Over the years, airports have evolved from being utilitarian stoic buildings with hard plastic seats to be tolerated as briefly as possible before boarding and during transits, to ultra-modern mega hubs where people greet, meet, dine, shop and even indulge in a massage or two. Today’s best airports revolutionised the industry by bringing comfort and convenience to air travel. Here, Top 10 of Asia celebrates the most spectacular airports in Asia, the world’s largest and fastest growing commercial aviation sector (presented in no particular order). Thanks to them, you may actually enjoy the long layovers between flights or even arrive a couple of hours earlier just to enjoy all the attractions they have to offer.
Changi International Airport, Singapore
Changi is a retail and F&B destination in its own right. The beautifully designed and uber-efficient airport is home to over 350 retail stores including the world’s first airport duplex stores for the categories of Wines & Spirits and Cosmetics & Perfumes as well as Zara. It also offers 160 dining outlets featuring a plethora of cuisine options that will satisfy any hungry diner no matter their nationality. Flyers can keep themselves entertained on the multimedia entertainment deck, catch the latest shows at the movie theatres, take a corkscrew slide or de-stress at the spas. No wonder it is heralded as the world’s best airport for the third year in a row by Skytrax and has clinched over 490 other awards.
Incheon International Airport
Incheon embodies the Korean culture both inside and out. Its roofline design resembles a classic Korean temple and it houses the Cultural Museum of Korea showcasing an impressive array of relics spanning 5,000 years including traditional artefacts, prints and costumes. For a more interactive experience, visitors can enjoy traditional Korean masked dances and instrumental twelve-string recitals, or participate in the arts and crafts making sessions and bring back their handmade fan or bag as a meaningful souvenir. Incheon’s futuristic-looking train terminal and lush Pine Tree and Wildflower gardens also helped garnered its reputation as the world’s most beautiful airport.
Hong Kong International Airport
Fancy a round of golf before boarding your flight? At Hong Kong International Airport, home base to Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and Hong Kong Airlines, you can. SkyCity Nine Eagles located near Terminal 2 boasts of a nine-hole golf course, a Thai restaurant and a boutique styled club house. For movie buffs, the airport has the largest IMAX theatre in the country. And if you didn’t have the time to savour Hong Kong’s scrumptious delights in your trip, fret not, for you can enjoy an impressive range of both local and international cuisines within the airport itself.
Taoyuan International Airport
The home base to EVA Air and China Airlines has something for everyone at all ages. The young ones can let their hair down at the children’s play areas, fans of a certain iconic cat can bask in the cutesy Hello Kitty Wonderland themed waiting lounge at C3 while art lovers can critically browse the paintings at the Art Gallery in Terminal 2. The Cultural Experience Area offers traditional art and culture demonstrations and workshops for those interested in a dose of Taiwanese culture, and historical buffs can peruse exhibits from National Museum of History and National Palace at Terminals 1 and 2. You will probably need a full day or two just to do it all.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Designed by Kisho Kurokawa, a Japanese architect, this eye-catching airport showcases Islamic design elements in a contemporary manner. A series of domes supported by tall eclectic-looking columns shelter visitors at the international departure hall. Travellers can take a refreshing stroll at the Jungle boardwalk, a recreational walk path at the centre of the KLIA satellite terminal, which contains plant species endemic to the Malaysian rainforests and even a waterfall. Want to catch some shuteye and recharge before flying out? The airport has designated rest areas with comfortable seats for just that very purpose.
Beijing Capital International Airport
As the world’s second busiest airport after Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Beijing’s Capital International Airport sees about 86 million flyers every year. Its newest and best-equipped terminal, Terminal 3 (T3), was built in 2008 in conjunction with the Olympic Games and is the second largest terminal in the world after Terminal 3 at Dubai Airport. T3’s roof, which is red in colour to signify good luck, lets in natural daylight via strategically placed triangular windows. Other traditional Chinese decor elements include the Nine-Dragon Wall-inspired carvings and a large copper tank, which stored the water used to extinguish fires in the Forbidden City called “Menhai”. It also houses an enchanting imperial garden with a pond where travellers are given food to feed the resident fish.
Tokyo Haneda International Airport
As the world’s fourth busiest airport, Haneda scores high points in terms of cleanliness, service efficiency and consistency. It is also a haven for last-minute souvenir shoppers thanks to its 31 retail stores and 29 duty-free shops – yes, the Hello Kitty Japan specialty shop is one of them. In fact, there is quite a selection of delectable sweet treats that can only be purchased from this airport, such as, Tokyo Chocolate Sandwich Cookie, Camembert Cheesecake and Haneda Roll. The airport is so disabled-friendly to the extent that passengers who are hard of hearing can even request for magnetic hearing aid loops at the Information Counter.
Tokyo Narita International Airport
Located two hours away from Tokyo, the airport is close to a temple surrounded by a gorgeous park with three ponds and a waterfall. Layover travellers who want to stretch their legs outside the airport easily access it by public transport. Within the airport, a relaxation area was recently installed, comprising personal booths with power outlets for those wishing for privacy, family benches and PC desks for road warriors. Narita also regularly organises cultural events to acquaint flyers with Japan’s unique culture. On-going programmes include piano concerts by musicians garbed in kimonos and live koto (stringed musical instrument) performances and lessons.
Kansai International Airport
Resting on an artificial island at the Bay of Osaka, the airport’s 1.7km-long awe-inspiring transparent tube-like terminal was designed by world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano to be light and earthquake-resistant. For the best views of planes taking off and landing on the runway and also romantic sunsets, the Sky View Observation is the best place to be. The Sky Museum located there is a treasure trove of knowledge about all-things aviation where pilot wannabes can have a go at the life size cockpit flight simulator.
Chubu Centrair International Airport
If you are looking for the ultimate relaxation in an airport, look no further than soaking in Chubu’s bathhouse while enjoying the view of departing airplanes and the sunset over Ise Bay. For a really close-up look at the airplanes, head up to the highly-acclaimed 300-meter-long Sky Deck, which is just 50m from where the airplanes taxi to the runway. On a good day, you will also be treated to views of the Mie prefecture shoreline and ships heading to and from the Nagoya Port. And in case you want to share the moment with your loved ones but forgot to bring your mobile phone, you can always rent a cell phone and a mobile Wi-Fi router from the airport.