In Transit: Why Singapore is my favorite transit country

Hello, Changi!
Hello, Changi!

When I went to Kerala for the #ComeToKerala winners’ tour last December 2014, I had to transit in Singapore and Sri Lanka before finally getting to India. It was a full day of flights and stopovers!

I was more excited than disinclined about my itinerary. I’ve always loved long transits, especially if my stopover country doesn’t require Philippine passport holders to have a visa for a short stay.

On the way to Kerala, I had 6 hours of transit time in Singapore and 11 hours in Colombo. My short stays in Colombo are entirely different stories so I’ll focus on my Singapore adventures for now.

Visiting SAM

I arrived in Singapore at around 2pm and my flight to Colombo was around 8pm. Some 30 minutes of my transit time was already eaten just by lining up in the immigration. It was December and it was understandable that many tourists were flocking the small city-state for the holidays.

Thankfully, a fast train connects Changi International Airport to the city. Thirty minutes after the immigration check, I was already in my target destination – the Singapore Art Museum (SAM).

The entrance to the Singapore Art Museum.
The entrance to the Singapore Art Museum.

SAM had been highly recommended by my art-loving friends. The museum is very accessible since it’s right beside the Bras Barah station (CC2 in the orange line). Tourists have to pay only SGD 10 to see the art exhibitions.

When I visited SAM, the exhibitions had the theme “Once Upon This Island” – showing the various facets of life, history and culture in Singapore. The art works were very modern – some filled entire rooms with lights and sounds while some were confined to the 4 sides of a frame.

Art work entitled "Singapore Idols - The Maids"
Art work entitled “Singapore Idols – The Maids”

One art work that moved me was the photograph series titled “Singapore Idols.” One of the photos was that of maids doing different house chores. There are many Filipino domestic helpers in countries like Singapore and the photograph made me think of the plight of some of my countrymen working in bad conditions across the world.

Artwork entitled "I'm a Ghost in My Own House." A bit eerie, isn't it?
Artwork entitled “I’m a Ghost in My Own House.” A bit eerie, isn’t it?

Another powerful artwork is “I’m a Ghost in My Own House.” It was done by Melati Suryodarmo from Indonesia by crushing charcoal for 12 hours. It is meant to show how psychological metamorphosis purges “thoughts and excesses that transform individuals completely” – much like the process of creating charcoal.

The SGD 10 ticket can also be used to enter the other building of SAM across the street. The exhibitions there showed Singapore’s history and transformation as a young state through the lives of its citizens.

After visiting SAM, I immediately went back to the airport, expecting that checking in would be problematic (since I didn’t have a transit visa for Sri Lanka). But then, I didn’t have any problems with Sri Lankan Airlines. The staff were friendly and accommodating and I found myself with an extra hour before departure. I wish I could’ve visited the National Museum of Singapore, which was very near SAM.

Hunting for souvenirs in Chinatown

On my way back from Kerala, I had 7.5 hours in transit in Colombo and in Singapore. I arrived in Singapore at 7:30am and I was set to depart for Manila at 2:50pm.

Since it was still early, I decided to have breakfast in the city while crossing out some of the things in my places to visit list. After another 30 minutes in the immigration, I took the train and went to Chinatown (NE4 Chinatown station).

The entrance to the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown.
The entrance to the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown.

Most of the restaurants in the area were still closed at that time so I just hit a 711 shop and bought coffee. I came from a 2-week trip in “God’s Own Country” Kerala and I still had the Indian travel bug. Hence, the first spot I visited was the Sri Mariamman Temple – the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore.

Much like the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum, the Sri Mariamman temple follows a Dravidian style architecture. There is no admission fee but tourists who want to take photos need to pay.

It’s just like any Hindu temple – there are shrines for different deities and visitors need to take off their shoes at the entrance. The Hindus here were really friendly and will gladly talk about the temple’s history when you ask them.

After the Sri Mariamman temple, I went to another temple – this time, a Buddhist one. The Buddha Tooth relic temple and museum is also located in the Chinatown area. There’s also no entrance fees needed to enter the premises.

The entrance to the Buddha Tooth Relic temple.
The entrance to the Buddha Tooth Relic temple.

I was quite lucky that I went to the temple early. I got to see the devotees do their morning prayers. This temple was only opened in May 2007 so it’s relatively new. Compared to any of the Buddhist temples I’ve visited in Nanjing and Hong Kong, this temple looks more upscale, in a sense. It’s really been taken cared off and invested upon.

One of the streets of Singapore's Chinatown.
One of the streets of Singapore’s Chinatown.

The souvenir shops in Chinatown were already open after I finished my two temple visits. I bought some keychains and other stuff – that are really cheap even by Singaporean standards – to give to my friends at home.

My favorite transit country

I needed to check in for my flight home because I’m flying on a different airline. So after the bit of shopping I did in Chinatown, I headed straight for Changi. It’s a good thing I was there early since the flight was overbooked and I could’ve been pushed to the next flight had I been late.

That was my two afternoon transits in Singapore. I consider this country ironic since I’ve already been here 5 times but only in transit. I’m not complaining though – even with 5-6 hours to spare, you can already see so much of this city-state.

I wouldn’t mind transiting in Singapore again. As I’ve said in my earlier blog post, even Changi Airport is a destination in itself. Besides, there are still some places in my Singapore travel list that I haven’t crossed out.

Next time, however, I hope to stay longer here. Maybe 2-3 days is enough time to go to all the theme parks and shopping malls.

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