As the most developed country in Southeast Asia, my weekend in Singapore was a complete 180 from my life in Indonesia. With 40% of Singapore’s population being foreigners and ex-pats, Westerners abound; people are busy in shopping malls, running in Cross Fit groups, or golfing at places with names like “Laguna National Golf & Country Club.” Even the streets rival the best of Florida’s ritzy Fort Lauderdale: Beach Road, Marine Parade Road, and my personal favorite, Race Course Road, which is no more than an alley that is small enough to potentially accommodate a group of competitive racing cats.
Oh, Singapore- clean, law-abiding, efficient Singapore! Or perhaps more aptly named, Singaboutbeingpoor, because such a calm and productive place comes at a price, and I can sing about how poor it can make you. If only I could afford to get into the karaoke bar to sing at all.
I’m only kind of kidding.
It’s not that expensive, relatively speaking, because prices are about as much as in the UK, Australia or the United States. What makes it seem pricey is that it’s smack in the middle of a dozen developing countries where full meals are under $5 and a nice hotel can go for $20 a night. So naturally, it not only feels like you’re paying an arm and a leg, but that you’re also sacrificing your first born and namesake just to buy a taco.
But Singapore worked hard to become a highly developed nation and now every hedge is neatly trimmed with pride, traffic flows flawlessly, and salaries fully support families and then some. It is important to bear in mind that the whole country is about 150 square miles, and maintaining a country the size of a penny is much easier than in, say, Indonesia, where 250 million people live across 18,000 islands spanning 1,000 miles from east to west. And while we’re at it, let’s just take a second to consider that Singapore is filled with enough law-abiding citizens to ban the chewing of gum, and is also small enough to somehow actually enforce it. Now that’s impressive.
Signs of Singapore:
But have no fear my friends because Singapore CAN be done on a budget, as one little travel-savvy lady can attest to (ahem, muah).
WHERE TO STAY
Little India is an area that is home to many cheap hostels (~$15/night), and if you’re a sucker for heavy exposure to incense and the smell of tika masala, then you’re in for a real treat.
WHAT TO EAT
Nothing, just starve. However, if you do insist on participating in life-sustaining activities, such as eating, then I recommend snacks at convenience stores and meals in small cafes. Admittedly I did splurge on delicious Indian food at The Curry House one night and the taste more than made up for the price, which came to $22 for just me (and I chose the cheap stuff). I also enjoyed A.R.C. Cafe.
Walk, duhhhhh. One afternoon I did a nice little loop of around 8 miles or so to hit all the must-see sights in the downtown area. To be honest, crossing at large intersections can be tricky here and you’re supposed to use the underground tunnels, but I used them once and vowed to never make such a terrible mistake again. Apparently there is an entire secret underground matrix of shops, restaurants and people that it becomes absolutely impossible NOT to get lost within the mix. I legitimately could not find my way back to street level for a solid 30 minutes, but by some form of magic I finally popped into a random hotel via a side door in their lobby, some six blocks from the road I initially crossed. Besides the miracle of emerging from the deep abyss of Singapore was that I was still somehow going in the direction I had intended. Thank god for small miracles. After that incident I began dashing across streets, which I was hesitant to do considering that if gum is illegal then surely so is jaywalking, but I’d rather get arrested than lost in that dreadfully disorienting underground web of misery. The only exception to my newfound underground rule is the MRT, their subway system, which is pretty simple to use and costs about $1-$3.
WHAT TO SEE (aka all the free things)
This is the little loop, or not so “little” depending on your inclination to walk, that I did.
1. SRI MARIAMMAN TEMPLE
If you’ve never seen a Hindu temple, then maybe you’d think it’s cool, but if you have, skip it because it’s not all that impressive. And if you’re Hindu, don’t hate me for hating on your temple.
2. BUDDAH’S TOOTH RELIC TEMPLE
Big place. Ooh, dragons.
Shiny objects everywhere.
Who named this temple?
-Buddah’s Tooth, a Haiku
3. THIAN HOCK KENG TEMPLE
I succumbed to temple fatigue on my last trip to Asia, so I was surprise when I actually enjoyed this small Buddhist temple, which is dedicated to Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the sea. Not only was it decked out for the upcoming Chinese New Year, but it also provided information about different Buddhist beliefs and their deities. I usually do nothing more than glide around ooh-ing and ahh-ing at shiny things in temples, so it was nice to actually have a little background information available to accompany my shiny-object amusement this time around.
4. MERLION PARK
“Merlion” is exactly what it sounds like: a mermaid lion, which is possibly the weirdest combination of things I can think of when it comes to creating a nationwide mascot, but these odd little guys are adored by Singaporeans. There are seven merlion statues throughout the country, but the most famous is obviously at Merlion Park.
5. GARDENS BY THE BAY
Equally as large as it is green, this free park is a nice area to roam around. To get into the flower domes, butterfly gardens or skywalks you have to pay a few dollars, and since I’ve seen butterflies and flowers before in my life I decided to pass, but even so, it was nice to just mosey around.
6. THE ESPLANADE
Home to a fabulous coconut stand selling coconut ice cream inside – wait for it – a coconut shell. It was truly a delight.
7. STREET ART
I was on the hunt for street art but was rudely interrupted by a torrential downpour, so naturally I went to take a nap at the hostel instead. I did see a few murals and other goodies though, but I hear there are some real gems out there yet to be discovered. I especially enjoyed stumbling on a random park of colorful cows.
Fruit-shaped architecture, buildings in the shape of lotus flowers, boats on top of towers… need I go on?
8. OBSERVATORY DECK
This is a hidden treasure to be relished by all my fellow poor folk! In ION Orchard Mall is the free observatory deck (head to the Art gallery on the 4th level and you’ll find the elevators to go up to the 55th floor). It’s only open from 3pm-6pm, with the last elevator at 5:30, so plan accordingly.
AND THE NOT SO FREE THING
MARINA SANDS ROOFTOP BAR
I don’t actually recommend this 100%, but I also don’t regret going. So maybe, like, 72% of me encourages someone to go? In any case, about 20 of us from the hostel decided to make our way over to the rooftop bar at easily the most expensive hotel in Singapore. Marina Sands is the iconic building comprised of three towers complete with a boat laying across the top of them all, because what else do you put atop of buildings besides things that belong in the sea? A very humble bit of architecture, truly.
Overall it was a fun night, but definitely a did-it-once-and-once-is-good kind of place. Not only is there a dress code, but it was the most expensive drink I’ve ever ordered, coming in hot at a whopping $27. Don’t worry, I kept the receipt as a sort of memento to that one time I was an idiot in Singapore and paid a ridiculous amount for a mediocre mojito with a semi-decent view. Luckily the $20 entrance fee to get up can be applied towards your order, but naturally nothing is under $20.
So there you have it, a cheap traveler’s guide to Singapore in 36 hours!
PIN FOR LATER: