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Our first trip outside Australia in over 2 years

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  • Our first trip outside Australia in over 2 years

    With Australia finally opening its international borders, we were determined to go overseas for our annual Easter break.

    Trouble was, where could we go without too much hoop-jumping? We also wanted to stay within an 8-10 hour flight of Australia in case our government went feral with borders again, though at time of writing I think we're well past the point of arbitrary border closures for COVID.

    We initially had Phuket booked, as we wanted a “drop and flop” and "do nothing" style of holiday so a luxury beach resort in South East Asia appealed. The number of hoops you had to go through to visit Thailand, and the uncertainty around quarantine protocol should one test positive to COVID made us uneasy. Honolulu was another option but I'd hoped to spend a few months in America on uni exchange in 2023 so wanted somewhere 'different.'

    As Singapore began removing its restrictions (all post-arrival testing removed!), and with rumours of Malaysia moving in the right direction, it made sense to switch our plans to Singapore in the hope that we could catch up with family across the land border in Johor Bahru that we hadn’t seen since November 2019. A week of great food and cocktails in one of our favourite playgrounds in the region, here we come!

    For our trip to Singapore, all that was needed was proof of vaccination against COVID, and clearing a Rapid Antigen Test (“RAT Test” as it’s commonly known in Oz) up to 48h before departure. Additionally, we also had to complete Singapore’s Digital Arrival Card, and download and register for (but not ‘activate’ our profiles until we cleared immigration at Changi) their TraceTogether App, which is mandatory for proving one’s vaccination status in Singapore for entry to a wide-ranging list of venues including restaurants, bars, shopping malls – basically any indoor venue.

    We had to upload our vaccination certificates into our Digital Arrival Cards – this is an important step as the Digital Arrival Cards are linked to your Trace Together App profiles and this step in the process is what creates your temporary (30 day) vaccination status for your Singapore visit. For people who can’t upload their certificates for whatever reason – commonly because they don’t know how to (like my parents) or hold certificates that aren’t QR code enabled - the immigration folks in SIN will be able to verify your vaccination status manually so you can prove your vaccination status during your trip via Trace Together. Those efficient, customer-friendly Singaporeans think of everything!

    Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on which way you look at it), both of us caught COVID ~2 weeks before we were due to travel. The sensible Singaporeans permitted an exemption for recent (7-60 days before departure) COVID infections so long as we showed proof of COVID recovery in the form of a letter from our GP – the letters themselves were $9 cheaper a pop than international RATs, #winningatlife!

    I note the recent Singapore announcement that they are eliminating all pre-arrival tests which basically brings Singapore back to pre-COVID normality for travel.

    Day of departure
    We’d read about all the horror stories of crowded domestic airport terminals across Australia (particularly SYD and MEL) in the lead up to Easter, and feared SYD International was going to be a total s*itshow on Good Friday.

    Rocked up to the SQ check-in counters ridiculously early as a result at T-4 which was when they opened for our flight, much to the OH’s annoyance as it meant a 5.30am wake up call for an 11am flight (we live 20 mins from the airport but don't like rushing). The SQ check-in counter was empty for Business Class which certainly took the winds out of my sails!!

    We had checked in online but boarding passes could only be issued in-person because of all the additional documentation checks. In addition to passports, we had to present:
    - COVID19 vaccination certificates
    - GP letters certifying recent COVID infection & recovery
    - Evidence of travel insurance cover (even though it's no longer a requirement for SIN)

    We were not asked about the Digital Arrival Pass so I assume it's digitally linked to our passport or booking somehow.

    There was a phenomenal amount of tapping before the check-in process was completed, largely because the SQ check-in operator had to input information from our COVID recovery letters.

    The Express Lanes were closed for both immigration and security at SYD, which meant it was about an hour before we finally emerged airside to top up on our whisky supplies at duty free. A lot of people had to be coached through both processes, for example having to remove masks for passport control clearance with the Smartgates, and forgetting about removing liquids and laptops from bags at security. I guess there was an element of truth in what Alan Joyce said about pax not being ‘match fit’ for travel.

    SYD was nowhere as busy as a regular pre-COVID Good Friday, but neither was it completely empty like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie (unlike when we went through the domestic terminal in Sept 2020 when it was like we were the only flight arriving / departing). This isn't entirely a bad thing as it was literal hell the last time we departed SYD on a Good Friday in 2018, and I swore I'd never travel on Good Friday ever again.

    It all felt almost normal, almost like the before times. Life is good.

    SQ lounge at SYD

    I was surprised by how busy the SQ J lounge was given how early we were, until we realised a lot of *A partners (AI, UA, AC and TG pax were all in the lounge) had been using the SQ lounge for their ex-SYD pax while the NZ lounge – normally the bigger and therefore default *A lounge - had closed until very recently. Had a bit of brekky to fill ourselves up. Barista-made (a positive enhancement!) coffee was passable, and T2 tea was on offer. Fizz was Mumm Marlborough Brut Prestige – basically Mumm made in New Zealand - $30 at Dan Murphy’s. I really don’t mind faux champagne, over COVID I’d tried lots of really nice methode traditionelles across Australia, NZ and England, sadly this wasn’t it. The rest of the bevvies on offer was pretty sad (JW Red, Chivas Regal etc) so pretty unusually for us, we didn’t drink a drop of booze until we boarded the plane.

    SQ Regional J (A350-900)

    Much has been written elsewhere about how superlative the SQ business class inflight service is so I won’t labour on here. I’m glad that the very high standards have been maintained despite everything the airline and its employees went through during COVID. The only irritation was that PDBs are no longer proactively offered. I enquired about this as the crew came to take our orders for post-take off drinks and lunch, as I was practically dying of thirst by this point, and they were more than happy to pour some bubbles for the OH and myself (and several other pax who clued on to the fact that pre-departure champagne is now only 'on request').

    Paper menus are also no longer handed out. They're available for perusal online and you could also view digital copies within the IFE system.

    I found the regional J seats to be pretty comfortable for the day flight but there was very little storage, and no bedding if you wanted a snooze. Those taller and broader than myself may find the footwell to be a bit of a squeeze.

    Great quality fizz on offer – Piper Heidsieck vintage 2014. Yum! PH is one of the most underrated big houses I reckon - Regis Camus has done some amazing things in his time, and long may the high standards at keen pricing continue.
    Scotch was a very good Aberfeldy 18, delicious drop for fans of sherried whiskies.

    We were finally outside Australia for the first time since Nov 2019 - f*ck! This genuinely blew my mind!!

    Sidebar - bumped into another member of another flying fora and his wife onboard, and also our dentist and his wife, all travelling on award redemptions, exceedingly generous availability for SQ (probably won't last as travel returns to normality).

    Next: arrival in SIN, Andaz SIN and some culinary highlights from the trip
    Last edited by KeithMEL; 8 May 2022, 02:57 PM.
    All opinions shared are my own, and are not necessarily those of my employer or any other organisation of which I'm affiliated to.

  • #2
    Arrival in Singapore

    Flight arrived 20 mins early and I’d never seen Changi this quiet. We also landed in T1 which was a new experience with SQ. It felt like we were the only flight in terminal.

    Fuelled by liquid courage, I’d expressed perhaps a little too enthusiastically to a rather bemused immigration officer how excited I was to be in a foreign country for the first time since the pandemic begun, whom I expect was very much regretting his decision to let this drunken lunatic into the country.

    Also beat our suitcases to the baggage belt, a first at Changi.

    My dentist and his wife were on the same flight as us and we’re all staying at same hotel, so it was an easy decision to share a cab to the Andaz. Be warned – some cab drivers are refusing to take credit card for payment these days so it may be a good idea to withdraw some cash at the ATM before leaving the airport (or check if they accept card payment before departing) – another reason to stick with Grab in future. I was able to charge the cab fare to my room upon arrival at the Andaz.

    Sidebar - UOB and OCBC ATMs do not appear to charge operator fees, or at least with our Suncorp VISA Debit card.

    The Andaz

    We’d normally stay in the vicinity of Chinatown with the Sofitel So Singapore, however the Andaz had a great rate (S$250ish); it’s also located in a reasonably hipster neighbourhood and had easy access to our usual hangouts in Chinatown.

    As a long-time W Hotels fan, I had been eyeing Hyatt’s expansion into the boutique hotels space with interest. Because variety. With its acquisition of Two Roads, Hyatt has added some really exciting design hotel brands to its stable – Thompson Hotels and JDV.

    As Andaz has often been compared favourably to W, and has similar design DNA to some extent, I was excited about experiencing my first Andaz.

    First impressions were super positive. This hotel was STUNNING. The ambience wasn’t as high-energy or buzzy as a W, but I’d managed my expectations based on reviews, and the staff were super cheery, sassy and upbeat. Andre Fu of Upper House fame had designed the place, giving the hotel a sleek, minimalist and ultra modern look. Love the little touches like green cushions and yellow splashes that speak to its Kampung Glam neighbourhood.

    We booked the base King room type and were given a lovely corner room, which provided a better sense of space compared to the regular layout.

    Great infinity pool on the 25th floor, would have been better without all that construction work nearby.

    And a super fun rooftop cocktail bar which we totally vibed with.

    Unfortunately, there was one massive issue – the beds were way too firm! The mattress was extremely firm and had very little padding, this was made worse by the hard wooden frame it sits on which had no give at all. I was barely able to sleep and the OH woke up in pain several times. It took quite a few attempts to make the bed more tolerable – 4 mattress toppers and several duvets later we were finally able to have a proper snooze.

    It also amplified some of the shortcomings and inconsistencies with the poorly trained staff, most notably the ground floor concierge, that we’d otherwise normally overlook as the design is just stunning. However, as sensational as the design is, it can’t make up for the discomfort; after all one of the key criteria of any hotel – let alone an Andaz - is to provide a decent, comfy sleep.

    It's a shame as I was so looking forward to my first Andaz experience and really wanted to like the property as the location is great, but I can’t recommend this unless you don’t mind sleeping on a park bench. The only hotel with a worse bed we’d ever slept on is the Hilton Garden Inn Dublin. Hopefully very firm beds aren’t really a Hyatt brand standard – I’d note our other recent Hyatt experience Hyatt Centric Melbourne also had firmer beds than we’d liked but at least it wasn’t uncomfortable - and I can just chalk our Andaz Singapore experience up to bad luck.

    The hotel was very generous with our late checkout request. We were given a 1pm checkout when we asked at check-in despite holding no loyalty status. This was extended to 4pm, and then as service recovery, extended again on day of departure to 8pm. Handy for the midnight flight. In contrast, I'd often struggle to even get 1pm late check out (occupancy levels often cited as an excuse) with my Bonvoy Lifetime Gold Elite status.

    Food and bev highlights

    It wouldn’t be a visit to Singapore without LOTS of amazing food and cocktail crawls.

    Marguerite - on the site of where Pollen Street Social used to be in Gardens By The Bay. Awesome degustation experience with polished service as expected. Newly opened in November by Michael Wilson – if you enjoyed Paul Pairet’s crazy fare at any number of French restaurants in Shanghai like Ultra Violet or Mr & Mrs Bund, you’ll love the food here especially the duck specialty.

    Really good wine list too. The sommelier’s recommendations seemed to be driven more by hype however - we allowed ourselves to be persuaded into trying some Coteaux Champenois – a still pinot noir made by Bollinger – and regretted not picking a more classic pinot like a Burgundy as originally planned. It was a bit of a novelty but while it was far from being a terrible wine, enjoyable in parts in fact, it wasn’t mind-blowing either. At least they poured some of my favourite grower champagnes.

    Cure – we'd always go back to this cozy spot without fail on previous visits to Singapore, one of our favourite degustation menus anywhere in the world. Since our last visit in the before times, the restaurant had transformed its modern European fare into “Nua Irish”, chef Andrew Walsh’s take on his native cuisine. The change earned the restaurant its first Michelin Star and it’s easy to see why. Just stunning, creatively conceived and tightly executed cooking and beautiful storytelling.

    The wine list at Cure was thoughtfully crafted and great value, didn’t overwhelm with too much choice.

    Other notable mentions:
    Had an amazing lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago with the parentals before they left for Johor.

    Tried some interesting Nyonya fare at Candlenut… way too spicy even at mild.  It also wasn’t very allergen friendly if you’re allergic to shellfish, there were only a handful of dishes I could eat.

    And of course some Asian street food that we found around the hotel at Kampung Glam and Adam’s Hawker Centre, and around Chinatown. Can’t go to Singapore without trying some satay and roti!

    Ticked a few Best 50 Bars off our list at Jigger & Pony and Papa Doble (used to be the local offshoot of The Old Man), but it’s still hard to beat our favourite bar in town Native.
    Last edited by KeithMEL; 22 May 2022, 10:54 AM.
    All opinions shared are my own, and are not necessarily those of my employer or any other organisation of which I'm affiliated to.


    • #3
      Excellent! Great to see you back travelling Keith