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Layover Lowdown: Singapore Changi Airport

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Our new “Layover Lowdown” series will feature airports and destinations around the world where you’re likely to be stuck between flights. The TPG team will offer tips on navigating and spending time in the airport, as well as some things to do if you find yourself with time to explore the nearby city. TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino starts off with one of the coolest airports in the world – Singapore Changi Airport.

Welcome to the Singapore Changi Airport. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Welcome to the Singapore Changi Airport (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

The hub for Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, AirAsia, Tigerair, Jetstar Asia Airways, and Valuair, Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) currently has three terminals, with a fourth scheduled to open in 2017. Although Changi is just about 11 miles from the city center, the airport offers so many activities that you may not even want to leave. It’s been voted Best Airport in the World many times by SkyTrax and UK Business Traveller Magazine – read on to see why!

At the Airport

Special Features

All three terminals offer playgrounds for kids ages 1 to 12, in addition to a forest-themed playground in Terminal 1 (T1). If you have enough time to kill, catch a flick at one of the airport’s two movie theaters (T2 & 3), and kids and adults can enjoy arcade games in Zone X, found in the basement of T2. The Changi Aviation Gallery provides interactive models and activities that showcase the history of aviation in Singapore (T3, free).

Breathe in some fresh air in the Cactus garden
Breathe in some fresh air in the Cactus Garden

If you want to get some fresh air, visit the Cactus Garden (T1), Butterfly Garden (T3), or the Enchanted Garden, Orchid Gardens, Koi Pond and Sunflower Garden (T2). Indulge in the fitness or spa services at the Ambassador Transit Hotel (located in all three terminals) or even take a dive in the Balinese-themed swimming pool (shower facilities, a towel and a complimentary non-alcoholic drink from the bar for about $11 US, Departure Lounge East, Level 3). 

In all three terminals, the airport features baby-changing and care rooms, as well as music lounges, prayer rooms, free massage chairs, Internet stations featuring computers and free Wi-Fi, and ergonomic napping chairs. In Terminal 3, you’ll also find nap rooms at the Rainforest Lounge and The Haven.

The famous slide in T3 of SIN
The famous slide in SIN’s T3

Singpore’s largest slide, all of 39 feet tall, is located in Terminal 3. (And yes, adults can go to town on it, too.) Save your receipts, because for every $10 US you spend at Changi Airport in a single receipt, you can redeem one ride on the slide.

Shopping

The best shopping is  in T3, where you’ll find fashion boutiques like Purple Attic, Helen and La Familie. Pandora Jewelry is opening in December 2014 in T2, and T1 offers you the basics, like Duty-Free and magazine/book shops.

If you frequent the Changi airport, why not get the Changi Rewards card?
If you frequent the Changi airport, why not get the Changi Rewards card?

If you plan on spending many a layover at SIN, you may want to consider getting the Changi Rewards card, where you can earn points for shopping/dining/spending at the airport. The reward points also transfer to the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program.

Saboten features traditional Japanese cuisine
Saboten features traditional Japanese cuisine

Dining

If you’re craving a bubble tea, grab one at Gong Cha in the T2 public area. For something a little more substantial, La Cave Wine Bar near the Cactus Garden in T1 offers yummy food and sunny outdoor seating (in case you’re lacking some Vitamin D).

Saboten in T2 offers delectable Japanese cuisine, and for authentic Cantonese food, try T1’s Peach Garden Noodle House where their signature dish is the delicious Deep-Fried Prawn with Wasabi Salad Cream. Gurney Drive in T3 is known for its excellent Penang (Malaysian) food, like the Penang Assam Laksa, a bowl of traditional noodles cooked in a savory, spicy fish-stock sauce.

Luggage Storage

Starting at just a few dollars, store your luggage by the hour at outposts of EasyBagy, which are found in all three terminals.

Transport to the City Center

Bus number 36 goes to the city center (several different stops) and costs about $1.60 USD each way, departing from all three terminals. Typically, bus drivers do not give change so try to have the proper currency and exact change if possible. The ride takes about one hour, and buses are available between 6:00 am and 11:00 pm. Buses run every 6-15 minutes depending on the time of day.

The MRT trains go between the airport and the Tanah Merah station (just two stops) taking just eight minutes. From Tanah Merah, you can transfer there to other lines taking you to most areas of central Singapore. The cost depends on the distance you travel, but most one-way fares are under $2 US. If you are traveling during rush hour, this may be your best option to avoid heavy traffic.

If You Have a Half Day

Changi Airport runs free two-hour tours of the city that show you several highlights. Make sure to register for a tour at least one hour before it starts.

Visit the colorful Little India in Singapore. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Visit the colorful Little India neighborhood in Singapore. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

If You Have a Whole Day

Start off in Little India for a plethora of traditional Indian sights and spices. Then head over to Chinatown, which is a great spot to find souvenirs and little gifts to bring back for family and friends. Afterwards, head to the famed Orchard Street shopping district and wander in and out of its many small shops. Even if you don’t plan on buying, it’s fun to window-shop and you’ll find a little air-conditioning if you need a break from the heat.

The Singapore Flyer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
The Singapore Flyer (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Boat Quay is an area along the riverside that is great for an afternoon boat ride or stroll, and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a riverside lunch; TPG’s pick would be Ramen Bar Suzuki, offering delicious noodles, followed by an original cocktail at Bitters and Love. Before you head back to the airport, enjoy panoramic views of the city skyline by taking a ride on the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, or catch the free lights show at dusk in the Marina Bay district. Minimum layover time required, 12-14 hours. 

If You Have the Night

The IHG Crown Plaza Changi Airport: Linked to Changi’s Terminal 3 by a bridge, and connected by the SkyTrain to Terminals 1 and 2, this is the most obvious choice for a layover. The nine-floor hotel features a pool and tropical gardens, and all 320 guest rooms and suites are soundproofed and have floor-to-ceiling windows, glass-paneled bathrooms and an iPod dock, work desk and ergonomic chair. January rates start at $117 or 40,000 IHG Reward points per night.

The Marina Bay Sands is famous for its rooftop infinity pool
The Marina Bay Sands is famous for its rooftop infinity pool

Marina Bay Sands: Everyone’s heard of that hotel in Singapore with the rooftop infinity pool, right? The iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel offers relaxing guest rooms in all three towers, each featuring a flat-screen TV, panoramic views, a workspace, and of course, entrance to the famous pool and Banyan Tree Fitness Club on the 55th floor. January rates start at $335 per night.

For more information on what to do in Singapore, check out the Destination of the Week: Singapore post.

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