Going to Singapore meant traveling through Changi International Airport. The winner of Skytrax’s best airport award every year since 2013, Changi handles most of the long haul flights arriving and departing from the island state.
Changi, which opened in 1981, added a fourth terminal in 2017 and a fifth opens in 2019. While most airports goal is to get you closer to your destination, herding travelers through like cattle, Changi entices the traveler to linger. The massive airport has ample options for shopping, dining, and entertainment and is a destination entirely on its own as the millions who go through Changi on a stopover can attest.
Changi is enormous but easy to navigate. There are 4 terminals, with terminals 1, 2 and 3 interlinked by the Skytrain. For those transferring to flights in T4, a free shuttle bus is available at T2. If you are transferring between T4 and T1 or T3, take the shuttle bus to T2 and use the Skytrain to get to the other terminals. Travel between the terminals can be done without going through immigration, and you can clear passport control at any terminal if you don’t have checked bags.
As I noted above, Changi is itself a destination. Each terminal is different and offers loads of attractions and entertainment options. In T1 is an awesome rooftop pool. For $17 you can access the pool at the Aerohotel, where there’s also a jacuzzi, poolside bar, and shower facilities. Guests are also provided a towel and storage. T1 is also home to a roof-top Cactus Garden, with over 100 species of cacti and arid plants from around the world. T2 is where you’ll find one of Changi’s two movie theaters and most of its gardens, including the Orchid and Sunflower gardens. The Sunflower Garden is located on the rooftop, and in addition to a garden with sunflowers and marigolds, there’s a view of the runway and a nice vantage point to watch airplanes taking off or landing.
The popular and much loved Butterfly Garden is located in T3. The butterfly garden is a tropical habitat with over 1,000 butterflies from more than 30 species and a 20-foot waterfall. It is also the world’s first airport-based butterfly garden.
While stunning art installations can be found throughout Changi, T3 has the largest concentration, including Birds In Flight and Coming Home, two pieces that feel especially poignant to travelers. T3 is where you’ll find Changi’s second movie theater offering the latest box office hits for free. I figure that there will be enough movie watching during my long-haul flight, so for me, the movie theaters aren’t particularly exciting.
Opened in 2017, T4 is inspired by nature and filled with plants and greenery. The terminal is the size of 27 football fields and has nearly 350 plant species. T4 is also home to the Heritage Zone. The themed zone has Chinese façade houses like the ones once found in Singapore’s Chinatown, which camouflage an LED screen on which the 6-minute digital production, Peranakan Love Story. The art installation meets garden, Steel in Bloom, can also be found in T4.
In the days to come Jewel at Changi Airport will open. Though it is at the airport and will connect to 3 of the terminals, Jewel is not being billed as a terminal, but a lifestyle destination available to locals as well as those in transit. The complex built by the architect behind Singapore’s famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel has 10 floors – five above ground and five subterranean – features a park, seven floors of shops and a garden with 100,000 shrubs and 2,500 trees from Brazil, Australia, and the US and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.
There are a lot of dining options in Changi, many of which you’ll typically find in any airport. There are, however, a few very special gems unique to Changi that should be sought out, including Staff Canteen, the hawker centers for employees referenced by Anthony Bourdain, found in T1 and T2.
Changi is linked to Singapore’s MRT rail network, which costs $3 SGD ($2.20 USD) and is a one-hour train ride to the city center. After flying for 12 hours, however, I skipped public transportation and instead took a taxi, which took about 30 minutes and cost $20 SGD ($15 USD).
Free tours of Singapore are available for travelers with layovers of 5.5 hours or longer and who are in Singapore less than 24 hours. There are two different tours to choose from, each lasting 2.5 hours. There is storage available for large carry-ons at a cost of $5 SGD ($3.70 USD).
Choose between the Heritage Tour, which highlights Singapore’s colonial past, and the City Tour that focuses on modern Singapore and its popular cityscape. Passengers of Singapore Airlines can pre-book these tours, while passengers on other airlines book on a first come, first served basis after arriving in the airport.
Not only did going to Singapore gave me the opportunity to experience the world’s # 1 airport, but to fly on the world’s best first class and economy carrier (spoiler alert: I will not be sharing the first class experience). The 3-4-3 configuration looked a little crowded initially, but once I settled into my window seat I found that it was pretty roomy. There was also a nice amount of legroom, a footrest and a vanity mirror embedded in the seat back tray, which I found extremely exciting.
Singapore Airlines offers passengers in economy an amenities kit with socks, toothbrush and toothpaste and a sleep mask. Looking at the menu, it seemed to be a lot of food, with a meal after takeoff, a meal before touchdown and snacks and sandwiches per request in between. However, since it was a 12-hour flight, I guess it wasn’t excessive.
A selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages was available throughout the flight, including Singapore’s signature drink, the Singapore Sling. The food, which had an Asian flare, though better than the average economy meal, was nothing to rave about.
Each seat has an 11.1-inch personal entertainment system, a reading lamp, two USB ports, and two universal outlets to share between the 3 seats. The In-flight entertainment system has hundreds of movies, TV shows, music, and games. Of course, I watched Crazy Rich Asians on the outbound leg of the trip to prepare me for my destination. The perfectly coiffed and made-up flight attendants wearing the iconic Singapore Airlines sarong kebaya uniform were extremely pleasant.
All in all, I would say my experience in Singapore Airlines economy class was very good. The comfortable economy class seats, good food, and top-notch in-flight entertainment and attentive service made for a pleasant flight. I would fly Singapore Airlines economy class again (though I probably should investigate if business is really worth all the fuss) and would recommend them.
Have you ever flown through Changi Airport or on Singapore Airlines? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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