To the Lion City and back on the jet equivalent of a tramp steamer…

Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration since the flight was direct and did not have to put down for fuel. But it was Jetstar.

Flights up: The last few years have certainly seen innovations and (whatever the antonym of ‘innovation’ is) in flying – it has become cheaper, there are more airlines running on various routes and is some respects, we have never had it so good. Up until March, Singapore Airlines was probably thinking the same thing as it held a virtual monopoly on direct services from Auckland. So it must have suppressed a bit of a guffaw when Jetstar Asia announced it would commence direct AKL-SIN flights with an A330-200 aircraft. But they must blanched somewhat when they saw the promotional fares ($99 no less). Sadly what should have been a great promotional event turned nasty when their website malfunctioned in a major way and hundreds of people (myself included) were denied the $99 fare despite having gone through the booking process to seat selection. So things did not get off to a good start there.

So with this serious grudge against Jetstar (and let’s just add the three flights out of CHC cancelled or changed on the day as well as frequent delays and other inconveniences not to mention the horrid legroom), I arrived at Auckland International a bit wary and prepared for nasty surprises. Such as no priority check-in queue (check), indifferent service (check) and maybe a few other issues. But the seat requested came up and luckily there was no-one sitting next to me. Qantas Club members do get access to the lounge so I made my way quickly in order to administer a mild alcoholic anaesthetic for the flight. Remember, this is a ten hour flight.

But I was surprised on boarding – a brand new A330-200 (VH-EBQ) with new slim-line seats, seat back entertainment (which you pay for, naturally) like what you get on Qantas across the Tasman, complimentary headsets for the radio channels (which don’t have a free classical channel so it’s a bit tortuous for someone like me) and good headroom – not bad.

There is no inflight entertainment (except for some wretched audio channels that don’t have any classical music) unless you have some school choir or mariachi band playing along the way. There isn’t even any movie screen like what you saw in the dim distant past. Yes, you can hire a small movie player if you want (iPads are apparently on the way) but if you want entertainment, bring your own iPod or something and listen to that. Or load up a USB memory stick with pics or tracks and use the in-seat facility.

Cabin service was minimal. They roll up the pay-per-bite snack carts only twice. Otherwise the crew don’t really want to make an appearance. Food selection is minimal and frankly you are best advised to bring your own snacks and chocolate (which is what I did on the return leg). Many of the Jetstar Asia pax had pre-booked their own food which frankly did not look inviting at all. I didn’t ask what the choices were.

As Jetstar is part of the Qantas group, it arrives at Terminal 1. The building is in the process of a major renovation which is scheduled to finish at some stage next year and it needs it – compared to T3, it is showing its age big time.

I got a cab after clearing customs and stayed at the M Hotel Singapore (in Anson Road, as opposed to the Studio M Hotel which is elsewhere). Very luckily got an upgrade to a Club Floor which are great. And access to the Club Lounge was a bonus. I like the M – pretty central, close to Tanjong Pagar MRT and the CBD area,

Saturday: Swapped to the Grand Copthorne Hotel Waterfront for the remainder of my stay – this may have been an error as it is a lot harder to get to from any place. However there was a reason for it (which is not important to relate here). Luckily, the hotel appears to have undergone a soft refurbishment – new carpets, retiled bathrooms, new case goods, new sofa (somewhat uncomfortable and impractical but new) and this was welcome.

Most of the day was spent shopping – the first chance for me to get a good look around ION Orchard which is not more than a couple of years old. As a friend of mine correctly said, the layout of the mall is very ‘counter-intuitive’ and is more so if you get there through the Orchard MRT station. However, once your bearings are sorted out (by about your fourth visit), it’s very good – plenty of designer labels (Valentino, Zegna, Ferragamo, Prada, Chaumet etc etc) at one end literally and the more practical down the other end including a Daiso store (that’s the Japanese $2 Shop to you and me). The good news was that Takashimaya @ Ngee Ann City appeared to be discounting all luxury chocolates (the ones I was interested in, anyway). And with a favourable exchange rate, who’s not to indulge ?

Sunday: Dempsey Hill is expat country. Wealthy expat country. Located on the site of an old barracks, it is now home to an interesting mix of cafes and restaurants, art galleries, a branch of Sydney’s Jones The Grocer and some nifty furniture stores. Expensive cars festoon the parking areas. The European easily outnumber the Asians, and it’s quite fascinating to watch. Up to a point – you see, most of the said expats will have babies in tow. Depending on their temperament (and boy do some have a temper), the decibel level will vary wildly from quarter to quarter. Food can be an effective pacifier but it is not guaranteed to work. Still, if you want to feel like you are less surrounded by Asians, it might be worth a visit. And if you want a table for brunch book or go early (i.e. by 10am). On our recommended list – REDSEA Gallery, CuriO Home Concepts, Asiatique Collections.

Suntec City is now more accessible than ever which makes a pleasant change – you can walk almost directly there in mostly air conditioned comfort from City Hall MRT Station. But the mall / shopping area is now somewhere where one can get lost in five minutes. As I did. Frustrating.

Monday: If you haven’t seen Marina Bay Sands, it is definitely worth spending a couple of hours there just to take it all in – you can’t miss it. A ‘cruise liner’ sits on three tower blocks that sort of look like shampoo bottles (that is how I would describe it). Inside, it reminds me of Berlin Hauptbahnhof in terms of the metal and glass skeleton and the extremely arching high ceilings. Except you don’t have huge luxury boutiques in a train station. But although it’s very pretty, you quickly realise you need a lot of money to partake in anything seemingly meaningful. Whether you visit the casino or not, you will certainly see free and extravagant use of cash or credit cards around here.

One must, however, not miss the Marina Bay Sands Skydeck. The views are very good for those new to Singapore and apparently they are even better at night (I don’t know, I only went during the day).

Flights back: Refuge from the heat at the Qantas Club lounge was very much welcomed as was the food and the drink (as there would not anything on then plane for free). The aim was to sufficiently anaesthetise the senses so as to sleep for the majority of the flight back. The formula varies according to the individual but for me the ‘two beer’ rule works well.

The flight up had been a bit too good to be true. Would we get the same new A332 ? Sadly not. This one was one of the original Jetstar medium haulers with the chocolate-brown leather seats with no in-seat IFE. However, the loading was only about 40% (as in less than half) so after take off, a mad scramble ensued with people looking to snare vacant rows to lie in and sleep. No screaming babies on this flight meant I could get about five hours uninterrupted sleep before a self-catered “breakfast” of chocolate and biscuits which I had bought in Singapore.

It was good to get back to Auckland. But in the knowledge that I would have to travel AKL to SIN again in just over ten days time, this time in the comfort of Singapore Airlines.

Would I repeat the experience ? Probably not in economy. Though I might consider Star Class if priced at the same level as Qantas economy (via Australia). Put simply, Singapore Airlines deserves its excellent reputation and the 777-300ERs it operates out of Auckland are very good. You do get what you pay for. But for those people looking for a cheap holiday to SE Asia, this is an option worth considering for sure – in theory you could go up with just a carry bag and come back with a new bag with your souvenirs and whatnot.

About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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