So, ever since I posted this picture of the Sunflower garden on instagram, everyone has been going bat-shit trying to figure out how to get there. Newsflash: you can’t. Not unless you have a boarding pass. But that made me think: why don’t we know anything much about what Changi Airport has to offer us, as Singaporeans? Everyone I’ve met while traveling knows that Singapore is the best place in the world to transit at. I mean, just look at sleepinginairports.net. But being a Singaporean, the chances that you’ll ever get a transit in Singapore itself is near zilch, because if you have a long transit you might as well just hop on a train home, given how accessible Changi Airport is. The only time we get to spend a proper amount of time in Changi’s Transit Area itself is when we’re flying somewhere. Which brings me to my point today..
The Singaporean’s Guide to Changi Airport in Two Hours
Obviously, if you’re one of those travellers that appears at the airport just in time to check in and board your flight, you’ll need to change that now. Our airport is awesome, and it really annoys me to no end that we can only check in two hours before most flights, because I love roaming around the Transit area. I love it! Anyway, this is my take on how to maximise your two hours before your flight – and if you’ve got the option of early check-in or you’re an overseas traveller transiting in Changi, then lucky you.
1. Get all your shopping done beforehand
Don’t waste your precious two hours roaming around in duty free! If you know what you want (ie. you need to replenish your skincare products and want to take advantage of the tax relief), then go straight to it. Otherwise, I personally recommend purchasing everything online first and then just picking it up. I don’t know why more people don’t use this – iShopChangi is Changi Airport’s own in-house duty free shopping site, where you purchase whatever you want online and then pick it up just before you fly. They have a pretty extensive collection of Make up, skincare, and alcohol, which is what most people purchase in duty-free anyway, right?
You can do your online shopping anytime from 2 weeks to 24 hours before your flight, and there’s a 30 day money back guarantee.
If you must drop by a duty-free store (it’s ok, I get it, I love walking around in duty free even if I’m not buying anything), then go big or go home. May I suggest hitting the best one (in my opinion) – the one in Terminal 3’s Transit Area?
Some of you may know that the Korean retailer Shilla Duty Free has just expanded to Singapore. Honestly, the price point is the same as the previous Duty Free stores, just that this is Korean-managed and so the selection of brands is slightly different. And the store itself is shinier. Obviously.
It’s still under construction now, but pretty soon Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 Duty Free is going to be the only airport in the world with two-storeyed luxury brand stores like Dior and Chanel.
2. Get a free massage
I can’t get over this because 1. that’s terrible copy given the 50 Shades discussion all over the internet right now and 2. what other airport does this??? In fact, what other place gives you free massages? I’ve seen these around malls and they always cost like a few bucks just for fifteen minutes.
I suppose this is really a promotional effort on OSIM’s end – try, then hopefully you’ll like it so much that you’ll buy. But it doesn’t make a difference to the fact that you can get a free massage anytime if you want to! For the kiasu Singaporean, this is.. perfection.
*For overseas readers, kiasu is colloquial slang for FOMO.
There are free LAN gaming rooms around the transit area, for those of you who are checking in to travel with friends. There are xbox / wii / PS3 consoles in the vicinity, so you guys can challenge each other to Ultimate Mario Kart or whatever. But honestly, this has nothing on what’s right next door..
The movie theatre is right next to the LAN rooms, and they stream the latest blockbuster/ feature films 24/7 in Terminal 2 and 3. Now you see what I mean when I say Changi Airport is the best place to transit overnight in? I would just drop by the theatre, catch a film, and take a nap there (though I’m not sure that is encouraged).
5. Take a load of photos
If there’s one thing Singaporeans love to do…
Well, you can’t say that Changi doesn’t know its audience. The entire transit area is full of photo opportunities, some accidentally beautiful, some publicly declared Photo Spot!! in a way that reminds me of a certain whine: if you call it cool it ain’t cool anymore, mooooom..
The queen of all photo opportunities though, has to go to the Social Tree at the Terminal 1 Transit area. Basically, it’s a giant electronic tree surrounded by photo booths, where you can take a picture, decorate it neoprint style, and *flick* it up to the tree where it stays for basically forever. You can retrieve the photos when you come back, by typing in your own password, but otherwise it’s displayed in all its 64 giant 42-inch high-definition screen glory for everyone to see. When walking up to it, I mused: Why would people want their photos uploaded for everyone to see on a giant animatronic tree?
Shannon, from the Changi Airport Group team, stared at me. Because not everyone is like you, Jemma. And gestured smugly to the girls crowded around the tree.
I was, once again, proven wrong.
6. Go garden hopping.
Seriously, only in Singapore. Changi seems to have taken Singapore’s nickname, The Garden City, at face value: and planted five gardens around the three terminals. Obviously in two hours you’re not going to be able to visit them all (although you’re welcome to try), but these are my two favourites I think you should definitely hit:
Butterfly Garden, Departure Transit Lounge, Level 2 & 3. Terminal 3.
This is so freaking crazy! There are over a thousand butterflies in the Butterfly Garden, which in itself is super impressive given that I don’t even see that many butterflies around Singapore on a regular basis. These butterflies aren’t shy either, they’re always posing for photographs – see above. You can just sit around and enjoy watching them flutter around, go and read the educational posters hung around the garden, or watch the butterfly growth cycle in the Emergence Enclosure.
And definitely drop by everyone’s happy place:
Sunflower Garden, Departure Transit Lounge, Level 3, Terminal 2.
This was what elicited the craziest response on instagram. The sunflower garden houses approximately 500 sunflowers, and overlooks the runway and airplane parking bays. It’s honestly just the most instant pick-me-up I’ve seen – everyone who’s seen it loves it, and it just makes one smile, yknw? Look at all those happy little sunheads!
Terminal 1. Near Transit Hotel at Departure Transit Lounge East, Level 3
Since you’ve only got two hours, its unlikely that you’ll actually have time/ want to swim. However, if you’re like me and just like being near water bodies, you can just sit by the pool, read, and people watch. Most of the people who use the pool are tourists, who get access to the pool and jacuzzi free if they book a room with the Ambassador Transit Hotel. Otherwise, there’s a fee to pay to use the pool, but I think just hanging around without going in for a dip is fine.
No offence, free OSIM machines! But sometimes, you just need a full body massage. There are a bunch of lounges for people pre-flight, but I was personally very impressed by the presence of the Airport Wellness Oasis outlet at Terminal 1. Some credit cards or airlines give you complimentary use of their facilities, but otherwise they have pretty reasonable prices for a massage session. If you book a massage, you can also add on lounge access, which gives you complimentary buffet-style refreshments and so on. I can totally see myself planting myself here before a flight.. and I actually think i will the next time I fly.
Traveling with kids? I’m so sorry, but you can ..
Maybe you’d like to go visiting all of Changi Airport’s awesome facilities but you have a screaming kid in tow. No problem – leave them at these giant play areas (the one pictured is shaped like a huge orange airplane and was obviously a hit with the kids, judging from the general noise level) while getting a bite nearby. All the play areas are situated near coffee or food stands, just so you can drop off the kids and relax with a cappuccino while keeping one eye on them. It still doesn’t beat being able to cover most of the facilities in 2 hours, but hey, it’s better than having to deal with them screaming at you for over an hour about when take-off is going to happen..
Not travelling with kids? Go bar hopping.
There are a bunch of bars around Changi Airport’s transit areas, my favourite being this Harry’s at Terminal 1 with the option of outdoor seating and an amazing amount of natural light at the indoor areas. There’s another Harry’s in Terminal 3, but I like this one better.
Traveling on your own, but all the great things above sound too tiring to hit all in one trip? You can just..
10. Lounge around in the main Transit areas.
Changi makes lounging around super convenient for all travelers, and I’m not just saying it. There’s free wifi all over Changi Airport, Transit area or not, and charging ports literally everywhere. You can sit by any cafe or main area watching planes take off while getting some work done, or zone out watching sports or news at the Xperience Zone.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll agree that the worst part about being abroad is undeniably having to go without Singaporean food for ages. I don’t know how many people I’ve amused abroad, by going firmly: Singaporean food is the best. It’s just the best. It annoys me endlessly that my American friends coming to visit me always ask if we can go get General Tso chicken when I try to bring them for chinese food – it’s not real Asian food, guys! This is the real deal. Singaporean food is basically the best of every culture’s food brought together to explode in your mouth like a million delicious fireworks. I love that there’s a proudly proclaimed Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3 now, but not having actually tried it, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the food. Still, the option is there..
Bonus Round! For the international Traveler:
If you’re reading this and you’re not Singaporean but do have a Changi Airport transit coming up, here are a couple of things you can do for free during your transit:
a. Get a free 2-hr tour of Singapore – they’ll bus you there and back, and you’ll get to see all the iconic landmarks in Singapore! Details here.
b. Sleep in the free Snooze Chairs at the Rest Areas – there’s a reason why SG was voted best airport. Sure, you can check into one of the airport hotels, but if you aren’t too picky about sleeping with other people around, there are specially designed Snooze Chairs you can take a good long nap in for long layovers. They can be found at the following places:
Terminal 1 – Central Window Isles, Transit Mall West, Level 2
Terminal 1 – Central Window Isles, Transit Mall East, Level 2
Terminal 2 – Sanctuary – opposite Gate E5, Transit Mall North, Level 2
Terminal 2 – Oasis Lounge – beside Gate E11, Transit Mall North, Level 2
Terminal 3 – near Hard Rock Cafe, Transit Mall North, Level 2
Terminal 3 – near Global Tax Refund, Transit Mall South, Level 2
It definitely beats sleeping hunched over a table in a 24hr Macdonalds somewhere – trust me, I’ve done it before. Remember the nightmare that was Stansted Airport?
And local or international travellers both – you can and should definitely check out the Changi Airport Facebook page because it’s regularly updated with promotions and seasonal / new offerings that will be more up to date than most existing information out there on the web. I know, I know – my country’s so savvy.
Writing this post, I felt this immense sense of pride – I mean, I’ve always loved our airport, but putting it down in writing just solidified everything for me, you know? Over the past one and a half years I’ve travelled so much and hit so many airports, and nothing, nothing compares to Changi. If there’s not much Singaporeans can agree on, there’s this: we all have an incredible amount of pride in our airport. We just do.
There are a lot of other things you can do in the airport given a 2 hour check in period, but I thought I’d get you started first, get you guys inspired to start looking beyond the duty free shopping area or Starbucks. Go forth and explore, you guys, and start off every journey with a new experience! Do I sound too cheesy? That’s alright. This is the kind of airport it’s worth being cheesy over.
PS. Thanks for letting me hang around the transit area and showing me around, Changi Airport Group x
Unravel Travel SG!