17 Dec 2012: Come the small hours, there’s more to do in Singapore than just clubbing and drinking. Gwen Pew and Lee Min Kok test out some fun activities in the dark of the night.
Yes, this is certainly one of the more mainstream tourist attractions on the island, but the Night Safari is nevertheless still a great choice for an alternative night out away from the buzzing city life. The park features nearly 140 species of animals from anoas to zebras in a mock natural environment, although admittedly it does resemble a night zoo more than a proper ‘safari’.
The most popular and comfortable way to explore the 35-hectare outdoor space is by tram, which leaves every 15 minutes or so. It is accompanied by a tour guide, who gives live commentary about every species the tram drives past; the route goes through seven simulated geographical zones, including the Himalayan Foothills (which features the ram-like markhors and mouflons, and strangely, a flock of flamingos) and Asian Riverine Forest (tapirs, comical bearded pigs and the stunning elephants).
For a more personal experience, however, we recommend getting off the tram and exploring any one of the four designated walking trails. Away from the main road, we were able to really open up our senses to the smells and sounds of the night – in the quiet of the jungle, we were able to hear hyenas calling to each other and watch the Malayan tiger prowling around at length. These trails cover areas that the tram does not reach (though only the tram goes through the final and longest stretch), allowing you to see animals such as the fishing cats and giant flying squirrels. The Wallaby Trail, which only opened this August 2012 and is home to a variety of Australian creatures, is especially worth checking out for their cute marsupials, venomous creepy crawlies and a beautifully lit (if humorously named) ‘Bridge of Suspense’.
Sightings of animals are abundant and almost guaranteed. And seeing you’re already there, do also try to catch their Thumbuakar performance and Creatures of the Night show if you fancy ooh-ahhing over fire stunts and cute animals playing up to the crowd, respectively – both of which are surprisingly well done. 80 Mandai Lake Rd (6269 3411, www.nightsafari.com.sg). Take a taxi. Daily 7.30pm-midnight, last ticket sale at 11.15pm. $16-$39.
Punggol Prawning at Marina Country Club is definitely one of the posher prawning places we’ve seen – there are three sleek-looking black prawn tubs with potted plants and matching upholstered bar stools in a cavernous covered warehouse (with towering boat racks in the background). For $17, you get a rod and a plastic dish filled with bait – a moist paste of chopped-up worms that, unfortunately, takes disgustingly long for us to properly mash/mold onto the hook.
And unless you’re a veteran or have a natural feel for the technique, chances are you’ll end up like us over the next hour: sadly, between three of us, we caught one prawn – almost by accident, and certainly not by following the mimed instructions by the non-English-speaking – but earnest – attendant. From what we understand, an initial tug means a prawn has grabbed the bait with its claw – you’ll need to avoid scaring it off long enough for it to put the hook in its mouth. Of course, given our performance, we may have gotten it all wrong: all too often did we feel a tempting pull, only to reel it up with an excited yell and discover there’s nothing at the end…and reapply the bait that’s just disappeared along with our imaginary catch. Rinse and repeat.
Of course, the frustrating bit is only half the challenge. As nonchalantly demonstrated by the friendly attendant, if you do catch a prawn, you’ll have to twist its claw legs off, then grab it while it’s squirming to get the hook out of its mouth – definitely not for the squeamish. Slightly unnerved by the whole thing, we didn’t even stay to roast our hard-won catch on the provided electric grill.
Nevertheless, it’s still an apparently popular activity (inexplicably, more popular the later it gets – several experienced groups rolled in towards the end of our session just before midnight and immediately began pulling up prawn after prawn) – and something that you’ll be happy to say you’ve tried at least once. Most prawning spots are open round the clock; Marina Country Club provides a free and punctual shuttle service direct from Sengkang MRT at regular intervals (see website for timetable). Marina Country Club, 600 Punggol 17th Ave (8696 6704, www.facebook.com/ebijpunggolprawning). Sun-Thu 9am-1am; Fri-Sat 9am-4am. Freshwater prawning: $18/one hour, $28/two hours, $33/three hours. Saltwater prawning: $20/one hour, $30/two hours, $35/three hours.
Asia Paranormal Investigators’ spooky tour
For a slice of forgotten Singapore history and the low-down on urban legends, Charles Goh is your man. The co-founder of Asian Paranormal Investigators (API) is known for his spooky tours after dark, but don’t go expecting ghouls, pontianaks (a female vampire in Malay folklore) or an actual supernatural experience – it’s more of a three- to four-hour nighttime trek with a history lesson thrown in for good measure; but more often than not, the stories themselves are creepy enough.
Tours are arranged directly with Goh in advance (two weeks is recommended, as Goh has another full-time job; this is essentially a hobby of his) – they can be customised based on where you want to go, with popular spooky destinations such as Old Changi Hospital, Loyang Red House, Pasir Ris Swamp, Marsiling tunnel and Seah Im Road’s hidden World War II bunker. We headed out to Dead Man Village, located in the legendary Bukit Brown cemetery (which will change significantly due to the plans for a highway bridge to be built there).
Formerly a community of 20 families who tended the graves (including some of Singapore’s most famous Chinese pioneers) throughout the 213-hectare rainforest, the village is now near-abandoned. Throughout the tour, Goh keeps up a steady stream of commentary as we tread gingerly through a forested path in total darkness to our destination. There are a couple of hair-prickling moments as we stumble across old tombs – some dating as far back as 1833 – and an outdoor toilet made of concrete next to a hut with a Sadako-like mirror hanging by the door. But just as fascinating are Goh’s fun facts, which gives context to everything on the tour. Various locations, regular pick-up point at Newton Food Centre (9878 8869, www.api.sg). 7pm; day and late night tours available on request. Up to $45 per person, minimum two people.
* The API Spooky Tour section was written by Lee Min Kok.