7 tips for Singaporeans going to Fiji

7 tips for Singaporeans going to Fiji
PHOTO: Eng Jia Ling

Fiji Airways launched their direct flight from Singapore to Fiji on April 6, 2016, and they will fly from Singapore Changi Airport twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Finally, fellow Singaporeans, it'll now take us only 10 hours to get to the crystal waters and white sandy beaches of the South Pacific country, with more than 300 islands to explore.

I received a phone call from a very dear friend saying that he won tickets to Fiji and none of his other friends could make it.

Obviously I jumped at the chance.

We spent a good nine days in Fiji which I loved every minute of it.

While I was there, I received several messages from my friends saying that they have booked the flight, and questions on getting around came rolling in.

So here are seven little tips that could potentially save you some money or make your experience a better one:

1. Currency

Fijian Dollar (FJD) is used everywhere. Some places do accept USD (but check beforehand). Resorts and bigger shops accept credit cards, but most of them incur an additional two to three per cent on top of your usual transaction fee. I heard that some ultra high-end luxurious resorts only accept credit cards, they will usually write this on their official website when you make the reservations.

I was pretty busy before my trip, so my Dad actually managed to find some money changers in Raffles Places that do exchanges from SGD to FJD. Do take note the rates are pretty bad because it's a pretty rare currency here.

After some reading online, my buddy and I decided to bring USD and do the exchanging there instead. You can do so either at the airport, or the banks at the main towns. We ended up exchanging in a bank at Pacific Harbour due to time constraints. However, the USD to FJD rates weren't the best.

But here's what I discovered:

I ran out of cash on the last few days of my trip, and to avoid the credit card surcharge, I decided to withdraw cash from the ATM at my hostel instead. Do note that here you pay S$5 for the Visa transaction fee and 10FJD for Fiji bank's transaction fee. The rate was actually slightly better than doing the SGD - USD - FJD transaction. It is also much more convenient.

2. What to do if your flight lands past midnight?

If you're taking the direct flight via Fiji Airways, your flight will probably be scheduled to land at 12:20AM in Fiji, or later if there are any delays. Depending on your budget, there are quite a few options to explore the island.

What we did:

We wanted to go to Pacific Harbour as soon as we can so I could get my diving license sorted. But it would take us almost 3 hours to get there by car. Going by taxi or by the resort-arranged transfer was too expensive, so we ended up booking a private room in Bamboo Backpacker's to spend the night. It's about 10-15min drive from the airport, and is in Wailoaloa.

The hostel was an affordable, lovely place and we even went back towards the end of our trip! The staff were were supposed to provide a free airport transfer, but they didn't turn up. I found out later on that they thought we were arriving the night before and headed to the airport only to find we weren't there.

Note: Be very clear in your instructions, double and triple check with them if you must when you arrange for your transfer. We ended up taking a taxi which cost us 20FJD (15 + 5 for tip), not expensive at all for a past midnight ride.

Alternatives: Depending on the location of your resort, you can definitely arrange for a transfer. If it's in Nadi, it could be free. If it's too far off as in our case, expect the transfer to be pretty pricey. If you are adventurous enough and willing to take the risk, there is actually a bus scheduled at 3:45am by Sunbeam/Sunset bus operator which goes into Nadi town all the way past Pacific Harbour and to Suva.

3. Duty-Free

Our Fijian friends we met on the plane highly recommended that we buy some liquor from the duty-free store in the airport. Other than the additional weight my buddy had to carry, no complaints really.

Alcohol brings people together, and here we got it cheap! We got a bottle of gin and a bottle of pretty strong but smooth Fijian Bounty Rum. Offered it to some locals, and some backpackers we met, and "bought" our way to new friendships.

4. SIM Card

Do not get the tourist SIM Cards from the airport, unless you really can't live one night without it. They are way too overpriced. Get them from the Digicel or Vodafone counters in Nadi town or any other main towns. (The people at the airport were really nice though. They helped us call the hostel when there was no one there to pick us up. Plus points to Fijian hospitality!)

Wifi signals even at the hostel was pretty bad. At certain resorts, you have to pay for it. We figured it was more worth it to get a local SIM card just in case.

Based on recommendation from a Fijian friend whom we met at the airport, we bought a Digicel SIM Card at Nadi main bus station the next morning.

We paid 7FJD for: SIM Card, unlimited calls and texts to all Digicel numbers and 750mb of data - which surprising lasted really long. The plan only lasts for seven days, but you can top-up credit to reactivate the same package again, from Digicel counters and convenience stores. I even bought mine at the refreshment counter on the ferry ride with South Sea Cruises.

5. Transport

Buses are pretty cheap and easy to get around in. You just have to ask around for the right one. A 30min bus ride from my hostel to Nadi town costs 1.10FJD. A 3-hour bus ride from Nadi town to Pacific Harbour costs 11.30FJD. A 45-min bus ride from Pacific Harbour to Suva costs 5FJD. Do not expect the return trip to cost the same, but they should be pretty similar.

Some taxis run by the meter, some don't. Always check the price before you hop on.

A lot of travellers spend quite a bit of time on the Mamanuca Island or Yasawa Island clusters. We spent quite a bit of time in Pacific Harbour. When we finally decided to leave, we had only two nights left.

Awesome Adventures Fiji provides the charter to the islands . For us, the transfer was not worth it if we were going to spend only two nights on the islands. The ferry ride costs 200-360FJD on the return trip, depending on how far the islands are. They also have flexible island hopping passes. Definitely on my checklist the next time I go to Fiji!

6. Scams

Fijians are really really really beautiful, kind and sweet people. But unfortunately, there are always a handful of black sheep amongst the nice majority.

When we were in Suva heading to the local handicraft market, a man approached us. He seemed really friendly, like the typical Fijians you see around. He brought us to the handicraft market and left us there.

Not sure if it was a coincidence, but we saw him again when we left the market. He asked for my name and carved it onto this wooden sculpture - I did not expect that!. He moved on to my buddy and our Japanese friend and then demanded for money. Eventually we each gave him 10FJD for the handicraft and left.

We also got approached quite a bit in Nadi town. They would come up to us, telling us that they would bring us to the local handicraft market. We weren't sure if this was a scam or not, hence politely refused and insisted that we had somewhere else to go and will visit the market later on, on our own. Good thing they did not hang around or pester us.

7. Fijian language

Most Fijians speak pretty good English. But their native language is still Fijian.

"C" is pronounced as "th". "Q" is pronounced as "ng".

Bula! - Hello

Vinaka - Thank you

Vinaka Vakalevu - Thank you very much

Sota tale (sota ta-leh) - See you again

Moce (mo-they) - Bye

Nadi (nan-di) - Nadi town, Nadi International Airport

Mamanuca (ma-ma-nu-tha) - Island

Beqa (Beng-ah) - Beqa Lagoon, Pacific Harbour, good for the shark dives

The Fijian hospitality is infectious. Wherever you go, Fijians will acknowledge and say hi to you with a loud and smiling "BULA!". You are expected to reply them with a genuine "Bula" too!

You might only be there for a vacation and we can be highly skeptical people when we travel. Just remember to be very mindful of your belongings but don't forget to make new friends and experience the real Fijian culture!

Vinaka vakalevu for reading, and sota tale! Hope this helped you in some way or another.

Jia Ling is a self-professed professional beach-bum and freelance events planner. Read more about her travels here

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