7 Reasons Changi Airport Is An Asian Experience To Remember
The Great Wall of China. Angkor Wat. Huangguoshu Waterfall. Tubbataha Reef. Mount Kinabalu. All incredible sights in Asia, and all places any right-minded traveller would be keen to tick off their ‘must-visit’ list. Yet to me, each and every single one pales into relative insignificance when up against my most memorable Asian experience. An eight-hour wait at Singapore’s Changi Airport.
I know what you’re thinking. “Seriously? You prefer a commercialised, busy commuter hub to to the incredible, untouched architecture of Cambodia?” That’s what you’re thinking. Words to that effect anyway. In answer to your question, yes. I am being serious. And here’s why:
1. Art. The last thing you want to experience at an airport, particularly if you’re British like I, is that it’s raining inside the terminal. Especially when got on the plane full of optimism and no umbrella. That’s exactly what’s a happening at Changi Airport though. Only, unlike the British rain that gets you wet, this rain is dry and awe-inspiring. ‘Kinetic Rain’, as this relatively new art-installation is called, sees over 1,200 bronze droplets float in harmony throughout Terminal One. You can head to any one of Asia’s many galleries and museums, but you won’t find anything this incredible, engaging and intoxicating. I promise you.
2. Piano Man. Usually when I delight an airport with my presence, I have an earphone protruding from at least one ear. This isn’t so I can deter the type of traveller who thinks I’d be a great person to small talk with for two hours – though it helps – it’s because I find counting down to my flight time is much easier when number of songs is used as opposed to minutes. So there I was, strolling around Changi Airport when I came across a man and his piano. Bemoaning the fact that some passengers seem to be able to carry more hand-luggage than others, I took a seat and watched as he sat down and began to tinkle his ivories. For the next forty minutes I was treated to an eclectic mix of music ranging from Norah Jones to Billy Joel and, rather bizarrely, mid-nineties one-hit wonder band Hanson. I’m not going to sit here and tell you he was the greatest pianist I have ever seen. He wasn’t. In fact, he was bordering on abysmal. What I loved though, was that for those few minutes, people from all over the world joined together and appreciated the effort one man was going to to entertain bored, frustrated and tired workers. As you’ll have guessed, he wasn’t a professional pianist either. He was a cleaner at the airport.
3. The Birds & The Bees & The Butterflies. There isn’t just one garden at Changi Airport. There are five. Five! Including the world’s first airport butterfly garden. Not only does is it an amazing feat of ingenuity, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more relaxed. Heathrow should really take inspiration and stick a few allotments in Terminal Five.
4. Just Passing. One of the most frustrating things for me is that I often land in amazing cities en-route to my final destination, but can’t get out of the airport to spend a few hours under the bright lights. Logistics obviously have a significant part to play in this, and I am not saying it is totally unreasonable for the authorities to expect me to remain within the confounds of whichever terminal I’ve been deposited in, it’s just when I can get out it lets me appreciate that city and country so much more. I might even buy a postcard. I am pleased to say it’s something Changi Airport seem to get. Which is why, if you, as I did, have over five hours to wait for your connecting flight, you can go on a guided tour of Singapore. For free. Which is enough time for the guide to show you The Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands, Chinatown, Little India and catch those who try and do a runner.
5. The Slide. Yes, that’s right. Slap bang in the middle of Terminal 3 at Changi Airport is a slide. And when I say a slide, I am not just talking about some children’s slide in a playground – though I suspect there is one – this was (and presumably still is) a 40-foot long, four-storey high slide built purely for men. Real men. And real women too for that matter. Though I have to say it did seem to be universally popular with the male species while our female counterparts looked on in utter bemusement. Still, we didn’t seem to care. We were just interested in who would dare to go down backwards first. It wasn’t me. Which I regret to this day.
6. Snooze Chairs. They do exactly what you expect them to. And after a few hours spent on the slide, listening to singing cleaners, examining exotic butterflies and taking photos of the city, you’ll be so glad they do. And they aren’t just pimped up armchairs by the way. These are proper leathered goods with head and leg rests and in-built massagers. Unfortunately, the previous occupant had obviously worn out the batteries in my chair, but I needn’t have worried. No sooner had I started to relax, than a young lady was trying to persuade me to have a fish pedicure. I declined, but it was nice that she cared.
7. Asian Humour. Despite Changi Airport living up to their promise that ‘The Feeling is First Class’, my abiding memory of Changi Airport comes from my first trip through there in 2006. And the feeling, at the time at least, was that I had been well and truly ripped-off. Happily walking along one of the airport’s expansive walkways, minding my own business, I was suddenly accosted by half-a-dozen Singaporeans in promotional t-shirts. If I go into the details we’ll be here all day, but to cut a long story short, I may have accidentally uttered the word ‘Yes’ at some point ensuring that thirty-minutes later I was wearing male lipstick. I may also have been momentarily famous in Singapore, but needless to say I haven’t spent too much time investigating.
So there we have it. 7 Reasons why Changi Airport is the place to go. I guess, though, if we’re to evaluate this further, Changi Airport is really just a visual interpretation of a bigger picture. And that bigger picture is that there’s greatness, reward and male lipstick wherever you look. You’ve just got to have the inclination and desire to get up and start seeking it out. And if a tour of Asian airports isn’t quite your thing, a multi-country holiday arranged by Selective Asia probably will be.