Tuesday, Sep. 30, 2008

City Basics

Arriving. Changi International Airport is chillingly efficient. This is probably the only airport in the world where your luggage will be merrily spinning around the carousel within 10 minutes of your plane docking at the gate. Though buses and trains are available, the most convenient way of heading into town is to join a cab rank, helpfully sign-posted the moment you exit customs. Fares to Orchard Road will cost around S$20 (including airport surcharges) and depending on the traffic, you should be checking into your hotel within half an hour of leaving Changi.

If you're on a long layover, this is the best airport to be stranded in: Free Internet stations are scattered throughout the three terminals (each no more than three minutes apart by train), and there's an outdoor swimming pool for that tropical tan, a sunflower garden, free cinema, foot reflexologists, and an incredible spread of restaurants, bars and fashion boutiques.

Getting Around. The Mass Rapid Transport (or MRT) train is a spotlessly clean, safe and cheap way of getting around, with most of the major tourist attractions located within easy walking distance of a station. Most one-way trips will cost S$1 or less. A one-day Singapore Tourist Pass (S$8) gives unlimited travel on the MRT and buses anywhere on the island; they can be bought online or from selected MRT stations like Orchard, Chinatown, City Hall, Raffles Place, Bugis and Changi Airport.

For all other excursions, jump into a cab. They're metered; most rides will cost no more than S$10, though the peak-hour surcharges can quickly add up. And while it almost never happens, you might be unlucky enough to get a dishonest cabbie. If you feel like you're being taken for a ride, don't hesitate to lodge a report with the Land Transport Authority (1800-2255-582), which will handle the matter sternly.

Tipping. Tipping is not customary, whether in cabs, hotels or restaurants (where a 10% service charge is invariably automatically added onto the bill).

Wi-Fi. The majority of four- and five-star hotels offer Internet access within their rooms for a fee, while an increasing number of coffee chains like Starbucks offer Wi-Fi free. You can also surf the Web for free anywhere within the gigantic Ngee Ann City shopping emporium, or else hop onto one of the free terminals at the Singapore Visitors Centre at the corner of Cairnhill and Orchard roads.

Survival Skills. Despite years of government campaigns, Singaporeans are not the most courteous lot. Your cheerful "Good morning" or "Thank you" is apt to be returned with a blank stare.

On crowded buses and trains, it's every man, woman and child for himself. Brace yourself during a retail sale.

Geographic knowledge is often woeful (even among people who should know better, like taxi drivers), so be prepared to ask several people for directions if you get lost. Also, there is no accepted side to walk on the street, so be prepared to flail through the crowd like a salmon heading upstream.