You’ve just booked a flight to the wonderful city-state of Singapore. Congrats! You’re about to visit one of the most sophisticated and multicultural cities in the world, with an intriguing tropical climate and a modern way of living that makes it an absolute haven for backpackers looking for a respite from the chaos of other parts of Asia.
So what do you need to know?
Well, first things first: Singapore is one of the easiest places to get around on public transport, and for quite good prices too. There’s a network of trains all around the city, including to and from the airport, and a monorail that takes you down and around to the island of Sentosa (which I’ll tell you about later) – which is especially great if you’re a slightly anxious solo traveller. Assuming that your accommodation is in the city then you can get an Airport Shuttle (which you don’t need to pre-book) that will drop you off right at your door; so you don’t have to stress about getting all hot and bothered on public transport, lumbering your backpack for miles from your bus stop to your hostel door. And what’s more, the shuttle only costs (SGD) $9 pp, one way (or $15 return). (If you’re flying into/out of Singapore between 11pm-6am then the easiest and cheapest way to get to or from the airport is by Uber – not taxi/train.)
When it comes to accommodation it’s all about location, location, location! Despite the fab transport system it’s still nice to be able to walk to wherever it is that you want to go, and so finding a hostel/hotel that’s in the heart of the city is, in my opinion, absolutely key.
Where did I stay?
I picked a little hostel right in the ‘Downtown Core’ (2 minutes from Chinatown and a metro station, approx.. a 30 minute walk to Marine Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay), called 5footway.inn Project Ann Siang. Now, when hunting for accommodation I did find that everything was on the more expensive side, and so a room in a four bedroom dorm still cost me $24 SGD – which is still cheap in comparison to Australia/UK, but for Asia it’s quite dear so that’s something to bare in mind when budgeting. But our little dorm was completely perfect, with bunk bed ‘pods’ that give you lot’s of privacy with a curtain across the front, your own shelf and power socket, and air con to ensure that you’re actually able to get to sleep despite the 30 degree heat. I was very happy with our choice of hostel so would definitely recommend.
Where did I eat?
On our first night in Singapore we managed to get royally ripped off with our meal (we blame the enormous storm that forced us into the first restaurant we came across), so in order to avoid paying ridiculously prices for below average food then my best advice is to head to the Hawker Centres.
A Hawker Centre is where many of the locals eat, and it’s essentially a number of food ‘sheds’ put together under one roof to provide good food for really low prices. It’s the furthest thing from A ‘La Carte, so if you’re looking for a nice sit down meal then you’re in the wrong place; but if you want some yummy, local meals from anywhere between $1-$10 SGD then you’re going to be in your absolute element. There are a number of Hawker Centres around Singapore (you’ll find loads after a quick search on Google) so don’t be afraid to get stuck in. One of our best Hawker meals was in Little India, as the food was incredible and the atmosphere was fun, and it’s only a short train ride from our hostel.
Alternatively, a big breakfast favourite in Singapore, and in a number of surrounding countries, is Kaya Toast. This very sweet spread can be had on it’s own, with butter, or with peanut butter, and we even ended up having Kaya Tea (sugar overload!!!). Safe to say this isn’t the healthiest of breakfasts, but it’s okay when you’re on holiday, isn’t it… It’s cheap and it’s cheerful, so it’s definitely something to put on your list if you’re a bit of a foodie.
Another one of Singapore’s delicacies is the Chilli Crab that can be found in a number of restaurants and food stalls. It is quite pricy, which is why I didn’t manage to try it, but if you’ve got some spare cash then apparently the Jumbo Seafood Restaurant has the best crab (it’s a little bit out of the city so set aside some time to get there and back).
What did I get up to?
When you’ve only got a couple of days to spend in a new City then you absolutely have to just hit the ground running and experience as much as possible in your short few days. Here’s a list of all of the things we managed to squeeze into our itinerary:
- Take a visit to the Botanic Gardens – Now, I’ve visited a number of Botanic Gardens over the years and I have to say that this was by far the most impressive. First of all, it’s huge. As in, so huge that we got lost so many times we thought we were going to have to ask someone for help. Yup. But it’s so beautiful, and exotic, and has a number of interesting sections to explore, such as the: Healing Garden, Fragrance Garden, Ginger Garden, Waterfalls, a Rainforest, Orchid Garden and a spectacular Symphony Stage. Not to mention a restaurant/café and little shop to complete your visit. The Botanic Gardens can be accessed by train (the station is literally outside the gate of the Gardens) and is completely free to enter.
- Enjoy a River Cruise from Clarke Quay – One great way to see the city is by boat, so after taking a little wander around Clarke Quay (which is a gorgeous little area in itself, filled with pastel coloured buildings and bars/cafes situated on the river’s edge) we hopped on a boat that takes you all the way down to Marine Bay Sands (and back again if you opt for a return). Tickets can be bought just outside the Clarke Quay train station, for $18 pp SGD one way, or $25 return. We chose a one way trip as our next destination was to visit the Marine Bay Sands hotel anyway, and the river cruise provided us with a scenic way of getting from A to B.
- Have a drink at the Marine Bay Sands Hotel – Ahh, the iconic hotel with a boat on it’s roof… it really is quite the sight, something that photo’s of it can’t quite capture. On every Singapore ‘must do’ list you’ll see that going up the Marine Bay Sands to the Observation Deck is a must, which costs $25 SGD in itself. However, we discovered that if you buy a $20 voucher for the rooftop bar, Ce ‘La Vie, you can get access to the bar, restaurant and lounge, all of the views AND the voucher can be put towards a drink. The cocktails cost around $23 (+ Service Charge and GST), so you only have to pay an additional $10 or so for the drinks, which in my opinion is well worth every penny (views are INSANE!). We spent a solid couple of hours up there, soaking it all in and just relaxing for a couple of hours before heading off to explore further. *OH also, below the hotel, in the basement, there’s an incredible shopping centre that is well worth taking a stroll through even if it’s just for the blast of air con.
- Explore the trees at Gardens by the Bay – Okay, not going to lie this was *probably* the thing I was most excited for in Singapore. Just because images of these incredible tree structures have been plastered over Facebook for so long that I was just dying to see them for myself. And without sounding cliché, they didn’t disappoint. The trees are ginormous metal creations, covered with solar panels and flowers to promote the ‘city in a garden’ vibe that Singapore is known for (entry is completely free). In between two of the trees there is a Skywalk (costs $8 pp), that takes you up to about half way up the trees, giving you a closer view of all of the trees. Our arrival here was timed perfectly as the Skywalk was closed due to high winds, so if you arrive and this doesn’t look open then there’s a good chance that that’s why. It is a little bit eerie, as the path is narrow and slightly bouncy, which makes you feel like it might break any minute. But it didn’t, and we survived, so. Yah. OH and every night, at 7:45 & 8:45pm, there is a spectacular light show on the trees lasting around 15 minutes that was fantastic (ours was Star Wars themed but we really enjoyed it). Arrive about 10 minutes early to get a good viewing spot, and enjoy!
- Have a swanky evening at the Raffles Hotel – Everyone who’s been to Singapore has probably been to the Raffles Hotel and had themselves a Singapore Sling. It’s just what you do. So if you also want to tick this box then you can get the train to Esplanade and walk for about 5 minutes until you come across the gorgeous, white building. It was undergoing some renovations when we visited, so the usual bar area was actually closed (the Long Bar will re-open in 2018); therefore we had our cocktails (costing $31 pp + GST) in the Billiards room and we loved it! I personally loved that we were given a cute little card with the recipe for the Singapore sling on it, whilst Dave loved the massive ‘Raffles’ Bag on the table that was filled with monkey nuts (of which the shells are chucked on the floor) that he pretty much ate the majority of.
A wonderful, although slightly, pricy way to spend an afternoon would be to have Afternoon Tea at the Raffles, which we nearly did but we couldn’t find enough time in the day to fit in another meal. The price for this is $62 pp SGD for an adult, and $30 for a child.
- Spend the day at the Island Resort of Sentosa – I had never even heard of this place until we were in Singapore, but just south of the city there lies a whole island of fun that is perfect for anyone of any age. If you take the train to ‘Harbour front’, go to the top floor of the mall, then you will find the monorail that takes you to a number of stops across Sentosa (it costs $4 SGD for a return monorail ticket). The island contains beaches, adventure activities (zip-lining, Segway-ing, and in 2018 they will have an AJ Hackett Bungee Jump and vertical walk that I was VERY upset to have missed), a Madame Tussauds, swimming with Dolphins, 4D Adventure land and even a Universal Studios. We spent our day exploring the variety of beaches (Palawan beach was our favourite but there are more food options at Siloso). We also walked up to the centre point of the island, Iambah point but we felt like we were being eaten alive by mosquitos so that walk was short lived.
Now one error we did make was probably going to the 4D Adventure Land. We were too cheap to pay the full whack for Universal Studios (which I think was around $80 SGD), but to be honest I wish we had as the $40 4D Adventure Land experience was completely naf. I mean, we had fun anyway because we’re quite silly and it’s quite silly, but in hindsight it was a waste of money. Spending one day at Sentosa is still probably enough if you’re in your twenties (families with younger children could spend a good few days here however) as you could spend the morning on the beaches and then head over to Universal Studios for a fun afternoon. I will also mention that the whole island was really quiet and so we almost felt as if we had the beaches to ourselves.
Singapore was an absolute pleasure to travel – from the food, to the people, to the sights, everything was so relaxed and sophisticated and gave us the greatest start to our holiday. All in all, not including flights, I probably spent somewhere between $300-350 SGD, Inc. accommodation, food, public transport and activities. I wasn’t overly careful with my money here either so if you’re on a smaller budget then your biggest expense will be in accommodation. Everything else can be done on the cheap.
If there’s anything that I can add to my guide then feel free to leave a comment, and let me know what you loved best about this gorgeous getaway!