There’s more to Singapore than Raffles. Here's how to get the best of southeast Asia’s smallest nation when you’re on a stopover
If you’re heading down under or out to the Far East and have the option of a stopover in Singapore, grab it with both hands. Southeast Asia’s smallest nation is perfectly sized for a flying visit, with just enough to do to keep you out of mischief. And it might even do you good too: the exposure to the heat and light will help you acclimatize to tropical temperatures and help you fight off the jetlag.
Flying into Singapore Changi airport is like landing in some kind of airport heaven. There’s so much to do, you wonder whether you’ll ever want to leave. You’ll feel glad to have left Gatwick and Heathrow behind, believe me.
Seek out the swimming pool if you’ve just got a couple of hours to spare – it’s outdoors, in Terminal 1, and costs S$13.91, with a free non-alcoholic drink and a towel. It’s open from 7am to 11pm daily – book in via the Changi Airport Transit Hotel in Terminal 1 or just turn up.
Grab some fresh air in the tropical gardens: Terminal 3 (the newest) has a magical butterfly garden, Terminal 2 has an orchid garden and koi pond, and Terminal 1 has a rooftop cactus garden and bamboo garden.
And be sure to find out more about the airport’s events before you fly so you don’t miss out – they've included gigs from the likes of The Ting Tings.
If you’ve got four or five hours to kill, get yourself out of the airport and into the fresh air as soon as possible.
Book a free two-hour city tour of Singapore if you’re in transit (register as soon as you arrive at the Singapore Visitor Centre, as it gets booked up), and you can be drinking the juice of a fresh green coconut, straight from the shell, within a matter of minutes - exactly what you need after a dehydrating flight
The minibus tour stops off at markets, shopping centres and foodie spots around the city. There’s a small amount of commentary, but the clear highlight is being left to your own devices for half an hour to browse the bustling shops, temples and alleyways before bussing back to the airport.
There are also several transit hotels in the airport with rooms at reasonable rates (double rooms cost S$77 for six hours) if you didn’t have a flat bed on your flight. It’s advisable to book in advance.
5 hours plus
Hail a cab and head for the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest observation wheel. It gives you a bird’s eye view of the city, the Singapore Strait, a strange spiky shopping centre nicknamed ‘The Durian’, and even the classic Singapore tourist trap, Raffles Hotel
, hidden in the greenery. The ‘flight’ takes 30 minutes and costs S$29.50.
The city’s new Formula 1 racetrack runs like a ribbon around the bottom of the wheel, and inside the Singapore Flyer centre you can find anything from food and souvenirs to a spa shop offering foot massages and special fish pedicures, with strange fish that nibble the dead skin from your feet – fun but ticklish, and not for the squeamish.
could be your next stop if you wanted – last time I looked, the Singapore Sling was pretty overpriced, but could only taste better than the one I had on Singapore Airlines.
If you’re a shopper, there are great bargains to be had in Orchard Road’s boutiques during sales season, typically in June. Keep your eyes out, too, for diagrams of feet hanging out of windows – some reflexology is just the ticket when your feet have swollen up from flying.
Bugis Street is another must-see, the bazaar-cum-street market in the centre of the city, thronging with fake designer gear, jade stalls and scented with incense. You can pick up some great street food here – try some laksa, the national dish, a thin spicy soupy stew with noodles.
Then grab yourself an ice cream to cool down – but don’t, whatever you do, choose the durian flavour. I thought I’d try it last time on the twisted assumption that something that smells that bad surely must taste good – otherwise why sell it? I spent the next seven hours on a plane to Australia regretting my foolish decision as the sewery taste just went on and on…
Singapore Visitor Centre: Arrivals hall of Terminals 1, 2 and 3 at Changi Airport
Singapore Flyer: 30 Raffles Avenue