Like the San Diego Zoo, Singapore's main zoo is large and lavishly landscaped, with minimal barriers between animals and humans. It's so humane that it recently treated its Komodo dragon lizard for a nerve disorder and depression with acupuncture. At last report, the patient was on the mend.
The Night Safari is unique: A tram takes you past softly illuminated natural environments where you can see flamingos prance, tigers prowl and hippos bathe. A footpath led us into a bat house, where the hanging denizens nonchalantly munched on melon and spread their wings. It was magical.
Our final day included a brief visit to the city's serene Singapore Botanic Gardens; a stroll through colorful Little India, with lunch from fragrant food stalls ($3 total for two); and tea and a drink at Raffles Hotel, a late 19th century shrine of colonial history.
Raffles, wrote author-guest Somerset Maugham, "stands for all the fables of the exotic East."
The hotel is still luxurious, although now nearly engulfed by a high-end retail arcade built during its 1989-91 restoration. (Singapore has so many malls that we joked it was one nation, under Gucci, with Armani and Versace for all.)
Afternoon tea in Raffles' Tiffin Room was a self-serve buffet. The grand room and the food did not disappoint: salmon quiche, finger sandwiches, fresh fruit, scones and pastries, plus an assortment of dim sum and the Peranakan dessert soup buh buh cha cha, all for about $21 per person.
Afterward we headed upstairs to the Long Bar for a Singapore sling, a neon-pink concoction that includes gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau and pineapple juice.
It tasted like fruit juice and cost more than $10.
Our evening included another must-do: a half-hour bumboat (motorized sampan) cruise through the harbor and up the Singapore River, past the twinkling lights of Boat Quay and Clarke Quay cafes.
We met a few American visitors, most with family or financial ties to the city. Among them was Andrea Liebert, a Highland Park, Ill., audiologist on a weeklong trip to train hospital staff here.
Of SARS worries, she said, "It crossed my mind, but I thought since the ban was lifted, it was safe enough. But I've been washing my hands a lot."
Liebert, among hundreds attending a Night Safari wildlife show, was the only volunteer willing to "wear" a live albino python. Clearly she was a fearless adventurer.
But Singapore is well-nigh irresistible to any traveler, and it doesn't take an explorer to track down its charms.
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Exotic tastes and scents
From LAX, connecting service (change of planes) is available on Singapore, JAL, United, Northwest, Thai, Eva and Cathay Pacific. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $900. (Travelers may find better prices by buying a package.)