I just returned from a marathon flight halfway around the world, where I was faced with a layover of almost seven hours in Singapore.
By my calculations, that translated to almost a day before I could connect with my infrequent flight to Myanmar (better known to many as Burma). And I had the same long layover on my return flight back to the States.
Knowing I would be suffering from fatigue, lack of sleep and jet lag, not to mention the curse of coach travel – cramped muscles from confined space – I was bummed to have such a large chunk of non-productive time.
But, as it turned out, I was wrong. After wandering around the terminal to stretch my legs, I discovered the intracacies of Singapore’s Changi International Airport. It won me over to the point that I now dub Changi my favorite layover – the best in the world, from my experience and point of view.
Southeast Asia Hub
Changi International is a major aviation hub in Southeast Asia. With four passenger terminals that handle an annual capacity of 70 million passengers, it’s the 18th-busiest airport in the world.
Service and amenities are what Changi is noted for; there are over 28,000 people employed at the airport and they’re all as professional and pleasant as can be. With numerous information booths strategically located throughout the airport, you get answers from “real” people to any travel-related questions quickly.
Feeling under the weather? Pay a quick visit to several of the terminal-based medical clinics and have prescriptions filled at one of the convenient pharmacies. There’s also a transient hotel where you can book a room, shower and sleep before your connection – all at a reasonable price.
Hungry? You can chow down on fast food, just like at any airport, or slow your pace with Changi's array of sit-down dining options.
And, of course, there’s duty-free shopping for international travelers. By the time I finished my shopping foray, I was out over $1,200 but walking away with the latest in ultra-thin laptops, an AE Aspire Ultrabook.
The biggest surprise was discovering the freebies at Changi. Amenities abound in all four terminals, making this a model of civility for air travelers and weary souls.
From free computer access, free WiFi, free computer gaming and free movies to free 24-hour napping areas, a prayer room and even a baby care room, it’s a regular airport Shangri-La.
And then there are the free city tours. If you have at least five hours before your connection, take advantage of the two-hour complimentary city tour.
(Tip: Be sure to sign up as soon as you can, since there’s a maximum of 40 guests on the scheduled tours and they do fill up fast. Just ask any information booth where to sign up.)
Follow the Nature Trail
My absolute favorite in Changi has to be the Nature Trail, which included six open-air gardens scattered throughout the terminals – orchid, sunflower, cacti, bamboo, fern, even a butterfly garden.
Terminal 3 houses the butterfly garden, the world’s first in an airport. This is a tropical butterfly habitat with a grotto waterfall and a variety of greenery, including 200 carnivorous or insectivorous plants.
Since I spent the bulk of my time in Terminal 2, I enjoyed watching koi swim in the ponds at the fern and orchid gardens (located in the Departure Transit Lounge, Level 2).
The fern garden looks and smells like something left over from the dinosaur age. It includes tropical tree ferns that emanate from the world’s oldest rainforests and the giant Tasmanian tree ferns (Dicksonia Antarctica), which have been known to live for over 400 years.
The orchid garden is a photographer’s paradise – and I just happened to have my cameras. Tropical and temperate orchids broadcast their colors amidst rocks and aged driftwood. If you’re lucky, you can catch a seasonal display of Singapore’s national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim.
And if you’re feeling the inclination to be artistic, right by the orchid garden is an area where you can engage your inner artisan with crayon rubbings over a variety of relief displays. Crayons and paper included.
'Til Next Time...
Overall, my experience at Changi was relaxing, refreshing and productive – a welcome note in today’s taxing travel environment. I look forward to my next layover there!