Day 3 of David McGonigal’s Orion II “Faces in the Forest” cruise to Borneo

$26 for a Singapore sling! Not much less for a beer! Raffles Hotel now gleams with colonial chic but a round of drinks could pay for a wing of suites. But it was something we had to do, especially as Raffles’ Long Bar was directly across from our hotel, the Fairmont. Luke Mangan’s new Salt restaurant was just next door. Sometimes the world seems to be getting smaller by the minute.

As we hopped a cab to the Cruise Centre we reminisced about our couple of days in Singapore. We tried to shop but failed. We set out to eat and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. I put the word out to all my foodie and travel writer friends, seeking suggestions about where we should eat – and got some great ideas. Then Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack wrote a piece in the SMH about hawker stall food that was published just before we left. We tore it out and just about ate off it.

Terry and Jill – we weren’t so impressed by the Food Trail under the Singapore Flyer but Food Republic, the retro food court in the Wisma Atria shopping centre on Orchard Rd was a great recommendation. We had a brilliant brunch here with the freshest ingredients cooked Chinese style for Sandra and Javanese style for me. And, because it was there, I ventured back into my past and had an Ice Kachang with all the fluoro flavourings, beans, jelly and corn that I remembered. Perfect.

For dinner we decided to go upmarket and see what top Singaporean cuisine was about. So we went to the Goodwood Park hotel and its Min Jiang Chinese restaurant. The hotel, set within gardens, offers a taste a bygone Singapore and we dined poolside with great service. The meal was superb, especially the dry chilli king prawns that had a sweet smokey muskiness that combined perfectly with the heat of the chillis. Only the recommended crabmeat with mian xien was a bit too close to baby food for our palates. The tea-smoked duck was both a generous serving and perfect in texture and flavours.

Singapore has a new cruise terminal that opened a couple of months ago. But Orion II was departing out of the old cruise centre, incongruously at the same time as the SuperStar Virgo that dwarfed our expedition vessel. Our long walk was punctuated by Star Cruise’s staff in drag, in Star Wars costumes and as fantasy characters that may have had a link to Alice in Wonderland or Disney on Ice. Then we walked onto Orion II to be greeted by a video about endangered orang utans. Phew, things are back to normal.

Orion Cruises has been running Orion II for the past two seasons but is soon giving the ship back to Travel Dynamics, the owners, and it’s rumoured she’s bound for African cruises. She’s a nice vessel for passengers but without the perfect gleam of Orion. Ironically, after a year or so with Orion, Orion II is in great shape and there’s a bit of sadness that she’s going. Orion is going to take on some of Orion II’s itineraries, including our “Faces in the Forest” cruise to Borneo’s Camp Leakey.

It was good to see Tracy, one of Orion’s long service Hotel Managers and to find Max McGuire was the Expedition Leader – we sailed together across the top of Siberia almost 20 years ago.

Our cabin was the well-appointed 506: no balcony but forward facing, lots of space and a deck directly infront. As one would expect with Orion the greetings were warm and genuine, check-in was minimal and soon we were having sail away cocktails then our lifeboat briefing then dinner.

We saw Glenn, the resident Canadian pianist/entertainer, after dinner and apologised that we couldn’t keep our eyes open to visit him in the bar. He said with some resignation that few stayed up on the first night. As Orion II weaved a path through all the ships moored off Singapore we were lulled to sleep by the very gentle motion of the ship. It’s nice to be back.

Words and photo: David McGonigal