Singapore travel guide | on a backpacker's budget
Searching for a no bullshit, Singapore Travel Guide? You’ve come to the right place.
My very first thought when I stepped foot onto the sleek and impeccably spotless platform to board the train and zip into the island state city of Singapore, was just that, how ridiculously squeaky clean Singapore is. I was gobsmacked. Not one single minuscule speck of litter floating about, or chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe. Maybe because the laws for littering and chewing gum are as harsh as they come and the fines for doing so are notoriously high, but we’ll get to that later. First up, lets get to the Singapore travel guide!
Singapore is a wee city just off southern Malaysia, but don’t let it’s size fool you. It’s a multi cultural melting pot, towered by a concrete jungle of modern, cutting edge architecture, and dotted with eco friendly, green skyscrapers. The cities spick and span feel and futuristic flow made me feel like I was a virtual character that had been transported into a set of the Sims, where someone was sitting in a little box somewhere, organising this world I was apart of.
No matter where on the planet you’re jet setting off to, Singapore is a major stop over hub, the airport quite literally being a whole other destination in it’s self. For me, I was indeed on my way home from travelling through other countries in Asia, and I knew I wanted to squeeze in one last stop before getting back to reality. I had always been intrigued about what the city of Singapore had to offer, so here I was, booked into a down town hostel for a quick 24 hours.
Once I arrived in the city I quite literally threw my bags on my bunk bed, downloaded a map on my phone and hit the streets quicker than a wink. Time was ticking.
Cities are so hit or miss for me. When I hate them, I hate em, and I can’t wait to escape to the middle of know where. However, when I stumble upon a good one, by crikey do I enjoy the hell out of them. Singapore reminded me of all the reasons I do love a good city!
From delectable foodie havens and some of the worlds best street food cuisine, (food always comes first- standard) buzzing market stalls to high end shopping streets, elaborate temples and lush urban green spaces, and an eclectic mix of cultures, sights and sounds. I guarantee you will never get bored. Boy was I in for a whirlwind 24 hours.
Such goodness always seems to come at an expense, and that right there my friends is what most people are skeptical about when it comes to exploring Singapore, myself included. Despite Singapore’s reputation for being the most pricey city in South East Asia, let me tell you it really doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket, and it can be done on a bare bones backpacker’s budget.
I already had so much on my plate that I wanted to fit into precisely, one full day, so after a quick research to make sure there weren’t any other must see sights I was missing, I jotted down a rough plan in my head being realistic in the time I had, and got roaming.
So, buckle up and keep reading for a guide to a bunch of affordable Singapore travel must dos.
Sure, you could squeeze in another spot or two, but in my opinion travelling is always best when it’s not too rushed. These bad boys give you a taster into the cream of the crop to tackle!
FIRST AND FOREMOST
Know before you go
FOUR OFFICAL LANGUAGES – MALAY, MANDARIN, TAMIL AND ENGLISH
Singapore really is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual sanctuary, even with their own mish mashed language ‘Singlish.’ Most Singaporeans you run into will speak great English, so you’ll have no problem saying ‘hello’ and sparking up a conversation.
SINGAPORE DOLLAR – SGD
The national currency of Singapore. The current exchange rate is 1NZD= 0.89SGD. Very comparable for my fellow Kiwis.
ATM’s are common, and debit, credit and travel cards are widely accepted throughout the city.
TYPE G – 230v/50Hz
Three rectangle pins is the power plug used.
YOU CAN DRINK THE TAP WATER
Hallelujah! Travellers will know this is a serious novelty. Pack a reusable drink bottle and save on buying plastic bottles.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS SINGAPORE?
First you’ve gotta get into the country, right? Thankfully Singapore is incredibly easy to enter. A visa is not required for a stay of under 90 days. This goes for anyone travelling with a passport from NZ, Australia, USA, Europe, and a huge chunk of the world. Exception of, I believe, North Asia and the Middle East.
WHEN TO VISIT
Singapore is a year-round travel destination, however February to April is known as the best months to visit, as they fall between dry season. Avoid travelling between May and September if you’re not a fan of some serious heat and high levels of humidity.
WHERE TO STAY
There are squillions of accomodation options in the city of Singapore, check out booking.com or Hostel World to browse the options and take your pick. To get your moneys worth I’d recommend staying in the backpacker hub of ‘Little India.’ A central location and a wicked spot to meet fellow travellers!
A great money saving tip is to book in as early as possible. Foot Prints Hostel, the hostel I chose, was a mere 12SGD– including free breakfast!
Flying into Changi Airport is a whole other ball game. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that it’s known as the best airport on this planet, with it’s endless amount of interactive activities spread throughout the four terminals, to keep you occupied till the cows come home. Think free (yes, free!) movie theatres, a hedge maze, enchanting sunflower and cactus gardens, an indoor slide, aquariums, a butterfly sanctuary, and the world’s tallest and most spectacular indoor waterfall! Singapore Airport is one place I wouldn’t mind having a delayed flight at that’s for sure.
Even if you’re heading into the actual city like I did, I’d still recommend saving a couple of hours, there or back, to dedicate to exploring the airport- seriously!
Singapore travel is easy peasy! To get into the city the well connected MRT train system is the cheapest way to whizz around in a jiffy. Super convenient and reliable and one of the best systems I’ve used around the world! And trust me, I’ve been on my fair share of metro’s- some rather questionable.
All my fare rides around the city cost 1.70SGD, including the 40 minute train ride from the airport. Check out mrt.sg/fare for exact fare prices and handy metro maps.
Walking from sight to sight is one way to save money! I walked between each spot, only taking the metro a few times through out the 24 hours.
Must visit hot spots
SULTAN MOSQUE, ARAB STREET, MUSCAT STREET AND HAJI LANE
CLOSEST MRT – BUGIS STATION
Kampong Glam is a super artsy, ethnic neighbourhood, mashed up with Arab and Malay cultures. Home to the fairy tale like, golden shiny dome of the Sultan Mosque and the contemporary and quirky Arab Street, Muscat Street and Haji Lane. A must do Singapore travel experience!
The entire diverse area is worth delving right into and is rightly so a list topper. While Arab Street is the prime spot to shop for gorgeous Persian rugs, Muscat Street has copious amounts of souvenir shops and posh cafes. Haji Lane is over flowing with quaint, vintage clothing stores and cute, independent boutiques.
One of the most creative areas in all of the city and probably the number one hang out for backpackers, Haji Lane is lined with hipster cafes, bold architecture, fun street art, and the most wicked photo opportunities. You’ll leave creatively inspired!
Most places are closed on Sundays, so keep that noted. I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.
BUGIS STREET MARKET
CLOSEST MRT – BUGIS STATION
I could have spent the entire day rummaging through this never ending maze of a market, but with the couple of hours I had up my sleeve I still managed to see plenty! Bugis Street, the largest undercover street market in Singapore was actually once upon a time a pretty dodgy, loose as a goose, red light district! Nowadays it’s a bit more placid and the place to be for tourists to sift through an overabundance of wacky souvenirs, knick knacks and trendy, one-size-fits-all clothing- all of which cost next to nothing. Don’t leave this off your Singapore travel list!
Topped with a bustling atmosphere and bizarre treats to try, Bugis Street Market is where it’s at.
Open 11am-10pm everyday.
Close to the Albert Street Hawker Centre, a handy and delicious place to scoot to for lunch afterwards. This Hawker Centre seems to be more of a local hangout, me being almost the only tourist there- I’m not complaining!
MAXWELL CENTRE – CHINATOWN STATION
ALBERT STREET CENTRE – BUGIS STATION
Singapore travel has never looked so good. Eat your way through Singapore by choosing one or two of the famous Hawker Centres to dine at, scattered around the city. Essentially a massive street food court with a plethora of super affordable Asian food options to tease those taste buds! Here you’ll be fascinated by the organised chaos of locals, workers rushing to nab a bite to eat on their break, and backpacker’s eagerly trying things for the first time. All of who are chowing down on a dish of Hainanese chicken rice, slurping on a piping hot bowl of wonton noodle soup, or munching on some chilli crab with their bare hands.
The options are never ending and all look and smell so blimmin’ scrumptious. If you’re anything like me and are obsessed with Asian cuisine, you’ll struggle to take your pick. Scope the place out and line up where the locals are, this way you’re guaranteed your choice will be a hit!
The Hawker Centres are the perfect escape to dodge the heat, especially if you drown in an Ice Kachang- a colourful shaved ice dessert, topped with fruit syrup. The fresh juice is insane too- especially the passionfruit and grapefruit flavours! I ate at the Albert Street Centre (Open 10.30am-9pm) for lunch, and the popular Maxwell Centre (Open 8am-12am) for dinner. At 3- 5SGD a pop for a main meal, you quite simply cannot go wrong!
Note that I did find it hard to find vegetarian options. However, with a bit of persuasion most stalls won’t mind making something without meat for you to devour.
On another note, if you haven’t watched the Netflix series ‘Streetfood,’ then get on it. The Singapore episode will give you an insight into exactly what I’m talking about. I was literally too busy scoffing my face to even stop to even think about taking a photo of my food!
CLOSEST MRT – LITTLE INDIA STATION
Meander away from the glossy parts of Singapore and step into a diverse little slice of India.
A lively and colourful stomping ground, with a taste of all the goodness of what is so ridiculously beautiful about India. Have a read of my post about my insane experience in the real India here!
The chit and the chatter, the ear drumming, eccentric bollywood melodies, the over flowing spice shops on every corner, mouth watering and authentic vegetarian cuisine, garlands of fiery coloured flowers adorning the stores, and the other worldly charm of one of the greatest countries on earth. Whether or not you should explore this happening hub, shouldn’t even be a question.
Sri Veeramakaliamman is one of Singapore’s oldest and most attractive Hindu Temples, smack bang on the main stretch of Little India. A place of worship for the local Indians, splashed with a rainbow of colours and intricately designed decor.
I stayed on the outskirts of this ethnic neighbourhood, and wouldn’t have had it any other way.
CLOSEST MRT – ORCHARD OR SOMERSET STATION
Skip along stylie and ever so popular Orchard Road, right in the heart of the city. That is, if you’re up for some serious shopping! You’ve probably figured out by now that Singapore is a shopping mecca and Orchard Road is a good little mix of swanky high end boutiques, and run of the mill stores. The wide, tree lined pathways, as neat as can be, are great even just for a stroll and to immerse yourself in downtown city life.
GARDENS BY THE BAY
CLOSEST MRT – BAYFRONT STATION
In all my adventures I have never seen anything quite like this place. Gardens by the Bay is a striking set up of innovative, man made vertical trees, jazzed up with vibrant tropical flowers and greenery, arranged in a humungous nature park. A fascinating harmony between nature and technology, with the trees converting sunlight into energy for the gardens.
All eighteen metal super trees tower over the water front gardens, dramatic art sculptures, and boardwalk fringed lakes. An impressive attraction that would be silly to miss out of your Singapore travel plans.
For diddly squat you get to wander around all of this. Plus, time your visit wisely to gaze at the lights dazzling in the night sky and boogie to the sweet tunes at the nightly music and light show. All these fun and games start at 7.45pm and 8.45pm sharp and go for 15 minutes straight.
If your budget permits and you’re eager to see more, you can pay to stroll along the Skywalk over the gardens, or enter the indoor Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, which I’m sure would be enchanting as anything. Check out ticketing.gardensbythebay.com.sg/ for ticket prices.
I wandered the gardens just before sunset, scurried along to nearby Marina Bay Sands, then watched the light show. I decided to escape the crowds and watch from above at a deck of Marina Bay.
CLOSEST MRT – BAYFRONT OR MARINA BAY STATION
Speaking of the Marina Bay Sands, this is another architectural gem worth a wander, conveniently connected to Gardens by the Bay by a link bridge. A flashy hotel, luxurious shopping mall, casino, theatre, exhibition and museum, all housed in a whopping, iconic cloud buster, and topped with a blissful infinity pool. Holy moly!
If you’re feeling a little fancy you can work your way through the hectic crowds and shop up a storm at the high end stores, or just window shop like I did. You can even jump aboard a wooden boat and cruise along the man made canals at the ground of the mall, pretending you’re on the dreamy Italian canals of Venice..
You can head right to the tippy top of the skyscraper for skyline views over the vast city. Pay either 30SGD for access to the SkyPark Observation Deck, or be thrifty and order a drink at the bar. Pricey yes, but considering you get to enjoy the same insane views as the ticket price would get you, but with an added sneaky drink, win!
Marina Bay is lively any time of day or night. Walk along the water front of Marina Promenade, soaking up the atmosphere , watch people hoon past on scooters, and gaze out over the city of Singapore.
By night check out another pearler light and music show outside of the Marina Bay Sands, every night at 8pm and 9pm– plus 10pm on Friday and Saturdays.
Don’t miss out on city life on the other side of the water. Wander underneath those sleek skyscrapers, past that mythical half fish-half lion landmark statue, and alongside abstract art pieces that stick right out like a sore thumb.
CLOSEST MRT – CHINA TOWN STATION
After a super de duper day of gallivanting around the city of Singapore, I headed to China Town, my first stop being the Maxwell Hawker Centre for dinner. Leaving insanely satisfied, I then took a peek at the spiritual streets for some late night, last minute browsing of souvenirs. If you’re after a final dose of multi culture, then festive China Town has everything from traditional handicrafts, Asian supermarkets (right up my alley!) oriental restaurants beckoning you to take a bite, elaborate Chinese temples, and zig zags of floating red and gold lanterns and lights, embellishing the narrow alley ways. Enjoy!
For the exact location of each hot spot, check out the map below.
Facts for your week
SINGAPORE’S MOST BIZARRE LAWS
You know how I said earlier that Singapore has harsh laws when it comes to chewing gum and littering?! Well, you won’t find chewing gum sold anywhere and first time littering offenders are fined 300SGD! These ladies and gents, are just the start.
Not flushing the toilet is illegal- what the!
Smoking is illegal in many public areas.
Jay walking– crossing the road in non-designated areas- is illegal.
Annoying someone with a musical instrument in a public place, is yes you guessed it- illegal! You’ve gotta laugh.
If you’re caught singing with obscene lyrics– immediate fine!
Connecting to another persons wifi– illegal.
Walking naked in your house with the blinds open– is illegal. Too funny!
Drinking alcohol from 10:30pm to 7am in a public place– is illegal.
And THE most immoral of them all, being gay is a criminal offence. Yes, you read that correct. Don’t even get me started on my hatred towards this, my gears are well and truly ground! The punishment for gay sex is a two year jail term.
All in all, Singapore is super safe, comfortable and easy to travel around. It’s diversity and livelihood well and truly exceeded my expectations! The city isn’t crazy big that you feel overwhelmed, and the amount you can comfortably discover and immerse yourself in, within a 24 hour period, makes it well worth the trip.
I hope some of these tips have given you a little insight into the gorgeous highlights of Singapore travel, and proof that it can totally be done on a backpacker’s budget! I spent less than 30SGD throughout the entire 24 hours. This included accomodation, food, transport around the city, and to and from the airport. Any shopping you might wish to do added on top. This is pretty damn affordable if you ask me!
Asia, how on earth do you manage to always steal my heart. If only I could afford to travel forever. Until next time.
Thanks for reading,
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