How to Make the Most of a Long Layover: 8 hours in Singapore
Anytime I take a long flight out of the country, I try to choose the route with a layover of at least 5 to 8 hours.
Because if it's going to take 24 hours of flying time, plus at least 4 hours spent waiting in security lines then waiting to board, like it took to fly to Bali, Indonesia - I might as well take advantage and visit another country while I'm at it.
And that's exactly what I did. I was able to squeeze in a visit to Singapore during my return trip layover from Bali. It was incredibly easy, so let me show how you too can make the most of a long layover.
Double Check the Weather in the
This is so important. Because your final destination may be hot and tropical, but if you have a layover in a country experiencing another season, you do not want to be out there cold and miserable. This very thing happened to me once. I had a layover in Madrid on my way to South Africa where it was summertime. I didn't check the weather in Spain and so I was freezing my buns off in 40 degree weather wearing only track pants and a hoodie.
It was so embarrassing the sun decided to hide my face in the picture
I had to search all over Madrid, to find a buy a coat so I wouldn't freeze to death.
Never again! So this time my husband and I packed the appropriate clothing and did a quick change in the airport bathroom before we ventured out.
Be as Mobile as Possible
This also has to do with packing smart. You will likely do a lot of walking, so you don't want to have to lug around a suitcase. Some airports have the option to get a locker to put your luggage in while you're exploring, so check the airport website to know if that is an option for you. Or make sure that you check on your luggage and bring a back pack to carry only what you need while on the ground.
Exploring Gardens by the Bay in Singapore
Now that you've packed appropriately and you're wearing the proper clothes, let's get to the fun part.
Here are 2 of my favorite options for exploring a city, they require very little planning but you still get a great experience.
1. Hop On-Hop Off Buses
Most major cities have a Hop on-Hop Off bus or City Shuttle that picks up directly from the airport and gives you a guided tour of the major sites and landmarks. Tickets can be purchased at the Information Desk right at the airport. This is the easiest option, which is also great for those who may not want to do a lot of walking. But you do also have the option to get off at a stop that you want to explore and when you're finished, get right back on the next bus and continue you on the tour. This is how I was able to make the most of my layover in Madrid about 9 years ago. But this time in Singapore, we landed too late to take the shuttle bus and so we opted for something a little non traditional.
2. Jump in a Taxi
Who knows more about a city than a taxi driver? They know the the ins and outs and can give you a locals' perspective, so you get a real authentic feel. Not to mention they always know where to get the best local food.
Before I continue, I do want to urge you to use your best judgement. If you get in a taxi and the driver is giving you a bad vibe - just get out. Listen to your gut and go find another driver that makes you feel comfortable.
When we were led to our driver we explained to him that we are here for only a few hours, we want to see the best parts of the country and have an authentic meal. He gave us a rundown of what that kind of tour could look like and then we agreed on a flat fee.
Our driver whose name was Ales, seemed so low key at first but once we got going on our tour - he came alive!
I find that when I travel, the local people are proud of where they're from and are more than willing to show off their country. And so, Ales gave us a history lesson about Singapore as he drove. I learned that there were lions on the island when it was first discovered and that is where it got the name "Lion City" which is what Singapore means. He told us what everyday life is like, that it was around $250,00o to own a car (yikes). He even shared his own family history and that his family traces back to China. He talked about the many cultures that live there and the many languages spoken - he spoke about 4 himself. Ales was so nice that he even let us borrow some of his own Singapore dollars to purchase food until we could get our own to exchange.
These are the places Ales took us on our whirlwind tour of Singapore.
Satay by The Bay
Ales took us to Satay by the Bay to sample one of the "must try" foods in Singapore, satay, which is barbecued meat on a stick covered in a sweet glaze. It was pretty cool to see it cooked right in front of us. The grill master put on a little show when he saw us taking pictures and got that to fire roar.
Fresh cooked to order satay grilled on a open flame
First taste of satay
We ordered the satay sampler that included lamb, beef and chicken. And had smoothies to drink. My smoothie was delicious, it was made with sour sop and dragon fruit. My husband decided for a more green option and got the fresh cucumber juice.
As for the satay, it was more exciting to watch it being cooked than to eat it. The glaze was very sweet, which I don't usually mind, but it was a bit too much for me.
Satay sampler with chicken, beef and lamb and fresh cucumber and dragon fruit sour sop smoothies
Next Stop the World Famous...
Gardens by The Bay
We made sure to let Ales know that we had to visit Gardens by the Bay. I'm sure the image of these huge decorated tree-like structures look familiar to you. Especially if you've seen the movie Crazy Rich Asians. This location was the site of the big wedding that took place in the movie.
We took our time through this here. There were a few different exhibits and we choose to see the floral exhibition
Posed outside of Gardens by the Bay
Getting lost in the beauty of the floral exhibit
Getting our National Geographic on
This dragon was made completely out of wood
The floral exhibit not only had beautiful flowers from around the world and a view of the ferris wheel
Ales really outdid himself when he took us here. So much so, that we decided to head back to the airport afterwards, instead of continuing on our tour because we were too full to continue.
Ready for the meal of our lives at the Newton Food Centre
Hawker Centers are open air food markets lined with vendors selling all different types of foods. In the middle of it all is cafeteria style seating. How it works is you order your food at the vendors, the food is cooked to order and once its done you bring it back to your table to eat.
This hawker center that we visited was also featured in Crazy Rich Asians, so it must be one of the best!
This was an exciting experience, it was busy and crowded and the foods were exotic and foreign to us. But being the foodies that we are, we let Ales order for us and we just sat at the table and waited for the surprise.
Basically, if it can be found in the ocean, it's available for order
Roast Duck hung up and ready to eat
Can't wait to dig in!
And what a surprise it was. Every flavor was new and exciting. Some a delicious surprise, some a, well, let's just say tasted "interesting".
The fish cake, that came presented in a leaf was my favorite. It was like a soft pressed patty, spicy and very flavorful. It was a simple dish with complex flavors.
Fish cake came presented in a leaf, my husband got a Tiger beer to go with his meal
I was expecting a dessert when Ales said he ordered Carrot Cake for us so, when it came to the table, I was so confused. It's a savory dish, made of eggs and fermented vegetables - more like an omelette. I'm glad I was able to try it but it wasn't my favorite, not because it didn't taste good, but it has a jelly-like texture to it that I don't care too much for.
The Carrot Cake is on the far right
And the star of the show...
We were able to select our crab before it was cooked
Chili crab is another Singapore "must-try". Imagine a huge whole crab, smothered in a tasty red chili sauce. There was so much meat and the sauce was so delicious it made even plain white rice taste like heaven.
The chili crab is in the on the right with garnished with cilantro on top
We had to tap out after this meal. It was like a Singapore Thanksgiving, with food on top of food. We could have spent at least a half a day here trying more new dishes.
Ales had 2 other stops planned for us after this one, but we just couldn't go on. He wore us out! But in a great way.
Saying our goodbyes to Singapore and to the best driver ever - Ales
I recommend a visit to Singapore. The city is clean, organized, diverse and small enough to see many sites in a short amount of time. The next time you're flying to Asia, schedule a layover in Singapore, you will not regret it.
Question: Have you ever explored another country on a layover?