I was trapped (voluntarily) in Changi Airport ... and I loved it!

I was trapped (voluntarily) in Changi Airport ... and I loved it!

Stuck at the airport due to severe weather? Heathrow may be a nightmare, but half a world away, spending time in Singapore's Changi Airport is a holiday in itself

Weather-related travel chaos has hit Europe and the U.S. West Coast, disrupting holiday plans for thousands of tourists. Many have been left stranded as key airports such as London's Heathrow have shut down due to severe weather.

When you're stuck with nowhere to go, airports can be torture -- Singapore's Changi Airport is the glorious exception.

Recently voted the World's Best Airport, Changi Airport has so much to do that we challenged a local writer to spend 24 hours exploring. The only condition -- stay in the airport for the entire day.

Though admittedly no one is likely to be snowbound there, the Changi itinerary he came away with almost makes us wish we might be.

Beat that, Heathrow!

9 a.m. Breakfast and wheedling

Receipts

Pin-striped businessmen and women with rolling carry-ons gnaw on snacks prior to boarding. I badger the counter staff to combine my sandwich and tea receipts. You get one ride on The Slide@T3 for every S$10 on your receipt.

9:30 a.m. Shopaholic Singapore

Changi Airport's shops

The main strip in Terminal 1 sells everything from casual wear to luxe goods, and everybody’s favorite -- booze. The area is dominated by low ceilings, neon signs and orange glows.

Like Vegas, I don’t see clocks or daylight. Terminal 3 is just the opposite -- bright, open and airy.

10:30 a.m. Spa bliss

Fish Spa

Aside from the free OSIM leg massage thingies scattered about the airport, tired feet and aching shoulders can also make their way to the Fish Spa (Terminal One, near Gate D41; Tel: +65 6542 8308) for a quick massage: 20 minutes of foot reflexology, 20 minutes of shoulder kneading, and endless dipping into a pool of Turkish fish that nibble at dead skin on the feet. Feels better than it sounds.

 

11:40 a.m. Time to work

Internet stations

Emailed boss. Set up meeting with client. Updated Facebook profile. LOL-ed a comment on my friend’s blog. Tweeted my observations. Logged off. Doh! Forgot to clear browser cache!

Noon: Lunch wrangling

The Green Market (Terminal 2; Tel: +65 6546 1928), a pseudo-Japanese restaurant, is all about organic food. I fall in with a couple of Changi Airport staff who are interested in my 24-hour quest and wrangle an invitation to lunch with them. Apparently airport staff get cheaper set menus.

“My favorite restaurant is Hard Rock Café (Terminal 3 transit lounge) because they change their menus every so often," says Terry Lim, Changi corporate communications executive. 

 

1 p.m. Video fun

Gaming section

Can you think of a better way of passing the hours than putting in some quality game time?

I can't, so I headed to T2 for a round with the Xbox-ers, PS3s and a Guitar Hero set (Terminal 2, third Floor).

Blowing up things makes for a nice diversion from all this waiting. Unfortunately, the sets are overused playthings. Some work fine until the cable falls out, others fizzle on button C.

A nearby movie theater screens free movies -- the atmosphere is so similar to the real thing I spy young couples cuddling in the back.

2 p.m. Wander the gardens

The Cactus Garden

Few people ever take the time to explore the greener side of Changi. There are six gardens in the airport, but the nicer ones in which to grab a lungful of fresh air are the Sunflower (Terminal 2), Butterfly (Terminal 3) and Cactus Gardens (Terminal 1).

They’re respectively good for soaking up sun rays; flitting with actual butterflies; and downing a pint at Singapore’s handsomest Harry’s Pub (Terminal 2, units #02-26).

3:25 p.m. Afternoon siesta

Sleeping chairs

Product placements are the rage here. I find OSIM massage chairs, 3D televisions by Samsung and bean bags by Ambient Lounge. I sink into the latter, and can barely get up again.

Even with the background noise of kids and snores, it's that comfortable.

3:40 p.m. Recharge

Free phone chargers

The beep of my cellphone rouses me. Battery is running low. Luckily, there are charging stations all round. I rock up, lock and walk away. The stations cater to all sorts of handphone models from Nokia to iPhone to Samsung. Must remember to retrieve it. Back to Zzzzz.

4:30 p.m. Choc-o-clock

Chocolate waffle

Hungry again. Terry recommended the Guylian Belgium Chocolate Café (Terminal 3, opposite Bvlgari) so I head there for a sugar buzz. Flaky waffles and sticky chocolate go best with people-watching. You'd be surprised, but shoppers spend thousands of dollars along this corridor of luxury goods.

I'm momentarily jogged out of people-watching mode by a man getting carted away by airport police in a buggy. 

“Help me. I am not Tokyo-China," he shouts. It doesn't make sense to me, either.

 

6 p.m. Movies galore

Movie theater

I love how every terminal screens free movies for 24 hours, seven days a week. And the movies change on a regular basis. Now, shush, what’s Jake Gyllenhaal saying?

7 p.m. Whooshing down the slide

Slide at T3

It's four stories high with stainless steel tubes that get people moving at a speed of 6 meters per second. Anyone can ride on The Slide @ T3 (Terminal 3 Level 1) for every S$10 in a receipts -- remember my wheedling earlier in the day?

This is in the public area, so visitors have to go through immigration to ride the slide. The Changi Airport people assure me that passengers can pop in and out with a valid boarding pass.

9 p.m. Prayer time

Prayer time

Found this couple when seeking for couches with built-in vibrating alarms -- yes, they exist.

10 p.m. Tiger time!

Tiger bar

Long overdue for an ice-cold beer, I beeline for Tiger Champions Bar (Terminal 3).

Prices are comparable to Singapore pubs -- S$15 for a pint. More importantly, I catch up on all the sporting action that evening.

11:30 p.m. Art and culture

Sculptures

Changi's open spaces are often decorated with art -- scuplture pieces (pictured) or pottery by Cultural Medallion winner Iskandar Jalil. It’s nice to have a taste of Singapore even if you can’t exit the transit area..

 

1 a.m. The long walk

Changi

You can walk from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 to Terminal 3. It’s lengthy, but it’s the only route when the skytrains are shut down for the night. It’s so quiet that I could probably hear the rustle of a mouse. 

2 a.m. Transit hotel

Ambassador Hotel

Blunder into this nondescript and restful hotel room. Each terminal has an Ambassador Hotel (Tel: +65 6542 5538), which sells rest in blocks of six hours (S$68.27 for single occupancy). The price also includes access to the outdoor swimming pool.

8 a.m. Escape from Changi

Baggage area

As I leave, I observe the empty and mute baggage collection belts; a rarity indeed. The airport handles 31,600 pieces of luggage per hour. The inner workings is another story altogether. Maybe next time.

I am a computer dude and ex-academic (although I won’t say it too loudly) who took time off to tour Asia and write about it. And I’ve not stopped writing since.

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