The small island state of Singapore has to have one of the best designed and thought out public transport systems in the world — and this is demonstrated nowhere better than at Singapore's world class Changi International Airport.
The airport has three terminals — terminal 1,2 and 3. Terminal 1 is connected to 2 and 3 by free skytrains which operate between 05:00 and 02:30 daily — to go from terminal 3 to 2 you need to pass through 1. Free WiFi is available throughout the airport, but you need to register first at an information booth (passport required) in order to be able to access it.
All three terminals offer left luggage facilities and the fees are affordable, with a single suitcase costing just over S$4 for the first 24 hours.
There is plenty to do besides sitting at the bar, with a cactus garden, sunflower garden, kids playgrounds (all terminals) and even a swimming pool (terminal 1, level 3, charges apply) available to keep you entertained. Lastly, if you have a lay over of more than five and a half hours, you can sign up for a free city tour.
To get to and from Changi Airport, you have a few options. Including:
Changi airport is the easternmost stop on Singapore’s extensive subway system, better known as the SMRT. From a central station like City Hall the trip takes about 30 minutes. While the train between the airport and Tanah Merah Interchange has luggage racks, once you change to the main East-West line you’ll be lucky to find a seat let alone a place to set your suitcase. The other issue is the train’s limited operating hours. Airport trains only run from 05:30 to 23:18.
Public buses also have very affordable fares — about S$2 depending on the distance travelled — but are the slowest way to get to the city centre from Changi Airport. Since the airport is the first stop you’ll definitely get a seat. Public buses to/from the airport operate from 06:00 to 22:50.
Airport Shuttle Service
The Airport Shuttle Service is a shared van that takes you to any hotel in central Singapore for a fixed price of S$9 per adult and $6 for children 12 or under. The shuttle leaves approximately every 30 minutes or when it fills up. There is an Airport Shuttle Service information counter in the arrival hall of each terminal.
Getting a taxi is the easiest but most expensive option and there is always a queue of cabs at the airport waiting for fares. Singapore’s taxis always use the meter which, depending on the time of day, will reach S$15– S$35 for a trip between the airport and downtown. The reason for the variation is the complicated system of taxi surcharges which increases fares by up to 50% from 00:00 to 05:59. In addition, an airport surcharge of S$3 will be added to the metered fare and rises to S$5 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from 17:00 to 24:00. Definitely check your watch before hopping in a cab!
Further reading regarding air travel to/from Downtown Singapore.
The world-class SMRT (Singapore Mass Rapid Transport) System is made up of five main lines that bring most of Singapore within easy grasp and if you're staying within the downtown area, it would be unusual if there wasn't at least one station within a ten minute walk of where you are standing.
The five lines are colour-coded and named with regard to their orientation. Each station has a alpha-numeric reference that tells you which line it is on and the order of the station. So Bedok EW5 means Bedok is on the East West line and is the fifth station from the start of the line. There are numerous interchanges between lines.
East West Line (EW)
This line is green and runs from Joo Koon (EW29) in the west to Changi Airport (CG2) and Pasir Ris (EW1). The Changi Airport line is a spur from Tanah Merah (EW4) — you always need to change trains here.
Convenient stations on the East West Line include Paya Lebar (for Joo Chiat Road). Bugis, City Hall, Raffles Place and Outram Park (for Chinatown).
North South Line (NS)
This line is red and runs from Marina South Pier through the centre of the city, north to Woodlands before wrapping around and eventually finishing up at Jurong East interchange on the East West Line.
This is a very convenient line for tourists and you'll probably find yourself on it quite a bit. Convenient stops include Marina Bay (NS27), Raffles Place (NS26), City Hall (NS25), Dhoby Ghaut (NS24), Somerset and Orchard (NS23 and 22 respectively) both are convenient for Orchard Road and Woodlands (NS9) for Woodlands crossing.
Circle Line (CC)
The orange Circle Line starts downtown at Dhoby Ghaut (CC1) and loops around the city with a spur running down to Marina Bay (CE2). The main line terminates at Harboufront (CC29) which is handy for Sentosa.
Other convenient stops include Nicoll Highway (for Kampong Glam and Golden Mile, though both are a bit of a walk), Botanic Gardens (CC19), Haw Par Villa (CC25) and Labrador Park (CC27).
North East Line (NE)
This purple line starts at Harbourfront (NE1) and shoots straight through the city, terminating at Punggol (NE17). It is a very handy line as it connects Sentosa with Chinatown (Outram Park NE3 and Chinatown NE4), Clarke Quay (NE5), Dhoby Ghaut (NE6) and Little India (Little India NE7 and Farrer Park NE8).
Downtown Line (DT)
The newest line in the city, this starts at Bukit Panjang (DT1) in the north and finishes at Chinatown (DT19). It's handy from the financial district at Downtown (DT17), Bugis (DT14), Little India (DT12) and Botanic Gardens (DT9).
Ticket price ranges depending on the length of trip, but short, couple of station jaunts downtown shouldn't cost more than S$1 or so. You can check all the fare details at the SMRT website. Tickets are purchased at kiosks and booths at the stations and both notes and coins are accepted. Single trip tickets require a deposit on the card, which you can get refunded at the other end of your trip. The service is open from around 05:30 - 23:30 — exact first and last train times vary according to the station.
The service is very fast, super clean and totally easy to understand — even the most navigationally challenged will be able to figure it out.
Further reading regarding train travel to/from Downtown Singapore.
Singapore has two bus companies; SMRT buses and Singapore Bus Service. The respective websites have detailed fare and routing information and you can plan an entire trip, including routing, timetabling and fares before even leaving your hotel.
Between the two companies, the bus network is comprehensive — moreso than the MRT and the fares are slightly lower. Fares are distance related and the coins are dropped in a chute beside the driver — note no change is given, so make sure you've got some coins on you.
When you’re out exploring the city, the bus stops themselves are a wealth of information. Each bus stop has a sign with the bus services passing by and a list of each stop on its route. Each stop has a practical name based on nearby landmarks (such as ‘Opposite Raffles Hotel’) and bus stops near SMRT stations are marked with a white circle. Major bus stops in downtown Singapore are a reliable spot to find a map of the surrounding area.
When you see the bus coming, flag it down by extending your arm. If no one at the bus stop flags the bus and no one on board presses the buzzer to request a stop, the bus will drive right by. If you’re still uncertain it’s the right bus route or when to get off, simply ask the bus driver. Singapore’s bus drivers are friendly and will be able to answer your questions in English.
A word of warning, there’s no nice way to say this, but many bus drivers in Singapore treat the pedal like an on/off switch which translates to a lot of sudden movements. So, if you’re not able to get a seat, hold on to the railings – there’s a good reason they’re there.
If you're out burning the midnight oil on a Friday or Saturday night, and don;t want to pay a fortune to a taxi, there are seven SMRT NightRider (NR) services which run from 23.30 to 02.00. The fare is a flat S$4.50 regardless of how for you go. See the SMRT website for route details.
Lastly, if you're looking for a more tourist-focussed bus service there are a number of "Hop-on Hop-off" services which cart people around to the typical tourist sites across the city, Duck & Hippo is a long-running operator with double decker buses covering the main sites and a range of packages available. Prices start at S$43 for a full day pass and tickets can be purchased from travel agents or online. See their website www.ducktours.com.sg/ for details on all the packages on offer.
If you want to travel from Singapore to Indonesia by boat it is possible, just be aware that it will take a couple of days and not be any cheaper than a one-way flight. If you’re the type of traveller who likes to travel this way, then read on.
Singapore to Batam
Get a ferry from Singapore’s Harbourfront Centre to Batam Island (Pulau Batam), a small Indonesian island just 20 km away. Ferries depart almost every hour and take about 50 minutes. A one-way ticket costs S$25 and can be purchased at the terminal or in advance via Batam Fast Ferry. Indonesian visas are available on arrival in Batam (for eligible nationalities).
Batam to Tanjung Priok
The KM Kelud stops in Batam on its way to Tanjung Priok, a large port north of Jakarta. The crossing takes about 31 hours and prices range from Rp 313,000 for an economy ticket to Rp 913,000 for a first class cabin. The boat only comes every two or three days, so definitely check the online schedule with Pelni Ferries.
Tanjung Priok onwards
If Jakarta is your ultimate destination, you can catch a taxi or bus the last 13km to the city centre. From there, Indonesia is all within reach.
Singapore has a fleet of 25,000 taxis and they always use the meter. Taking a taxi is an affordable luxury with base fares of S$3 and S$0.55 per kilometre, but surcharges complicate things and can add up quickly. Follow these tips to keep your taxi fares as low as possible.
Hail a cab on the street
Calling for a taxi comes with a booking fee of S$3.30-$4.50 and advance bookings (i.e. requesting a taxi for 18:00 tomorrow) cost a whopping S$6.00-$8. You can hail a taxi on the street or look for a taxi stand outside hotels, malls, and attractions. Unless it’s raining, it shouldn’t take long to find one.
Don’t travel during rush hour.
Not only will waiting time in traffic send your fare up (S$0.22 for every 45 seconds or less of waiting), but there’s a 25% surcharge on the metered fare weekdays from 06:00-9:30 and seven days a week between 18:00-24:00.
Don’t catch a cab downtown
Taxi trips from Singapore’s central business district (CBD) incur a S$3 surcharge from 17:00-00:00 seven days a week. This surcharge is only applicable to taxi trips originating in the CBD, not if that’s your final destination.
Party near your hotel
If you’re a night owl, find some entertainment within walking distance of your accommodation because fares go up by 50% after midnight. The MRT and most buses also stop running around midnight, leaving no alternative to a taxi. The late night surcharge ends at 05:59.
Avoid the “luxury” taxis
The black Chrysler 300C taxis cost more than others, including the Mercedes taxis.
Take the MRT from the airport
There are many great reasons to travel light, one of them being the option to avoid long taxi queues and surcharges at Changi Airport by taking the subway to the city. The airport taxi surcharge is S$5 Friday-Sunday from 17:00-midnight and S$3 at all other times. The airport surcharge is only applicable to taxi trips starting at the airport, not if it’s where you’re headed.
Electronic road pricing (ERP) tolls
These must be reimbursed by the passenger and will be added to your receipt. If there’s a way to get where you’re going that bypasses the road tolls, the taxi driver will know.
Note that these surcharges are all applicable on top of each other. That means if you call for a taxi at 19:00 on a Friday to pick you up from your downtown hotel, you’re looking at the meter charge + 35% + S$3 CBD surcharge + a $3.50 booking fee. In situations like this, just take the subway.
If you’re going to be in Singapore for a while a stored value EZ-link card for public transportation is a wise investment. The S$5 cost of the card is non-refundable but it quickly pays for itself. How quickly? For stays of 5 days or longer you’ll be glad to have one. Here are a few reasons why.
Simply tap your card on the reader when you get on and off the bus or MRT and the fare is automatically deducted from your balance. No more searching for exact change for the bus or queuing to buy single-use MRT tickets!
For example, adult fare from Changi Airport to Orchard MRT is S$2 if you’re paying cash and S$1.67 if you pay with EZ-link. The difference is small but adds up if you frequently use public transit.
If you’re paying cash you need to pay both full fares when you transfer from the MRT to a bus (like when you’re going to the zoo) or to a different bus. If you’re using an EZ-link card a transfer rebate up to S$1 will automatically be applied.
Lots of places accept EZ-link
You can use it to pay for purchases at 7-eleven, certain restaurants and coffee shops, and SMRT taxi fares.
The balance is refundable
Though the initial S$5 you pay for the card is non-refundable, the stored balance can be refunded at the customer service desk at any MRT station. Or you could just pass it on to a fellow traveler for good karma.
You can purchase an EZ-link card at MRT stations, 7-eleven convenience stores, and post offices.