within cycling distance of town, there are three waterfalls and a lake in a volcanic crater. All good swimming spots, so I can cool off after a morning’s cycle and also wash off the dust.

Lol using overhanging trees as a diving board

Lol swimming in the waterfall

I’ve been practising taking my hands off the handlebars while cycling, which is an important skill as there is much waving and hello-ing to be done to the children living in the villages along the way.

At one of the waterfalls we leave the bikes and do the last bit of the journey through the jungle on the back of an elephant. The elephant was very beautiful and we basically just sat on him while he went about his business of eating everything in sight. I was pleased to see that he wasn’t in any way rushed to get us to our destination, but was allowed to graze as much as he liked on the way. Even the mahout stopped for a snack, picking up a big beetle and pulling off its legs. Yum. The elephant was rewarded for our little trip because there were banana trees at the end, which seemed to be his favourite, and he spent ten minutes ripping them to pieces to get at the juicy bits. He even carried a bit of banana tree back to the start, I think to show off to the other elephant.

Lol saying goodbye to the elephant

Ban Lung is our final destination in Cambodia, our next stop is one of the 4,000 islands in Laos.

Some more pictures of Ban Lung are available on Mr Beet’s flickr page.