Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila, Philippines

NAIA has to be the worst airport I’ve ever been in and I’ll tell you why.

The physical appearance of the airport itself is a joke. From my experience, the airport is the first impression a traveler gets of the place he’s going, and if Manila wants to promote the image of a modernizing, world-class city, it’s doing a poor job of it. The paint on and in the building is faded and stained. The carpets are worn, and in some places the flooring is actually concrete slabs. My first impression was that it appeared to be a cross between a Sam’s Club and a well used, worn out car insurance office. The whole place seemed to be dirty too, to varying degrees. I was definitely not impressed.

The airport is very crowded. The airport itself is small, considering that it’s an international airport and the hub of air travel in the Philippines. This over-crowding is apparent as soon as you approach the building. The taxi drop off area is a mess of traffic and pedestrians that seems much more dangerous than it should be. The exterior standing area of the airport has a small sidewalk that is typically packed with waiting travelers. In addition there was a mob of Filipinos waiting for processing at the Overseas Foreign Worker office adjacent to the front entrance. This crowd of people seemed to spill out onto the street more often than not and consumed the majority of the waiting area. That brings me to another point. There is only ONE entrance! ONE door! All passengers are required to pass through a metal detector and have their baggage scanned at this entry point. That in itself is an admirable effort to keep the airport safe, but why is there only one? Why not two or three? Wouldn’t that make more sense, considering the amount of traffic the airport receives? Wouldn’t that improve travel time and customer satisfaction?

The employees in this airport are incompetent. Outside the airport there is an employee walking around demanding that people move closer to the entrance, even though there is nowhere to move to, since the area is packed full. It’s as if he doens’t bother to look or think about it before asking people to move. At the scanner by the door there is no form of baggage control. One of my wife’s bags was stolen from the scanner area before she was even able to make it through the metal detector. In Singapore, at Changi International, baggage is put in a numbered tray and you’re given a numbered placard to turn in for your baggage after being scanned. This ensures that the correct person gets the correct baggage. No such luck or system at NAIA. My wife’s stolen bag led us to the discovery of further incompetence on the part of airport staff. We proceeded to the information desk and asked if anyone had turned in a backpack. We didn’t expect that anyone would of course, but they made an announcement over the intercom. We didn’t have time to wait around so my wife asked if she could have the phone number for the information desk so she could call back at a later time to see if the bag had turned up. The airport personnel at the information desk DID NOT KNOW THE NUMBER FOR THEIR OWN DESK! How can someone who works at an information desk not even know their own phone number? It seems ironic, and blatantly stupid. It also displays a lack of training and customer care. I suppose the problem with that is that for most travelers there isn’t really a choice when it comes to using that airport. That shouldn’t create an atmosphere where employees don’t care about the customers though. It’s a poor reflection of the airport, the city and the country.

There is a terminal usage fee that must be paid prior to entering the departure gate areas. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t fees of that sort normally included in the price of a plane ticket? Aren’t the airlines that utilize NAIA paying fees already to do business at that terminal? Why is there an additional fee travelers are required to pay prior to being able to leave the country? I’ve never seen anything like this at another airport. I got the impression that it was just another way for NAIA to dig into people’s wallets. Also, where are these extra fees going? If it’s a terminal usage fee, shouldn’t the fees collected be used to improve the terminal? Then why does it look like crap? The terminal usage fee is 18 USD and while that may not seem like a lot to some travelers, I feel that it’s an unnecessary waste of my hard earned cash.

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t use NAIA again. Unfortunately, there aren’t multiple terminals to choose from, which is the case in most areas. My wife submitted a complaint letter to the airport but never heard back from them. I wasn’t really surprised. It would be nice if those in charge of NAIA would take an active interest in the quality of their facilities and the quality of customer service their employees are providing.

Oh, and one other thing to note… NAIA doesn’t even have its own homepage. In this day and age that’s surprising and sad. The hyperlink at the top sends you to the NAIA wiki page.

What is Singapore?

Prior to becoming an expat in Singapore, I’d actually never heard of the place.  That in itself isn’t really surprising though.  There are a lot of countries in the world that I’d never heard of until recently.  I suppose you could say you don’t pay much attention to something until it becomes important to you.

So, what is Singapore?  Singapore is an island nation, a city-state, located at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula.  Singapore has a fairly interesting history.  It was originally part of Malaysia, and has been colonized by the British and conquered by the Japanese.

When Singapore finally achieved its independence it was little more than a fishing village, but in the small span of 50 years it has developed into a pretty powerful economic force in southeast Asia.  The speed in which the country developed is fairly impressive, as it is now a very urban country with high-rise buildings covering most of the island.

Singapore has also become a great hub for business.  In part this is because it is a great sea port.  Also, as a very developed nation it is attractive to foreign business investors.

Singapore strives to modernize at a rapid rate and is doing a very fine job of it.  A lot of the architecture seems to be borrowed from Malaysia, and there is still a very discernible British influence.  I’ll go into more detail about those things as this blog progresses.

I’ll also hit on some of the better spots in Singapore to visit if you come here as a tourist, and discuss what you might expect as an expat living in this country.

Getting Around In Singapore (Transportation)

One of the first thing a person wants to know when they move somewhere is how they’re going to get around.  Singapore’s got you covered on that one.  It has one of the best public transportation systems I’ve ever seen and there are sidewalks and walking bridges everywhere.  Here are some details:

The Bus:

The most common method of public transportation in Singapore is one we’re all familiar with.  There are two types of buses in Singapore.  There are the regular buses, and then there are double-decker buses like the one the above photo was taken in.  I love those double-decker buses.  When you get a good seat up towards the front of one, every short trip feels like a tour!  You can get a good view of what’s around you while you’re traveling, unless you get on one that has an advertisement covering the front glass.  That’s a bit annoying.  Of course, the view isn’t the only thing that’s great about the buses in Singapore.  They also have piped in television.  The shows that are playing are usually interesting and the audio is pretty clear, unless it’s rush hour and the passengers on the bus are talking.  One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that people on buses (and trains) in Singapore are fairly quiet compared to other places I’ve lived.  In fact, there is often a subdued atmosphere.

The Train:

The train system in Singapore is very efficient.  There are quite a few lines that cover the island.  In fact, there are very few places in Singapore that are outside of walking distance to the nearest MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) station.  Here’s a map:


(Note: The Pioneer and Joo Koon stations on the East West Line are now complete. A portion of the Circle Line in the Serangoon area is also now complete.)

As you can see, the train system is extensive, with more lines being constructed.

The trains themselves are well kept and clean.  There isn’t any piped in TV like on the bus, but it’s usually a short ride.  For example, you could ride the East West Line from one end of the island to the other in about an hour.  One of the interesting things about the trains here is that the wallspace, floorspace, windowspace, and any other space that can be covered by an ad can and often is.  As you can see in the image above, the entire interior of the train was decorated with an advertisement for Baron’s beer.  The outside sported a similar design as well.  At least they did a good job and it’s interesting.

Payment

Before I move on I wanted to mention how you pay for your rides.  On the bus you can either use exact change or a transit card called an EZ-Link card.  It’s a smarter move to go for the card because if you pay cash you have to pay more for the ride. I think it has to do with fees the banks charge to process coin deposits, but that’s just a wild guess.  As for the EZ-Link cards you can buy them at the MRT stations.  when you buy one there is an initial cost that I can’t remember, but it’s minimal and the card comes pre-loaded with (I think) a 10 SGD credit.  After that, you can deposit more money to it through a window teller, or one of the automated machines in the MRT stations.  The EZ-Link card is a smart card.  You don’t even have to take it out of your wallet when you make a payment with it.  As you enter and leave the bus or train station you tap your card on a pad that registers the entry or exit.  The fare is based on the distance you traveled, which is more fair than a flate rate in my opinion.

Other Methods To Get Around:

Though I don’t recommend riding 3 persons to a bicycle, like this lovely bunch above, it is a great way to get around here.  I don’t own a bicycle myself, but I’ve been considering making the investment.  Singapore has a lot of great, wide sidewalks and in some cases dedicated bicycle paths.  Located at most MRT stations there are racks designed for locking bicycles, and even when there isn’t people lock their bicycles to anything they can find.  A cheap bicycle can be bought for around 75 – 100 SGD and at that price you can usually talk a store owner into throwing in a free bell and basket.  From what I’ve seen, helmets aren’t required here, but I think it’s a finable offense if you don’t use your bell to warn pedestrians on the sidewalk that you’re coming.

Last but not least, if you want some fresh air, you could do this:

Beating the Weather in Singapore

If you’re coming to Singapore, bring light clothing! Oh, and pack an umbrella!

Singapore is located in the tropics.  It only takes one step outside of your house at noon to be reminded of that.  Well, sometimes you don’t even have to leave your house to figure it out.  This place is hot all the time, and it’s especially hot during the summer.  The temperatures seem to constantly hover around 32 to 34.  I think I noted on a weather site that the temperature drops to 29 at night here, but that’s only outside.  The buildings are constructed in a way that they hold the heat, so the ambient temperature in your home might stay at 31 to 32 all night even with the windows open.  Complicating matters is the humidity, which averages about 75%.

Also, it rains quite often.  It seems to rain about once a week, if not more.  It’s supposed to be even worse during the rainy season, which is from November to December.  Though, from what I remember from this past year, it’s raining more now than it was then.

Sometimes it rains just a bit.  Sometimes it rains a lot.  What’s good about the rain in Singapore is that it usually rolls in quickly and is gone just as fast.  If it rains, it might rain for 30 minutes and then an hour after it stops the roads will be almost dry again.  There are times when the rain is more prolonged and may be off and on for a day or two, but not as often as the short showers.

I love the rain here for two reasons. First, it cools everything down. In the days leading up to a good storm it usually gets hotter and hotter, sometimes touching on 35. Then the clouds roll in and the rain helps to cool everything off. The second reason is simply personal. I love a good thunderstorm! The overcast days, the gray of the clouds, the rumble of the thunder and the flash of the lightning are calming and thrilling at the same time.