Betraying Changi: Alternatives to Go to Singapore

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Changi International Airport (SIN, WSSS) in Singapore is one of the biggest aviation hub in Southeast Asia. The airport is very nice, and I love being there so much. I think it feels the same for everyone, therefore Changi has won many awards as the best airport in the world. However beauty comes for a price as tax at Changi is considerably high, around S$ 50 per flight all-in. For some budget traveler S$50 is quite a number and the ticket price will look quite high then. Here is where other alternatives appear. If you are from Indonesian cities (and Ho Chi Minh City) and planning to visit Singapore by plane, you might want to consider flying to Singapore neighboring cities such as Johor Bahru’s Senai Airport (JHB) or Batam’s Hang Nadim Airport (BTH) instead.

Both Johor Bahru and Batam form Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore Growth Triangle, popularly known as Sijori Growth Triangle (Singapore – Johor – Riau). They are both close to Singapore, and can be reached from Singapore in less than 1 hour. You may also visit some interesting places there.

JOHOR BAHRU’S SENAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Johor Bahru is literally next to Singapore, separated by small Johor Strait. As one of Malaysia’s biggest cities, Johor Bahru has Senai Airport which connects the city to East Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The airport is actually small, and very small compared to Changi, but it is why you may fly cheaper there. You will not have to pay much for airport facilities. The airport is a bit far north of the city center (which lies next to Johor Strait), but there is a shuttle bus service linking Senai and JB Sentral or Sultan Iskandar CIQ (Malaysian Checkpoint) and from there you can take bus to Singapore. The shuttle bus costs RM8 (S$3.2) or free if you fly with AirAsia. You just have to go to Causeway Link website and insert your AirAsia booking code. You will then be given choice of origin point: JB Sentral, CIQ, Woodlands MRT, or Kranji MRT in Singapore; and after that you just have to print the itinerary and show it to bus driver. You might as well just pay at the bus counter (at Senai Airport) or board the bus and pay to the driver (at JB Sentral) Then from Kranji MRT you can connect to anywhere in Singapore.

Along with Johor’s increasing popularity by having Legoland and Johor’s Global Brand Store, plus Malaysia’s ambition to lure aviation passengers away from Changi; AirAsia has been extensively adding international flights from Johor, especially to Indonesian major cities beside Ho Chi Minh City. AirAsia now serves Medan’s Kualanamu International (KNO), Bandung’s Husein Sastranegara International (BDO), Yogyakarta’s Adisutjipto International (JOG), and Surabaya’s Juanda International (SUB). There was once flight to Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International (CGK), but it has been closed now. You can try looking for these flights if you want to go to Singapore, especially the prices can be unbelievably lower (my JHB-JOG return flight costed S$65 while SIN-JOG costed S$160 return).

On the other side, this way will of course lengthen your travel time to Singapore. From Johor Bahru, you will have to wait for shuttle bus and go though 2 immigration checkpoints before you are officially in Singapore. I have done this once (for my Jogja trip) and it took about 2 hours and 15 minutes from NTU to Senai. It can be just 1.5 hours if you are going from Singapore downtown, but Changi only takes 45 minutes by train from downtown. It is also important to note that Causeway Link buses depart hourly in both direction – if you finish your imigration at 17.15 for example, you will have to wait 45 minutes to leave airport.

BATAM’S HANG NADIM INTERNATIONAL

Batam is also part of Johor-Singapore-Batam triangle and has some hidden ambitions to take some Singapore’s role. Batam has been developing to become one of the biggest city in Western Indonesia. In aviation, Batam’s Hang Nadim International Airport is the only airport in Indonesia with 4 km runway (Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta only have 3.6 km runway). Its close proximity with Singapore also makes it strategic; Lion Group has made Hang Nadim their hub (and built their maintenance facility there) and planned Hang Nadim to be its Batik Air’s long-haul hub in the future.

Batam’s main advantage from Johor Bahru is that Batam offers way more Indonesian connections. Hang Nadim is connected to 17 airports in Western Indonesia (list). Singapore may offer more Eastern Indonesian connections like Manado or Makassar, however the frequency is limited and price can be much more expensive since it is served by a full-service airline SilkAir.

From Hang Nadim Airport you can take either taxi or shuttle bus service (Damri) to ferry terminals in Batam. There are several ferry terminals serving Singapore from Batam, such as Sekupang, Harbour Bay, or Batam City. I have not tried going from Hang Nadim, but ferry from Harbour Bay to HarbourFront in Singapore takes 45 minutes.

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