Over here at IDEAL, we love a good challenge. But doing the world’s most expensive city on a budget? That’s an order even taller than the skyscrapers lining Singapore’s Marina Bay. Hell, even when going through customs to get into the country, we feel our wallet shrinking in fear. Maybe that’s just because of the chewing gum residue lurking in there.
Anyway, we digress. Because in all actuality, a trip to the Lion City doesn’t have to break your bank into a thousand tiny pieces. A fun and thrifty time is eminently doable, with these; our 6 IDEAL tips for doing Singapore on a budget.
REST YOUR HEAD IN CHINATOWN OR LITTLE INDIA
Let’s tackle the biggest dent in your budget straight off the bat. If you’re truly intent on doing things on the cheap, then you’re going to have to get creative with your sleeping arrangements. Hotels here are astronomically, donate a kidney and still fall short expensive, so your best bet are the hostels or guesthouses in Chinatown and Little India, both of which are served by MRT stations, and are walking distance from downtown Singapore and the glitz and glamour of Marina Bay.
It’s likely you’ll be staying in dorm rooms unless you’re willing to take the step up to mid range financially, but actually these sharing suites are pretty well equipped. The best, in terms of comfort and privacy, are those labelled as ‘pod’. Wink Hostel in Chinatown has pods in 6 person dorms for around £25 (SG$50) a night, while Quarters Capsule Hotel on Chinatown’s outskirts is also reasonable. In Little India, Bunc hostel is a chain growing in prominence and popularity, and represents a small step up in comfort for a similar price. Alternatively, the fast disappearing Couchsurfing concept still holds some sway here.
STREET EAT SAVVY
Sure, Singapore has got it good in terms of fine dining. For the box tickers, the recently annointed Number One Restaurant in Asia is here, and the city is awash with fine dining of a Francophile bent. As such, it commands the attention of international foodie awards, with the city boasting 39 Michelin stars and plenty more restaurants courting that kind of recognition. The prices soar skyward accordingly.
But we promised something a little less damaging to the purse. Fortunately, and somewhat surprisingly in a city of affluence and aspiration, cheap eats can be found everywhere. The food is a glorious amalgamation of the many historic, ethnic and cultural influences of the place; Malaysian, Chinese, Portuguese…they all play a part. When dining out, locals often eat at the ubiquitous Hawker Centres which are found all over town. Perhaps the best is Lau Pa Sat (also known as Telok Ayer Market) where you’ll find a huge diversity of dishes and styles. Singapore’s Boon Tat Street, also known as ‘Satay Street’, turns into a street food lover’s paradise in the evening, where you can find grilled things on sticks for around 50p an item.
Singapore also lays claim to the world’s cheapest Michelin star meal at Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle. It’s a simple, street food stall serving the national dish expertly and at just over a £1. And yep, you guessed it, you’ll have to queue. There is now a second branch, Hawker Chan, which seats nearly 100.
RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO TAXI
Though Uber isn’t operational here, rival company Grab taxi is. And while such ride hailing apps can be incredibly convenient, and cheaper than conventional taxis, if you’re on a budget, then just say no. As with anywhere in the world, fares can mount up fast. Instead, take advantage of the efficient public transport system.
If you have a little spending money and less time, then an EZ-Link card is your best bet, allowing you travel on both the MRT and Light Rail system, as well as the bus, for an initial fee of SG$12 (around £4). You can top up at 7/11 stores and such a card works out way better value for money than taking single trips. We would caution against the similar ‘Singapore Tourist Pass’, which is more expensive and requires you to be on the go throughout the day to make it worthwhile.
FREE ENTRY ATTRACTIONS
Though there are loads of amazing things to do in Singapore that are, sadly, prohibitively expensive, there are also plenty of attractions which are free for the public to enjoy. For budget travellers, there’s no shame in choosing the latter.
Merlion Park, right in the heart of the Business District, is well worth a stroll, with Singapore’s national icon (half lion, half fish if you’re asking) rendered in stone statue spurting water from its mouth in the river below. Hey, we thought there were fines for spitting?
The iconic Gardens by the Bay is the premier tourist attraction, and won’t cost you a dime to enter either. It’s stunning; a huge, man made park which has to be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Visit in the early evening when temperatures are cooler and a spectacular light show illuminates the trees. Perhaps even better is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, again free to all, housing 1000 species and the world’s largest tropical orchid display.
TAKE IN THE SPECTACLE AT MARINA BAY SANDS
The glitz, the glamour and the gaudy is all part of the appeal of Singapore. Even if you’re not here to spend, gamble and carouse, there’s a voyeuristic pleasure in seeing these ostentatious displays of wealth and extravagance up close and personal. One of the best places to experience it is at the Marina Bay Sands where opulence stalks every corner.
The infinity pool at the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is perhaps one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, offering spectacular panoramic views. So spectacular, in fact, that Instagramming tourists have been banned from taking photos there. Unfortunately, the pool is reserved for guests only, but you could always play at being a hotel guest for ‘a drink in the bar’ if you want to slip past security to get a look. If role play isn’t your thing, The SkyPark Observation Deck, which is a small separate part at the top of the hotel, is accessible for all, at a price (around SG$20) of course.
Boasting one of the world’s largest Swarovski crystal chandeliers, a peep in the hotel’s casino is another way to experience the Lion City’s famed opulent flourishes. Here, you can get free water, tea, coffee and soda at the refreshment stations on the sides of the casino floor. If you’re intent on a round of roulette, ask for a list of minimum bets. Also, avoid novice mistakes (beginners luck doesn’t exist when the house always wins) and make sure you get in some practice first online to familiarise yourself with casino rules. Find trusted new casinos to practice at and preferably one that offers the chance to have a flutter without any financial commitment.
If you’re looking to experience the glitzy and glamourous bars of the Marina Bay Sands complex on the cheap, every Tuesday between 6-9 pm the complex runs, ‘social hour’ where you can get 50% off cocktails.
Much has been written about Singapore’s draconian laws relating to public decency, so we won’t dedicate too much more space to listing them. But they are pretty wild, make no mistake, so it’s best to behave yourself in the Lion City if you’re on a budget, because the fines are one hell of a deterrent. To cite two examples, walking naked in your apartment or not flushing the toilet after using it could cost you $2000 and $500 respectively. Stay wise to these restrictions if you want to stay in credit.