A Travellerspoint blog

Singapore

A stately pleasure-dome decree


View Urban Reverie 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

Singapore
Wednesday, 20 February 2019

It was time for my last tuk-tuk ride. And what a ride. After I finished watching the sunset on Negombo Beach I returned to the Heritance Negombo resort, collected my backpack, showered, changed into my plane clothes, and walked onto the street outside and waited for a tuk-tuk. It was a long wait. Thousands of Sri Lankans had headed to the beaches for the Poya public holiday and the roads in Negombo were choked. Every tuk-tuk that farted past me was engaged. Finally, an empty tuk-tuk stopped, the driver quoted me eight hundred rupees to go thirteen kilometres to Bandaranaike International Airport. As soon as we took off he upped the quote to a thousand rupees. That would constitute false or misleading conduct under the Australian Consumer Law but such legal provisions must not apply here. I didn't complain, two hundred rupees is nothing to me.

Every railway station, every government building, every neighbourhood has a Buddha statue in a glass case illuminated at night. Being Poya day, the monthly Buddhist full moon holiday, every one of these shrines had massive crowds of devotees standing next to them. My driver took off down Negombo's back streets. When I questioned him he said it was a short cut. Maybe on any other day. At each shrine we encountered an immovable mass of people who seemed completely deaf to the sounds of the tuk-tuk horns and the horns of every other vehicle trying to get through. "Get off the road, you stupid bloody morons!", I think I shouted at one crowd.

The driver extricated the tuk-tuk from the labyrinth of back lanes crowded with worshippers and turned south on the A3 which was just as congested with traffic headed back to Colombo from the northern beaches. Thankfully my flight wasn't until 00:45 and it was only eight o'clock.

After about half an hour we arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport, a few hundred metres from the terminal because tuk-tuks aren't allowed to enter the terminal roads. I had a long wait. Not many restaurants were open in Negombo due to the public holiday and I thought there would be more to eat at the airport. Before security screening there is an ice cream shop, a place that sells short eats, a mini-Cargill's supermarket, and that was it. It was still too early to check in and there was no seating. I ended up sitting on some large stainless steel box that was used by the luggage trolley collectors as their rest area.

Someone soon joined me, Carmel, a young British traveller. She had missed her flight back to Heathrow due to the insane Poya traffic and had a very long wait for her next flight. Here's the thing - there is actually a railway line that goes nearly all the way to the airport terminal, but it is only used to deliver avgas. How great it would be if passenger trains ran on this branch line, even if it's only once or twice an hour.

We chatted for a while then Carmel left the airport, she was staying with a friend nearby until check-in for her next flight opened.

Bandaranaike is unusual in that security screening is before check-in and baggage drop. I went through security and waited until my flight, Singapore Airlines Flight SQ 469, was ready to check in. All the other flights were shown with green blinking "Check-ins" on the departures screen but not mine.

I waited long enough then decided to walk around. I found the Singapore Airlines queue in a hidden corner. When I dropped my baggage I let them know about the mistake. They were very apologetic and rectified the issue immediately.

I passed through emigration where my passport was stamped out by yet another po-faced, silent, sloth-like immigration officer. Goodbye, Sri Lankan bureaucracy, and good riddance!

There wasn't much food on the other side of emigration. There was a Burger King and a generic bar-restaurant, both selling exorbitant US dollar-priced meals. The Burger King looked slightly less unappetising. I was starving so I paid eighteen American dollars for a Whopper with Cheese value meal. That's twenty-five Australian dollars or about three thousand two hundred rupees. Outside the airport it would have cost one thousand rupees. Outrageous.

I boarded the Airbus 330 at Gate 7 shortly before midnight and we pushed off on time. As soon as we took off I fell asleep for about half an hour, then we were woken up for a meal. I couldn't get back to sleep after that. Red-eye flights are unavoidable for Australians who want to travel the world because, as former Prime Minister Paul Keating said, Australia is at the arse end of the world. They might be unavoidable, but red-eye flights can still go to hell.

We landed at Changi Airport as the peachy sun rose over Singapore. This holiday is the third time I have passed through Changi and each time I visit it seems more impressive. Changi is the only airport I have visited that I don't want to leave as soon as possible. It is part-glitzy shopping centre, part-entertainment complex, part-botanic garden, part-transport facility. Most airports are sterile, generic places but Changi's architecture is interesting and inviting.

I had three hours until my next flight, Singapore Airlines Flight SQ 211 departing Singapore at 10:30. I ambled in sleepless awe around Terminals 2 and 3. I checked out Terminal 2's orchid garden, its sunflower garden, the free cinema that shows free short children's films to keep the little ones amused. I activated my Changi wi-fi account (free for three hours but you have to scan your passport at dedicated computer terminals to get your wi-fi password), looked at all the birthday congratulations flooding through on Facebook. I withdrew fifty Singaporean dollars and grabbed a meal, only seven Singaporean dollars, quite a decent dry chicken curry with noodles. I caught the Skytrain to Terminal 3, the cute little driverless trams with rubber tyres that shuttle people and their luggage between terminals every two minutes.

I changed about forty Singaporean dollars to Australian dollars and asked if I could change the two remaining dollars to the full set of the new Singaporean coins for my collection, which the friendly lady did without any rancour. Often bureaux de change won't do this or they do it with a massive sigh as if I am asking them to do the impossible.

Terminal 3 is the jewel in the Changi crown. It has a butterfly garden. Yes, there is a whole garden, walled off from the rest of the terminal with double plate glass doors and hanging chains, full of tropical plants and butterflies. How many other airports in the world have beautiful butterflies? And affordable good-quality food, and free cinemas, and sunflowers, and cute little driverless trams, and toilets that are constantly cleaned at all times by rotating crews, and bureau de change employees who don't resent innocent coin collectors, and little touch screens outside each toilet asking you to rate your toilet experience, and such well-oiled clinical efficiency in every aspect of airport operations? It was a bit of a shame that I had to board the Boeing 777 back to Sydney.

Butterfly garden at Changi Airport

Butterfly garden at Changi Airport

Butterfly garden at Changi Airport

Butterfly garden at Changi Airport

Koi pond at Changi Airport

Koi pond at Changi Airport

Orchid garden at Changi Airport

Orchid garden at Changi Airport

Free sleeping pods at Changi Airport

Free sleeping pods at Changi Airport

Sunflower garden at Changi Airport

Sunflower garden at Changi Airport

Posted by urbanreverie 03:38 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore airport sri_lanka changi bandaranaike Comments (0)

Singapour, mon premier amour


View Urban Reverie 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

Singapore
30 January 2019

Singapore was my first ever overseas destination way back in 2010 and it is where I caught the travel bug that will be with me the rest of my life. It is therefore no surprise that I have some affection for the place. Yes, it has a rather nasty authoritarian corporatist government that turns the buttocks of petty criminals into Peck's paste with heavy bamboo canes saturated in water just to make them even heavier and more brutalising, slaps crippling defamation lawsuits on those few brave souls prepared to criticise government leaders, and relies on blatant exploitation of low-skilled foreign labour. So I can't see myself ever living there. But it does have marvellous modern architecture, amazing food, one of the world's greatest public transport systems and a flag-carrier airline that consistently ranks among the world's best.

I had never flown with Singapore Airlines before, nor had I ever flown on an Airbus A380. I was eagerly looking forward to both these things. Singapore Airlines' reputation is well deserved. The service is polite, professional, clinically efficient, and the food is better than in most restaurants on terra firma. The food even comes with proper stainless steel cutlery. The A380 is a commendable enough plane and the seats were comfortable and roomy. The main noticeable difference is how deeply recessed and far away from my seat the window is. I usually book window seats because I like the view but I had to lean all the way to the left to get a glimpse of the terrain eleven kilometres below.

The plane pushed off from Gate 57 at Kingsford Smith's international terminal a few minutes early and we took off from Runway 34L. We banked to the northwest and soon encountered heavy cloud and turbulence until we reached the Outback somewhere west of Tottenham. I kept myself occupied by listening to an excellent Big Ideas podcast from ABC Radio National about the broader socio-economic causes of mental health disorders (look it up - I think the guy's name was Yonah Hari) as well as a podcast from Boonta Vista, a troupe of three young Australians whose programs consist of an hour engaging in sardonic and understatedly hilarious commentary on Australian current affairs. I did the crossword and Sudoku in the complimentary dead-tree edition of the Sydney Morning Herald and watched the Outback scenery glide past thirty-seven thousand feet below. I passed over Lake Eyre, Australia's largest "lake", really just a vast desert salt pan that looks like a giant white turtle.

We also passed right over Uluru, but just as it was about to come into sight, the plane flew over a bank of clouds. I got to see a little glimpse of Katatjuta anyway, a nearby landmark consisting of a few dozen closely-spaced breast-shaped monoliths that is just as interesting and awe-inspiring as its more famous neighbour.

Four hours and twenty minutes after leaving Sydney, Flight SQ 222 finally crossed the western coastline of Australia between Derby and Broome. The vastness of this country is something Australians don't think about often, we are kind of aware of it in the abstract, in the background. It is only when you are flying over it for hours and hours that the colossal magnitude of Australia is brought home to you. The flight is scheduled to take seven hours and twenty-five minutes. That means that over half the flight from Sydney to Singapore consists of just crossing Australia. Broome is closer to Singapore than Sydney.

Night fell as we passed over Bali with its volcanoes puncturing through the soupy mist. Not too long after, we started our descent and I got to see my first love once again, the Lion City with its brilliantly lit waterfront skyline and hundreds of ships scattered through the Malacca Straits like so many Christmas decorations. The plane approached the runway over high-rise housing estates and illuminated sporting fields and the Airbus A380 touched down at Changi.

The plane docked at the far southern end of Terminal 3 from which it was a lengthy walk to the Skytrain, a driverless people mover system with cute little trains that whisk transferring passengers from one terminal to the other. There was only a fifty minute interval between SQ 222 and my next flight so I didn't get to savour too much of Singapore before boarding commenced.

Posted by urbanreverie 22:25 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore airport changi Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]