Most people say that Singapore is far too expensive to enjoy when travelling on a shoestring. In many ways, this is quite correct, as the Lion City is at least twice as expensive as Malaysia and Thailand, in my experience. However, this does not mean that you cannot enjoy most of what the city-state has to offer. It just means that you have to, perhaps, do a bit of extra planning before you land at Changi. Here’s my small guide to get the most out of your Singapore Dollar.
Hostels in the ethnic communities such as Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street or Kampong Glam can have beds available for around half as much as hostels elsewhere on the island. The backpacker-friendly areas of Lavender and Bugis advertise themselves as the cheapest areas of Singapore, but in reality the cheapest areas by far are the ethnic communities. Take a more detailed look at the best hostels in Singapore.
For a feel of Singapore’s history and modernity, an open-top Hop On, Hop Off bus ride is a good way to get acquainted with the country. I wouldn’t usually encourage people to do these bus tours, but in Singapore it’s the best way to plan ahead, as during the tours you can see some of the major sights anyway (albeit from afar), and you can always jump on and off whenever you choose. Some of the buses even become aquatic and turn into boats to take you down the Singapore River!
Tourist attractions in Singapore are aplenty, and most of them are pretty good value and cheaper than what Europeans/Australians will be used to back home. However, throughout your time here, the costs will keep adding up, so it is better to take advantage of the special combo tickets, for example the discounted “Park Hopper Tickets” available for trips to the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari, and Jurong Bird Park. The savings will all add up!
Every backpacker comes to Singapore to enjoy the nightlife, and nowhere is better value for those on a budget than Clarke Quay. While nearby Boat Quay is a great place for good-value seafood such as the national dish of Singapore, the chili crab (see below), Clarke Quay is more of an entertainment hotspot – and yes, that means plenty of loud music after dark and plenty of drinks on offer! Many of the bars and clubs here operate well into the early hours of the morning, so as long as your hostel doesn’t have a curfew, you will be able to stay out all night!
Transportation in Singapore is not expensive (not even taxis), but the cheapest and easiest method of transport is undoubtedly the Singapore MRT. Upon arriving in Singapore, you should head to the nearest MRT station (there is one at Changi Airport, btw) and purchase an EZ-Link card, which is similar to an Oyster Card in London or an Octopus Card in Hong Kong. Add about S$30 (£15) of credit onto the card and then you can use this during your time in Singapore. It is valid on buses and the MRT, and I think taxis now accept them too, although most people won’t have enough credit to pay the taxi fare with their EZ-Link (better to just use the Sin Dolla for taxis).
Spending time in Singapore without spending money? Well, it can be done by spending a day on the beach (East Coast Park is totally free, whereas the [better] beaches on Sentosa cost a small entrance fee to the Sentosa island itself) and soaking up the sun. The waters of Singapore are generally clean around the beaches, and especially at Sentosa, the beaches themselves are immaculate, with lifeguards present. I would also recommend independent walking tours throughout the heritage areas of Singapore (you can walk easily from Marina Bay to Chinatown to Little India). This is a good way of spending time in the country, and learning, without actually paying for anything!
Finally, how can we mention Singapore and not mention food? Here, we have something known as hawker centres, and these are like traditional heritage food courts that serve up local cuisine at very local prices. No international prices here, and you can find local delights like bak kut teh, laksa, chili crab, and Hainanese chicken rice. Eating at hawkers throughout your time in Singapore will save a lot of money, believe me!