Singapore

A night at Changi (Singapore Airport)

Technical problems caused my flight to be two hours late arriving, so I missed the last flight out of the night to Penang.  A night in Changi, then. Luckily it’s my favourite airport – which, of course, it partly why I chose to transit through it. I was on my way from Sydney to Singapore.

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Firstly I head for the Airport Information desk to get a WiFi login and password, map of the airport, if there are any lounges I could use free, and the location of the free shower. They now want your passport details for the WiFi. And they told me there was no free shower.

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I certainly couldn’t find the shower this time, and I looked in all three terminals.

There are lots of activities available at Changi.

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Mostly I watched films and snoozed in the T2 cinema,

This is the entrance to the T2 games and cinema room

but there is also a snooze room inT3, with recliners.

note power point if you do wish to charge something

Another important thing to do is charge the mobile, but for safety you have to keep an eye on it, so can’t do it while asleep or in the cinema, unless you put the mobile in your pocket, perhaps – should the cord be long enough.

I found similar snooze chairs on the upper level (Level 3?) in T1.

It was pleasant to view briefly some of many gardens on the terminals.

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During the day you can also take a free tour to the city if you have time.

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Airport information told me I could use the Green Market restaurant (in T2) with a card I had from my bank. In my wanderings I walked past, so entered.  They close at 1AM, so there was half an hour left. They have wifi, computers you can use, and they give you a free meal.  You need to show the card and your boarding pass – I didn’t have the boarding pass for my next flight yet, but they were happy with the one for the incoming flight.

the free (Japanese) meal

I also went to the Butterfly Room, but it was dark and the butterflies were asleep.

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To get around I mainly walked, but did use the inter terminal Skytrain.

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Later, when it was light, I returned to the butterfly garden, and although it’s very hard to see in a photo, lots of butterflies were flying around.

many of those splotchy colours are butterflies flying

If you need a drink of water, there are a lot of water fountains around the place.

And finally, at the boarding gates, they also have WiFi, and computers you can use. And another great idea – a posting service in case security don’t let you take something on board the plane – although this service is frightfully expensive.

You can post back things security won’t let you take on the plane – and this is just outside the boarding gate.

The great thing about Changi is that airside it is s huge transit lounge. Not the usual transit lounge which is a tiny room with blank walls where you wait to board your next flight.

This time in Changi the WiFi reception was quite unreliable, and I was disappointed about the shower, but it is still my favourite airport.

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To Singapore by Air Asia

The last trip I made to Singapore was by train – so I thought I’d fly this time.

The main carriers that ply this route are Singapore Airlines, which are usually quite expensive, Malaysian Airlines – which had no direct flight when I was travelling – all flights stopped in Kuala Lumpur, and Air Asia, which has several direct flights a day.  So Air Asia it was, then.

BOOKING:  Air Asia’s (AK) Internet site is quite fast.  But when you book you have to be careful to unselect several default options you may not want, and that add considerably to the cost, and unless you want the travel insurance, read carefully so you can unselect it. If you want to select your seat they want to sell you a “Hot Seat”, but selecting any other type of seat is far cheaper – just look carefully to find that option, if that’s what you want. If you find you’ve done it wrong and accidentally agreed to some option you didn’t want, you have to cancel and start again from the beginning.

PRICE: There is an extra RM10 for using the credit card to pay – or you can pay by bank draft online to avoid it. All up for me the price was a reasonable RM334 for the flight to Singapore and back.  As usual, the governments took half of that.

AK receipt

PRE FLIGHT: I received all the information I needed from AK by email, very quickly after booking. And a few days before the flight I received an email with a link to click which took me directly to the page I needed to check in on the web. Very easy and convenient. Or it would have been, had it worked.  I clicked through the procedure, only for it to tell me at the end I couldn’t check in on the web.  I started again, and again it failed at the end.  Fourth time lucky, though.  I printed the boarding passes for outbound and return.

THE BIG DAY: Included on the boarding pass is a convenient chart showing the four steps you need to take at Penang Airport. Step 1 was to clear security – now this may be correct for domestic flights, but on International flights not.  When I tried to follow step 1 I was told I have to go to the AK desk to have my documents verified.  At this desk a sign says “no luggage”, so there were two people with about 10 passports, passing some luggage to the attendant.  A short wait there left me with the impression it would turn into a very long wait at the speed the attendant was working, so it proved far faster just to go to a normal check in desk for the verification.  Staff was friendly. The check in machines had a sign on them saying to go to the normal check in desks, too, so I couldn’t try that option. Indeed, nothing much had changed when I walked back past the actual verification desk.

After this, all went smoothly.  The plane arrived, everyone boarded, and the plane took off on time.

Air Asia

The plane was clean, and the staff were friendly.

Plane was clean and tidy

Not so much leg room, but enough for me, so I was comfortable enough for the short flight.  The plane was quite full.

legroom

Soon after take off the in-flight meal I had preordered was delivered to me.  Not so many people had ordered, it appeared.

the meal

I strongly suspect that the sauce contained MSG (monosodium glutamate), a very cheap flavouring agent.and a known neurotoxin.  There is little awareness in Malaysia of how poisonous this is, and so it is hard to avoid unless you eat at home.  There are a few restaurants in Penang proclaiming that they are MSG free; it would be nice if Air Asia joined them.

the meal unwrapped

It was otherwise fairly standard for airline fare.

The plane arrived on time after a smooth flight of 1 hour 20 minutes.

So, a reasonably economical, fast and quite easy trip with AK, with only some minor easily fixed glitches, already mentioned. The return trip was about the same,(except in Singapore the boarding pass “steps” were correct), so Air Asia was consistent, too. A thumbs up for Air Asia.

From Penang to Singapore by train

If you want to know about train journeys, it’s hard to do better than looking at The Man in Seat Sixty-One.

This is a short account of my trip to Singapore by train in October 2011. The train trip went smoothly, and was interesting.  I am glad I did it. I am not sure I would do it again, though.

I booked seats through the Malaysian Railway’s (KTM site)- basic but functional. The prices were very reasonable. And anyone, Malaysian or foreign, over 60 years old gets a (50% discount) on all classes. I had to make two bookings for the return trip: Penang – Kuala Lumpur return, & Kuala Lumpur to Singapore return.

The train departs from Butterworth, on the mainland, the station being close to the ferry terminal. From home to the ferry was a few minutes by taxi.  Then you follow people to the ferry, as there is no real signage.

The “waiting room” for the ferry to Butterworth.

It seems the ferry goes every 10 minutes or so.  It’s free to Butterworth.

On the ferry

The ferry takes about 15 minutes to cross.

bye bye Penang (Island)

arriving at Butterworth Ferry Terminal

And then there are signs to the train station, which is about a five minute walk, with a lot of stairs.

signage to station

The bus station is much closer.  Perhaps you can even park at the station, but it doesn’t seem that secure.

Butterworth Station

The waiting room is cool and clean.

platform – left to Kuala Lumpur, right to Bangkok

The tickets I printed off the Internet are sufficient, and I don’t need them checked or endorsed.  There is a food court nearby.

The train – all the passenger trains seemed to have the same appearance.

The train left on time at 1400.  It was quite empty.  The carriages are old and not so clean. Second class carriages are four seats across and I believe no food or water is provided.

The First Class carriage.

The trip is very different from the motorway as you pass through many towns, and is more interesting, and there seems to be a lot of infrastructure work going on – bridges, roads, and it looks like they are laying new railway tracks to make it double track north of Ipoh.  But the train is very slow. And there is no trolley coming through and selling anything, and it seems no restaurant car.  And nothing being sold on the platform that you can get when the train stops.  So what you bring with you is what you drink and eat.  However, in First Class they brought us a bottle of water and a sardine bun.

At KL Station there is a First Class lounge – which again is old, run down, and not very clean.  But empty, with no one checking your tickets. There is Wi-Fi in the station, and also power points in the lounge that you can use.  A kitchenette, and toilets, are also attached.

First Class Lounge in KL.

Just around the corner from the lounge, on the same floor, is a Hawker Centre. I had a meal there.

my evening meal at the Kuala Lumpur Station hawker centre

The train left 10 minutes late for SIN.

inside the first class sleeper carriage

The First Class sleeper was two bunk beds, with a small bathroom attached with shower.

accommodation

All was old, the bathroom was clean, but the bed sheets quite stained and not so clean. Importantly, it was not smelly.

bathroom

Noodles and water were provided for dinner.

“dinner”

It was quite a rough ride, with a lot of jolts when starting off from a station that the train stopped at.  I slept OK, but woke a lot because it was so rough.

amenity pack provided

Food was provided when we were awoken around 5:30AM by the conductor.

breakfast

The train stopped around 6am at Johore Baru for a long time for Malaysian Immigration.  Then on to Singapore.

the train arrived in Singapore

But the Singapore train arrival location is a disaster.  It appears they want only locals to use the train.  There is no info, no ATM, no money change, it’s about a half hour by bus to the subway – and the bus only takes exact money.  The Malay railway guy was helpful, and told me where I could go to find an ATM, and which bus to catch to the subway etc.  Then about an hour on the subway to the centre.

Woodlands Station, Singapore

Also, Woodlands, where the train arrives, has many food courts, and is quite dirty, with a lot of litter.  And people ignore red pedestrian lights and cross the road.  So Singapore is less strict now.

So now it is just too inconvenient to use the train.  The train used to arrive in the centre of the city – until July, 2011.

Not having a map I used the location map at the subway station to find the hotel I had booked.

I caught the Second Class sleeper back to Kuala Lumpur a few nights later, just to see the difference.

Second Class sleeper

And the differences? The second class sleepers are not segregated by sex.  Second Class was more fun, travelling by myself as I was, as I could briefly chat to a few different people before retiring to my bunk.  Also one is awoken later, closer to the destination, as no food is served. However, the toilets were a disgrace, disgusting as usual, and there was not even running water – a bucket of water was provided to wash ones hands.  The value of having a clean, non-smelly toilet, and to be able to shower before arrival makes First Class worth the extra.

As I was in Second Class on the return to KL I had to use the shower in KL Station.  This wasn’t so clean, but neither so dirty, and wasn’t smelly, but cockroaches were wandering around and I was worried one or more would get into my luggage.

the upper bunk