I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect from our trip to Singapore. I had heard some negative comments from friends and former co-workers. Some of the comments were things like: “its expensive,” “it is too westernized – Asia light, Asia for beginners,” “nothing to do but shop and eat at expensive restaurants.” We were pleasantly surprised and had a fantastic time there! And it didn’t break the bank.
Singapore is an island, city, state, country. Home to 14 million people, it was one of the Asian Tiger nations that also includes South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. These countries experienced very high growth from the 1960s to the 1990s. It is a very clean city, there is very little crime, and has all kinds of rules and regulations – all well-intentioned. No chewing gum is allowed at all – keeps the city clean by not having gum on the sidewalks. You can be fined for carrying strong smelling food on the subway, not flushing a public toilet, littering, etc. Vandalism can be punished by caning.
There is quite a bit to do as a tourist in Singapore. I would not call it a budget destination, especially compared to a lot of the rest of Southeast Asia, but if you choose your accommodation, meals, and entertainment carefully, you can visit without spending too much.
Gardens and Plant Life
Singapore is in the tropics and temperatures rarely get below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity is very high. Although this makes for a pretty hot and sticky experience for humans, the plants love it and Singapore is home to some amazing gardens.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Singapore Botanical Gardens is easily accessible by public transit and entrance is free. The orchid gardens do charge a separate admission fee, but the rest of the 20 acre gardens can be explored for free 24 hours a day. We spent most of the day at the gardens.
Gardens by the Bay is another large garden complex and as the name suggests, these are right on the sea. This is a large garden complex where admission to the general park is free. The free admission gives you access to all the trails, sea walk, children’s garden. Not to be missed are the two large conservatories. The other nice thing about the conservatories are that they are air conditioned – that alone is worth the admission price on a hot day. The Flower Garden is the largest glass greenhouse in the world. Cloud Forest has the tallest indoor waterfall in the world.
We spent all day at the Gardens by the Bay, ate at the hawker area twice, and came back in the evening when they put on a light and music show at the SuperTree Grove.
Easy on the budget and home to a huge variety of foods, hawker stalls are scattered throughout the city. Each stall sells a specific type of food. A meal can run from $3.50 to – $10.00 USD depending on what you get. Even at the Botanical Gardens and the Gardens by the Bay there were hawker stalls. Both were a little bit of a walk away from larger, sit down restaurants, but to us, well worth the walk to eat great food at half the price.
There are two Michelin starred hawker stalls in Singapore, making them the lowest cost Michelin starred restaurants in the world. We ate at the Lio Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle. Quite a long name for a restaurant, but it is descriptive. The food was very good.
Museums, Parks and Vistas
There were two museums on our list to visit, the Asian Civilizations Museum and the City Gallery. Unfortunately, due to poor planning on my part, the day we chose to visit the City Gallery was a national holiday and since we left it to our last full day there we didn’t get to see it.
The Asian Civilizations Museum was interesting and there is some great public art outside the museum. Just a few blocks away is Merlion Park. What is a Merlion you ask? Apparently, it is the mythical symbol of Singapore and as the name suggests, is half lion and half fish. Merlion Park is a great area to take pictures of the Merlion, the waterfront, and surrounding architecture.
Chinatown and Little India
The ethnic makeup of Singapore is 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 10% Indian and 3% other. There are four official languages in Singapore; English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. This makes it easy for English speakers to get around and communicate. There is a large Chinatown and an area known as Little India.
We spent a bit of time in each of these areas. Susan found some fabric in one of the Little India shopping areas and we had a great lunch at a restaurant that specializes in fish head soup. Susan didn’t try the soup, but it was delicious.
Rules and Regulations
I had heard about the rules and regulations in Singapore before I had traveled there. When I studied for my MBA in the late 1990’s one of our professors had gone to Singapore often as a visiting professor for years and shared his observations with the class. In 1994 national news in the USA covered the caning of a 19-year-old American student. He had spray painted a few cars and had stolen some street signs.
One of the first signs that the things I had heard about Singapore being full of rules is that on the immigration card that everyone must fill out when arriving says in big red letters, “WARNING DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW.” Numerous signs let you know that there are fines for littering, spitting, jaywalking, etc.
There is also a lot of advertising that focuses on being courteous and disciplined. In the subway, a poster of StandUpSarah will tell you why you should give your seat to the elderly and pregnant women. HushHushHanna encourages you to be quiet as to not disturb fellow passengers. Advertisements for a kindergarten/pre-school will tell you how they will, “Instill manners with courtesy, nurture ethics with compassion, and build teamwork with cooperation.”
The streets are very clean. Traffic is orderly. The subway is clean and efficient. One thing that blew me away was what I observed when we took the public bus back from the Botanical Gardens one day. We got on the bus and I asked the driver the fare. He told me and then, pointing to a plastic box on the dash said, “If you only have larger bills, you can make change for yourself from this box.” Can you imagine a business in the USA or Canada that instead of a cash register, had a box of money at the front counter and asked you to make your own change?
You Can Spend Lots of Money if You Want To
Although we travel light, a suitcase and backpack each, we are far from low budget backpackers. However, we do try to keep expenses low and are focusing on low-cost countries for the first few years of our adventure traveling full-time. In Singapore, we spent $20 USD each to visit the Gardens by the Bay. I think that is the most we have spent in admission to an attraction since visiting Hong Kong Disneyland last October. There are plenty of things to do that could rack up the expenses in Singapore pretty quick.
- $17 USD for elevator ride to the Skypark of Marina Bay Sands Hotel
- $24 USD to take a ride on the Singapore Flyer, billed as the tallest Ferris wheel in the world
- $57 USD to visit Legoland Malaysia
- $55 USD for Universal Studios Singapore
We used hotel points to stay at the Holiday Inn Clark Quay. If we had paid out of our own pocket, it would have been $191 USD per night with tax.
If you drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, expenses will add up pretty quick due to the large “sin taxes” imposed. A pack of cigarettes will set you back about $10 USD and a bottle of beer at a bar will cost about $8.50 USD.
Getting to and getting around Singapore is quite inexpensive. Our one-way flight from Bangkok was only $49 USD and the clean and efficient subways and buses will cost $1-2 USD per trip.
Put Singapore on Your List of Places to Visit
We enjoyed Singapore and I would recommend it as a place to visit, even if just for a night or two. We decided to visit Singapore as a stop off on our way from Bangkok to the Philippines. Jetstar Asia Airlines and Tigerair are discount airlines based in Singapore and offer ridiculously cheap flights to Singapore from other Southeast Asian destinations. It could be a great stop off on your way to other destinations.
We will likely visit again before we leave Southeast Asia. There are still places for us to see and locations to explore.