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Destination Blog: How to Visit Singapore With No Clue

The Merlion represents Singapore's history as a fishing town.

The Merlion represents Singapore's history as a fishing town.

Previously, I have not written a destination story before. I have had some pretty great opportunities, but always concentrated on the airline side of things. That makes sense, since this is an airline blog, not a travel blog, but I decided to try and do something a little different . I have found that most people who enjoy airlines, also have a love of travel — so, it sort of makes sense.

I love to travel, but I do not consider myself a travel expert. This story gives a newbie-perspective on traveling to Singapore for the first time. I spent five days there with a few journalists, Singapore Airlines and the Singapore Tourism Board and figured I should share some of my main take-a-ways.

English is King
Almost everyone speaks and almost everything is in English in Singapore. It isn’t just the touristy places either, but almost everywhere you go. I have been told before, “lots of people speak English there,” but it has never been more true.

Part of me was really excited that so much was in English, but another part wished it seemed a bit more foreign.

Singapore most likely won't give you culture shock, but if you are looking for culture, you can still find it in Little India, Little China and Arab Street. This is a shot of a flower necklace maker in Little India.

Singapore most likely won't give you culture shock, but if you are looking for culture, you can still find it in Little India, Little China and Arab Street. This is a shot of a flower necklace maker in Little India.

English is one of Singapore’s official languages (Malay, Chinese and Tamil are the others). One reason English is so prevalent is Singapore didn’t break way from the United Kingdom until 1963.

If you are not well-traveled internationally, this is a great place to get your feet wet. It provides a great spring board to other Asian destinations.

The Changi Airport Rocks
I know for most people the airport is just a means to an end, but in Singapore, it is part of the destination. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to check out the airport , but I was given enough information to know that I really want to go back with some additional time on my hands. Yeah, it has 100 airlines going to about 200 cities worldwide, but that is not as cool as having the largest slide in an airport called “The Slide @ T3.” Be sure to give yourself some time to explore everything that Changi Airport offers.

Bring Shorts
Okay, this is a bit embarrassing, but if I can stop others from making the same mistake, it will be worth it — bring shorts.

Although I had some of the best food of my life while in Singapore, a much cheaper experience is going to one of the many public food markets.

Although I had some of the best food of my life while in Singapore, a much cheaper experience is going to one of the many public food markets.

Really, it is a bigger lesson about learning a bit more about the location to which you are going. I am one of those that enjoys to be told where I need to be when I start a trip and the rest will figure itself out. Well, it turns out that Singapore is only 85 miles away from the equator and I packed with business casual clothes.

When on blog-travel, I try to keep looking professional, but not bringing shorts was a HUGE mistake. I knew it was going to be hot, but I did not realize how humid it was going to be. If you somehow forget shorts when you travel there, don’t look in the resort areas. Cheapest I could find was $100 (you do not want to know the most expensive). I ended up getting some from a street vendor for $10 — deal! The moral of this story is pack for everything and check the weather reports (duh, right?).

Eat, Rest, Repeat
One of the best parts of vacation is being able to eat great food and relax. This seems like a way of life in Singapore — they aren’t afraid to eat. I am not sure how so many people are so healthy, but I love the food. There were so many great food options, it was hard to choose. From street vendors to world renowned restaurants, you cannot go wrong. Singapore really has a unique combination of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian influences in their food.

Even though I got to experience some of the most amazing food ever at places like Blu on Singapore Shangri-La’s 27th floor, nothing beats walking through a public food court and choosing from foods I had no idea what they were. From full duck heads to “shark nuggets” It is a wonderful experience, if you are not afraid of your food.

We were lucky since our trip matched up with the 18th annual Singapore Food Festival. This year’s theme was spice and they did not fail to deliver.

Little China offerred a lot of small shop options.

Little China offered many small shop options.

The Rules Are Not That Strict
I think one of the stereotypes that most Americans hear about Singapore are that the law are super strict. There is a fear that if you break one law, you will receive severe consequences. That is not the case.

On the way over, people were making jokes about chewing gum. It turns out that it is not illegal to chew gum, but it is illegal to buy or sell it. Lucky for me, since I had a pack in my bag, but decided not to chew it.

The strict rules mean that Singapore is quite safe. In some places, there was trash and graffiti, but everywhere we went, I never questioned  safety.

Get Off the Beaten Path
Pretty much anywhere you visit, it is best to (safely) get off the beaten path. There are places with very different languages and cultures that can make it difficult to explore off the beaten path, but not in Singapore. Transportation (even taxis) are dirt cheap and it is not difficult to walk around and check out side streets. You can easily find architecture that has Indian, Chinese and even British influences, which is pretty unique.

The Singapore Flyer offers a leisurly view of the entire city.

The Singapore Flyer offers a leisurely view of the entire city.

Shop, Shop, Shop
There were many shopping opportunities in Singapore-it was annoying. Well, if you like to shop, it would be great, but other than shopping for clothes that I need (ie shorts) or airline stuff, I am not into the browsing thing. However, it is hard to avoid malls and stores. Downtown you even have to go underground and through a mall just to get across the street — smart business move. No matter what your taste, from Gucci to buying frogs, there is a store with what you need.

Get Some Altitude
If heights and great views are something you enjoy, do not worry- Singapore has many options. The first strucutre I went on was the Singapore Flyer, which is a large ferris wheel that takes about 30 minutes to go around (see time lapse video). No worries if you are afraid of heights- your car in the Singapore Flyer is large enough and the wheel moves so slow, it doesn’t cause much fear.

If you want to take your Singapore Flyer experience up a notch, you can rent out a whole car and have a catered dinner. I guess quite a few wedding proposals happen while on the top — that would be a long 15 minute ride back down if she said, “no.”

The view from 1-Altitude of the Singapore Flyer and Sands Marina Bay.

The view from 1-Altitude of the Singapore Flyer and Sands Marina Bay.

The next high place to go is the Sands SkyPark at the Marina Bay. Even though the view from up top is impressive, the view from down below is a bit unreal. It looks like someone built three large buildings and put a boat up top.

The building did not come cheap, costing over $6.5billion to buy the land and build the facility. The view deck gives great views of the Merlion and Singapore Flyer. On one side is a spotting deck for anyone who pays the fee to go up and the other is an infinity swimming pool for guests of the hotel/casino.

The final place up high was 1-Altitude Gallery. It is situated on the highest point in Singapore and offers views of both the Singapore Flyer and Sands Marina Bay. I would highly suggest going at night since you can see the light show from the Sands and the Flyer lit up. It is a bit trendy with a popular bar and a lot of young people. If trendy bars aren’t your thing, I would suggest going early to avoid the crowds and enjoy the views.

The Culture With-In the Culture
There is a great mixture of culture in Singapore — you need to make sure you check out Little China, Little India and Arab Street.

When walking into some of the temples, I felt I was truly in a different culture and one with the people. Where Singapore as a whole really doesn’t give you a culture shock, checking out the smaller areas in Singapore can give you that cultural experience you are looking for.

Many of the temples were very intricate and impressive.

Many of the temples were very intricate and impressive.

Party Until Dawn
I have gotten beyond the age of partying all night, but if that is your thing, there are many options. Probably the best area is Clarke Quay along Singapore River. They have some pretty interesting places to party (they have a bar/club that is all hospital- themed). Even if you aren’t into the party scene, it is still cool to walk through the area with all the interesting lighting and people.

 

Catch Some Sun Rays
Singapore is a tropical climate and to really get the feel, it is best to head out to Sentosa. It is almost a resort-type area in Singapore.  From swimming dolphins to a super long zip-line to a Universal Studios, there is much to do. However, I decided to enjoy the sandy beaches and just relax. While on my balcony at the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort I had two monkeys come  visit. That was probably one of the coolest experiences I have had.

A lot more to do
There is a lot more to explore in Singapore than what I got around to. Tourism is Singapore’s largest industry, so they  make sure tourists stay happy. They have a handy YourSingapore.com website to help navigate what there is to experience.

Have you been to Singapore? Or do you live there? What more would you add for must-sees?

See more
* Time lapse video of the Singapore Flyer
*  62 photos of the Singapore trip

My Review: Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Los Angeles to Singapore in Business Class

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 sits at Tokyo's Narita Airport.

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 sits at Tokyo's Narita Airport.

When talking airlines, I have heard over and over again that Singapore Airlines had the best international business class product and I recently had the opportunity to try it out. It was on flight SQ11 and SQ12 which is an Airbus A380 that flies to and from Los Angeles (LAX) to Singapore (SIN) with a stop at Narita (NRT) in Tokyo (disclaimer: I was able to fly at no cost by the airline to and from Singapore).

I am pretty big guy, around 6’1″ and 250lbs or so, which means I can truly appreciate a larger seat with a little extra room. Most business class seats do a great job of making me feel comfortable, but Singapore Airlines business class seats border on insanely big. They have a seat pitch of 55″, which is nothing to write home about, but they also have a seat width of 34″ — which is almost three feet. To compare, the international business class seat width on Lufthansa’s Airbus A380 is 20″ and All Nippon Airways Boeing 777-300ER has a respectable width of 21″.

Singapore’s business class seats are arranged in a 1:2:1 layout, meaning every seat has access to an aisle. That eliminates having to trip over a seatmate in the middle of the night to use the restroom. Unfortunately I was not able to catch a window seat to or from Singapore, but with all the available in flight entertainment, who really needs a window anyhow (okay, I was disappointed, but it worked out).

Singapore Airlines sets up their Business Class seats in a 1:2:1 layout -- meaning everyone has aisle access.

Singapore Airlines sets up their Business Class seats in a 1:2:1 layout -- meaning everyone has aisle access.

When taking a 20 hour flight twice in one week, there needs to be a decent collection of entertainment. Singapore Airlines came through, giving each passenger easy access to a better-than-average selection of movies, tv shows and music all on demand. You are able to recline back and still easily view the 15.4″ screens.  I did end up having a few issues during my flights, where the entertainment system would tweek-out and restart on its own or cause my movie to stop for a bit. This happens to be a common occurrence since I have a knack of causing entertainment systems to crash. For some additional fun, there were quite a few “real” game options that you can play with other passengers, like Tetris and Battleship, but never got around to trying them out.

When it becomes time to sleep, the seats fold flat, but it requires you to stand up and fold the seat-back forward. The manual process was decided on to save the weight of additional mechanics, but it can be a bit annoying when you are about to fall asleep and you have to get back up to make the bed (yeah I know, life is rough). It is all worth the effort — I was able to sleep comfortably for about 7 hours on the flight home.

There were so many meals served on my flight to Singapore and back, with multiple courses, I am not even sure what this was. But I know it was good.

There were so many meals served on my flight to Singapore and back, with multiple courses, I am not even sure what this was. But I know it was good.

If you decide to sleep, you risk missing a meal or two — which would be a shame.  Because of timing, I enjoyed three different dinners on the way over and two lunches and a dinner on the way back. My first meal started with parma ham and ginger-infused pear, char-grilled vegetables and balsamic dressing. Then the the main entree was seared beef fillet with port wine sauce, mushrooms in spice cream and dessert was New York cheese cake ice cream with cherry compote. Yes, a lot of fancy names, but it actually tasted quite divine.

Just when I thought the formal meal was done, here came a cart with cheese on a cutting board. You tell them what you want and they will cut it up, served with fruit and even  a glass of port. Each meal has multiple courses and by the time the cheese cart rolls around you are pretty full.  If for some reason you are hungry during the down times, there is still a “light bites” menu available, where you can get anything from noodles, to sandwiches to even a Krispy Kreme doughnut (only from LAX to NRT).

If you are feeling a bit more adventurous there is also an Asian option including seasoned kelp, grilled fresh water eel braised in egg and pike eel roll with kelp.  I normally love trying different food, but was not in the right mood. It is always nice to have a drink while dining and if you become thirsty, no worries, you have eight pages of drink options to choose from including the classic Singapore Sling.

Singapore Airlines has different lighting modes for different parts of the flight on the A380. This purple was my favorite.

Singapore Airlines has different lighting modes for different parts of the flight on the A380. This purple was my favorite.

Singapore Airlines is very proud of their Singapore Girl brand of service and on board my A380 flight there were 23 flight crew. Something I didn’t notice on the way over, but learned while in the Singapore Airlines Training Center, is that the flight attendants have different ranks. Although their uniforms have similar designs, there is a variation of color based on seniority. The majority of men and women serving you will sport the color blue which is entry level. Green are the lead flight attendants in charge of a section and reds are chiefs in charge of each deck. On the A380 there will be one person in charge who sports purple. It became a game to try and find one of each color (hey, it is a long flight).

This is a new flight for the airline and was started on July 1. Singapore Airlines also operates a non-stop from Los Angeles to Singapore using an Airbus A340-500. Why would anyone take the longer trip with a stop in Narita? First, the non-stop flight (SQ37 and SQ38) is the second longest flight in the world and takes about 18 hours. That is a long time to be locked in a aluminum cylinder and some people might be willing to make the trip longer to have the ability to split up the trip with a short stop in Narita. Also, the non-stop flight only has business class seats, so if you are looking to fly first class or economy, the A380 flight is a must. If you are flying business class, the A380 product is similar, but the seats are wider compared to the A340. Probably the most important reason for airline geeks is the ability to fly on an Airbus A380 vs a more common A340.

These seats are so wide. The seatbelt comes up in the middle of the seat and they give you a pillow to fill space.

These seats are so wide that the seat belt comes up in the middle of the seat and they give you a pillow to fill space.

The first leg of the flight from LAX to NRT was about ten hours before a 1.5 hour lay over in Narita. Flying business class gave me access to the business class lounge, but it was a bit annoying having to get off the aircraft, go through security at Narita, before starting the boarding process.

Los Angeles becomes the eighth destination in Singapore Airline’s network to operate the Airbus A380. They were the first airline to operate the world’s larges airliner in October 2007 and they have clocked around 128,000 flying hours on more than 13,000 flights. The airline currently has 12 A380s in service and seven more on firm order. It is definitely worth the extra time to try out the A380 product and if you are flying economy, you still have a shot to fly on the upper deck.

Now, the bar has been set high. Have you flown in business class seats that you have found to be what you consider “the best”? If so, please tell me about your experience in the comment. Also be sure to check out my other photos of the flight including first class, the lay-flat business class seats, and my seat neighbor who was wearing cowboy boots.

Photo Tour of Singapore Airlines Training Facility

Singapore Airlines gave a special tour to invited media guests to their training facility located in Singapore and I felt privileged to be among the group. We were able to experience the flight attendant safety training, cabin crew procedure training and the flight simulators.

The slides are not for fun. This hybrid of Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 is to teach cabin crew how to evacuate an airplane.

The slides are not for fun. This hybrid of Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 is to teach cabin crew how to evacuate an airplane.

We first entered a large room that looked almost like a play ground with slides, but it was all business. This is where cabin crew learn and get re-trained on safety protocols. There were a number of different interior mock ups and the most interesting was the hybrid slide trainer. This was a unique set up with a Boeing 777 in the front and an Airbus A380 in the rear. The aircraft is used to allow flight attendants to practice evacuating passengers and jumping down the slides themselves. Inside the mock up, the interior was made up of earth-toned seats, with half of it being wider than the other half. The emergency doors had LCD screens located in the windows to simulate what might be on the other side (ie fire, debris) and the flight crew must react accordingly. Other mock ups in the facility allow cabin crew to practice opening emergency doors, escape from crew quarters and learn the proper operations on different aircraft.

Instructors are able to set up a number of different scenarios for flight attendant training.

Instructors are able to set up a number of different scenarios for flight attendant training.

The larger hybrid airline cabin is able to be filled with smoke to simulate an emergency situation (see an example from when I visited AirTran). There is a control panel that lets the instructor set up a scenario and the flight attendants must react accordingly. I was hoping to have an opportunity to take a slide down, but decided on the stairs instead.

The water is calm in this photo, but during training, instructors can make waves in the Singapore Airlines training pool.

The water is calm in this photo, but during training, instructors can make waves in the Singapore Airlines training pool.

After coming down the stairs, we went into the pool training facility, where flight crew are required to practice jumping into the water with their uniforms. The pool is able to simulate waves and rough conditions, providing an additional challenge for the new trainees. Much like the slide trainer, the interior has a full cabin set up, giving as much realism as possible to an actual water landing event.

Singapore Airline's Airbus A380 flight simulator has a Star Trek like command chair for the instructor to create almost any scenario possible.

Singapore Airline's Airbus A380 flight simulator has a Star Trek like command chair for the instructor to create almost any scenario possible.

The training facility also operates seven aircraft simulators that cost between $12million and $30million. Singapore Airlines leases time on the simulators for other airlines as well, except the Airbus A380 since they need all the time on it as possible. The A380 simulator is unsurprisingly big and although it is a massive beast — she flies like a champ. The simulators have full motion giving pilots realistic g-forces during landing, take off and maneuvers. Instructors are able to sit in a command seat behind the pilot and co-pilot to create dangerous situations at airports around the globe. Before pilots take a spin on the larger simulator, they are able to practice the proper procedures on a much more simplistic (and cheaper) Flight Training Device.

New Singapore Girls learn how to work the economy section at the training facility.

New Singapore Girls learn how to work the economy section at the training facility.

Even though safety is the most important aspect of a flight attendants job, a large portion of the facility is set up to teach flight attendants how to take care of their customers. Down a long hallway, there are multiple mock-ups to let new employees learn customer service for economy, business and first class passengers. Interestingly, part of their training includes greeting facility guests with a warm welcome. It is quite impressive to walk by a group of 25+ new flight attendants and have them all welcome you to the training center.

Looks and proper grooming is important to Singapore Airlines. This room, new hires learn how to look professional during long flights in a low-humidity environment.

Looks and proper grooming is important to Singapore Airlines. This room, new hires learn how to look professional during long flights in a low-humidity environment.

First impressions are important and Singapore Airlines makes sure their entire flight crew look professional. Even though the male crew won’t be wearing any make-up, they still go through the full training to learn how to keep their skin from getting too dry and how to assist their female co-workers. There is a classroom dedicated to make-up and scents training and another for flight attendants to practice walking properly.

Singapore Airlines is known for their high-end service and it takes quite a bit of work to accomplish. Besides basic training, flight crew are required to return for additional and advanced training. Even though the facility might look like fun and games, everything done there is for either customer service or safety. Both are very important aspects to running a successful airline and it seems to be working quite well for Singapore Airlines.

CHECK OUT ALL 30 PHOTOS OF SINGAPORE AIRLINES TRAINING FACILITY