A 5 Star Prison: Quarantine in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Singapore

[Millie] On the 6th July 2020 we set off for Singapore with a one way ticket. Armed with plenty of hand sanitiser, face masks, two excited children and lots of luggage. The rest of our belongings would be following us a few weeks behind on a boat. 

We arrived at Heathrow Airport at 7:30am and said our goodbyes: only flying passengers were allowed in the airport and we made our way to check in. The process was a bit longer than normal as we had to have all of our extra paperwork checked. I have to admit I felt a little bit nervous as the lady went through everything one by one, despite knowing we had everything cleared. We had an up-and-down journey of getting our visas and flight permits – only knowing we could depart just 36 hours before our departure time.


With our luggage checked in, we went through to a very quiet airport. We were told that most of the food places were closed and decided to get coffee and croissants in a cafe. We had a few hours to wait, but with the extra checks for temperature and everything taking a bit longer with social distancing, before we knew it we were waiting to board our flight. It was actually Milo’s birthday so he opened a few presents as we were at the gate.

We were flying with Singapore Airlines and, as usual, the service was amazing. The staff all wore face masks, as did we. The women all looked so glamorous in their uniform, whilst I felt like I looked as if I just climbed out of bed! We sat down on a flight of about 70 people in total, spaced out with rows between us, and settled in for a thirteen hour flight. We watched several movies, had two tasty meals and all managed to get some sleep. We could also have snacks and drinks when we needed them, which Aspen, our 5 year old daughter, took full advantage of. On previous long haul flights, I have had a bit of a claustrophobic feeling – watching the screen, looking at the little aeroplane on the flight path and realising we still had eight hours to go felt so very long, but this flight seemed to pass quickly. We had packed lots of toys for our children but being 5 and 7 they seemed quite happy to watch back-to-back movies. 

On landing at Changi Airport we were greeted by many friendly staff members, some wore face shields instead of masks which meant we could see their smiles – a reassuring sight. Singapore is known for its efficiency in just about everything and we had our temperatures taken using thermal imaging cameras as we walked through. We had to show a health declaration before we could move onto immigration, where we were given a yellow sticker and taken to collect our baggage.

To help stop the spread of coronavirus we had to serve a 14 day Stay Home Notice. This meant that we had to stay in a government facility for that time and monitor our health and temperatures using an app called Homer. It turns out the yellow sticker was to show us in which queue we needed to wait to be taken to the quarantine destination by coach. At this point we had no idea where we would be staying.

For a brief few moments we stepped out of the airport and the humid air hit me like a wave – it was good to feel the heat and breathe in the warm air we had grown to love on previous visits. We boarded the coach with seven other yellow sticker wearers and set off, still with no idea where we were headed. The coach passed the iconic Marina Bay Sands and for a moment I hoped we were heading there! We pulled up to The Mandarin Oriental, a 5* hotel as it turns out. I hoped we would be offered a suite and, to my surprise, we were! 

We still haven’t seen the outside of the hotel for ourselves!

As I write this we are on day 13 of the stay home notice, the hotel room is a cool 23 degrees whilst outside its sunny and 31. Our hotel suite is spacious with flourishes of local decor. There is a family bathroom with floor to ceiling marble and is well-stocked with the usual miniature supplies, a huge comfy sofa in a large lounge which doubles up as the kids’ bedroom, free WiFi, a fridge, separate toilet and desk space. Adjacent to the living area we have a generous sized master bedroom which, like the lounge has large windows and offers a perfect spot to watch the skyline change with the sunset or rainclouds rolling in. We can see a tennis court too and have enjoyed watching children have their weekly lessons.

City skyline view.

The menu is varied, and offers a choice of western or local style meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which we pick for the week. We decided to get two of each so we had more choice and we knew some of the local choices would be too spicy for our children. The portions are huge and contain fish, meat, vegetables and then rice or noodles. We haven’t been hungry here the whole time and have got to try several famous Singapore dishes. My favourite has to be Nasi Lemak for breakfast – coconut rice, anchovies, sambal chilli, peanuts, cucumber, boiled egg and a fried chicken wing. I imagine this is the Singapore version of a Full English – a comforting, home style meal.  We can also have deliveries to the hotel and friends and family dropped off several goody bags of snacks, fresh fruit and games. I even bought some bikinis and had them delivered to the room!

Nasi Lemak.

Throughout our time at the hotel, the staff have been so attentive. We receive a call each day to see how we we are and if we need anything. Fresh towels and bedding are delivered regularly and we could make use of the laundry service – something I will miss when we leave! Apart from the ‘not allowed out of the room’ part, it’s been a great stay so far! 

We had to have swab tests prior to leaving, the hotel arranged taxis for us and friendly security guards escorted us through the hotel – we had to use the service lifts as there are still holidaying guests staying at the hotel. Leaving the hotel was an emotional feeling, having been inside for so long in an air conditioned room, the fresh hot air was so welcome. As I sat in the taxi with the windows down, the wind on my face, taking in the tall buildings I realised that this is now my home, something we had been dreaming of for a few years now. I had a mask on and under that was the biggest smile. The taxi ride was soon over and I arrived at a large old school. We pulled onto the playground and I was escorted through winding ticker tape and long corridors of many closed doors with empty classrooms to the main assembly hall. Having worked in schools for many years it was quite eerie walking along the deserted halls. All the shutters on both sides of the hall were open and a cooling breeze passed through. A small queue of people nervously shuffled forward, one meter apart as per safe distancing regulations here, towards a check in desk. 

It was my turn for the swab test. I have a GP friend who I asked for advice and sympathy, I guess I was hoping she’d squash my fear of being sick during the test, but no such support came back. I had heard it can make you gag and even the thought of gagging makes me gag! By the time I was called to sit down my heart was already beating hard and the mask exasperated the feeling of not being able to breathe enough. Needless to say, at the point of seeing the swab I was feeling flustered, the two young men conducting the tests were patient and reassuring and let me take my time to compose myself. It was over in less than a minute! The test itself felt very strange, its a bit like when you get chlorine up your nose and it stings a bit. But worse. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, mind you. At least I didn’t throw up. I’ve heard other experiences of the tests being painful, but for my husband and I, it was alright. 

Another enjoyable taxi ride back gave me a chance to think. I’ve always considered myself a country girl, once upon a time a big city seemed daunting, but there is something so special about Singapore that makes it feel home to me. As a permanently cold person in the UK the year round heat here definitely was appealing. If you’ve been to Singapore before you’ll be familiar with the punctual, efficient and super clean MRT system – Mass Rapid Transport, which is the country’s under ground train system. Always on time and always immaculate. I first came to Singapore when our son was just one year old. A seat was always cleared for me on the train, making travelling with a child and shopping bags so much easier!

We received lots of messages asking how it’s going – being in a hotel for all this time. Honestly, it’s been easier than I would have thought. We brought lots of activities and new toys for the children to do which has also kept us busy. I think if I was here alone it would be quite difficult. I enjoy embroidery and have made a wall hanging for our new apartment. We’ve had some nice quality family time and really rested as we hadn’t realised how much energy relocating had taken out of us the past few months. I think it’s also been made easier by knowing we had an end date. Lock down in England felt never ending and while Coronavirus is still present in Singapore, they have a very good hold on it and numbers are low in the community. 

I cant wait to get out and explore and start making our apartment home. 

One thought on “A 5 Star Prison: Quarantine in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Singapore

  1. A great ‘prison.’ It’s wonderful to live a diverse life. To be able to share your experiences too is an ideal way to widen other’s horizons. Relocating isn’t for everyone but they can still be interested in your adventures.
    You have so much more to come – this is only the start.
    Mum x

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