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Singapore is one of our favorite food cities in the world. And, with last year’s extremely low Japan Airlines fare from New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego the team has been visiting Singapore quite a few times to enjoy their food and nightlife.
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When Qatar Airways offered 2-for-1 business class fares from New York’s JFK to Singapore, I didn’t hesitate to plan a “vacation run” for my wife and me for 3 reasons. First, I wanted my wife to experience my favorite airport in the world (a widely shared opinion; see e.g.” The Strait Times and Bloomberg). Second, our flights netted me 46,478 redeemable miles, 31,690 Elite Qualifying Miles and, most important, 4,226 Elite Qualifying Dollars – more than a third of the way toward re-qualifying for Executive Platinum status for 2018 in just one fun trip. Third, I was eager to reconnect with a Changi airport employee who had befriended me on a “mileage run” a year earlier. The three of us are pictured here with Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel and ArtScience Museum in the background.
Getting there – Changi Airport
Singapore’s Changi airport is a destination in its own right. If at all possible, plan your flights to include a multi-hour layover so you can take advantage of everything this airport has to offer. Since our trip, Changi has opened a fourth terminal but, because I haven’t seen it myself, my suggestions will be limited to Terminals 1 through 3 (T1, T2 and T3 to conserve space below).
Enjoy Changi’s five gardens
Where else can you visit an orchid garden with more than 30 species of orchid and koi pond (T2), the world’s first butterfly garden in an airport (T3), a rooftop cactus garden with a bar in the center (T1), a sunflower garden with runway views (T2) and an “enchanted” garden with motion-triggered sound and lighting effects (T2) while waiting for your flight?
Free city tours
If you are lucky (or have been smart) enough to have a layover of at least 5½ hours, you can sign up for a complimentary city tour at the registration booths in Terminals 2 or 3. All you need is your passport and boarding pass. On a previous mileage run to Singapore, I took the “Heritage Tour” which focuses on Singapore’s cultural and architectural diversity while the evening “City Sights Tour” spends a lot of time in and around Singapore’s Esplanade (where the first picture in this report was taken).
Enjoy what Anthony Bourdain calls the best airport food in the world
One of my most enjoyable guilty pleasures was discovering the not-so-secret staff lounge serving what Anthony Bourdain considers the best (and probably among the cheapest!) airport food in the world – the staff canteen (T1) which, fortunately for travelers, is open to the public.
Spa and massage treatments
The Airport Wellness Oasis, a Priority Pass lounge (T1) has a fish spa where toothless garra rufa fish “nibble” dead skin tissue on your submerged feet – quite a sensation! In addition, free massage chairs (the ones you must pay for at other airports – if they have them) are scattered throughout the concourses.
Watch a movie
Changi offers not one, but two, free, 24-hour cinemas (T2, T3). Tip: If you’re jet-lagged, set a wake-up alarm on your smartphone in case you fall asleep (like I did!) sitting in the dark in a comfortable chair!
Indulge in a free tasting of fine spirits
The 2-story DFS store (T2) offers complimentary tastings of over 100 different whiskies.
Miscellaneous additional pleasures
Need to catch a few winks but don’t have lounge access? Changi has you covered. Free “snooze lounges” are scattered throughout the terminals although they are very popular. The world’s tallest slide in an airport can be found in the public area of T3. Changi’s “Entertainment Deck” (T2) includes a free LAN café and free gaming on Xbox 360s, Playstations, Wii, etc. Waiting for a flight has never been more enjoyable!
We chose the Grand Hyatt Singapore on Scotts Road for 3 reasons: (1) I was able to upgrade to a Grand Club Suite with top floor club access. As we did in Bangkok, we saved money by taking all our breakfasts in the Club Lounge and turning the assortment of canapes served from 6-8pm into our evening meal. Tip: The Club Lounge can get crowded in the evenings so go early if you can. (2) We loved the Grand Hyatt’s location just 100 yards or so from the Orchard metro station on Orchard Road, Singapore’s shopping mecca. (Editor’s Note – Singapore is an expensive hotel market relative to the value you are getting. While food, etc are cheap, we always have to budget extra for lodging in Singapore).
The third reason for booking the Grand Hyatt Singapore is that you can see a pair of exceptional restaurants from the lobby entrance:
Carousel, recipient of AsiaOne’s People’s Choice Award for Best Buffet Restaurant for the last 6 years straight, is on the lobby level in Royal Plaza at 25 Scotts Road, just to the left inside the entrance. It’s not cheap but the variety and quality (for a buffet) is simply incredible. Tips: Go for a weekday lunch which costs 20 Singapore dollars less than dinner. Also, corkage is free (for one bottle of wine) and you can use OpenTable to make your reservation.
If it’s Dim Sum you crave, it’s hard to do better than Tim Ho Wan. We had enjoyed ourselves immensely at the Michelin star-rated outlet of this chain on the lower level of the Hong Kong MRT station (in Hong Kong) so we were eager to try the restaurant on the second floor of Pacific Plaza at 9 Scotts Road. We weren’t disappointed!
Some “must see” attractions
The city-state of Singapore is only about ¼ the size of Rhode Island, but it boasts some amazing attractions. Here are some I recommend including on any itinerary:
This impressive building of fairly recent construction in Chinatown is both a functioning Buddhist temple (we were lucky enough to observe a liturgical ceremony of chanting) and a museum which chronicles the history and culture of Buddhism. A courtyard garden houses a massive prayer wheel. Tips: Admission is free (although there are donation boxes if you are so inclined). No photography is allowed in the sacred relic chamber. Dress modestly (no bare backs or shoulders, shorts or mini-skirts).
It’s easy to spend the better part of a day wandering Singapore’s Botanic Gardens which include an Evolution Garden, a Bonsai Garden, a Healing Garden, a Fragrant Garden, a Rain Forest and its centerpiece – the National Orchid Garden. Admission to the sprawling 182-acre grounds is free although there is a nominal (less than $4 USD) charge to enter the National Orchid Garden within. Tip: If possible, visit on one of the first 4 Saturdays of every month and sign up for a free, docent-led walking tour.
The Battlebox is the name given to the Allied Command Center where Singapore was surrendered to the Japanese in 1942 in what Churchill called the “worst disaster” and “largest capitulation” in British military history. The only way to visit is on the guided “Battlebox Tour: A Story of Strategy & Surrender” which is well worth the S$18 ($13.38) charge. Hint: There is a “quiz” with a giveaway at the tour’s conclusion. The following information may be useful: in the picture of the surrender party the guide will show you in the Surrender Conference Room the soldier carrying the white flag is Cyril Wild and the Commanding Officer is General Arthur Percival.
This is one of the most incredible complexes I have ever seen! It includes 2 immense glass biodomes completely devoid of any internal support – the Flower Dome is the largest all glass greenhouse on earth and the Cloud Forest Dome features the world’s tallest indoor waterfall – “supertrees” linked by a walkway 7 stories above the ground, Heritage Gardens which tell the history of Singapore, a sculptural rock garden, a floral clock and 40 sculptures – some monumental – scattered around its 250 acres.
“Enter a world of perpetual spring” is the fanciful but apt tagline for this floral conservatory that is larger than 2 football fields. In addition to the year-round gardens, there is a changing special display. When we visited, the theme was “Blue Beauties,” featuring flowers in all shades of blue – one of the least common colors in the plant world.
Adjacent to the Flower Dome is the Cloud Forest Dome where a series of escalators, elevators and walkways transport you through and around a man-made “mountain” from which the world’s tallest indoor waterfall cascades 115 feet to a pool below.
Just a short walk from the biodomes is this assortment of hawker stalls under one roof with plenty of seating. You can find anything here from satay to dim sum to fried carrot cake! Tip: Click on the link above to get the latest deals dining deals!
Honestly, photographs can’t do this light and show justice! Every night at 7:45pm and 8:45pm, the “supertree” grove and elevated walkway light up synchronized to music. The choreography changes regularly; they’ve had a show set to tunes from rock to Broadway musicals; during the holiday season the lights dance to ten Christmas carols!
A word (or five) to the wise…
- Pack lightweight, breathable clothing. Singapore is only 88 miles from the equator; it is almost always steamy.
- Singapore is extremely strict about drug use and even chewing gum (unless it is prescribed)! “Just don’t do it”
- The water is safe to drink! Skip the bottled water and save the environment.
- Eat the street food! Singapore’s National Environment Agency regulates the food retail industry so, hawker stalls (think stationary food trucks) are very safe as a rule – and a fraction of the cost of similar items at sit-down restaurants.
- Learn how to use Singapore’s MRT (Mass Rapid Transport); it’s cheap, it’s extremely clean and safe and it will take you within easy walking distance of every single attraction in this destination report!
About the Author:
I organize things; it’s what I do! I enjoy the natural adrenaline high of travel as much as the next person but I also try to limit the likelihood that the surprises I experience along the way will be unpleasant ones. To this end, I spend more hours than most preparing for each trip. Fortunately for me, I enjoy the anticipation of travel as much as the experience of it. The focus of my trip reports will be to help those who read them to enjoy high value experiences — maximizing enjoyment while minimizing cost. I’ve been a minister, nonprofit agency executive, professor and consultant; my “job” in retirement is planning our next trip. If you would like additional information and/or recommendations, please feel free to contact “The Travel Organizer” via email.