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Thursday, April 10, 2008

In a Class of its Own: Changi Airport

Singapore's Changi Airport ought to be considered a tourist attraction in its own right for its sheer opulence and the range of things that you can do there. The place consistently wins awards for excellence and is described as one of the best airports in the world, as well as a busy Asian hub (the 5th busiest in Asia, and the 19th busiest in the world, in 2007).

While London Heathrow was going into meltdown during its recent expansion, Singapore Airport's new Terminal 3 opened without a hitch earlier this year -- a little delayed due to the War on Terror and the subsequent stalling in traffic growth. Even before it opened, T3 was being praised as an architectural wonder. As Singapore Sights wrote: "Terminal 3 features a unique roof architecture which allows soft natural light into the building while keeping tropical heat out. The one-of-a-kind design has 919 skylights with specially designed reflector panels which automatically adjust themselves to allow an optimal amount of soft and uniform daylight into the terminal building. The overall effect is a soothing ambience at all times of the day.

"Another key highlight of Terminal 3 is a five-storey high vertical garden, called the Green Wall. Spanning 300 meters across the main building, it can be admired both from the departure and arrival halls. The Green Wall is covered with 25 species of climbing plants and is interspersed with four cascading waterfalls. In addition, a sculptured sandstone art wall display with multi-language welcome messages located below the Green Wall offers an artistic treat for arriving passengers waiting for their baggage..."

Changi has been courting both premium and budget travellers with the opening of a commercially important persons terminal by JetQuay and a S$45 million Budget Terminal in 2006. To further diversify the picture, the new full-service nine-story Crowne Plaza Hotel is under construction, immediately adjacent to Terminal 3.

According to Changi Airport's own official website, which rates me as one of their friends, the facility boasts the following amenities:
1 -- Miles of duty-free shopping, the usual kind of stuff you would expect to find in an airport -- but also shopping of a seriously more upmarket calibre. Inside Retailing Magazine reported in January 2008: "Apple, FIFA, Vertu, Sony Style and Ferrari are brands usually associated with up-market shopping malls. Now they're coming to an airport near you - well, near to those travelling internationally anyway...
"Singapore Changi Airport's long-awaited third terminal, T3, will open on January 9 with more than 100 retailers and 40 food operators vying for the cash of not just travellers but locals as well. 
"While 55 of the new retail tenancies and 20 food operators will be air-side - which means only travellers can access them - another 45 shops and 20 food vendors will be accessible to Singaporeans who aren't flying anywhere. 
"'For Singaporeans, a trip to the airport is something the whole family likes to do, so we want to give them more reason to come out here,' an airport spokesperson told Inside Retailing Magazine on a tour of the new terminal, currently under systems testing..."
2 -- Rooftop swimming pool with accompanying bar (of course!).
3 -- Gardens and koi ponds featuring cactus, bamboo, ferns, sunflower, and heliconia -- truly beautiful believe me!
4 -- Sleeping chairs fitted with vibrator alerts to wake you up when your plane leaves (I'm planning to camp out there the next time I find myself stranded with no money, as happened in 2003!) I'll just plug in my ear-plugs and doze off!
6 -- A sports bar with a complicated payment system, which seems to involve the manager having to validate every purchase, and the signing of paperwork. This frequently results in the staff forgetting to give change to customers, who then get angry and storm off to find another bar (of which there are many, thankfully!)
7 -- A free movie cinema (that's right, a free cinema in an airport!) with a big screen and cinema-style seats and 24-hour rotation. The only thing missing is the popcorn. And the only catch is all the movies they play seem to be cheesy B-grade American movies, the sort that might appeal to teenagers (and Singaporeans, no doubt!)
8 -- Countless restaurants offering an international range -- sushi or Indian curries, you name it. Says Laura, who had the chance to overnight at Changi: "There is a fantastic indian restraunt on the second floor in terminal 1, has the best Dosai (Indian pancake with a yummy potato filling) and its pretty cheap too." Actually, I believe I gorged myself on those dosais back in 2003, when I was en route to Iceland. There was a variety stuffed with cheese which was so rich, I couldn't even finish them! On my coming trip, I will search them out.
9 -- Traditional culture shows using live actors. On my last visit there was a Chinese magician-cum-martial artist juggling plates and catching knives. At one point his assistant tried to lance his throat with a sharp spear. By some Shaolin magic of mind-over-matter, the martial artist was able to prevent the spear from piercing his neck. The assistant strained with all his might, and the spear bent over at a ridiculous angle -- but the only wound the martial artist suffered was a little blood. This little blood was enough to freak out some Nordic children in the crowd, who had to run back to the shields of their mothers. Whatever happened to the Viking spirit?
10 -- A downstairs foodcourt set up in the typical "hawker's market" style, featuring such delicious dishes as chicken laksa (you need tissues because it sure is spicy!).
11 -- A science museum and "Timezone Australia" arcade lounge.
12 -- Designated napping areas and specially designed snooze chairs free of charge. Or, for $AUS23 for three hours, you can sleep in your own chamber at the shower, fitness and lifestyle centre. A room with television and a private bathroom in the Ambassador Transit Hotel - which is within the airport - costs $44, while a budget room with shared bathroom is $30.
13 -- If pampering is on your itinerary, the Aromazone massage centre has aromatherapy, reflexology and massage treatments. A one-hour aromatherapeutic massage treatment costs $AUS58. A traditional foot reflexology session, helpful in relaxing nerves and tracing qi imbalances, is $30 per half-hour, as is a head-and-shoulder massage.
14 -- Changi's fitness centre or the gym in the Ambassador Transit Hotel have sessions for between $AUS8 and $12 (including hire of sports attire and footwear). At the rooftop swimming pool and jacuzzi complex, a swim and shower costs $AUS10. You must bring your own swimwear but soap, shampoo, shower gel, moisturising lotion and towels are provided. If you're feeling a bit out of puff after your workout, head to the oxygen bar, where 10 minutes of pure oxygen costs $12.

Anyway, you get the picture: it is one kick-ass airport, consistently voted the best in the world. You could spend the day in there, and still find things to do. There are options all round, and plenty of beverages to be consumed.

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