I am a very greedy traveler. When it comes to counties, I want quantity over quality. I’m not saying it’s a particularly healthy way to travel, but the rushed American girl in me is hard to kick. And in a way, it is not all bad, as I’ve learned to budget my time well and see as much as possible. And this is how I learned about my most favorite travel asset – the stopover.
Most major airlines can arrange a day or two “stopover” (i.e., long layover) en route to your final destination at no extra charge. Airlines that are specific to a county are normally more than happy to arrange a small trip to their homeland. I took advantage of this on my recent trip to Sri Lanka via Singapore airlines. Singapore, greedy for tourists, makes it easy for travelers to come for a short visit and tempts them with a top rated airport for layovers.
It was actually the airport that first piqued my interest in Singapore. I had heard tales of free movie theaters, an in-airport hotel with hourly rates, showers, gym, museums, butterfly gardens, and fairy godmothers. Determined to experience this airport and verify that the stories were true, my travel companions and I would settle for nothing less than a 20-hour layover in Singapore.
The Changi International Airport was everything we imagined and more. For $7, we were able to freshen up with a shower and snack in the airport gym area. The hourly hotel was filled up (sojourners must book reservation well in advance) but cozy couch type benches in the waiting areas made for a sound nights sleep. For entertainment the next morning, we checked into the free movie theater, which plays all kinds of movies 24 hours a day, stopped by the free foot massage machine after a free 15 minutes of internet usage, then ate our hearts out in the 24-hour food court. To top it all off, the airport offers two types of free tours, one focusing on history, the other on culture. The tours are a quick two hours with only one stop allowing passenger to get off the bus and take a few pictures, giving a limited and somewhat teasing taste of Singapore city. Luckily for us our layover was long enough to give the city a good once over in addition to the two hour tour, and we were surprised by the cities enormous architecture, quirky statues, and blend of several different cultures.
Walking through Singapore city is like being transported to a megalopolis protected by an old comic book hero. Skyscrapers are so tall, it’s easy to bump into fellow pedestrians as you gawk up towards the heavens. Many are designed into weird shapes and designs, some are fat and circular, others tall and thin, some learning, twisting and bending. Be adventurous and try sneaking up to the top floor of one, the view is well worth the possible fine. One of the most memorable monstrosities was a combination of three extremely tall and square buildings connected at the top by what appeared to be a large cruise ship flying through the air. There is also a huge glass-eye Ferris wheel similar to the one in London; however, Singapore boasts that it is the largest in the world. A funky “Mer-lion” statue spits water out into the sea and makes for a creative photo opportunity. Turn any corner and you will be shocked at the random and unusual discoveries that you stumble upon.
Singapore, however, is not all a modern city. Hidden in the shadows of the 20th century are two little villages that represent some of the prominent cultures present in Singapore today: Little India and Chinatown. The majority of Singapore’s population is from China, while a large minority is Indian. The Singapore Chinatown is one of the oldest in the world, as well as one of the largest. It is full of tasty Chinese eats, colorful markets and shops, various acupuncture and massage parlors, and a Buddhist temple. The architecture is old, but while it has not been replaced, it has been restored into bright, colorful, colonial style buildings, which makes a funky contrast against the Chinese writings and decorations. Little India is also an older community in Singapore, where many of the Indian residents congregate for a taste of home while working abroad in Singapore. There are several temples and mosques in the area, as well as shops, restaurants, and tailors for traditional Indian saris. These two ancient areas provide a small peek into Singapore’s history, as well as add a funky contrast to the concrete jungle that grew up all around them.
For more Singapore entertainment, one can venture to the Island of Sentosa for some man-made delights. Functioning as an Asian Las Vegas, the island contains a casino, several man-made beaches, a zoo with nighttime safari tours, amusement parks, an underwater world, and a dolphin lagoon. None of its attractions are any kind of natural wonder, however, they do provide for some fun entertainment if you are up for a little glamour and luxury.
Outside of the island and the downtown area, Singapore is a very small country, therefore making it a perfect stopover destination. The desire to increase their tourist appeal is so strong, one can smell the desperation in the air. Singapore laws and street rules revolve around friendliness, cleanliness, and excellence. Smiling is encouraged. There’s not a trash can in sight. Spitting results in a ticket and hefty fine. I’m sure name-callers and gum-chewers receive capital punishment or at least a severe beating. But despite the sense of forced perfection, Singapore is a friendly, modern, comfortable place to go and “ooo” and “aaahh” at the architectural feats of mankind and salute their efforts for the greater good of world layovers.