Fly Into This Southeast Asian Airport For A Look At The World's Largest Indoor Waterfall

Unless you're a devoted plane-watcher, the airport can often just be an antiseptic place that you pass through on the way to your real travel destination. Sure, you might get stuck in one during a long layover, but it takes a special kind of airport to serve as its own tourist attraction. In the U.S., Denver International Airport has become known for its public art — and the elaborate web of conspiracy theories surrounding it. However, it's an airport in Southeast Asia that really takes things up a notch and positions itself as a living green artwork of sorts.

The full name of Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore makes it sound like a separate travel hub, the crown jewel of airports, globally. In a way, that's true. Jewel is a domed, nature-themed retail complex that almost transports the visitor to another world within Singapore Changi Airport. The airport itself had already won an international architecture award and been designated "the world's best airport" even before it opened the new Jewel addition in 2019.

That year, Singapore welcomed a record 19 million inbound tourists. Some, perhaps, were still riding the wave of interest that 2018's popular Singapore-set film, "Crazy Rich Asians," helped drum up. During the pandemic, however, tourist numbers bottomed out at 330,000, leaving Singapore more of a virtual vacation, to be experienced vicariously through Instagram. Until now, many potential visitors were left looking in from the outside at Jewel's stunning centerpiece, the world's tallest indoor waterfall, the Rain Vortex.

Visit the HSBC Rain Vortex in Singapore Changi Airport

The Rain Vortex, sponsored by HSBC Bank, is 40 meters (over 130 feet) tall. Even if you don't have time to visit it, you might see it from the train between terminals in Singapore Changi Airport. However, as the train passes through the greenhouse-like Jewel, just the sight of this towering waterfall might make you realize you need to make time to see it up close.

True to its name, the Rain Vortex collects natural rainwater when it storms in Singapore, funneling it down into the dome at a rate of 10,000 gallons per minute. The water is channeled through a system of pipes into the oculus, the round opening in the dome's glass roof. From there, it cascades down seven stories: four floors above-ground, and three basement levels. The water is regularly recycled, while any overflow is drained or used to help irrigate plants.

Though it occasionally shuts down for cleaning, the Rain Vortex is usually open every day from at least 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a Light & Sound show taking place at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. On Friday through Sunday and public holidays, it opens one hour earlier, at 10 a.m., with a third and final Light & Sound show happening at 10 p.m. From now until March 2024, you can also see the trees around the Rain Vortex respond to passersby with changing colors in the teamLab digital art collective's interactive "Resonating Forest."

The adventure continues inside and outside Jewel

While it's actually a city-state, Singapore is referred to variously as the Garden City and the City in a Garden. (It's also sometimes jokingly called the Fine City since chewing gum is banned and could result in a heavy fine.) Accessible via link bridges and shuttle buses from all four terminals in Singapore Changi Airport, Jewel is a place that lives up to the "garden" reputation.

The Rain Vortex is surrounded by shops and the Shiseido Forest Valley, a four-story garden with over 900 trees and plants and around 60,000 shrubs. The garden even has its own walking trails, where you can spend half an hour hiking up to the Canopy Park playground on the top level. In Canopy Park, there's a topiary walk, hedge maze, bouncing net, and other ticketed attractions.

As a gateway to Singapore, the airport previews the aesthetic of other local attractions, too. Moshe Safdie, the architect of another major landmark, the Marina Bay Sands resort, led the design consultant team behind Jewel. In the Marina Bay Sands, you can also see "Digital Light Canvas," another piece of public art designed by teamLab. The art collective is also responsible for the permanent "Future World" exhibition in the ArtScience Museum, housed in a white structure that resembles a blooming flower beside the resort's three towers. Apart from that, you can see more natural greenery of the tropical Jewel type in places like the TreeTop Walk and Southern Ridges hiking trails in Singapore.