South East Asia is one of the world’s cheapest regions to travel in, but with one exception – Singapore.
This small city island state is South East Asia’s success story and has been described as a microcosm of Asia. Singapore combines modern skyscrapers and futuristic architecture with colonial history, international cuisine, a tropical climate and a taste of different Asian cultures and religions in a clean, organised, slick air conditioned comfort.
Unlike some of the more rough and tumble regions of South East Asia, Singapore offers a great introduction to the region, perfect for a first time visitor to Asia. However Singapore is not a budget destination, it’s actually also one of the most expensive cities in the world. But efficient public transport system and lack of hassle at the airport (The Singapore Electronic Arrival Card, which replaced the traditional paper-based system, is a great way to avoid the long wait times at border security) means the clean and compact city is easy to explore interdependently and can give you an insight into many different cultures in one day.
With a bit of planning it’s possible to experience Singapore even on a shoestring budget.
Practical Singapore Money Saving Tips
Stay in Hostels.
In the rest of South East Asia private rooms are affordable but in Singapore staying in a hostel is the best option to save money. There are plenty of modern, clean hostels for about $20 – $25. Chose one near to the MRT system to enable you to get around easily without shelling out for taxis.
For more information on hostels in Singapore click here
Don’t Be Afraid to Drink the Tap Water
Leave your boozy nights out for Thailand or Bali.Unlike the rest of South East Asia the tap water in Singapore is safe to drink and filling up a bottle before you head out to sightsee will save you money when it costs $3 to buy a bottle of mineral water.
Drinking in Singapore is expensive – on par with Australia expensive no 50 cent beers here! If you really want a drink the food courts or hawker centers are your best bet for a beer around $6 or look out for happy hour promotions. Wednesdays and Thursdays are usually Ladies Nights in Singapore so you can try to get free entry and drinks.
Use Public Transport.
Get a EZ- Link card for the MRT which will save you money rather than paying for each individual trip about ($2) but don’t buy the Singapore Tourist Card unless you use the MRT 5 – 6 times a day you won’t get your money’s worth.
Eat in Food Courts.
Eating out can also be expensive. Some hostels will have kitchens so you can cook your own food or head to the food courts in malls and hawker centers that offer a awesome taste of Singaporean life and a huge variety of cheap and delicious food (about $4 – $7) in a buzzy environment. China Town has a great food street.
Singapore Sightseeing on a Shoestring
To get your bearings take a FREE walking tour with Singapore Footprints. Meeting at 4.15pm at Raffles MRT Station they share history and Singaporean tales as they take you through old and new Singapore and to some more hidden places. If you enjoyed the tour it’s polite to tip.
Culture and Temples
One of the joys in Singapore, and the thing I love the most, is the multiculturalism. It can feel like you are in many countries in one day so make sure to check out all the different districts. Shun the expensive hop on hop off buses or tours and use the MRT and your feet to wander around and take in the different areas.
Explore colourful Little India where chanting and the smell of sandalwood radiates from colourful Hindu temples covered in small sculptures of the pantheon of blue coloured Hindu gods and, especially at weekends, the streets bustle with shops selling saris, Bollywood DVDs and bangles and enjoy delicious South Indian food.
Kampong Glam, the Muslim district is best explored in the evening while the call to prayers wafts out from the impressive Sultan Mosque – the largest in Singapore, with it’s huge, golden, onioned dome and towering minarets. If you cover up and go outside prayer times, its possible to go inside. Wander the quaint streets of colourful, restored shop houses around the mosque with dress shops showing off a magnitude of different fabrics to be made to measure and Arabic restaurants serving middle eastern cuisines and hookah pipes.
China Town also has a different character, explore the narrow lanes of historic and restored Chinese shop fronts decorated with red lanterns and try haggling for a bargain amongst the many souvenir stalls. There is also an awesome food court here with so many delicious and relatively cheap Chinese dishes to be tried the hardest part is choosing which one.
There are also many temples of differing religions in Singapore to visit: In Chinatown, the imposing wooden Buddha Tooth Relic Temple where the tooth of the Buddha is reputedly kept and the oldest Hindu Temple Sri Mariamman complete with colourful gopura and lounging cow statues is also here.
The Kong Meng San Phor Kark See is a sprawling, stunning working monastery housed in 12 buildings with dragon topped pagodas, a bell and drum tower, statues, and various halls and FREE vegetarian meals are also served in the dining hall and also try to check out the amazingly kitsch Haw Par Villa featuring scenes from Chinese legends and mythology or visit Thian Hock Keng, Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple from 1839.
Explore Singapore’s history through the colonial heritage in the downtown civic or colonial district. Visit grand colonial structures like Raffles Hotel, Asian Civilizations Museum, City Hall and the Arts House (the former Parliament House) and learn about their stories. Pop into Fullerton Hotel, which used to be Singapore’s General Post Office to admire the pristine restorations of the colonial-era architecture.
Also, wander along the river by Clark Quay, which comes alive at night, starting from Raffles Place and enjoying the contrast between colourful old shophouses and towering skyscrapers.
Visiting the Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling will set you back about $30 but popping your head into this Singapore icon is highly recommended but dress smartly as flip flops and shorts will make you unwelcome. There is also a small FREE museum.
Make sure to pay a visit to Merlion, the symbol of Singapura – Lion City. Merlion stands proud by the waterside welcoming visitors from the sea as it has done since 1972, with his lion face and mermaid tail against a backdrop of modern, international offices showcasing the success of modern Singapore.
The Great Outdoors
Enjoy Singapore’s tropical climate in Singapore’s FREE parks, walking trails and nature reserves.
The lush botanic gardens, a green, respite from mall lined Orchard Road. Founded in 1859 by the British, the Botanic Gardens hold a host of exotic plants and is a nice space to people watch and relax in the quiet green space.
Historic Fort Canning Park, once the centre of the British administration and technically Singapore’s first botanic gardens. The central, hillside location of Fort Canning overlooks central Singapore and contains some historical sites.
Even if you can’t afford the resorts and theme parks of Sentosa you can still enjoy a day on the beach for free soaking up Singapore’s tropical climate. You can also swim, chill, BBQ and camp (with a permit) for FREE at the East Coast Park.
If you’re feeling energetic the best walking trail is along The Southern Ridges Trail through the gently sloping hills of Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah, Kent Ridge and Hort parks through the lush greenery and over canopies being rewarded with panoramic views over the city or climb to a 250m suspension bridge that soars above the rainforest canopy on the 8km Treetop Walk in MacRitchie Reservoir Park.
There are some great galleries and museums but most charge about $10 admission for foreigners. If you’re a museum buff you could buy a 3 day pass for $20 to save money or look out for special free events or money saving evenings.
A visit to the Asian Civilizations Museum will help you understand a bit more about the mixture of different cultures represented in Singapore and the rest of Asia. It’s normally $8 but on Friday its open till 9pm and is half price after 7pm. Learn about the unique culture of the Peranakans’s (Straits Chinese) in the Peranakan Museum which also offers the same half price deal.
The National Museum’s permanent collection housed in a lovely, grand colonial building costs $10 but the excellent Living Galleries are FREE to visit, the highlight is the food gallery that will inspire you to try some of Singapore’s famous hawker dishes.
If art is more your thing then marvel at some contemporary art for FREE at Gillman Barracks a former army camp that now houses 13 galleries of international Art in its colonial-era buildings.
Admire the view of the expensive Marina Bay Sands hotel, from in front of the hotel you also have a good viewpoint to enjoy the FREE sound and light show in the evenings that illuminates the hotel and bay every evening at 8pm and 9.30pm for almost 15 mins telling a story with state-of-the-art lasers in a water and light show spectacle.
The famous durian-shaped icon of Singapore – The Esplanade – often has FREE events on like performances, art exhibitions and live music by the riverside and you could also enjoy FREE concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Bring a picnic and enjoy the atmosphere at the Classics at the Park sessions at the Botanic Gardens.
Experience the FREE other worldly landscapes of the illuminated Gardens by the Bay. This new billion dollar Gardens by the Bay is no normal garden. Look upwards at the Supertrees – giant, artificial trees, that can use solar energy to light themselves at night and harvesting rain water to irrigate the surrounding plants but beware that if you want to go inside the conservatories, walk on the elevated walkway between the trees or to the bar on top then you’ll have to pay.
Singapore is also a perfect introduction for first timer visitors to Asia and with a bit of planning and this guide to enjoying Singapore on a shoestring there’s no need to skip this modern island metropolis just because you’re on a budget. Allow a few days to enjoy the modern, clean, air conditioned bliss, explore the different cultures and amazing diversity of food and witness South East Asia’s success story.
Will you be going to Singapore soon? Ask Anna a Question in the comments below.
Anna is a writer, dreamer and travel addict with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and adventure. She bring cultures, places and iconic sights from her indefinite journey around India, South East Asia and Australia at www.global-gallivanting.com to inspire you to also stop dreaming, start exploring and go gallivanting.