I have had a love hate relationship with Singapore ever since I first visited 15 years ago. While the country is the perfect hub for exploring South East Asia and is in itself a fantastic melting pot of cultures, its order and restrictions were a bit too much for my free spirited self. They are however one of the reason why the country runs smoothly and efficiently, and that is a welcome change of pace if you have been traveling to nearby countries. For slow travelers coming from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, Singapore is the ideal location to R&R, get your blog up to date with high speed internet, buy cheap electronics and enjoy the convenience of modern amenities. This comes at a cost, as Singapore is considerably more expensive than its neighbors. But if you know where to look, you can still experience Singapore on a budget.
1. Getting there and around
Singapore is a fantastic hub to fly into. Air Asia, Tiger Air and JetStar Asia are the main low cost carriers, taking you all over the continent for a handful of dollars. As usual with low cost airlines, beware of added fees such as premium seating or luggage fees. Always compare with regular airlines, especially during holidays. When flying from further away, you can use the ITA Matrix that allows you to find in just one search the best fare from several departing airports, for any length of stay. For example, if you are in the US, you can look into flying from New York, Washington D.C. or Boston, for 14 to 21 days, and that site will let you know your best options in one click, saving you hours scouring the web for a deal. One caveat though, you can’t book directly via the matrix, so you need to go to another site to buy your flight. But since you know exactly what you need, it should be pretty straightforward. To get around, use the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) which is quick and easy to use. You get charged depending on how far you are going, and you can get an EZ-Link card for an additional discount. Singapore is also really nice to walk around, if you can deal with the heat.
As I mentioned previously, Singapore is a very expensive city. A dorm bed can cost you US$20-30 a night, although most come with AC and are really clean and comfortable. The cheapest ones are around Little India. But when you are used to paying under $10 for a room of your own in neighboring countries, it hurts. Slow travelers should look into renting via Airbnb, or sites who specialize in Singapore rentals, such as FlatsDB. Real estate has gotten so expensive in Singapore that most long term travelers just rent a room instead of a whole apartment. When looking for a place to stay for a few months, note that unlike in the US where real estate agents charge landlords to promote their listing, in Singapore tenants also have to fork out a finder’s fee to the agent, which is usually half a month’s rent per year, though it can vary depending on the price of the listing. One way to circumvent the fee is to have a look at local classifieds, many of which have a section for direct listing by owners without agent fees. Because sharing rooms is so common for tenants in Singapore, it has its own lingo that you’d better get used to. For example a common room doesn’t mean you have to share it with other people, just that the bathroom is shared. The room is all yours. And a master room is usually the largest common room.
3. Cheap eats
The cheapest way to eat in Singapore is at hawker centres or food courts. Every big building block has one and you can find every array of delicious food for a few dollars. Depending on the neighborhood you are in, that means Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian food and much more. The CBD is packed with hawker centres, the rest of Singapore generally has some that might not be open late at night.
There are tons of things to see and do around Singapore, from the beautiful Sentosa Island to Universal Studios or the Singapore Zoo. What I find happens with long term travel though, is once you have been to one attraction park, the excitement is not as much with the next one. So if any of these big ticket items is on your must see list, do a quick online search to see if you can get a discount coupon, or buy a pass for the main attractions and save a bundle on your visits. There are also many places that are free to experience around Singapore, such as the Gardens by the Bay, the Marina Barrage, the Merlion, and the many parks like Fort Canning or the Botanical Gardens. The Singapore City Gallery is free too, and displays information about the history of the country. At night, check out the city’s beautiful lights shows at Marina Bay Sands, the impressive Sultan Mosque and the free shows at Esplanade Theatre. Another great way to enjoy Singapore’s cultural diversity is through walking around its colorful neighborhoods like Chinatown, the Arab Quarter or Little India.
5. Stay out of trouble
Singapore is famously known for being a place where you get a fine for everything. Not so long ago, chewing gum was forbidden. While it seems like the ban on gum has been lifted, you still can’t chew in public transportation. You can’t drink your bottle of water there either. I got a fine for bringing in cigarettes. Back then, I used to bring a carton or two to my friends, in order to offset my traveling costs. Turns out in Singapore, you can only bring the pack you are smoking, it has to be open, and you can’t bring in a light either. That was an expensive lesson to learn. Singapore takes offenses to its laws very seriously, and that is what makes it such a safe and nice place to explore. So make sure you are aware of all the things you shouldn’t be doing, so it doesn’t cost you!