Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sleepless in Singapore (in the airport)

Sleeping in Singapore's Airport

It's happened to me countless times.  I arrive on a late flight into Singapore and the only way to get back to town is a) to walk or b) take an overpriced taxi that charges 1.5X the normal rate + a fee for leaving from the airport.  When I'm with other people, usually they'd rather split the cost and bite the bullet.... but when I'm by myself, watch out--IT'S SUPER-ULTRA-CHEAPO TIME!!!!!!!  
This is my guide to escaping the airport without losing much sleep and hanging onto the money in your wallet.

So let's go over the transportation options, from most expensive to the cheapest

(Prices in Singapore dollars unless otherwise stated)

Rent a Car - about $100/day
Definitely a luxury that I've never even thought about and not an option in the wee hours of the night since the car rental desks only operate from 7am - 11pm.  However, if you're even considering this option, what are you doing reading this guide about being cheap?

Van/Minibus - ~$50
Good if you have a lot of people and/or a lot of luggage.

Taxi - about $20-$30 to the city (24 hours a day)
Most people take this because it's the most convenient and the fastest way (about 30 minutes to the city), but it's pretty pricey if you're by yourself

Airport Shuttle - $9 per adult (24 hour service)
Personally have never taken this but it's probably good if it will go directly to your hotel or wherever you're staying.

Subway(MRT) - <$2 per person (first train 5:30am, 6am on Sundays)
Definitely my preferred method of getting to and from the airport.  It's cheap, convenient, and it only takes about 45-50 minutes to get to the city.  Slower than the taxi but faster than the bus.  The problem is that the last train to the city leaves at 11:18pm.  However, if you're staying somewhere in the east like around Tanah Merah, Tampines, Simei, or Pasir Ris, you can find catch a train up to midnight.

Bus - <$2 per person (first bus 6am)
The bus is another viable option but takes longer (probably about an hour) and you'll need to check the bus route to see if it's going where you want to go.

Free Shuttle: FREE (duh, but only to Ang Mo Kio, Toa Payoh, or Sengkang)
This is a great, little-known option especially if you live near one of these areas.  Unfortunately though, the last shuttle departs around 9-10pm and the earliest shuttle leaves around 10:45am so this is only good if your flight lands during those hours (check the link for a schedule)

Walk: FREE
Will probably take you a couple hours of walking, but this is definitely good exercise and totally possible since Singapore is such a small city (but probably not the way to go if you have a lot of baggage or if you're an old and pregnant with heart problems).  Don't get lost... bring a map (free at many info counters) and/or GPS if possible.  Btw, I've never tried this.

Places to sleep in the airport
crown plaza hotel - USD$300
If you can afford to stay in the crown plaza (legitimately) be prepared to pay a hefty fee.  I once saw some people trying to sleep in the restaurant while it was closed after hours but we, I mean they, were soon booted out by an angry manager for turning their hotel into a den of hobos.

inside the passenger areas - if you're arriving into any of the Singapore terminals other than the budget terminal, you can enjoy all that Changi Airport has to offer for its valued in-transit passengers, including plenty of soft, cushy sofas and places to fall asleep for free.  There's even a transit hotel that costs somewhere between $35-$70.. but then again, why pay when you can pretty much fall asleep anywhere since there are so many comfortable places to sleep for free?
However, if you're coming from the budget terminal you won't have access to this wonderful area (although you'll be able to see all of the nice empty couches and sofas from the public area, making you wish you had a plane ticket going somewhere).  If you have some check-in luggage that you need to pick up you also will have to leave the transit area and won't be able to get back in once you pass immigration.  The best way to do it is to fly on Jetstar or AirAsia (see my budget airline guide for more info), the two budget airlines that don't fly through the budget terminal, and travel light by not checking in any baggage if possible (and if you're cheap like me you probably opted to forgo the extra checkin luggage fees anyway).

open restaurants/cafes like McDonald's or Starbucks- Pay for a snack or cup of coffee ~$2-$10
If you can't get into the passenger area above, which is blocked off to the public (people without boarding passes) then you'll need to try your luck elsewhere.   If you pay for a cup of coffee or buy a snack at one of the restaurants or coffee shops with nice couches, then they might tolerate you sleeping there for awhile.  This is a great option but you still run the risk of getting woken up and being asked to leave if you overstay your welcome.  Sleeping there for 2-3 hours might be okay but trying to sleep there for 6 hours or more might be pushing it.

closed restaurants - FREE
Although many restaurants have scary warning signs that the premises are being monitored by closed-circuit cameras 24/7 and that trespassers will be prosecuted, it's not uncommon to see people sneaking into the restaurants to sleep and there are plenty of blind spots where the cameras can't see you (at least the cameras we know about...)  This one old guy found a nice spot outside a korean restaurant in terminal 2 where there's a long soft sitting area.  Try this at your own risk... airport security will almost definitely give you a Singaporean brand of police brutality, most of which involves being rudely awakened and scolded in Singlish.

unoccupied information booths - FREE
You may think I'm joking but I'm dead serious.  There are some great places to sleep like the Singapore Visitor Center in terminal 2.  If you're lucky you'll get dibs on one of the padded seats where you can stretch out and nap comfortably.  If not, just sleep on the carpeted floor behind the reception counter (for more info see floor below).

public seats - FREE
These seats are all over the airport but are spaced in such a way so you can't lie down on them comfortably.  Plus, they are usually very hard and unsuitable for sleeping on.  If you've brought a lot of clothes or towels you can use it as padding but here's what I recommend: go to terminal 1, which is the only terminal I saw that had padded seats (for the butt. The chair back is still unpadded).  Also, the seats are closer together towards the edge of the seat, which makes it a little easier and more comfortable to lie down on.  There are usually plenty of seats available  *update* the chairs in terminal 1's viewing deck now have armrests so you can't lie down on most of them anymore. Still, if you can find padded chairs without the new annoying armrests, this is probably the easiest and cheapest option if you need to catch a few hours of sleep and don't want to pay any money if you don't have to (and if you don't want to get harassed by airport security).  Then at 5:30am you can catch the MRT to wherever you're going.
Unfortunately, you'll be unable to get to terminal 1 by skytrain after-hours if you arrive at one of the other terminals, so you'll have to take one of the shuttles.  Check skytrain window for details about when the skytrain starts operating and where you can catch the shuttle to other terminals.  Last time I was at terminal 3, I caught the shuttle to terminal 1 from exit 8. 
But if you've got the ability easily fall asleep while sitting, you can avoid the whole issue of looking for a good bunch of seats to lie down at.

floor - FREE
I've seen a few people sleeping on the floor.  I have a feeling security or the janitors might bother you if you try, this so try to find a secluded area.  Some people sleep near the elevators above the MRT station and some find remote places that few people ever go to.  There are some areas that are carpeted and are more suitable for lying down on, so be on the lookout for those areas.  You can even sleep behind some of the information booths or checkin counters if you're slick enough.. just be sure to keep your bags and extremities out of sight while you're sleeping under there.

bathrooms - FREE
If you can sleep sitting up, then find one of the nice clean bathroom stalls (see my Singapore bathroom guide), especially one of the baby changing rooms or handicapped bathrooms, lock yourself in and fall asleep on the can.  However, again, try this at your own risk since the cleaning staff probably have keys and can get inside if they're suspicious.

I recently found out about another guide to sleeping in airports.  Unfortunately it doesn't cover the public areas and they tend to focus on the areas inside the passenger area where it's almost TOO easy to find a comfortable place to sleep.  If you're stuck on the outside like me, stick to my guide.

Related Entries:
Useless Armrests added to Changi Airport chairs in attempt to discourage sleepers
The Budget Airline Guide


  1. this is the numbner one post on the topic all others crap especially

  2. Thanks for your vote of confidence :-)
    Unfortunately this post may become outdated soon. If you (the readers) find good places to sleep in the airport or find any updated information please let me know

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