Inside The Jewel, the Stunning New Addition at Singapore's Changi Airport
Often, airlines and airports that are already at the top of their field are the ones leading the way forward. For example you have Emirates, which surprised the world when it put showers on its massive fleet of Airbus A380s, and then raised the stakes again with its redesigned 777 first-class suite.
Similarly, Singapore's Changi airport has long been a favorite of flyers worldwide; it was voted Skytrax world's best airport 7 years in a row. And last week, it opened a 10-story, 1.46-million square foot futuristic building set among the terminals and called The Jewel Changi Airport. It houses shops, a hotel, gardens, various attractions and facilities, and it looks absolutely stunning. I visited it on Tuesday, less than a week after it opened, and I can say this: the hype is well deserved.
My flight from Zurich landed at terminal 2 at Changi (SIN), and as I was deplaning I passed a small kiosk handing out guides to The Jewel, complete with walking directions from the various terminals and a list of shops and restaurants.
All the signs in the airport had been updated to include walking directions to the Jewel, so even without my printed directions I would have had no problem finding it.
The Jewel is directly connected to terminal 1, and offers an early check-in/bag drop option for 26 airlines, with more expected to join in the coming weeks.
From the outside, the Jewel looks significantly smaller than it actually is and it's hard to imagine just how much entertainment is packed into this building.
I entered through a hanging fern garden on to the third floor of the building. If you're staying at the YotelAir hotel, you'll want to turn right and make your way up the first escalator (but more on the hotel in a bit).
No matter which way you enter from, it won't take you long to find the hallmark of The Jewel: At 40 meters (131 feet) high, the HSBC Rain Vortex is the world's largest indoor waterfall, dumping more than 10,000 gallons a minute through the center of the building.
The colors change throughout the day.
But the real fun starts at 8:30 pm with the light & sound show, which runs hourly until 12:30 am.
You'll find platforms on every level to offer you a slightly different view of the vortex, and the skytrain that runs through The Jewel connecting terminals.
The jungle setting isn't limited to the waterfall, with over 100,000 plants spread throughout The Jewel. One of the problems the architects struggled with was how to keep the plants alive while maintaining a comfortable temperature for people. When I first got to The Jewel around 6 pm it was uncomfortably hot and humid, but the next morning it was surprisingly brisk inside despite an outside temperature in the 90s. Just be prepared to layer up and adjust frequently to stay comfortable.
Food and shopping are central to The Jewel, with high-end designer stores situated alongside more affordable ones. The food scene covers every major cuisine you can imagine, from Shake Shack (there was a line of at least 100 people waiting for the 10:00 am opening when I was there) to Asian classics like Din Tai Fung and Tim Ho Wan, the dim sum chain that rivals some of Singapore's hawker stalls for the title of cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant.
I opted to try Sushi Tei, which was set up with iPads at every table for convenient ordering.
I was lured in by the limited time promotion they were running for the Kaisen Sushi Jewel, a roll in the shape of The Jewel. At only $2.50 SGD (~$1.85 USD) it was impossible to pass up.
The price was unbeatable, but the rice kept sticking to the seaweed on the bottom making this rather hard to eat.
While most of The Jewel is up and running smoothly, the Canopy Park attractions on level 5 will not open until June 10th.
These include things like the mesh nets, which are sure to take this experience to the next level.
Still, the views from the 5th floor were some of my favorite and I ended up posting up here for a few hours to work before my flight back to Shanghai.
I timed my stop in Singapore to give myself about 24 hours on the ground. While I planned to spend most of that time aimlessly wandering around The Jewel, I did need a place to sleep and the YotelAir seemed like the obvious choice. The introductory rates were incredibly reasonable, hovering at around $100-$120 USD per night after taxes. I had a ton of trouble getting the YotelAir website to accept my credit card. After trying a few different cards and confirming with my bank that I didn't have any active fraud alerts, I emailed the hotel directly. They were able to create a reservation for me without a payment method, and said I could just pay when I arrived.
Located on the 4th floor above the skybridge to terminal 2, the YotelAir is hard to miss with its bright purple lighting.
The lobby featured three self check-in/check-out kiosks, though it seemed like everyone around me was running into the same problem. The system requires you to scan your passport by placing it in a holder behind the iPad, but it uses the iPad camera to scan and there was too much glare. I ended up having to wait in line for 10-15 minutes before someone could check me in manually.
There were a few quirks to this hotel, given that we were technically still on airport property. First was that they were unable to offer me late checkout; since they also sell rooms by the hour for those looking to shower or nap on a shorter layover, this would've directly cut into their revenue. Second is that they were unable to store my luggage after my checkout time while I continued exploring, since you can't leave your bags unattended in the airport.
This has to have been the smallest hotel room I've ever stayed in, measuring a cozy 10 square meters. The bulk of the room was taken up by the bed. While you could adjust it up and down, this didn't really create any extra space and made it feel like a hospital bed.
There was exactly enough storage space for a carryon, but I would've struggled to open any of my checked bags in this room. I did appreciate the universal outlets and USB ports.
The bathroom was clean, but there was no door to the shower so the floor flooded very easily. Interestingly there was a sliding glass door separating the bathroom from the bedroom which didn't make much sense, as it didn't add any semblance of privacy.
I managed to peek my head into one of the family cabins as I was walking down the hall; the difference in cost is marginal but the family cabins are nearly twice as big. If I return to the YotelAir I'd definitely pay up for one even if I'm traveling by myself. There's something special about walking out of your room and coming face to face with a waterfall, but if that's not to your liking, you can always stay at the Crowne Plaza right across the street.
The Jewel at Changi airport has been a long time in the making, and the space is simply stunning. I was impressed by how smoothly everything seemed to be running during the first week, and it's clear that the word has gotten out and travelers and locals alike are flocking to the airport to see what the fuss is all about. I'm heading back to Singapore in July and am looking forward to checking out the Canopy Park and the mesh nets once they've opened.
All photos by the author.