Singapore had always been on my to-do list, ever since a girlfriend and I planned a trip to Hong Kong while at university. Singapore was going to be a free stopover for that trip. Unfortunately, the trip didn’t pan out and we never got to go, but Singapore (and Hong Kong for that matter) always remained on my list.
Singapore Airlines is well known for it’s free stopover option. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out, so I just ended up selecting the flights that had the longest stopover – 22 hours to be exact! That sounded like ample time to do a whirlwind tour of the dragon city. Singapore actually offers a free city tour if you have at least a five hour stopover (or something like that) – I would have totally done that if I hadn’t wanted to do specific things.
On the way down to New Zealand we ended up having about a four hour stopover at Singapore Changi airport. This was just enough time to have a quick shower and check out the airport. There’s a lot to see and do – there’s a reason it’s been voted the best airport in the world time and time again. There was a koi fish pond, there are hotels behind security so you never have to pass through customs, a Singapore street food market, movie theater, swimming pool, butterfly garden – I mean, everything you could ever need or want plus more is in this airport! I actually saw a documentary a few years ago that Singaporeans go to the airport to do their general shopping and school kids go there to study.
We arrived back into Singapore after a 10-hour flight at around 5pm local time. This is not the country to try any kind of funny business! Having never dabbled in anything illegal in my life, I didn’t have to worry, but this is a death penalty country for drugs. The country is effectively a city – so they are strict here and it look like it paid off. Everything was clean (it’s illegal to chew gum), tidy and I’ve never felt safer anywhere in my life – particularly in the dark. I’m sure there’s a bad undertone, but we didn’t go near to seeing any of it.
Despite a little jet lag, we hit the ground running. The city is set up for swift public transport – not many people own cars, it’s a privilege and highly regulated. The metro left from the terminal and got us into the city within about 20 minutes and for around $2.50 each. Our hotel was a quick five-minute walk from the metro, which was actually part of the mall that was conveniently across the street from us. Our hotel was beautiful – very modern compared to what we have grown used to in Europe. The room was huge! The Singapore dollar is weaker against the US dollar so we were able to get a pretty nice room for what we would usually expect to pay.
We quickly changed into more comfortable clothes; Singapore was humid but the perfect temperature to walk around comfortably in one layer. We walked down to see the Marina Bay sands – a beautiful hotel/casino/bar that is an iconic part of the skyline. We had actually planned to go up to the bar for a cocktail, but they had a dress code that we wouldn’t have met. I don’t know why I didn’t think to look that up!
As luck would have it, being the end of November, there was a Christmas market in full swing across in the botanical gardens. It was so crazy to be at a Christmas market in the humidity and warmth compared to the traditional German Christmas markets we have grown accustomed to (cue: freezing the whole time). There was actually an indoor skating rink as part of the market – it felt so weird walking into subzero temperatures from the outside. Singapore is a wealthy country, so no expense was spared at this place. I’d highly recommend heading to the market if anyone happens to be there during the Christmas period.
We caught a taxi and headed to the Hard Rock cafe. As always, we had to hit it up while in a new country. Our taxi driver was quite the character. He was of Indian descent and liked to share his wisdom. I was complaining to Nick of a dry cough, and he quickly turned around and gave me some advice. NO citrus of any kind for the next few days and NO chicken for at least six weeks. After this, my cough would apparently disappear. Also, for an upset stomach, always eat ice cream. He gave us lots of interesting advice and I really enjoyed it, I felt like I was truly in another country! What’s even better, Singapore taxis are ridiculously cheap, because everyone has to rely on them. They’re regulated, of course, like everything else there. Our 25 minute taxi ride cost around $10 USD. It was such a bargain, especially with all of that advice.
The Hard Rock was a little different to what we imagined. It was kind of tucked in a street behind the main shopping thoroughfare and had an odd kind of crowd. They explained they are one of the franchise restaurants, so that kind of made sense – it didn’t have the usual vibe, but it did have live music that was interesting in itself! I felt like I was at a karaoke bar, but it was fun and I’m glad we went. In hindsight, we probably should have just found a local noodle house or something, but oh well. Next time.
We ended up walking back from the Hard Rock to our hotel. As always, I was wearing inappropriate shoes so I ended up taking them off along the way back. The temperature was perfect and I probably looked like a hobo but it was late enough for no one to care. The crazy thing is, this place was so clean that it felt just as sanitary as walking down a beach or something with my shoes off. Plus, everyone knows that New Zealanders go everywhere in bare feet anyway, much to many people’s disgust. It’s the island life.
Our night at the hotel was luxurious, enjoying the ridiculously comfortable bed and for once, a completely quiet room. I feel like we are constantly sleep deprived in our travels if we don’t wear earplugs!
The next morning we got up and headed straight back to the airport as we slept in due to the comfort of the place. We decided to spend some time behind security in the transit area. We had been given $50 in vouchers from Singapore Airlines to spend at the airport and we were definitely going to use it! We ended up buying some alcohol (mango flavour Absolut!) and I went to Zara and got myself a cute cardigan. Win! We also were given some vouchers to get discounted cosmetics, but I didn’t need any at the time.
We also got $25 to spend on food behind security – hence we spent a decent amount of time there. They have this thing called the Singapore street food. There are all these stands set up like local food stands. You get a card from the lady standing at the front, load it up with money and then the food stand will deduct it from the card. We ended up getting a super yum chicken katsu-like dish and I got pho. If you’re ever transiting, the food is actually really great there so don’t hesitate to try it out if you don’t have time to venture out into Singapore actual.
Sadly, the 20 hours passed by way too fast, which I knew it would. I sometimes mention in my blogs that there are certain places that I know I could happily live in. Singapore has definitely been added to that list. I enjoyed the mix of east and west and how everyone seemed to get along despite that, the cleanliness, the respectfulness of people and the fact that authority seems to be respected. Oh, and the fact that English is spoken helps too, haha. The colonial past really seems to have stuck, too. These are all really attractive things to me now!
If you ever have the chance, definitely make the most of any stopover time you have in Singapore. It’s worth checking out!