Flying (again) during the pandemic

Having flown to Taipei earlier in August on China Airlines, here’s a short update on my flight back to Singapore on Scoot just last week.

The journey back on Scoot was a fairly smooth one. I booked the flight a month before my date of travel and was delighted to find out that Scoot resumed flights between Taipei and Singapore (previously, only China Airlines, EVA, Singapore Airlines, and Jetstar provided flights). The addition of Scoot flights gave me the option to fly back to Singapore on a Monday while the rest of the airlines flew later in the week.

Online check-in was as per usual, with me filling in my personal information and declaring if I had check-in baggage. However, I was also informed by the airline to fill in the Singapore Arrival Card, a travel requirement where all travelers to Singapore had to submit our arrival details to the ICA for immigration clearance within three days before our arrival.

Besides, Scoot also had their health declaration form which had to be submitted 24 hours before the flight.

Counter check-in at Taoyuan International Airport was also very smooth, and I was informed that there were around 20 passengers on the same flight as me from Taipei to Singapore. As we waited to board the plane at the gate, the ground staff constantly reminded passengers to keep their masks on at all times via the PA system.

On-board the flight, our seats had a ‘care-pack’ consisting of a bottle of hand sanitizer, a mask, and alcohol wipes which we could use during our flight. It was very thoughtful, considering that it’s a budget airline. Compared to China Airlines, I’ve to admit that Scoot’s care pack was a better one.

The return flight to Singapore was an uneventful one, with most passengers choosing to stay in their seats and barely anyone used the washroom or moved around during the flight.

Upon landing, all the passengers had to proceed to the immigration area where we took our COVID-19 test before clearing immigration. I pre-paid for my COVID-19 test earlier and only had to wait a short while before the test was administered (I got my test results back within eight hours!).

Immigration clearance and luggage clearance were also a breeze, which I was thankful for!

All in all, the flight back was an uneventful one. It is indeed sad to see airports so empty but I could get used to the empty seats around me on the plane!

If you’re flying in/out/through Singapore Changi International Airport, I highly suggest checking the Changi Airport website for the latest updates – it really helped me as I planned my journey back.

Changi Airport: A tourist attraction

Singaporeans normally view Changi Airport as a place to board a plane for exotic tourist destinations. But, with travel curbs in place, the airport has itself become a tourist attraction.

Kudos to the folks running the airport for the immense efforts to draw people to the airport for reasons other than travelling. Well, if you stay at the other end of the island, it may feel like you’re heading to another town, another place.

Opened slightly more than a year ago, Jewel is a delightful mall to spend time a day in. It’s got everything — from food to shops, and hairstyling saloons to hotel. For this season, the gardens around the centrepiece Rain Vortex has been decked in Christmas glory, making for great sight seeing and photo opportunities.

Families who want something a little different can consider spending a night glamping at Cloud9 Piazza at Level 5.

While Terminal 3 may not be as crowded as before, it has also been given a Christmas makeover with dinosaurs, in line with the theme of Jurassic Mile. The fact that there’s less of a crowd is great because you can take your time to delight in the exhibits and take photos without having loads of photo bombers.

For the F1 wannabes, a go kart circuit — with separate tracks for children and adults — has been set up at the taxi rank outside Terminal 4.

A little round the corner is Jurassic Mile, which has also been decorated with lights to make it a sight to behold at night. Whether you’re a cyclist, walker or jogger, this stretch is worth exploring. But do note that you need to book a slot if you’re planning to be there on Fridays to Sundays.

So, if you’re looking for a place to go to during the holiday, consider Changi Airport — and you don’t have to worry about forgetting to bring your passport.

Jurassic Mile rocks!

With travel almost non-existent, many in Singapore are suffering from a massive withdrawal. While the government is trying to encourage local tourism, it just doesn’t feel like the real thing of hopping on to a plane, landing in another country and taking in the sights and food!

As we struggle with the travel withdrawal symptoms, there was a glimmer of hope when social media broke news of a new attraction in Singapore. Dinosaurs (not the living kind) were spotted near Changi Airport.

As an avid cyclist who enjoys riding along the airport route, this was right up my alley and I started planning for trip to the said part of the airport. However, my plan had to be shelved when the authorities boarded up the location and placed a “Coming soon” sign.

Imagine my delight when a friend messaged me that the new attraction was opening on October 11.

The next day, I packed my bike and headed to the nearest car park in East Coast Park. Even though it was a Monday, that part of the park was surprisingly busier than usual with walkers, joggers and cyclists, including a couple of young ladies who were struggling big time on a tandem bike.

I joined them and headed towards the freshly-minted Jurassic Mile at Changi Airport Connector. The route was fairly straightforward, just cycle towards the Eastern end of East Coast Park and follow the signs.

Jurassic Mile is a one-kilometre stretch with dinosaur exhibits making for lovely Instagrammable opportunities.

The path is wide enough for three bikes to ride astride so both bikers and walkers/joggers need to exercise lots of grace and patience, especially along spots where people stop for photos.

A surprise is that beyond Jurassic Mile, the park connector extends all the way past Changi Airport Terminal 4 to Terminal 2.

The end point is the Terminal 2 arrival hall next to the car park.

Here are my thoughts on Jurassic Mile:

  1. It’s free. I can’t think of many places we can go for free but this is one and one that’s worth a repeat visit. Next time, I may consider putting my bike in one of the lockers and walk to Jewel for a meal.
  2. It’s open 24 hours a day. You can technically go anytime but bookings are needed for visits on Fridays to Sundays. This is understandable as the path is quite narrow and overcrowding may lead to mayhem.
  3. It is easily accessible. Take your pick. Cycle, walk or jog. It’s so convenient to get there. Park at T2 if you want to get some exercise or nearer at T4 if you want to reach the destination faster. A bicycle rental kiosk is located between Terminals 2 and 4.
  4. It offers loads of photo opportunities. The dinosaurs make great backdrops and photo companions.
  5. It’s a good way to spend family time. When I was there, both adults and children were awed by the displays. Besides posing for photos, the attraction is also great for walking and cycling at your own pace.
  6. It has cycling facilities. From renting to parking, everything is taken care of for cyclists, including a self-service bicycle repair station where you can pump your tires or tighten screws. And if you like, you can even take a shower before heading home.
  7. It has a cafe. This is so thoughtful. The Hub and Spoke Cafe is just reward for that exercise from the dinosaur adventure.
  8. It provides an access to airport terminals. I can now cycle to the airport. Before this opened, it’s always a case of so near and yet so far. I have cycled on the outskirts of the airport but could not get to the terminals before.

If there are areas of improvement, my wish is for some form of interactivity with the exhibits instead of them being purely static. Another is for the path to be wider so that it’ll be safer for all.

Overall, this is a place that is worth visiting at least once. I can foresee myself heading there again and again.

Verdict

Quality of exhibits: 👍👍👍👍

Facilities: 👍👍👍👍👍

Experience: 👍👍👍👍

Value for time: 👍👍👍👍

Overall: 👍👍👍👍

How flying has been made harder due to COVID-19

COVID-19 has thrown the aviation industry into chaos and travelling during this period has changed a lot. Here’s my personal experience on just how hard flying is during this pandemic.

A very quiet Changi International Airport

Purchasing airplane tickets is a lot more difficult. A usual search on Skyscanner and Google Flights (prior to the pandemic) always showed many results – from direct flights or multi-stop flights with many options to choose from. However, for my flight to Taipei, only a single direct flight was available from Singapore on my specified date. This was never the case prior to COVID-19 – and even after the purchase, there was a chance that my flight could be cancelled at the last minute as well (I’ve seen many cases of cancelled flights during this period!)

Stricter border restrictions have also made flying a lot harder – especially if you’re going to a location where you are not a citizen. For me, I had obtained a special visa to enter Taiwan, and this visa had a validity of three months from the date of issue. In addition, separate entry documentation was also required at the check-in counter. I was surprised when the check-in staff told me that they were not able to proceed with the check-in till they received a confirmation from their Taiwan counterparts that my name was under the “approved-for-entry” list.

Quarantine, stay-home notice, increased health-screening at airports and more… if you’re travelling internationally, you are highly likely to face some of these measures. Before I could clear immigration in Taipei, I had to purchase a local SIM card and register my arrival online before proceeding further.

To date (on my fifth day of quarantine), I have had to record my temperature on LINE (messaging app) daily as well as respond to the SMS they send periodically – if you fail to respond to it, they will call you up to check on you!

All these health safety measures, while helpful in ensuring that COVID-19 cases are well-detected, are a huge deterrent for travellers. Fourteen days in quarantine is tough as it is both time-consuming and can be very costly, besides being claustrophobic.

Travelling is indeed challenging during this period, but if there’s one thing I enjoy, it is the amount of space each traveller has on flights now. With fewer travellers, coupled with the fact that safe-distancing measures have to be implemented within flights, there is really a lot of space an individual has during the flight. The nearest passenger to me was two rows in front of me, with the majority of rows of seats behind me left empty.

Each airline has its health safety policy. The airline I took, China Airlines, limited the number of passengers within each zone. It also gave each of us a disposable mask with a case upon boarding (I thought that was a very nice gesture!). All food served were in dedicated trays, and there was only one option they had for every passenger.

Travel will not be the same any time soon, but till then, let’s travel only if absolutely necessary. Let’s stay home, stay safe and stay healthy together!

MOFT X: A must-have smartphone stand if you can get it

The Moft X phone stand is a great product.

Smartphone stands come and go. Over the years, I’ve used so many different phone stands that I have lost count. One reason for the constant change is the evolution of smartphones — with each generation comes a new size that renders the previous generation’s mobile stand obsolete.

Hence, I was intrigued when I heard about the version that MOFT (Mobile Office for Travellers) has on Kickstarter. To put into context, this was in the second half of last year, when I was travelling a bit.

On flights, especially budget airlines where there is little or no in-flight entertainment, I would usually watch movies on my smartphone. This can be a tiring task if held on the hand. Imagine holding a smartphone (no matter how light) at a steady distance for more than an hour. The alternative is to put it on the tray table in front. Unfortunately, no matter what I use to prop the phone to the right angle, it just slides down after a while.

So, back to MOFT X phone stand. I read the specs:

  • Can be placed in 40 degrees landscape and 60 degrees portrait modes
  • Fits three cards in a back slot
  • Just 0.5cm thin
  • Comes with a magnetic car mount

These were enough for me to provide my credit card details for two in September. The stands arrived two months later, which was OK considering that it was a Kickstarter project.

Love at first sight
It was love at first sight. It was everything I had imagined it to be. Not only me, but my family loved it!

I’ve bought tons of products in the past. Many come with interesting designs and highly touted features but when put to use, are quite impractical, such as a travel jacket (also bought from Kickstarter).

My latest order with new colours now available.

Epitome of practicality
But this MOFT X phone stand is the epitome of practicality. Let me share just six reasons:

  1. Lightweight. It’s so light that it doesn’t add much weight to my smartphone (I’m using a Google Pixel 3). That’s very important because I prefer my smartphone and its coverings to be light — that’s why I picked the Google 3 and not the Google 3XL.
  2. Stickability. The sticker clings tightly to my smartphone backing and can be detached and resused.
  3. Mountablity. Another perpetual pain is finding the right car mount. The original order of the MOFT X phone stand came with a car mount magnet that can be stuck on the dashboard. It is unostrusive and really strong — the magnet holds very well. This magnet must now be ordered separately.
  4. Versatility. With the MOFT X, the smartphone can be viewed at 40 degress landscape (good for watching videos) or 60 degrees portrait (great for putting on the table). The portrait mode is excellent for meetings as it offers greater privacy by letting you point the phone to yourself so others cannot see your screen, unlike when a phone is placed flat with screen up on the table during meetings.
  5. Convenient. The slot fits three ID/credit cards or a small stack of name cards comfortably.
  6. Security. The RFID protection at the back ensures that the cards are well protected against skimming.

One reason why I delayed writing a review of the MOFT X phone stand is because I wanted to assess its durability.

After three months of normal use, it showed signs of wear and tear. The folds became flimsy and the edges started flaring. And it’s not just mine but my family members’ as well. All of us use it differently but the results are the same after a while.

Another pain point is the delivery. As I really loved the product, I have made three subsequent orders, the latter two of which gave me great pain.

On both occasions, the tracking notification came quickly after order. However, the elation was short lived as the packages were stuck somewhere in China — once because of the magnetic mount and the second time because of COVID-19.

The customer service is responsive — at first at least. Typical early reply is to wait another week for signs of progress before getting back to them. That’s BAD customer service. They should have tracked the package themselves and get back to the customer, instead of the other way around. And if nothing happens after a week, the standard reply is used again — please wait another week (Grrr…)

On both occasions, the oders arrived after lots of chasing and about a month plus after the initial chaser.

Other that the durability and the delivery pains, the MOFT X phone stand is a must-have. MOFT has a well-designed product on its hands. It just needs to get the material and customer service right.

5 reasons why I choose Airbnb when travelling

COVID-19 has thrown the travel industry into chaos, and as companies worldwide look into cutting cost and planning for the future of travel, companies like Airbnb have begun making the difficult decision of laying off workers. It is a sad situation, especially for Airbnb which has seen been my main platform for accommodation booking since end 2014.

While I do not have any travel plans made for the remaining 2020, I’ve decided to list 5 reasons on why Airbnb is still my choice as an accommodation platform. Perhaps, some of these reasons will be useful for you in the near future!

One of my favourite Airbnbs of all time @ Grindelwald
  • Cost – For a family of four adults, Airbnb has proven to be more affordable as compared to hotels, especially in big cities. A hotel can cost $400 a night for two rooms in a three-star hotel in Seoul, and cost $250 for a night for an apartment. Even with booking fees included, Airbnb is considerably more affordable.
  • Photos – Unlike hotels that tends to put a couple of photos that seemingly represent every single room in its premise, photos posted in Airbnb are specifically for the apartment you’re booking itself, and tend to be truer to the pictures. Yes, photos will definitely be taken to make the place look ‘better than it is’, but in general, photos taken are specific to the room and tend to show you exactly what you’re in for. If you’re concerned about how true the pictures are, you can opt to stay in apartments with ‘verified’ photos from Airbnb.
  • Amenities – From washing machines, to television sets with Netflix and a full kitchen, there are many forms of apartments available on this platform. You may not need a kitchen when visiting cities like Bangkok and Taipei where food options are aplenty, but if you’re going to visit the outskirts with few food options, having a kitchen is definitely a plus! These are just some of the many amenities you can look out for when booking your apartment!
One of our cooking experiences @ our Airbnb
  • Location – Not many small establishments list their available rooms on platforms like booking.com, but they are more likely to list their available rooms on Airbnb because of, perhaps, easier onboarding. As such, when booking with Airbnb, you can expect locations that are not on usual areas where hotels are available. This is a good option if you enjoy road-tripping or if you simply like to ‘live like the locals do’, near locals.
  • Payment – This option has improved over the years, with payment being very straight-forward (refunds included). The ability to pay for the accommodation in two payments is also useful for individuals who aren’t keen on paying a lump sum. The refund policies are also upfront for the individual when making the payment, and the transparency of it all is just, pleasing.

However, here are some things to note when booking from Airbnb. Please do read the reviews carefully. Try not to be among the first few to stay at an accommodation. You may really not get what you’re expecting as new listings often ‘upsell their property’, and you may end up disappointed. Also, do look through the amenities and facilities thoroughly before making your booking – from stairs to air-conditioning and WiFi – what you assume the property has may not actually be true!

In his message, Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb, highlighted two key hard truths of the travel industry. Firstly, no one knows when travel will return, and secondly, when it does, travel isn’t going to be the same again. However, a part of me still believes that Airbnb will thrive yet again once this season passes.

Travel without Travelling

Most of us are in some form of social distancing or another. With countries worldwide imposing restrictions on travel to minimise the spread of the disease during this season, many people are experiencing ‘cabin fever’. The lack of travel for those who just love traveling can be daunting for some, but there are many ways to travel without traveling!

Go travel around the world, virtually!

There has been an increase in the number of virtual tours available online for free during this COVID-19 season. Two of the museums which I’ve particularly enjoyed viewing virtually are the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul and NASA’s Langley Research Center.

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul’s online viewing gallery not only has the overall image of the art piece involved and its background story, it also gives one a close-up on the strokes of the paintings. The level of details in the paintings shown on a virtual exhibit shows the effort to which the museum has curated its library, and all this is made free for all to view!

NASA’s Langley Research Center’s virtual tour is also commendable as there is so much to learn and explore. The research flight deck exhibit (as seen in the image below) has a high level of detail, and I like how they embed information and video links within each the virtual tour – it is as if you’re in the exhibit and looking at it first-hand.

Image captured from NASA's virtual tour on its Research Flight Deck exhibit
Image captured from NASA’s virtual tour on its Research Flight Deck exhibit

You can view more collated lists of virtual museums here, and here.

Reminisce via your old photos, videos and souvenirs!

If you can’t make a trip out right now, why not reflect or look back on the trips you’ve travelled before?

My father enjoys collecting bells – and for each destination we head to, he’ll make it a point to buy a bell from there. It may well be a small bell, and look insignificant, but this collection grows – and when it grows, each bell can serve as a reminder of the memories created in the destination! Have you looked at some of the souvenirs you bought from the countries you’ve travelled to? If no, why not take a look at it now?

Collection of bells

As the saying goes (more like a quote, heh), we take photos as a return ticket to moments otherwise gone. You can use this non-travel period to look through photos taken at the various countries and attractions you’ve been to!

Tip: If you have your photos hosted on cloud platforms like iCloud or Google Photos, one can easily search for photos based on countries traveled to!

Plan for your next trip

The headline of a Huffington Post’s article caught my eye a couple of years’ back. The article, which headline reads ’The Happiest Part Of Your Vacation Isn’t What You Think’ got me thinking, what makes traveling so exciting? And it turns out, planning a trip (while it can be stressful) is what makes vacationers happy because one tends to look forward to good times while planning for a vacation. So, why not begin planning for your next vacation during this period?

It may not be a detailed trip planned, but you can make use of the time now to create a ‘wander-list’ of places you want to visit and why you want to visit it. This can serve as a good start when deciding on your next trip. Whether the number of days, the attractions or even the food, having such details on what you like of place will make deciding your next holiday a lot easier when it is safe to travel again.

Social distancing and the lack of travel may be hard for us right now, but why not ‘travel’, without traveling during this period?

Eating your way through Queen Victoria Market

The middle of the city of Melbourne sits Queen Victoria Market – a market that has been in operation since 1878! This attraction not only has an abundance of stalls selling fresh produce, but also specialty products and cafes that are peppered within the 7-hectare land! Dubbed as the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere, Queen Victoria Market is a must-visit for locals and tourists alike.

Queen Victoria Market has various sections, and one of them is the specialty section that sells bags, shoes, road signs (which can also be customized), toys, and more! Souvenirs sold in this section are also really affordable, with t-shirts (the kind that screams ‘I’m a tourist’) going as low as AUD$5. Items here are very unique, but there was a shop that stood out – something that I’ve yet to see in other touristy markets globally – this store sold large images of one’s eyes. I don’t have an image of the store, but here’s the link to the shop, Iris Photo! In this store, one can get your iris taken and when magnified, it makes a really beautiful piece of art.

Another section of the market has a huge range of fresh produce – from organic vegetables to other kinds of fruits and vegetables, this market is a haven for those in search of fresh local produce. Produce here are reasonably-priced, and can be bought by box as well. My family bought a box of 10 mangoes on our last day in Melbourne, and it came in a box that was easy to pack.

In another area of the market lies the poultry and seafood section that sells a wide range of meats and seafood. Many purchase meats for home-cooking, and some of the stalls sell cooked seafood that can be purchased by weight. A highlight of this section (for me) is that one can easily buy a dozen oysters that can be eaten on the spot! A dozen oysters can cost around AUD$18, but do note that you CAN buy half a dozen oysters if you ask the stall holder! The oysters here are so fresh, sweet and juicy that I came back again for another fix of oysters.

Fresh Oysters

While researching on nice places to have coffee around the Melbourne city centre, I read a review that recommended Market Lane Coffee – a small bistro that sold coffee and pastries. I decided to visit it as I saw a long queue at the store (yes, I’m one of those that follows the crowd!) There, I ordered the almond crossaint, danish pastry, a latte and a cappuccino. If you are heading there, I would certainly recommend the almond crossaint and the cappuccino – a light, fluffy pastry with a very solid nutty filling that goes extremely well with a creamy coffee!

Thoughts

I’ve visited Melbourne City a total of three times over the recent years, and I’ve always made it a point to visit the Queen Victoria Market as it never fails to surprise me with local goodies and produce. Go take a look at this gem in the heart of the city!

Tip: If you’re looking to purchase fresh produce at a lower cost, visit the stalls during the closing hours as they tend to drop their prices at the end of the day!

The many wonders of the Great Ocean Road

Apart from the 12 Apostle Gourmet Trail, the Great Ocean Road is also known for its many scenic and picturesque sights! On my recent trip to Melbourne, Australia, we dropped by a couple of stops along it to enjoy the many wonders!

Our first scenic stop along the Great Ocean Road was The Grotto. A five-minute ride from our accommodation at Peterborough, The Grotto showcases a small open cave that looks into the ocean. The return journey from the carpark to The Grotto, steps included, is about 750 metre. It is definitely worth the walk down the steps as the base of it lies a stunning view of the ocean – it is as though you’re looking into the ocean with a natural photo frame!

The Grotto

The London Bridge was our next stop which was just another five-minute drive away. This single bridge view used to be a double-spanning bridge which linked to the mainland but the connecting surface linking to the mainland collapsed in 15 January 1990 – a good 30 years ago. What used to be a full stack now remains a bridge, with the centre portion of the base being eroded over the years. The return trip from the carpark to the attraction is less than 500 metres and the view is worth the short walk!

The London Bridge

Our third scenic stop was the Loch Ard Gorge. With four trails to choose from, my family and I went for the easiest trail where we overlooked The Razorback – a very large limestone stack with sharp edges and bumps on the surface. The lower section of it is, however, very smooth as it has been well-eroded by the waves that come in every 14 seconds, over a period of about a thousand years. With its straight and smooth top section, it actually looks like a very flat-surfaced cement block!

The Razorback (Loch Ard Gorge)

Our final scenic stop along the Great Ocean Road was the Twelve Apostles. Having been here a good 11 years ago, walking back here brought back memories! Some of these limestone monuments have stood the test of time and remained, but some have since collapsed, the most recent collapse of one was in 2005. The return walk from the carpark to the viewing point is around 700 metres, with the option of walking a little further for an even better view. This attraction also has a small kiosk which sells coffee and collectibles.

Thoughts

Driving along the Great Ocean Road brought back many memories, and it is no wonder how this coastal road welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors annually.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, travellers are advised against visiting these national parks and attractions, and the 12 Apostles attraction is among the list of attractions that have been closed till further notice.

Jewel a gem even during this period!

COVID-19 is sweeping the globe by storm, and many retailers are reeling from the effects of a drop in consumer spending as a result of a reduction of footfall in malls.

View of Jewel at night

Changi Airport’s Jewel, which was packed during its opening last year, was pretty quiet last night. Considering that it is the school holidays in Singapore, this is definitely not the norm or what its tenants had hoped for. Various travel restrictions imposed on the border have also affected the number of incoming passengers.

Most shops were opened but some had revised hours while others remained close during this period.

The Apple store was closed and will remain so until further notice. Lavender, a Malaysian bakery in Basement 2, also announced that it was closed till April 1, after the lifting of the ban from Malaysia on March 31. The Body Shop was closed when we walked past around 930pm though official hours stated that it closes at 10pm.

Notice of closure of Lavender

These closures aside, Jewel is still an incredibly attractive mall. I encourage locals to visit and support the shops during this period. Some of the attractions worth visiting include Canopy Park, Canopy Bridge, Sky nets (bouncing and walking), Hedge Maze, Mirror Maze, and Changi Experience Studio.

During my visit yesterday, we explored the Canopy Park which links many of the attractions. It has a Topiary Walk which displays animals in the form of floral and fauna, foggy bowls (the mist wasn’t turned on for health safety reasons I think), and Discovery Slide (only one was open). These attractions are free to access from now till March 31. On top of that, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of Jewel from here!

Let’s support our local malls during this period, but please practise social responsibility! It doesn’t hurt that Jewel provides free three-hour parking (with a minimum spend of $10 in a single receipt)!