We’re moving pretty fast this trip. During our last jaunt around Southeast Asia, our time frame didn’t have a solid expiration date. This gave us the luxury of staying places for more days than most, and allowed us to have a fairly flexible itinerary. This time, however, we only have three months. This means our itinerary is pretty air tight, and we’re hopping around every two to three days. I will admit it’s tiring, but so far it’s been worth it.
Our first new stop on the trip was Singapore. We met up with our friend Crystal, who we met while working at a hostel in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
She’s a native Singaporean, so we were lucky enough to have a free tour guide during our stay! Here are a few quick tips about where to eat, and what to see while visiting Singapore!
Getting into the City:
Singapore has a fantastic MRT system that takes you straight from the airport into the heart of the city center. Make your way to either Terminal 2 or 3 and catch the train from there. You can purchase both single use tickets as well as multi day passes at the airport station.
*TIP* The machines selling single use tickets only accept cash, so make sure you have some on hand. There are ATMs located throughout the airport, and in the MRT terminal. The window selling multi day passes does accept MasterCard, and you can return them within five days of purchase to reclaim your deposit of $10 Singapore Dollars.
We did take Uber on the way back to Changi and it was still a very cheap option. In general we used a mix of Uber and the MRT to get around Singapore.
Where to Stay:
Accommodation in Singapore can be expensive. There are hostels, but according to our friend Crystal, it’s often just as cost efficient to look into AirBnB or a hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Little India. It was one of the many hotel stays on this trip that we booked for free due to a little travel hacking. To learn how to stay in Singapore for free yourself, have a look at Anthony’s write up here!
I would highly recommend Little India for most budget to midrange travelers. There were several hostels as well as midrange hotels, and it’s easy to get around via the MRT.
The legendary Tekka Hawker Centre is one of the best places to eat in the city, and the neighborhood has such a fantastic cultural vibe. It’s a great place to explore for a few days.
Midrange—Hilton Garden Inn
Luxury—Marina Bay Sands
Where to Eat:
Singapore is known for its legendary hawker stalls. They’re basically food courts for street food. The three majority ethnic groups living in Singapore are Chinese, Indian, and Malay, which means that each cultural pocket (Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam) has its own hawker stalls and food centers. These hawker centers are where you’ll find some of the cheapest (and best) food in the city. Singapore can be quite pricey, so take advantage of the amazing street food scene, and save your money for other things.
The hawker stalls themselves can be hectic, so the best course of action is to divide and conquer. Have one person find seats while the rest line up for food. People sit where they can so expect to share your table with strangers.
*TIP* Locals will often leave umbrellas, packets of tissues, or business cards at seats to save them. This is a completely acceptable method of saving your seat, so if you have some little trinket to use go ahead and do as the locals do!
Make sure to try as many dishes as you can! The sheer amount of choices might seem overwhelming, but you’re unlikely to leave disappointed regardless of what you end up choosing. The food is authentic, fast, delicious, and cheap!
What to Do:
There are no shortage of itinerary fillers in Singapore. There are museums, attractions, shopping, and, of course, the food. Singapore always gets a reputation as being an unaffordable city, but the truth is, it can be enjoyed on a variety of budgets. There are ways to keep costs down for those pinching pennies, and plenty of luxury for the big spenders. Choose what interests you most, and go from there! Food is important to us (obviously), and we’re not HUGE museum people, so we went with a free walking tour and Gardens by the Bay as our two big activities.
The free walking tour was of Chinatown. They offer the tour twice a week, and do a tour of Little India twice a week as well. Free walking tours are a favorite of ours because the tour guides are always charismatic and knowledgeable (they do work on tips), and often locals which means we get a true local perspective. Our tour of Chinatown was no exception. Information for the free walking tour we used can be found here.
Gardens by the Bay is an absolute must see in Singapore. The nature park has become an iconic part of the city, and is an impressive installation that also educates its visitors on the importance of conservation.
There are multiple attractions, but based on the advice of our guides, Crystal and Jack, we went with The Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.
Both of these exhibits were incredible, and we could have easily spent all day at Gardens by the Bay. There are literally endless photo opportunities. It’s just that stunning.
*TIP* Tickets can be purchased at the Gardens themselves, however, Crystal showed us a little money saving trick. At the Chinatown MRT stop exit out of the People’s Park exit (C) and enter the shopping mall just next to it. On the third floor you can visit a travel agency where you can purchase the tickets for a discount! Regular priced tickets were $28 SGD but we paid $18 SGD, which is the advertised price for Singaporean residents. So, have lunch at Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown, head over to a travel agency to buy your tickets, then head to the gardens!
You can also wander around the grounds of the Gardens by the Bay for free! At night they’re lit up and completely breathtaking. This is also the perfect place for a full view of the infamous Marina Bay Sands!
One thing that does live up to its expensive reputation in Singapore is alcohol. A beer will set you back at least 10 USD, and cocktails are even more pricey. You won’t find the typical backpacking party goers here. That being said, Singapore has a really cool night life, and some seriously swanky bars. If you’re going to drink, I’d recommend dressing up and sipping a few cocktails at one of these fancy establishments.
We decided to check out Atlas for our fancy night out, and it was incredible. The decor is an art deco theme, complete with a 30 ft high tower of assorted gins, and feels like a scene directly out of The Great Gatsby.
Atlas is known for their wide array of gins, however, there is something to please every palate. Allegedly if you purchase a certain bottle of gin an angel will fly up to the top of the bar and retrieve it for you, but this was sadly out of our budget. Since we were full from all the street food we’d had we didn’t sample any of the tapas offered, however, if they’re up to the same standard as their cocktails I’m sure they wouldn’t disappoint.
So there you have it! A few tips for your quick trip to Singapore. We got lucky with our two friends playing tour guide, but the city is very easy to navigate even for the solo traveler. Take advantage of the amazing street food scene, cheap efficient public transportation, and make sure to take in an attraction or two.
It is a beautiful city, and lives up to its reputation for being clean and modern, however, there is still plenty of culture to be found. Get lost in Little India or Chinatown, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.