Singapore:

A Backpacker's Guide

Backpacker's Guide to Singapore

Dates Visited: December 2018

To kick off our time in Asia we flew from Buenos Aires to Singapore. It was the cheapest city we could find to fly into Southeast Asia, however, the city itself is quite expensive. Though it's expensive relative to other countries in Southeast Asia, there are plenty of budget friendly things to do in Singapore.

This country is a bit unique in that it's a sovereign city-state, so it's a city and country all in the same. In fact, its known for its transition from a developing country to a developed one all within the same generation[1]. Singapore is also known for being the world's safest country, but that comes with some added costs. The biggest being your privacy. The whole city has cameras everywhere. Your picture and thumbprint are taken as you enter through customs, though this isn't the only place we've been where this happens.

However, the staggering amount of security cameras scattered throughout the city are enough to make you feel like you're living in a Black Mirror episode. Despite all of this, we did feel quite safe in Singapore which was reassuring after experiencing some sketchy situations in South America.

6 budget friendly things to do in Singapore

When we arrived in Singapore, we were quite jet-lagged after taking back-to-back 13 hour flights with an overnight layover in between. After taking a day or two to catch up on the time-zone change we gave ourselves a few days to do some walking around the city. We didn't do as much as we had originally planned, but we still got enough to feel satiated.

When we finally left Singapore we were more than ready. The city is a little too busy for our liking and sometimes we felt invisible, or straight up ignored by people. Nonetheless, that is just our honest opinion on the country. We did find some fun budget friendly things to in Singapore during our stay, but we probably won't be planning a trip back any time soon.

 

1. Eat at People's Park Complex

People's Park Complex, not to be confused with People's Park, is a shopping mall with a series of market food stalls inside/outside that are open everyday from 9:30am-10:00pm. As we mentioned, Singapore is a rather expensive place, but the food here is pretty reasonably priced.

Sticky buns are available from S$1 (~$0.75 USD). We also found delicious noodle bowls that were only S$5 (~$3.70 USD) from the place pictured below. Outdoor and indoor seating is available outside all of the food stalls, which created a rather open and lively dining atmosphere. If you're looking for some great budget friendly things to do in Singapore this is up there because the food is cheap, and window shopping is free.

Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: People's Park Complex
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Peoples Park Complex
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: People's Park Complex
Singapore Guide: Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: People's Park Complex
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Peoples Park Complex
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: People's Park Complex
Singapore Guide: Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore

2. Experience Chinatown

One of the best budget friendly things to do in Singapore is experience the cultural enclave of Chinatown. Located in the downtown core of Singapore, it's quite easy to access by the MRT (the subway/metro transit system). The Chinatown stop (stop DT19) is on the downtown MRT line that lets off directly into the People's Park Complex.

Singapore's ethnic population is roughly 75% Chinese[1] so this Chinatown is a pretty authentic experience. You'll be able to find plenty of Chinese cuisine in the hundreds of food stalls and restaurants along the winding streets. Along the main drag of Pagoda Street you can also see the Sri Mariamman Temple which was constructed in 1827, making it the oldest Hindu temple in all of Singapore.

Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Chinatown

3. Stroll through Gardens by the Bay

One of the main attractions, and in our opinion, is by far our favorite thing we did in Singapore. We actually went there on four separate occasions. A decent portion of the gardens are free to the public, but there is a section that you need to pay to enter.

If you want to walk along the super trees then you'll need to pay an entrance fee of S$8 ($6 USD). Going into other attractions like the Cloud Forest or the Flower Dome cost S$28 ($21 USD) for tickets to both. But, there's actually more to these gardens than its cool looks, read more below about how they're used for sustainability efforts in Singapore.

We only paid the S$8 entrance fee one of the times we went, and that was to see the Christmas market that they had set up. We also took the opportunity to stay for an up close view of the Gardens by the Bay light show. Read more below about some the light shows that Singapore has to offer!

 

Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay

4. See a Free Lightshow

For being a super expensive city, Singapore actually has some pretty cool free things to do. Every day there are two free light shows that you can go see. Both start after sundown and are at different times so its possible to see both of them in one evening.

Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Singapore light show schedule
Gardens by the Bay Lightshow

The first light show is in Gardens by the Bay which has two separate times; 7:45pm and 8:45pm, both last approximately 15 minutes. It's possible to see this one from a distance for free but the music coordinated with the lights might be hard to hear. We ended up paying the S$8 ($6 USD) per person entrance fee to see both shows up and personal. It was absolutely worth it spending the few extra bucks to see the show up close.

Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: See the Spectra Lightshow
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: See a Lightshow
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: See the Spectra light show
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: See a light show
Gardens by the Bay Lightshow

The first light show is in Gardens by the Bay which has two separate times; 7:45pm and 8:45pm, both last approximately 15 minutes. It's possible to see this one from a distance for free but the music coordinated with the lights might be hard to hear. We ended up paying the S$8 ($6 USD) per person entrance fee to see both shows up and personal. It was absolutely worth it spending the few extra bucks to see the show up close.

Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: See the Spectra Lightshow
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: See a Lightshow
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: See the Spectra light show
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: See a light show
Spectra Lightshow

The second light show, Spectra, is totally free to get as close and personal as you'd like. It starts at 9:00pm and is about a 10-15 minute walk from the Gardens by the Bay. It's right on the water and takes place outside the Marina Bay Sands mall. This one is quite different and uses a display of water fountains and lasers to perform a spectacular show. It's a close call as to which one is better, but both are definitely one of the best budget friendly things to do in Singapore.

5. Walk around Marina Bay

Marina Bay boasts a pretty amazing skyline along the waterfront. This is the area where the crazy cool Spectra light show appears each night. If you keep walking towards the giant three pillar building with the spaceship looking thing on top, you will reach Marina Bay Sands.

The entire complex consists of a super luxury hotel connected to a shopping mall with all the over priced name brands like Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, etc. The mall is worth strolling through because it has its own canal that you can take a Gondola boat ride on. The luxury hotel building is quite a site to see, especially with the Gardens by the Bay super trees all lit up.

The mall is decent enough to walk around but we wouldn't recommend buying anything, even the food is pricey. With all of the luxury brand stores, everything in the mall is quite expensive. Luckily walking through is free, but buying anything there will be over priced.

Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Walk around Marina Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Walk around Marina Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Walk around Marina Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Walk around Marina Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Walk around Marina Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Walk around Marina Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Walk around Marina Bay
Budget Friendly things to do in Singapore: Walk around Marina Bay

Taking a day trip to Malaysia is another one of the great budget friendly things to do in Singapore. For example, you could get a round trip bus ticket from Singapore to Malacca for under $25 USD. However, it depends how much time you're willing to allow for travel and what you want to see. Originally we thought about making the quick border hop over to Johor Bahru since it's only about an hour's drive.

We ended up deciding to make the longer trip up to Malacca since it is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site. All-in-all it was a decent enough experience but we ended up spending more time traveling than actually in the city itself. Overall we would recommend staying at least one night there to get a better feel.

Sustainability

Sustainability is always an issue for large cities. Compounded by the fact that Singapore is an island, the country faces issues with how to maintain a sustainable society. We didn't know about it during our stay, but Gardens by the Bay is actually much more than a pretty display of lights and trees.

Additionally, we saw quite a bit of plastic overconsumption which drove us to make an effort in our own practices to cut down on single use plastics. We made conscious decisions to be selective of what we were buying to minimize our consumption in a plastic crazed society (most developed countries are guilty of this, not just Singapore).

Sustainability in the Gardens

Gardens by the Bay was our favorite attraction of Singapore. Unfortunately it wasn't until after we left that we learned about its greater sustainability purpose for Singapore. Each part of the gardens has a purpose to make the city more energy efficient.

The giant glass domes help to collect rainwater which is then fed through a water cleaning system. Some of the water irrigates the plants in the park, and the rest goes into a reservoir. Bio waste from the plants are used to create power, which creates excess heat and gases that are ventilated through the tall super trees. Pretty neat! Read more about the sustainability efforts in Gardens by the Bay here.

Singapore Sustainability: Gardens by the Bay
Photo: http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg
Reduce your Plastic Consumption

Unfortunately to our surprise, Singapore uses quite a lot of single use plastic. Though it's hardly the only country with this problem, it's just something we quickly took notice of with all of the food and drink packaging.

If you order a drink it will come in a plastic cup, with a plastic lid, in a plastic bag, with a plastic straw. Take away food also tends to come in a small plastic bag or wrapper that is placed into a larger plastic bag.

It may not seem like much, but each plastic straw or bag you don't use counts as a win. To cut down on single use plastic waste here are a few tips when ordering food/drink:

Straws
  • Purchase a metal or reusable plastic straw to bring out with you.
  • Ask for no straw with every drink order, even cans of soda or bottles of water.
Water Bottles
  • Bring along a reusable water bottle.
  • A Lifestraw bottle can provide clean drinking water from virtually any source.
Utensils
  • Bring your own reusable utensils out with you to avoid single use items.
  • We bring a couple spork/knife combo utensils by Light My Fire.
Bags
  • Bring a reusable bag with you to carry items.
  • Be sure to ask for no bag, or no extra bag with your food items if you forget to bring a reusable one.
Reducing plastic waste in Singapore
Reducing plastic consumption in Singapore
Reducing plastic consumption in Singapore

Transportation around Singapore

Singapore actually has a great public transport system that is rather affordable. The subway/metro system known as the MRT can take you virtually anywhere in the whole city. The MRT starts shutting down after 11:00pm but the buses keep running a bit later so they are a great alternative.

If you're looking for help with how to use the public transit system, Moovit is a great app that tell you exactly where you need to go from Point A to Point B. It will even tell you what stops you need to get off and which bus/train lines you need to change, if any.

Taking the MRT

The MRT runs all throughout the city. It took us about an hour ride to make it from the airport to our Airbnb in Chinatown. We only had to change lines once, and the cost was a little less than S$4 ($3 USD). On average, each of our rides cost roughly S$2.50-S$3 ($1.85-$2.25 USD), which seemed comparable to our metro systems in the US.

Our only complaint is that it's S$12 ($9 USD) to purchase a reloadable card that has unlimited refills for the MRT. We felt like it wasn't worth it for our 6 day stay, so we were left using the free paper tickets. Unfortunately these could only be refilled a few times before being invalid so we felt like that generated unnecessary waste.

The MRT hours roughly from 5:30am-12:00am, however some lines start offering last rides 20-30 minutes before they close. If you're looking for public transport after midnight, you're in luck because the public buses run a bit later.

Singapore Travel by MRT
Rockin' the Downtown line
Photo: https://www.lta.gov.sg
Taking a Grab

If you're looking for a private ride, but cheaper than a taxi, then you might want to try Grab. This app is Asia's version of Uber which can be used with your credit card, however, in our experience most drivers prefer to be paid in cash.

Although we didn't feel the need to use Grab in Singapore, we've used it in other countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia. It's usually cheaper than a taxi, and it's also quite safe.

Pro Tip: Use Grab prices to negotiate taxi or tuk tuk prices to see if they can match or beat the price. It's also a good tool to use to gauge how much a ride should really cost to make sure you're not getting ripped off by a driver.

Where to stay in Singapore

From our experience, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations as an alternative to hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you get discounts for your first bookings on either of these sites.

We ended up staying in an Airbnb in the Chinatown area, which was pretty pricey. However, we have also listed a couple hostel alternatives that are more affordable, but a bit farther out from the downtown city center.

Dorms: $11.09+ USD

Private: $79.86+ USD

Amenities: Free wifi, Free Breakfast, Free City maps, ATM, 24 Security, Luggage Storage

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: $12.84+ USD

Amenities: Free wifi, Free Breakfast, Free City maps, Bar, 24 Security, Luggage Storage, Self Catering Services

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com
Chinatown

Airbnb: $61.52 USD

Amenities: Free wifi, Excellent location in downtown, Kitchen, Keyless entry, Self Checkin

Chinatown is a central location and walking distance to some of the best things to do in Singapore. However, it definitely comes at an increased cost. Both hostels above are a 15-20 minute MRT ride from the downtown area. The Airbnb we stayed at was the cheapest option we could find in Chinatown for a private room with a kitchen.

Where to stay in Singapore: Chinatown
Sources
  1. Singapore

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By |2019-05-15T04:39:30-05:00December 12th, 2018|Asia, Singapore|0 Comments

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