Saturday, November 12, 2011

Indonesia -- Day 2 Changi Nightmare !!

The last time I was in Singapore was 1993. I don't really have a lot of memories of the time.  It was a quick 2 day stopover with a whirlwind of tours to see the most I could.  The Blue Mosque and Little India stands out as well as the strict laws that govern the island.  This time around though, it will be the Nightmare known as Changi Airport that stays inprinted on my brain.

Little India, Singapore

I am not a novice traveler but somehow this airport just confounds me.  A complete lack of prominent signage, perpertual upgrades and construction, lack of knowledge by any airport personal and multiple tickets on different airlines conspired to make this the worst transit point EVER!!!

A 10 hour layover is never great, but 10 hours lasting from midnight to 10am is probably the worst that I could do.  I had tried to get a room at the transit hotel in Terminal 2 (where I arrived) but it was under renovation.  I had tried the hotels in the other terminals but was advised there was no room.  I explained the problem to friend and colleague Christine (who is fantastic) and she contacted her friend in Singapore and he was able to somehow get me a room at a transit hotel. YEAH !! I got the text message the night before with all the details. 

Text Message: "I got a room at the Terminal 1 Ambassador Hotel. There is some renovation works for T1 as well so it's gonna be a bit noisy but better than stranded. So when you arrive in T2, take the skytrain to T1 and do not check out of Customs."

When I arrived I had the message handy and re-read it to make sure. No passing through Customs, GOT IT. I followed the other passengers to claim my baggage, all the while looking for signs to Skytrain or Terminal 1 (T1). Nothing !! I did end up at the Immigrations Counter and wondered if I should pass through but my text hadn't mentioned not going through Immigration and it was the only way to the baggage claim.  I followed the other passengers to claim my baggage, all the while looking for signs to Skytrain or Terminal 1 (T1). Nothing !! I passed through fine and went to get my luggage.  I looked all around the baggage claim and there was NOWAY to get to Terminal 1 or the Skytrain from there.  I could only go back through Immigration (but wasn't allowed) or go through, (you got it), Customs to the outside world.  I asked the Customs Officer what to do, I showed him the text and advised that I had a hotel room in Terminal 1.  He advised that I had to go through Customs and into the arrivals level of the airport.  That was the only way to the Skytrain and Terminal 1.  (FYI -- At the luggage belt there is a money changer )

I had a bad feeling but there was nothing else that I could do.  It was 12:30am, I had been up for 30 hours and traveling for 19 of them.  I was tired and edging towards crankiness.  I pulled my luggage, laptop bag and backpack through Terminal 2 toward the Skytrain. It seemed to take forever. It was a long walk to the skytrain for T1 or T3.  You have to go upstairs and then follow the signs. You pass a lot of coffee shops and even a Burger King.  At midnight the airport is not busy but its not empty either. The skytrain runs from 5am to 230am.
Little India, Singapore
I finally got to Terminal 1 but guess what? I was not allowed to enter the secured area to get the Ambassador Transit Hotel. Why you ask?  Well that's because I did not have a boarding pass to enter security. Easy fix right? I will just get a boarding pass for the next flight. But alas, that was not to be. I couldn't get a boarding pass to enter because I couldn't check in for my next flight yet.  WHAT A NIGHTMARE !! Check in wouldn't open till 7 am and because I had luggage to check I was unable to get a boarding pass any other way.  I explained my situation to the Security Officer (calmly) and he advised that I had to go the Information/Help desk.  That of course was on a different floor, so off I went carrying all my stuff.  By this time I had passed cranky and was heading full steam ahead to the twin towns of Angry and Bitchy.

I got to the Help/Information desk and advised the situation.  The lady there said there was nothing she could do (completely unhelpful woman).  So off I trotted again to security via the Valuair Counter to make sure I couldn't get a boarding pass.  They (Valuair) said no.  This time when I got to Security I was not so calm.  It was after 1am and I was tired and beyond frustrated. I explained the ENTIRE situation again to another Security Officer.  This gentleman said he could see what he could do.  (I had offered to leave my bags somewhere and be personally escorted to the hotel and escorted back out in the morning).  A little while later the security officer came back and said that someone would be up to help me.  Shortly after a new "Help Desk" woman arrived, named Anney, and asked me to follow her to the Information Desk.  Once there I explained the entire situation AGAIN !!!! Seriously I was sounding like a broken record at this time. 

Anney said she would see what she could do.  She called the Ambassador Hotel to see the status of my room.  Apparently if you do not check in WITHIN AN HOUR of your flight landing then they give away your room.  Yup thats right, just give away your room.   I was PISSED !!!! Yes my room had been given away.  So now it was 130am and I had 7 1/2 hours before my next flight left and no hotel room.  Beyond Irritated !!  Anney was a nice woman who was doing her best to help me.  Every hotel in the airport was sold out. Great.  The next best option was to take a taxi into the city and get a hotel there.  Yeah, that sounded budget friendly. 

So in the end I got a hotel in Little India, The Broadway Hotel.  How lovely !!

Broadway Hotel, Little India, Singapore

So off to Little India, Singapore I go.  The Broadway Hotel had a lovely $100 SGD room awaiting my arrival.  First stop, money changers to get some Singapore Dollars. Done.  Next thing, getting to the hotel.
There was a 45 min wait to get on the $9 shuttle which will take another hour to get to the hotel and it was already 115am. A cab would be $25 each way so I ended up doing that and it should only take 15 each way to get to the hotel.  (Much better than I thought it would be) and arrived at the hotel coming up to 2am.  I checked in with no problems and got my room on the 5th floor. 

Broadway Hotel Bathroom

What an experience.  The Broadway Hotel was a decent 2 star hotel in its day. Not very great, the cleaning staff could do with a refresher lesson.  I am pretty sure that 300 chain smokers had just left my room moments before I arrived.  There were 2 twin beds and a TV and a full bathroom with shower.  Upon closer inspection there was a lovely trail of bugs walking up the wall to God-knows-where.  UGGHH !!  I decided not to open my luggage in case something crawled in and hitched a ride. 

Guinness in the 7-11.  New version for me.

I had noticed when the cab dropped me of that there was a 7-11 across the street. I had to go downstairs to buy WIFI services anyway so I ran over and grabbed a few cans of beer.  I watched some Asia CNN, drank some beer and relaxed a little.  I managed to grab a couple of hours sleep (on top of the bed) and showered before catching a 6am cab back to the airport. 

I love this.  Who wouldn't love this?  Instant Mashed Potato Machine in the 7-11

So back to Changi Airport I go.  I went outside and flagged down a taxi.  I didn't have any Singapore Dollars left so I made sure to ask the driver if he took credit cards. My driver said " Yes".  I got in and noticed this cover on the passenger headrest.

Imagine my surprise when I got to the airport and the cab driver couldn't operate the credit card chip machine.  I even took a turn trying to figure it out but hopeless.  I ended up having to pay him in USD $$.  At this point I couldn't get out of Singapore soon enough. Thank God I was able to check in for my 10am flight with Valuair to Medan, Indonesia.
INDONESIA ... here I come !!

If you are interested in going to Indonesia (or giving Singapore the benefit of the doubt)
contact Adventures Abroad   at 1 800 665 3998 
Quote code AANK for a special discount.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Changi was where my father was imprisoned by the japanese after his capture during the fall of Singapore in 1942. He sent several months there before being sent to work on the Burma Railway on the Kwai noi. Tens of thousands of English, Australian, Indian and Gurkha soldiers were held at Changi during the war, many starving to death others dying of the various endemic tropical deseases. There is a small museum recalling these events at Changi, constrcuted by survivors.