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TRAVEL WATCH: FEBRUARY 7, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 5

Living the Wild Life in Steamy Singapore
By MORRIS DYE


You might think the closest thing to high adventure in Singapore is stalking an elusive riverside table at Boat Quay on a Friday evening. But while things have gotten tamer since the early 1900s when Singapore's last wild tiger was shot in the billiards room of the Raffles Hotel, this notoriously hygienic metropolis has not completely lost touch with its tropical roots. In an easy day of touring, visitors can experience a civilized brush with Southeast Asian wildlife (bobby socks and machete not required) and still have time for a round of shopping on Orchard Road.

First up: a morning trek at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where casual hikers can walk among Singapore's last surviving stands of virgin timber, just half an hour from the city center. From the entrance off Upper Bukit Timah Road, a wide and well-graded trail climbs beneath a leafy canopy to the highest point on the island, the 162-m Bukit Timah summit. Areas of untouched rainforest are recognizable by the buttressed roots of towering dipterocarp trees, and by the absence of tangled ground-level vegetation typical of second-growth jungle. Explore the smaller trails that branch off from the main path and you may see some of the reserve's more elusive residents, including numerous bird species, long-tailed macaque monkeys, mouse deer, flying squirrels, reticulated pythons and the beautiful but poisonous green Malayan coral snake. Bukit Timah is too small to support large animal populations, but the diversity of flora in this 164-hectare reserve is thought to exceed the total number of species on the North American continent.

    ALSO IN TIME
Living the Wild Life in Steamy Singapore
While things have gotten tamer since Singapore's last wild tiger was shot in the billiards room of the Raffles Hotel, this notoriously hygienic metropolis has not completely lost touch with its tropical roots

Detour
After a long socialist-era hiatus, Shanghai is reviving its reputation as a dancer's heaven

Off the Shelf
A collection of travel-disaster stories is the latest brand extension from the folks at Lonely Planet

After a restorative lunch (fish head curry is a local favorite--don't forget to eat the eyeballs, which are said to have tonic properties), it's time to visit Underwater World on Sentosa Island. The park's star feature is an 80-m transparent tube that snakes through a tank stocked with sharks, manta rays and other big fish native to Southeast Asian waters. Visitors ride through the tube on a slow conveyor belt, with the option of stepping onto a stationary sidewalk for close-up views of magnificent sea creatures gliding overhead. It's well worth the $7.80 admission for adults. Other displays house a host of marine life, including the world's largest crustaceans: giant Japanese spider crabs that can grow 3 m from claw to claw. (For more info, check out www.underwaterworld.com.sg.)

When you've had your fill of the briny deep, head by foot or monorail to the Sentosa Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom Museum, where a walk-through aviary harbors thousands of colorful butterflies in a flowery tropical garden. Inside the museum, some 4,000 mounted insects and arthropods are on display, reflecting the tremendous range of six- and eight-legged invertebrates found in Asia.

Then consider an early dinner (try piquant pepper crab at one of the many seafood joints along East Coast Parkway). That will leave you time for one of Singapore's most memorable attractions: the Night Safari ($9) at the Singapore Zoological Gardens. This 40-hectare facility, which opens nightly at 7.30, is adjacent to the zoo's daytime exhibits and was designed to highlight the nocturnal habits of creatures that are relatively inactive by day. More than 100 animal species are represented--including rhinos, tigers, lions and Asian elephants--in eight geographic zones that mimic Indo-Malayan rainforest, African savanna, South American pampas and other wildlife habitats. Inside the bat enclosure, you'll get a close look at the large Asian fruit bats known as flying foxes, while smaller species flutter unnervingly (but harmlessly) around your head. An electric tram and 2.8 km of lighted paths provide easy access to the compound, and snack bars are available.

If you haven't exhausted your appetite for nature, check out the Jurong Bird Park and neighboring Jurong Reptile Park, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the wetlands of Sungei Buloh Nature Park and the mangrove swamps of Pulau Ubin, a small island north of the airport. For more information, visit the Singapore Tourism Board website at www.newasia-singapore.com. While you'll never confuse Singapore's orderly wilderness with the set of Wild Kingdom, you're sure to have a positively beastly time.

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