SINGAPORE: The morning of his 38th birthday found Mr Lim Zi Yuan barefoot and with a newly purchased red bucket by his side.
"We did Lazarus Island and Kusu (Island) on Tuesday, we went to Coney Island yesterday ... so it's really end-to-end of Singapore," said Mr Lim, when I asked him why he and his wife had decided to drive down to Sembawang Hot Spring Park from his home in Farrer Park.
"We thought we would come at this odd hour, when it was warmer but we were caught by surprise by the number of people."
He wasn't the only one who was surprised.
Our penultimate day of walking around the island had seen us reach the hot springs at about 10am. And what would be more rewarding than soaking our battered, blistered and bruised feet in the steaming water of the hot spring?
Well, we had to get in line first. It might have been the middle of the morning on a weekday, but the chatter of conversation that emanated from within the park as we entered was a clear sign that we wouldn't be alone.
Having reopened earlier this year, the 1.1-hectare park is clearly a hit, with the cascading pool the most popular spot in the park. Water cools naturally as it flows down a four-tiered pool, starting at 70 degrees Celsius at the top and reaching the bottom at 40 degrees Celsius.
I had to bide my time though, before being able to slide into a spot on the perimeter of the pool.
Bliss. Well, first some pain as I nearly scalded my feet - but soon after, that - bliss.
The park is another example of a (somewhat) hidden gem lurking in Singapore, which perhaps many people have yet to experience. If you want to try something different, it's well worth it.
THE NEVER-ENDING ROAD
First came the pleasure, but next was the pain. We had a stretch of about 15km that awaited us between the hot springs and our next major pitstop - Sungei Buloh wetlands reserve.
We'd mentally geared ourselves up for this one. There would be little to see, but much to walk. As we ticked off MRT stations on the North-South line, things seemed to be going well.
But as the sun blazed and our muscles ached, the walk became a trudge. We started to see a change in the landscape as HDB blocks slowly disappearing into the distance, and in their place sprung up construction sites.
We passed dormitories and factories, excavators and lorries - a side of Singapore seldom seen and usually forgotten.
And yet, even as the heat and monotony threatened to take their toll, my mind started to wander. All these factories and industrial facilities have a tale to tell, and I couldn't help thinking of what they show about Singapore's history.
For instance, there were construction companies which looked like they had been around for decades, and which must have played a part in Singapore's development since independence. So too the workers toiling in the sun, their efforts often overlooked.
I wouldn't necessarily recommend visiting the area, but I quite enjoyed seeing a part of Singapore very far removed from the sparkling modern metropolis of the CBD or some of the nature spots we had experienced earlier in the walk.
Dragging ourselves past the tranquil Kranji Reservoir Park, in the distance we caught sight of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
Some respite finally beckoned.
MANGROVES AND MUDFLATS
My last visit to the reserve had been when it was still known as Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve - it was renamed in 2002. It had been some time.
So I was pleasantly surprised as we strolled through the park, there were new trails, new boardwalks and new rest-stops.
We embarked on the park's coastal trail, taking a route which skirted its edge, bringing us face to face with an impressive network of mangroves. The call of migratory birds and the buzz of cicadas punctuated the silence as we eyed every log-like object, hoping to chance upon one of the park's resident crocodiles.
With time tight - we still had to walk to our accommodation for the night in Lim Chu Kang - we decided to give our croc hunt one last go, and follow the park's mangrove boardwalk.
Still no dice. But just as we were about to leave, we came across probably our best sighting of the day - a pair of hornbills peering inquisitively down from the foliage at us.
As we had so often learnt during our trek around the island, sometimes the best surprises come when one least expects it.