R2-D2 at Changi Airport Terminal 3 Departures
Two friends from Vietnam* came to Singapore this Thursday and I went to welcome them at Changi Airport’s Terminal 2 :) If you don’t already know, the Star Wars FEVER is raging at Changi Airport. I wish I’m more of a Star Wars fan, but I’m not. I do think BB-8 is super cute though. :D In this blogpost, I’ll share with you some of the unique experiences a Vietnamese person might have in Singapore, my own experience as a pro bono and unofficial tour guide (haha!), and what tourists to Singapore can expect as well as enjoy here. *It was my first time meeting the Vietnamese guy, while the girl had been kind enough to take us around when we visited Vietnam earlier this month.
Stormtroopers at Terminal 2 Departures
For one, I’ve been told by my Vietnamese female pals that clearing customs might be a bit tricky because you might get ‘invited’ to an office to state your intentions in visiting Singapore. I suppose it could be (but don’t quote me) on suspicion that Vietnamese ladies come here to look for work, or husbands? So it is always useful to have a Singaporean friend pick you up at the airport or at least be a phone call away so the authorities can verify your true intentions in coming to Singapore.
In any case, I waited for over an hour for my pals to clear customs checks. (@_@) I’m so used to breezing through customs when I return to Singapore from overseas that I forget that international travelers need to go through that whole passport stamping process while I simply use the automated scanners. (*Note to self: When picking up friends at the airport, there is no need to arrive early, or to even be ‘on time’, allow them time to clear immigration checks)
(*Another note to self: Changi Airport is really awesome. The themed decor (e.g. Star Wars) makes for some instagrammable and memorable pictures)
Rilakkuma EZ Link card for travel on trains, buses, taxis etc anywhere in Singapore
One thing to note is that travelers CANNOT easily connect to WIFI at the airport. Yes, that sounds so backward. But it’s true. You have to approach the Information Counter and get a password. Even then, I think you can only use the wifi for a limited period of time. I am guessing (again, don’t quote me on this) that it’s because we don’t want local students to camp out at the airport and log on to the wifi, instead of reserving it for the travelers who need it more.
In any case, I recommended my Vietnamese friends to get a wifi router device from Changi Recommends. The current promotion price is S$9/day. I find it’s a great idea because one router can support up to 6 devices (handphones, ipads, tablets, laptops, etc) and can be shared among friends (*save money!) And you don’t have to worry about inserting SIM cards into your phones or other devices. Just switch on the router, and log on to the wifi using your phone. And here’s the best part: UNLIMITED DATA! Of course, you can purchase a SIM card at the airport – it’s about S$38. But you get something like 1 GB of data? Why not pay S$27 for 3 days of router usage and get UNLIMITED data? So my Vietnamese pals rented the router. And they also bought the EZ Link card (in a super cute Rilakkuma design) that you see in the picture above.
The EZ Link card costs S$12 per card. It comes with a S$5 non-refundable deposit and S$7 in credit you can use for taking public transport. The card is valid for 7 years, so take it back home with you, and keep it safe for your next trip to Singapore. :)
~ Where To Stay In Singapore ~
My pals booked a stay at bunc @ radius little india. I thought the interior of the hostel looked pretty cool (though I did not visit the dorms). Breakfast is free – you get cereal and toast with jam. And there’s free wifi within the hostel, which my pals probably didn’t need. Most importantly the hostel is located within a 5-minute walk to the nearest train station (Rochor station, which recently opened in Dec 2015). My pals paid some S$22 per bed to stay here.
~ What To Do In Singapore ~
On the day they arrived, I brought my pals to Bugis (where they bought some toiletries, and SUNBLOCK) and where I also treated them to Old Chang Kee’s curry puffs – they were so impressed! LOL. We then went to Haji Lane to get some nice photos and also to visit Selfie Coffee where your selfie is printed onto the foam on your drink! *The good thing about getting the wifi router from Changi Recommends is that you can keep Google Maps on wherever you go, and navigating Singapore is easy-peasy.
I brought them for a nice dinner at Chinatown Food Street, and also introduced them to things like bak kwa (barbecued pork) that we Chinese love to eat during Chinese New Year.
The Indian uncle at Bee Cheng Hiang speaks good Mandarin – I was so impressed!
I also took them to places like Bugis Street (for clothes shopping), Bugis+, Bugis Junction (we ate at Yellow Submarine), Vivocity, Harbourfront, and Mustafa Centre where they each bought new luggage. On their own, they’d also visited Botanic Gardens (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as listed in 2015), Marina Bay, Merlion Park, etc. They found Singapore’s weather to be almost unbearably hot (LOL) but they were not excited about returning to Hanoi’s super cold weather either. :D :D
At Mustafa, they each found luggage they liked, and since the total purchase value was over S$100, they could get their tax refunds at the airport. Same thing for their Uniqlo purchases at Bugis too.
~ How To Enjoy Your Time In Singapore ~
In this picture above, you see the dessert which I ate with my friends from Vietnam at the airport on their final evening here. I have a sweet tooth so I really enjoyed the dessert. LOL. Though I’m not sure both of them did.
Over the past couple of months, while traveling, I realized that 2 out of 3 Vietnamese men are particular about food. And when in Singapore, they might want to visit Vietnamese restaurants instead of trying local cuisine. So it is a good idea to visit foodcourts (e.g. Kopitiam at the basement of Vivocity, or at Changi Airport Terminal 3) where there’s food from just about every nationality in this region. LOL.
If you’d like to truly experience Singapore and the food culture we are so proud of, do bring along an adventurous palate. Same reason why I ate balut in Cambodia and found out I thoroughly enjoyed quail egg balut.
To have a really good time in Singapore:
- Know that the weather will be HOT, with occasional rainfall. Light and comfortable clothing, sensible footwear, and sun protection is key. Singaporeans don’t mind being sloppy with our dressing (Tee + Shorts + Flip Flops are ok for shopping at Orchard Road) and umbrellas are almost a MUST during certain months when rain can be expected everyday (don’t ask me which months, because the weather is unpredictable due to climate change).
- Where food is concerned, try a little bit of everything. If you have a local guiding you, tell him/her what you absolutely will not eat e.g. food which is too spicy, food which has pork in it, food which doesn’t come with a decent serving of vegetables, etc??? :P
- Know that the malls will NOT be open even if you woke up at 7am and are ready to shop by 8am. It’s a better idea to head to the Botanic Gardens for a morning stroll and fresh air, then head to the city after 9am as the malls begin to open for business. (In other words, get as much beauty sleep as you can in your hotel or hostel. It’s a holiday after all!)
~ My Thoughts On Being A Pro Bono Tour Guide ~
I’ve never been a “tour guide” prior to this experience, and I’ve realized there is so much I didn’t know before this. Now I know I have to ask my pals these questions before they even fly over:
- Are you traveling with checked in luggage? If you are not (i.e. traveling with only cabin luggage) then you’ll be able to meet me at the Departure Hall earlier and I’ll know which glass door to wait for you at. If you have checked in luggage, then I’ll see you at the exit nearest to your luggage belt number e.g. 36. If you don’t see me, then wait at Starbucks or Burger King, etc. [*The reason these questions are necessary: No wifi till they get a password from the Information Counter]
- Will you require a SIM card / wifi router when you arrive? Will you require an EZ link card for travel via public transport or will you be taking taxis the whole time you are in Singapore? It is important to let your friends know how much these things will cost so they don’t receive a shock when they arrive and have to start Paying And Paying. For a 3-day visit, Wifi: S$27, EZ-Link card: S$12 (plus maybe one or two subsequent top-ups).
- Where will you be staying? Once you know where your friends will be putting up at, it is easy to plan for an activity or meal for that day they’ll be arriving. Unless, of course, they arrive at midnight, then… erm… KTV and supper?
- What dietary restrictions or preferences do you have? There are straightforward ones, e.g. no pork or no beef due to religious reasons, or no fast food. And then there are the less easy-to-handle ones such as “I don’t like oily food” or “I like food that resembles or tastes like food in my home country”.
- What are the attractions you’d like to visit? My Vietnamese pals wanted to visit Parliament House – I’ve never even been there before. :D And I recommended that they pop by Botanic Gardens in the morning. I did also look through their planned itinerary and give them my suggestions and tips (such as where to buy cheap bottled water before heading into Sentosa).
Ultimately, I’m very proud of my country, and I want to ensure my friends enjoy their stay when they visit.
I’ll even try to be helpful when I spot PRC tourists having a bit of a communication issue with non-Chinese staff at the airport or train stations. I’ll help translate their queries, give them directions and even assist them with purchasing single trip tickets and directing them to the right platform.
Strangely enough, I think it imperative that visitors like my country. I’m really perplexed if they don’t. Apart from the weather (which I can do nothing about), I want to make their visits as fuss-free as possible. And more friends from the region will be popping by Singapore soon! I should be a part-time tour guide! :D