Singapore’s Changi International Airport is gleaming, modern and ridiculously efficient – the country in microcosm. Arriving by bus or train is a slightly less streamlined experience thanks to border formalities and occasional jams at the two causeways connecting Singapore to the southernmost Malaysian state of Johor. Wherever you arrive, the island’s well-oiled infrastructure means that you’ll have no problem getting into the centre.
Changi Airport (changiairport.com) is at the eastern tip of Singapore, 16km from the city centre. The three main terminals each has a tourist office (daily 6am–midnight, or until 2am in terminal 3) which can make hotel bookings, plus separate hotel reservation counters which represent the major hotels. There are also the usual exchange facilities/ATMs and plenty of shops, restaurants and food courts. But chances are you’ll not linger long – baggage comes through so quickly that you can be heading to the city centre within twenty minutes of arrival.
The airport’s MRT (metro) station is beneath terminals 2 and 3. Trains run between 5.30am (6am on Sun) and midnight daily to Tanah Merah MRT, two stops away, where you transfer to trains on the main East West line into town. Note that the last downtown train leaves from here around 11.30pm. A one-way ticket for the half-hour downtown trip costs just under $2, though unless you buy a stored-value card you will also have to pay a $1 deposit which is refunded at your destination station when you return the ticket. All the three main terminals are served by the #36 bus (every 10min, 6am–midnight; around $2), which passes through the suburb of Katong and Marina Centre before heading to the Orchard Road area.
Whether you take the MRT or a bus, lack of room for luggage (especially on the bus) may be a hindrance. To get round the problem, consider taking the Airport Shuttle bus ($9/$6), which calls at downtown hotels, or the Beesybus shuttle, which serves backpacker lodges and budget hotels in Katong, the Arab Street area and Little India (6396 6694, beesybus.com; $8). As for taxis, reckon on at least $20 to get downtown, though note that airport departures command a surcharge of a few dollars on the metered fare, with a fifty- percent surcharge between midnight and 6am.
Most buses from Malaysia and Thailand use the main causeway to reach Singapore from Johor, and terminate at one of three locations. Local buses from Johor Bahru (JB) in Malaysia arrive at the Queen Street terminal, a couple of minutes’ walk from the Bugis MRT station. Buses from further afield in Malaysia and from Thailand may terminate at the Golden Mile Complex on Beach Road, or at a number of other locations used by individual companies, some of which are based near Lavender MRT. Bus #100 southwest along Beach Road will take you close to City Hall and Esplanade MRT stations.
Arriving at the causeway, you will have to get off the bus on the Malaysian side to clear immigration and customs, then get back on board – if you’re on a local #170 bus, hang on to your ticket and use it to continue on any vehicle on this route – to reach the Singapore side of the bridge, where you go through the same rigmarole. When major jams build up at the causeway, as they often do, follow the crowd and get off the bus a little way before the checkpoints; it’s much faster to walk.
For decades trains from Malaysia used the Art Deco Singapore Railway Station on Keppel Road, southwest of Chinatown, but in mid-2011 the terminus moved to a building next to the Causeway immigration complex in Woodlands. From here, bus #170 or #170X will get you to Kranji MRT nearby, with the #170 continuing all the way to Little India.
Boats from Indonesia’s Riau archipelago dock either at the HarbourFront Centre, off Telok Blangah Road at the southern tip of Singapore, or at the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in the east of the island. The former is on the MRT’s North East and Circle lines, while the latter is linked by bus #35 to Tanah Merah and Bedok MRT stations. Most ferries from the resort island of Batam end up at HarbourFront Centre, though a few of these boats plus all services from the other resort island, Bintan, use the Tanah Merah terminal. If you see a reference to “RFT” in schedules, it means the HarbourFront Centre.
The only ferry service from Malaysia comprises humble “bumboats” from Kampung Pengerang just northeast of Singapore in the Straits of Johor. These moor at Changi Point, beyond the airport, from where bus #2 travels to Tanah Merah MRT station and on to Geylang, Victoria Street and New Bridge Road in Chinatown.