After 87 days of travelling across the world by rail and road, I finally caught a plane today – what an unfamiliar experience.
By the time I reach my next detination, I will have travelled by one taxi, one bus, one train and two aeroplanes.
The first flight took me from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore.
Having had my hair cropped short in Hanoi, I expected a few problems with my visa and passport photos – I look nothing like I did one month ago – and at each of my previous border transits there had been significant scrutiny.
At my hotel in Nha Trang, the receptionist was quite concerned that I might have stolen my passport.
So, I was prepared to explain myself when I arrived at the airport.
Was there even a glimmer of concern at my no longer resembling my photograph? Not even slightly.
There were, however, several questions about my e-waiver for my next destination. Why didn’t I have a print out or a formal document beyond the email that stated my waiver number? I hadn’t been sent one.
Did I have a flight booked to leave the next country? Yes I do. A week seems a very short time to be visiting your next stop. Yes, it would be but I will be staying for a month.
There was some conferring. Minutes seem like hours in these situations.
My paperwork was accepted. My boarding passes were printed.
The officer eyed my rucksack… “You want to take that as cabin luggage?” she asked doubtfully.
She spoke to a colleague who glanced over and nodded emphatically.
I was completely surprised when she apologised and thanked me for my patience. A standard of service that frankly I am unaccustomed to in airports.
The cabin crew were preparing the flight for take off and asking everyone to fasten their seat belts when the little boy behind me decided that he wasn’t having this.
He looked about two years old and he went his little ends.
For readers unfamiliar with the range of bizarre sayings my mother had – my childhood was quite confusing at times – this means: he was having a tantrum.
He kicked the seat in front of him, thankfully vacant, he screamed, he thrashed about across his embarrassed parents’ laps and finally he started to gag as if he was going to be sick.
What a little treasure.
I’m not sure how he was calmed, though they managed not bind and gag him, and the flight took off.
The same performance ensued as we landed at Singapore and by the time the plane reached its stand, the little boy was fast asleep.
Temper tantrums can clearly be exhausting.
Singapore Changi Airport is vast. I had over five hours before my next flight so I wasn’t planning any frantic dashes.
I’d chosen to transit through Singapore as every option (travelling via Shanghai or Hong Kong) required a substantial wait between flights and a little internet research suggested that Changi was a great airport to spend time at.
Apparently there are people who come here for the day. I’m not sure that I would go that far but as far as making transiting comfortable, I think Changi has got it right.
If you enjoy shopping, you’ll be very happy here.
I wanted to see the gardens and Changi has given me a real taste for seeing the rest of the city.
The gardens are not huge but they are surprisingly big for an airport. I didn’t visit all of them – limiting myself to those that were actually en route to my departure terminal.
Terminal Three’s Crystal Garden and Terminal Two’s Enchanted Garden were a little underwhelming but, it also meant they were the quieter of the gardens.
The Orchid Garden with its pond filled with carp at Terminal Two was very popular, especially with small children, intent on giving their parents heart attacks as they scrambled over the low seats overlooking the water.
I love the fact that the airport has these gardens. Spending time in nature and among greenspace is good for mental wellbeing and reducing stress levels.
Let’s face it, travel can induce a great deal of anxiety – navigating unfamiliar places, worrying about tickets, lugging belongings around and dealing with flight delays.
My two favourite gardens were the Sunflowers and the Butterfly, both at Terminal Three.
I was very impressed by the fact that it was actually possible to go outside of the airport building to visit the rooftop Sunflower Garden rather than being hermetically sealed inside.
It’s the Butterfly Garden that is the showstopper though.
I can’t say that I saw the 1,000 butterflies that apparently live there and I certainly didn’t identify 47 different species but it is a beautiful garden. And being able to see so many unusual butterflies is incredible.
I also watched staff preparing lines of cocoons which were ready for hatching. The butterflies inside were moving around, as if they were about to break out.
It sounded like rain falling against a window pane.
This is all very, very lovely but there are a few other touches that really make Singapore a civilised transit airport.
Other than specific messages to individual passengers about lost passports and tickets, there are no announcements about departing planes.
This is a very busy airport and when I spotted a sign saying there would be no boarding calls, I realised that the endless background noise of announcements at other airports creates a lot of tension for me.
There’s never any peace.
There are also no higher pressure sales tactics or prize give aways. It’s a very calm airport.
The background music is quiet piano – definitely including far too early Christmas Carol’s, but also mixing in classical and a bit of ABBA (which is always a win in my opinion).
There are free cinemas in all of the Terminals. Yes, free cinemas. I’ve caught Avengers: Endgame and the moat recent Spiderman movie while I’ve been here.
And then there are the free leg massages.
Honestly, what a great place to spend the day.
Ooh, there’s my next flight.