We recently made another international trip, this time travelling with just our one year old son and leaving the other kids at home with family.
Each trip we take is slightly different, and we again learned a few tricks from our sojourn to Singapore.
Our trip entailed an overnight stay in Manila so that we could easily catch a flight the next morning. To minimise transport hassles getting around Manila, we searched for a cheap hotel close to the airport and struck gold on expedia.com.au with a basic but clean and functional room at Blancaflor Room Rental, just walking distance from NAIA Terminal 1. While not the sort of place you’d go for a vacation, it was perfect for us to arrive in the evening, crash for a good night’s sleep, and head off again the next morning at the crack of dawn. Unlike a lot of bargain-basement Manila accommodation, this one had a microwave and bar fridge, so we could easily store milk and warm a baby’s bottle.
When checking in at NAIA Terminal 1, it’s never very exciting — there is security preventing all but travellers from even entering the building, and once you get in you’re in a large hall with limited seating and long queues stretching away from each check-in counter. Airlines generally open check-in 3 hours before the scheduled flight departure time, and it pays to be there pretty early.
There are no cafes or other services until you have checked in and are on the other side of Immigration.
Fortunately, Jetstar Asia has a (poorly identified) queue for the elderly, PWD (people with disabilities), and families with children. This discovery meant that we could skip the worst of the queue (once we realised!) and head up to a much shorter queue. Awesome!
As a family comprising a Filipino, an Australian, and a dual-citizen going through Immigration, we were able to stay together in the Foreign Nationals queue and handle all our paperwork together.
As is normally the case in Asia, we were able to keep our baby’s stroller right up until boarding time, when the ground crew relieved us of it as we were about to enter the air bridge. (This is SO much better than when we flew Jetstar Australia out of Tullamarine’s Terminal 4 and they required us to check in the stroller at the beginning but had no loaner for us to use until we boarded the plane. We’re NEVER flying Jetstar out of Melbourne again!)
On this occasion we booked our flights as two one-way trips, flying to Singapore from Manila with Jetstar, and then making the return flight with Malaysia Airlines (which entailed two flights as there was a transit stop in Kuala Lumpur). If we were doing it again, we would probably do exactly the same. The service and space on Malaysia Airlines is well worth the marginal extra cost, but it is not such a long flight so our decision was based more on the departure and arrival times than on the creature comforts. We didn’t want to return to Manila late in the evening and be faced with a late night bus trip or an extra night of accommodation in the big smoke.
(We have learned from past experience that any flight longer than about 3–4 hours with young kids is infinitely more enjoyable when you fly a premium airline like Malaysia Airlines or Qantas! Any cost ‘savings’ when you fly with a budget airline are false economy as you end up paying for it in exhaustion, unhappy kids, hidden charges, and less enjoyment when you reach your destination because of the toll the flight took on you.)
Upon arrival in Singapore I had a bit of a headache so started looking for some food to eat with my migraine medication. Although Singapore airport is fascinating and well worth a look around, it’s not the place to go for cheap eats! We would have been much better to head straight in to the city and deal with food (and my headache) there.
Singapore has a fantastic MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) rail system which connects you quickly and cost-effectively to almost anywhere you want to go.
You can purchase a Singapore Tourist Pass at a Change Recommends counter in any of the terminals (but NOT at the airport’s train station!) or at train stations in the city that have a service counter. The Pass gives you unlimited travel on regular buses and all trains for about SG$10 (1 day), SG$16 (2 consecutive days), or SG$20 (3 consecutive days). Just bear in mind that the card is activated from your first use, and the ‘day’ finishes at midnight so if you arrive in the evening you may be better off just purchasing a single-use ticket and not activating your Tourist Pass until the next morning.
It’s also important to note that the Changi Airport train station only takes cash, you can’t use your credit cards to pay for a single-use ticket. So if you haven’t got Singapore currency with you when you arrive, head immediately to a Travelex or ATM.
Getting around on the MRT is a breeze, no matter whether travelling as a family or alone. There’s a clear map showing all the different lines (identified by name and colour) — to get to your destination you frequently have to travel on one line to a connecting station and then hop off your train and get on another line. You’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly, and each carriage of the train has an indicator system showing you which stations your train has already visited and which one it’s approaching next, coupled with clear audio announcements in English.
When travelling with your child in a stroller you’ll discover that there are plenty of escalators at the stations but the lifts are not as frequent. They are there, but may take a fair bit more walking to discover. We used Bugis station a number of times and, because we wanted to use a lift for the stroller, we emerged at ground level quite some way away from where the masses exited from the escalators. But all in all, not a huge issue.
For our brief stay in Singapore we treated ourselves with a stay at PARKROYAL on Beach Road. It’s a 4.5 star hotel and, thanks to a good deal on Booking.com, we were able to enjoy a really relaxing long weekend break. Having never taken an infant to a 4.5 star hotel before we didn’t really know what we had been missing, but we can now say with absolute confidence that it was worth every penny!
Although there is a beautiful swimming pool, gym, and restaurants we ended up spending so much time out exploring Singapore and meeting friends that we never got the chance to use them! We definitely want to go back with a bit more time on our hands and just relax a bit more.
The room was spacious and well-appointed, and the hotel staff brought us a wooden baby’s cot/crib almost immediately upon check-in. We couldn’t have been more comfortable!
The location is ideal, with Bugis MRT station just a short walk away and everything you might wish to visit easily accessible on the trains and buses. Directly across from the hotel is Arab Street, a lane way of restaurants and shops selling textiles and perfumes.
Singapore’s streetscape is very ‘accessible’ — meaning, unlike a lot of Asian cities, it’s usually pretty easy to push a stroller around. The buses are also stroller friendly, with seating and parking space for a stroller right near the doors.
If you’re like most people in Singapore, you’ll end up using the public transport far more than any other alternative — it really is great, you simply won’t need Uber or a taxi. Just remember to carry an umbrella with you.
If you do decide to book an Uber, bear in mind the seat belt laws. If you’ve spent a bit of time in Asia you can become a little lax in your attitudes towards seatbelts — basically, many taxis don’t even have functioning seat belts and nobody seems to enforce the laws. In Philippines, you’d be lucky if a taxi driver even knew what a baby’s car seat is. But Singapore is not like the rest of Asia! Singapore is a very orderly and lawful country, and the law is that children are required to be suitably restrained (including the use of a car seat for younger children). As is the case in a number of countries, there is a special exception made for taxis. But Uber cars are private vehicles, and they are therefore not exempt from those laws. Hence, if you’re travelling with your young child/ren in Singapore and you haven’t brought your own carseat, you won’t be able to book Uber.
We remembered this on the day of our departure when we wanted to book a vehicle to the airport. Given that we were catching an early flight we decided against taking a train and decided to instead book a taxi. We had contemplated booking Uber but upon investigation realised that we could not legally take our baby in the Uber because we had no car seat with us.
Singapore really is a great place to visit with a baby. There’s so much to see and do, much of it child-friendly, and it’s so easy to get around. Despite the fact that it’s essentially a city nation, with millions of people in a small land area, they still have beautiful greenery — we love the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Gardens by the Bay, both of which offer a unique and distinctive experience and each is, in their own way, stunningly beautiful.