We got as far south on this old planet as we’ve ever been for the week of Christmas 2013.
We had a few days to kill, workwise, the week of Christmas 2013, and needed a break from the (admittedly mild, but ugly) German winter. So, thinking fondly of our trip to Hong Kong in 2012, we thought we’d give another English-speaking region of Asia a try. Singapore did not disappoint! It’s the right distance away in terms of climate and geography.
It’s a big hub for the region; you’ll have no trouble flying in from wherever. We got a smooth 13-hour flight from Lufthansa in Frankfurt directly to Singapore on an A-380 (after our shorty MUC-FRA Zubringerflug). 13 hours in a tin can with bad breath from the guy on your arm is nothing to sneeze at. Or, maybe it is, in order to put some distance between you. But if you’re headed to Singapore, you better not bring any chewing gum with you. More on that later.
When you get off the plane, the airport feels enormous. Immigration was quite efficient. Customs was non-existent. But it was the part in the middle — getting our bags off the belt — that took a long time; we were getting worried our one large piece of checked luggage had been lost or somehow not made the transfer from Munich.
You can easily get right onto the MRT (subway train) at the airport and ride in from there. However, our vacation apartment’s landlady recommended taking a taxi in from the airport to our neighborhood — Little India. That seemed like a wise move, because schlepping our stuff on busses and trains without really knowing where we were headed would have been all the more frustrating after 13 hours in airplane mode.
Turns out taxi travel is pretty affordable in Singapore, too. Our ride in from the airport to Little India (or thereabouts) cost just over S$20. We had a very chatty (but not annoyingly so) Indian driver who seemed pleased that we knew so much about Singapore before having visited it — unlike most of the Americans he encountered. Um, thanks. Well, he didn’t mean it that way.
He was a little unsure of the address we gave him for our apartment and offered to call the landlady and figure it out directly. We thought that was a nice touch. We liked him a lot. Another taxi ride owing to tired tootsies later in the trip from the downtown waterfront area back into Little India was also surprisingly cheap: the driver ballparked it at about S$10 before we climbed in and he was right on the money.
We walked up to a customer service desk at a subway station near our apartment before 6:00 a.m. on Christmas Day (thanks, jet lag) and inquired as to the local rapid transit system. A welcoming clerk behind the counter explained that you can buy a card for S$12 which comes with S$5 credit on it and travel at cheaper rates than buying single tickets. They’re good on the subways and the busses. The subway network is large, complex, and expanding, and should be able to get you anywhere you need to go in the city. The network is growing. The Downtown line is expanding and there is at least one more entire line planned. The trains are modern and spotless, and there is much emphasis placed on consideration for one’s fellow passenger.
The bus system seemed like it’s better-suited for the locals who know exactly where they’re going and how to deviate from their plan if necessary. We could barely manage to take a bus away from our apartment and never managed at all to arrive at it again via bus — despite several days of trying!
While trying out our cards and studying the route schematics intently, a friendly old gentlemen inquired politely if we were lost and needed help, and then wished us a merry Christmas and Happy New Year when we gratefully declined.
We used our feet quite a bit to get from our apartment to the nearest MRT stations; if you plan to explore while you’re here, a convenient bus or subway stop nearby is a big plus. While you CAN use the public transit to get everything done, it’s not always the most efficient. Our last day found us trekking out to the airport on the subway system to drop luggage (for a small fee, since our flight back to FRA wasn’t until almost midnight that night) and then heading back into the city to explore Chinatown saw us burn a couple hours on the MRT round trip, even though the monetary cost was only S$3.18 round trip per person. So don’t forget to weigh in the transit time cost when deciding how to move around in the city.