Thursday, April 11, 2013

SG Changi Airport: Chasing a Thousand Butterflies and Finding Refreshing Greens in the Middle of Busy-ness

Singapore Changi Butterfly Garden Red and Beauty
One of the denizens of the Butterfly Garden at Changi's Terminal 3
"I can live here!"  

That exclamation summarized my sentiments about Changi, one that made Samantha Lee, the airport's ever-smiling communications manager, laugh aloud.  And that statement is warranted -- the airport seemed to me like a microcosm of Singapore itself in a lot of ways.

Firstly, there's always some sort of expansion going on.  Last time I was here which was ages ago, Terminal 2 looked nothing like the sleek incarnation it has become and Terminal 3 which handles the behemoth A380s was most likely not even in the plans.  Now, they're set to build Terminal 4 to handle even more flyers.  Certainly a lot like Singapore which keeps building and reinventing itself (saw the giant stadium with retractable roof in mid-construction on our way from Geylang to Chinatown, among other developments).
Singapore Changi Cactus Deck II
T1's Cactus Garden refreshes tired eyes
Not-so-secret gardens.   Secondly, a friend calls SG one big garden and in that context, I see Changi as its mini-me as all three terminals have their share of greenery, forming what is called the Garden Trail @ Changi.  The Cactus Garden in T1 is al fresco, a virtual oasis after hours of breathing recycled cabin air.  I dig succulents and it's remarkable to find a wide variety here including the stately prickly pears.

Having only two hours to tour, there was not enough time to visit the Fern and Sunflower Gardens at T2 and Heliconia Garden in T1.  But T2's Orchid Garden impresses, bedecked with epiphytes including a dendrobium named after the airport itself and a koi pond.
Singapore-Changi-Butterfly-Garden
Chasing a thousand butterflies before chasing your flight
Terminal 3 also has a fern garden but we headed to another we can't afford to miss:  the Butterfly Garden.  Easily Changi's most frequented green spot, it's the only one in the world that is located in an airport.  There's something therapeutic about being surrounded by a thousand butterflies.  Personally, I also find this metaphorical in a sense that as travelers, aren't we like butterflies flitting from one place to another?
Singapore Changi Airport Deck Pool
Cooling off before taking off at the roof deck pool in T1
Cool off before you take-off.  If you got hours to spare before boarding, T1 has a gym and get this, a rooftop Balinese-themed swimming pool, overlooking the parked planes.  Samantha's tip:  don't check-in your swimsuit or workout clothes as you can either take a dip or sweat it out before you board.   Definitely something to keep in mind next time I visit. (Location: Level 3 near the transit hotel at the departure transit lounge, east.  Pool use is $13.91 which includes use of jacuzzi, shower facilities, and a complimentary non-alcoholic drink.  Pool and pool area open daily from 7am - 11pm)

Just downstairs from the roof deck, there's a Movie Theater where you can bring in your trolley while watching HBO or a feature film (Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" was playing when we dropped by).  Only thing missing was a popcorn machine.  Hmm, but the nearby lounge with a nap area looked very inviting, beckoning sleepy tourists to catch a few hours of shut-eye.  The only danger here is oversleeping and missing your flight LOL.  (Transit hotels in all three terminals located near the departure transit lounges, all on level 3.  Rates vary.  Click this link for updated fees.)
Singapore Changi Lounge Signage
You say shop, I say nap -- nap rooms in Changi
Shop and save.  Now, if only shopping is in my blood, Changi would be a perfect stop.  The figures stack up -- 330 retail shops spread across three terminals.  And the 7% discount on the sales tax sounds like a great idea as you can actually save making your purchases here instead of downtown.  Little wonder even non-flying locals join the airport crowd as Changi is a destination in itself, both for shopping and recreation.  Maybe sort of like experiencing Singapore even without leaving the airport.

Eats.  And more eats.  With 120 food and drink outlets, choices are aplenty.  By serendipity, we decided not to check in at immigration early and chose to eat lunch at Waraku.  Their pasta dishes are worth mentioning. We were rewarded with an incredible serving of Aglio e Olio so much so that I ordered another plate.  
Singapore Changi Kinetic Drops
Ever-changing Kinetic Display mesmerizes
Notables.  The Kinetic Display at the waiting area of T1 is an engineering marvel in itself, a mesmerizing display of motorized, suspended metal globs shaped like water drops constantly morphing into thousands of intriguing shapes.   Samantha says you can stay for hours and not see the same shape recreated.   I guess your imagination is the limit for describing the shapes very much like lying under a cloudy sky and seeing faces, animals, things.

For those with a lot of hours to spare, say, five or so, consider taking the free Singapore tour.  The Heritage Tour take guests through a tour of the city's highlights (Marina Bay Sands, Esplanade, City Flyer, Gardens by the Bay) while the City Lights Tour gives visitors a glimpse of the city glowing post sunset.  (Schedules: Heritage Tour (9-11am, 11:30am-1:30pm, 2:30-4:30pm, 4-6pm daily; first-come. first-served basis • City Lights Tour 6:30-8:30pm daily)
Singapore Changi Recycling
Trash bins are easy to spot and understand even for non-English speakers
To sum it up, I think you can spend days here without getting bored.  I'm pretty sure Viktor Navorski, Tom Hank's character in the movie, "The Terminal," will agree.

All three terminals are linked by SkyTrain; operating hours: 5:30am to 2:30am daily • As it is easy to get lost in this expansive airport, best to consult the interactive map here (Flash player needed)
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