Backpacking in Singapore
Singapore may have been voted as the most expensive city in the world to live in, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting the only country in Southeast Asia that is so highly influenced by Western culture. Many backpackers on the Southeast Asia trail may think it’s expensive to backpack in Singapore, and yes, it may be a little tough on your wallet comparing to neighboring countries in the region, like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia, but after all, it is still Asia. And it is possible to find cultural things to do in a busy city such as Singapore, and best of all, for free too. Okay, so maybe prices of alcohol and tobacco might be exorbitant, and fancy restaurants and quaint cafes are littered on every corner. Still, it is possible to live on a couple of dollars a day if you know exactly where to eat and where to go. As a fellow budget traveler, I totally understand if people try to avoid expensive cities like the plague, but if you’re just stopping by for a day or two and have no clue what to do, hopefully this post might help. After all, in this tiny island that only measures 41.8 km by 22.5 km, it is not that difficult to walk around from one place to another. Sometimes I don’t even understand why there is a need for so many different train stations situated in the same area. The only real thing you’d have to battle is theÂ humidity.
So how do you go around Singapore on a budget and still see things without having to pay too much, you ask?
Eat local food at local places:
Many people head to tourist destinations to try local food. Oh, how many people have I met who proudly tell me that they’ve been to the Raffles Hotel and drank the famous Singapore Sling there. What they don’t know is that it’s a complete rip off and it would probably taste the same as any other bars that serve it. The fact that it is THE place that invented it is what entices people to go there to try it, but reallyâ€¦ are you going to pay more than $30 for grenadine syrup, some gin and cherry brandy. Sounds silly now doesn’t it? So screw the most touristy thing to do, that isn’t even worth being on your list of things to do in Singapore. Avoid expensive cafes and restaurants that people are recommending and go local. Head to a coffee shop in the morning for some Kaya Toast and soft boiled eggs and learn the “coffeeshop lingos”, have your meals in a hawker centre and watch how ugly Singaporeans claim territory for seats with a packet of tissue paper (It’s quite funny sometimes), and try what little “street food” we have, like Kacang Puteh, or the $1 ice cream sandwiches around town.
Here is an amazing list of food that you should try when in Singapore. Of course there’s only so much a person can stuff their face with in a day or 2, but I always like to say “there’s always next time”. Food prices in hawkers can cost you anything from S$2 to S$5. Sometimes more, but it depends on what you eat, of course.
See the Singapore skyline at hotels
A lot of things are unallowed in Singapore, but it’s not a crime to go around hotels to get a look of the Singapore skyline for free. Yes, if you’d like to spare some money to see the sky park on the Marina Bay Sands, be my guest. Â But i’m trying to list free options in this post for people who can’t afford to blow the equivalent of a 1 week stay in Cambodia just for an hour view of an urban jungle. When my German friend came to visit, I took him to Equinox on the 71st floor of Swisshotel in mid day and had a panoramic look around the city. Yes, it is a bar and yes they do expect you to buy a drink. But since we went there in the day, it’s not like I’m taking up any seats from anyone, right? Nobody bothered me to order a drink and I wasn’t hanging around too long anyway. Sometimes you just need to know where to go and screw the invisible rules, because technically there are none. Alternatively, you could take the bubble lift inside the Pan-Pacific Hotel to the 38th floor and just watch the skyline from inside the elevator. If you know anybody who stays at Pinnacle @ Duxton from Couchsurfing, or if you’re friends with a local who lives there, you can also have access to the private sky garden as well. The view is pretty sick from the roof of these flats.
Sungei Thieves Market
Probably the only few remaining places in this bustling city that you can actually bargain for what you’re buying. There are other flea markets around Singapore, but it’s all overpriced with boutique labels, and not what a flea market should be. Thieves’ Market’s name originated from the belief that the old people who set up stores there are selling stolen or found items. Here you can find many old things, knick knacks, electronics and other junk items for a really reasonable price. And considering that it already costs $15 for a pint of beer, I’d say things at this flea market is a steal. it’s not as big as it used to be due to the upgrading works and construction site that now sits on the other half of the flea market, but it is still worth a look. Who knows if this place is going to exist in time to come? After all this city is moving way too fast.
Opening Hours: 3:00pm – 6:00pm
Take a walk down Arab St & Haji Lane
Not only is the famous Sultan Mosque located in the area, it’s also a popular spot for people to go for shisha at night. Around the area are many indie-cafes, boutique stores and more. It’s not necessarily cheap in the area, but it’s also a place that isn’t exactly featured on the lonely planet guide. The architecture of the buildings in this area is slightly more traditional, some Peranakan houses and the mix of modern shops, arabic carpet shops and shisha joints gives the streets a real kitsch feel.
Cheap shopping, if you even need to do shopping and lots of food. You can try Durian here if you’re adventurous enough. Other things you could do in the area is to visit the si ma lu temple, get your palms read, walk down a maze of shops that sell asian imported goods or do a cheap $5 express manicure (if you’re a girl, of course)
Explore City Hall
Enjoy the CBD skyline, see the overrated Merlion spitting water out from it’s half-lion-half-mermaid mouth, read the poem that’s below the Merlion, take a walk around the Esplanade, go inside and check out free gigs that may be happening at the open area concert hall, take a look at some of the installations or art exhibitions in the building, talk a walk through the Helix bridge, and towards that weird building with the ship on top also known as the Marina Bay Sands, eat an ice cream sandwich on the way there, preferably corn flavored wrapped around with bread, and sit by the bay front to enjoy the sunset overlooking the river. If you have extra time, pop by Gardens by the Bay, a futuristic eco park that is extremely captivating at night. Entrance fee to the flower domes apply, but walking around the park itself is free.
Walk down Clarke Quay
As you already know, alcohol prices are insane and Clarke Quay is one of those places you just want to have a drink at because bars are lined up along the Singapore River, there’s a reverse bungee place that shoots people up into the sky every now and then and you can hear screams that resemble that of a chicken shrieking. There’s trippy neon lights from the bridge that reflect off the waters and the place is crawling with attractive people who are out for a drink or two. But it doesn’t mean that if you’re on a budget you can’t hang out here. There are steps all along the river that you could settle down at, or get comfortable by the famous bridge that everybody drinks at. After all, booze may be expensive in bars, but in the grocery stores, they’re still considered reasonably priced, and yes they’re chilled too.
One of the places that actually hasn’t been overly renovated or upgraded in the past 10 years, you can still see shophouses from back in the days here. Some of them have been refurbished, but the original ones are still around. Walking through Chinatown can be interesting if you’ve just jumped off a train from the CBD area. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it culture shock, but the vibe is relatively different. Food is generally cheaper in the hawker centre and there’s many Chinese Nationals in the area selling delicious Chinese food like duck and pig innards, everything and anything sichuan flavored, you name it you got it. Apart from eating, you could also visit the Buddhist Tooth Relic temple (don’t worry it’s free unlike in Sri Lanka where they make people pay to see a casket where they claim the tooth is inside), or the Sri Mariaman temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore.
Chill out at the Botanic Gardens
If you’re lucky and happen to be in Singapore at the right time, there’s free classical music concerts held at the Symphony Lake in Botanical Gardens. All you need to do is bring some food and a picnic mat (yes, it’s necessary because in Singapore it’s humid and there’s not only mud, but ants). Then sit back, relax, enjoy the nice park and your picnic, accompanied by soothing classical music from the Orchestra!
Visit Haw Par Villa
This attraction has been long neglected and may not suit most tourists. Haw Par Villa used to be a theme park that used to cater to locals, especially chinese families and this park contains 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese mythology, folklore, legends, history, and illustrations of various aspects of Confucianism. Because it’s now closed as a “theme park”, and there’s technically no entrance fee to visit the premises.Â It’s interesting if you’re the type of traveler that wants to see an old part of Singapore that wasn’t all shiny skyscrapers and fancy malls. Well actually, there is an entrance fee to the “18 levels of Hell” but that’s only probably a dollar or two (Don’t worry, that’s the name of the attraction). I reckon as a tourist in Singapore, you might either get completely creeped out by this place, or find it god damn fucking awesome. So look it up before you actually decided to travel to the west region to see this forgotten theme park.
Explore Little India
Of course you don’t want to come to Singapore to experience a piece of India, but just in case that’s exactly what you’re looking for, this is the place that you can go to where you won’t feel like everything is way too clean and sparkly and that a dress code is necessary. I love Little India, I love it because I can eat cheap and amazing Indian food, and get fresh fruits for 25% less of the price that I’d usually have to pay in a proper supermarket. it’s a great place to explore, see the colorful buildings and shophouses that surround it, there’s also Tekka Food Center if you want to see a hawker centre and a wet market at the same time. The only mall that opens 24-7 is also located here, it’s called Mustafa Mall and in there you can find heaps of goods, watches, electronics, food at a cheaper price and of course this is all walking distance from Bugis so weaving in and out through small alleys and streets would land you in Little India. It’s quite a fun and interesting area to explore around too!
Lastly, find a Pasar Malam
Everyone loves to visit a Pasar Malam, which is a temporary outdoor market selling all sorts of ‘street food’ and goods like toys, every day necessities, electronics, phone accessories, clothes etc. It’s usually a night market that opens for only 2 weeks or so and located at heartlands around Singapore. The food you can get at Pasar Malams are ridiculously cheap and tasty, and some of which cannot be found in hawkers or restaurants. It’s also a good experience to have especially as a tourist! Finding it is the only challenge, but it all depends on timing and chance.
Now who says you can’t backpack in Singapore for less than $30 a day?
Also check out: Singapore Travel Guide