Traveling in Singapore
Singapore is a really unique place to visit in Asia. Most people are just passing through so they can check it off the list, but a few people like it enough that they have decided to stay awhile. There is a lot to see and do while in Singapore, but I would by lying if I said it wasn’t a really expensive place to be. The city is often called the “city of rules” or the “city of fines” because there are a lot of weird rules and fines for things you would never see elsewhere in Asia. That being said, we never got in trouble. We were also able to hangout for long enough to see a good deal of the area without spending too much money. Singapore is a pretty typical giant Asian city, but what makes it unique is the mix of different cultures that have come together to live and work there. There are mosques, churches, Hindu temples, and Buddhist temples scattered around the city. You can hear many different languages spoken while sitting on the subway. You can visit little India, China town, and Arab street all in an afternoon. Obviously, the cultural melting pot makes way for a lot of great food in Singapore. It also exposes you to many different cultures you may or may not have encountered yet in your travels.
The Cost of Travel In Singapore
Currency: The Singapore Dollar
Exchange Rate: $0.73 SGD = $1 US Dollar (2017)
ATMs: Yes. There are ATMS’s all over Singapore.
“Singa…you’re about to be poor”
We rarely have to stay in hostels as a couple because you can usually find your own room in a city for the same price as having to pay for two beds in a hostel. However, in Singapore the dorms were the only way we could make it work, as even the cheapest private rooms in town would’ve cost us about double what the hostels did. The cheapest hostel in town was $18 SGD /person /night. That’s about $15 usd which may not sounds crazy to some, but we’ve paid that much for our own private AirBnb apartment in Tokyo.
There is an insane tax on alcohol in Singapore because it used to be banned entirely. It’s surprising that their are tax laws in place with the goal of restricting alcohol consumption because walking around the city will show you that the downtown area is mostly bars and nightlife. Even at $15-$20 a drink, visitors and locals alike aren’t deterred from going out drinking. The cheapest convenience store beer is $4. I recommend you buy a bottle of something from the duty free of your departing airport before arriving in Singapore. You can only bring in one though, because they don’t want people bringing in more to sell and evade the tax.
The price of food is all over the place in Singapore. Most restaurants downtown are way nice and don’t have much to suit the backpacker budget. Typical dishes can cost anywhere from $20-$50 a plate. The saving grace is that there are Hawker Centers (food courts) all over where you can find great food that more closely resembles the prices in the rest of SE Asia. China town has one of the best but Little India has some great Indian food.
Public transportation is reasonable in Singapore. To take the subway from the airport to the heart of town only costs $2.50 SGD. You can take the bus pretty much anywhere in town for a $1-$2 as well. We took a city bus 12 stops outside of town and it was $1.60 SGD each. A bus from Singapore all the way into Melacca, Malaysia was $15 SGD/person and it was a really nice bus with AC and a movie.
Things To Do In Singapore
There are two different pretty exciting light shows that happen every night in town. The first is at the Gardens by the Bay, where the whole park is lit up like a Christmas parade at night anyways, and then at 7:45 pm every night they have a synchronized light show to music with the large tree structures. It is free to walk around the park and watch the show. It only costs money if you want to go inside the conservatories or up on the walkway between the trees. Neither are worth the money from what I heard.
After the you walk around the Gardens by the Bay a bit in the evening, you can watch the big water fountain show on the other side of the building in the bay. At 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm every night there is a spectacular light and fountain show set to music. The whole thing only last 15 minutes but it is seriously crazy. They put video projections onto the water mist and have the whole thing synced up to music. It is also totally free and definitely a must for anyone spending time in Singapore.
China town is a popular area to visit in Singapore. There is a great Hawker Center there that is full of great Chinese food for cheap. You can also just walk around the streets and look at all of the shops and people. It is mostly souvenir shops but it is nice to see anything in Singapore that is being sold at a reasonable price. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is a big attraction in China town. It is free to enter and is a great place to spend an afternoon. The first floor is the temple which has a great gold plated Buddha carved from an ancient Taiwanese Crypress tree. The 3rd floor has a great free museum full of different Buddhist artifacts from around Asia. The 4th floor has the tooth relic. This is the 2nd Buddha tooth relic I have visited. It is a bit underwhelming to say the least, but the experience is still fun. The top floor has a nice garden on the roof top. Unfortunately, there are walls up surrounding the garden so there isn’t a nice view or anything but there is a massive rotating bell that can be spun while reciting mantras.
Little India is a fun part of town to hangout in too. There are some great shops selling import goods from India and a couple of cool Hindu temples. Certain streets really do feel like being transported right over to India. The food is the best thing about it though. There are many different curry houses serving great regional dishes from India. My best advice is to just make sure the restaurant you pick has a bathroom you would’t mind getting real close and personal with.
Arab street is the other slice of culture from across the globe. Here you can find fine Persian rug stores, hookah bars, and restaurants from Lebanon, Turkey, and more. Many of the people around Arab street are Malaysian or Indonesian, but there are some transplants from the middle east there as well.
Hawker Centers are the large food courts you will find scattered around Singapore. China Town has a good one but there are plenty more to choose from. Sometimes they have nicer restaurants in them, such as the food courts in the malls. Others are more standalone covered areas or even outdoor areas that have small booths and tents selling food. Hawker Centers are a great way to see the diversity of the culture in Singapore through the various cuisines offered. The best part about them is that they are super cheap. A typical meal may cost between $2-3 US dollars.
Henderson Waves Bridge is one of many unique bridges in a hiking area just outside of the city. It is a great break from the city and relaxing way to remind yourself of what the region actually looks like outside of the concrete jungle. The trails go all over into the woods and through some nice park areas too. A good portion is raised up high in the tree canopy so you get a great view looking down and all around you. Entrance is free and it only cost 1.60 SGD to get there by bus. The ride takes about 30 minutes from China town on bus 51.