Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

How to Do Singapore on the Cheap

23

Singapore is clean, beautiful and blissfully organized — like nowhere else in Southeast Asia!

Unfortunately, that comes at a price.

Singapore is much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia.  For a cheap, basic backpacker’s itinerary, what would cost you $20-30 in Thailand or Vietnam would cost you upwards of $50 in Singapore.

But that’s no reason to skip this fascinating city. Here are the best ways to save money in Singapore:

Couchsurf.

Before this trip, I had used Couchsurfing to meet people, but I never actually stayed over with anyone. I wrote about why here.

But when Edna, one of my readers, offered me a place to stay, I gladly accepted. My first Couchsurfing experience was wonderful — Edna and her boyfriend Mike (pictured above), as well as their two flatmates, welcomed me with warmth and generosity.  The apartment was fantastic, the couch was ridiculously comfortable, and it was nice getting to learn about the expat experience in Singapore.

We also spent a night staying in, watching Arrested Development and The Inbetweeners.  After nearly five months of backpacking Southeast Asia, sometimes you need to just kick back and watch some good TV!

Eat Hawker Food.

Singapore’s hawker centers — food courts — are the best place to eat in Singapore. Period.  The food is fantastic, and it’s cheap (about S$5 per meal, or $4 USD).  Because of Singapore’s diversity, you’ll find dishes from all over China, Malaysia and India, as well as some Singaporean inventions.

The food was universally fantastic, from soups and dumplings to rice dishes and noodles.  I also fell in love with freshly blended strawberry dragonfruit juice, and I will go to any lengths to see if I can find it in the US.

Edna advised me to get food from wherever the longest line was. Singaporeans will wait a LONG time for good food!  I agree with their philosophy wholeheartedly, and was rewarded with a delicious bowl of fish soup.

Visit Free Attractions.

Singapore has a plethora of free attractions — mostly in the form of temples, like the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, pictured above.  (Yes, they claim to have one of Buddha’s teeth…wonder what he would think of that.  Reminds me of St. Francis and the cathedral of which he never would have approved in Assisi…)

And never forget that hanging out in a park or people-watching in a mall is free — and highly entertaining!

Walk.

Despite how large in area the city-state appears to be, Singapore’s central attractions are bunched close together. Wear comfortable shoes and you can walk all the way from Chinatown to Kompong Glam to Little India.

Strolling around different neighborhoods is my favorite thing to do in a new city — and just like Boston, Paris, and New York City, Singapore is an excellent city in which to do that.

If not, get on the MRT — the very accessible subway, where rides are only a few dollars. The last train leaves at 11:30 PM.

Don’t Drink.

I know, I know. Hear me out.

Booze will decimate your budget, no matter where you are, but it will do so to an even greater extent in Singapore.

According to Edna and Mike, the cheapest beer you can find is $2.50 SGD ($2 USD) per can in the supermarket.  And that’s the gross stuff you’d never touch under ordinary circumstances.

Bottles of liquor cost several times what you’d pay in the United States. Singaporeans try to buy their liquor from duty-free shops — some even take the bus to Malaysia for the afternoon just to hit up the duty-free liquor store!

Singapore’s a good place to dry out for a few days.  I didn’t touch alcohol the whole time I was there.

Do not get a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel.

Before you go to Singapore, everybody and their mother will be asking you if you plan to get a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel. Expect these questions to continue while you’re in Singapore and long after you return home.

This quintessential Singapore experience costs S$26 — $21 USD — and that’s if you don’t want to keep the souvenir glass. Now, a cocktail that expensive should be fancy, shouldn’t it?  After all, they did invent the Singapore Sling here.

Well, it comes from a mix. They pour it from a bottle directly into your glass.  WHY does that cost so much?!  If I’m paying more than $20 for a cocktail, it better be fancy, top-shelf booze!

But even beyond the mix, the real question is…

…have you ever had a Singapore Sling in your life?

I didn’t think so.

Go, if you’re so inclined.  I hear it’s a nice bar, and you get to throw peanut shells on the floor.  But you can do that while drinking a Fanta.

You don’t need to spend a long time in Singapore.

While I recommend spending around a week in Bangkok or Saigon, I felt that three days was just about perfect for Singapore.  Any longer than that and you’ll probably get bored.

Singapore, though expensive, is definitely worth a visit — and even as a shoestringer, you can do it in a fun and affordable way!

Comments

23 Responses to “How to Do Singapore on the Cheap”
  1. Tom says:

    Wait…they pour the Singapore Sling FROM A MIX?!?! What a con! At that price, I’d expect to see some top level mixology and bartenders flipping bottles and what-not around while preparing me the ultimate cocktail!

    Ooooh that’s made me angry! haha!

  2. Pia says:

    I absolutely agree that you can visit Singapore in a budget! Like there are several nice hostels with beds costing around SGD29, food in hawker stalls at SGD5, cheap train rides, and lots of free parks and attractions.

    You just have to wander within your means and yes, stay away from alcohol! lol

  3. cram says:

    Hey! Are you still in Singapore? Holler! I wanna buy you a drink (since booze is soooo damn expensive here)!

  4. Scott says:

    Great tips, Singapore definitely seems like a unique oasis out there in SEA. The line about the Singapore Sling made me laugh. I mean seriously, can you imagine standing at a bar here in the States and the guy next to walks up and says “I need two Bud Lights, a rum and coke, and a Singapore Sling”? I think the bartender’s head would explode.

  5. Amanda says:

    If you’re smart and know what you can and can’t do for free or cheap, any major city can be done on a budget (even the “expensive” ones).

    I went to Honolulu in February — a city that can be really pricey if you’re not careful. But I stayed with a friend, used the bus, did a lot of free stuff, and spent less than $250 in an entire week. Totally possible if you’re smart!

    Glad to hear that Singapore can be the same way.

  6. Alouise says:

    Gotta say Singapore was never really on my travel radar before, but your posts on Singapore has really made me reconsider. I definitely wouldn’t get a Singapore sling though, I think it’s made from gin and I’m not a gin drinker. Plus getting from a mix seems like a ripoff.

  7. travelroach says:

    I can’t believe it. The famous home of the Singapore Sling uses pre-made stuff in a bottle? For shame!

  8. Sally says:

    I had the Singapore sling (someone else was paying… I may have even had two… hey, I know when to take advantage of a good deal when I see it!). It tastes a lot like Hawaiian Punch… but a $20 boozy, Hawaiian Punch.

  9. Jeremy B says:

    I am not a big drinker so the cost of alcohol wouldn’t hurt me a bit. However, I greatly appreciate these tips from a budget travel perspective! :)

  10. Kieron says:

    We were just in Singapore and can agree with all of these tips! Accommodation was definitely a big expense compared to the rest of SE Asia – $40SGD a night for a hostel bed.

    We did have a Singapore Sling (it’s a must-do on all the lists we read) and were pretty disappointed that it came pre-mixed and IT WAS WARM! A pint of Tiger beer at Raffles wasn’t much cheaper either!

    But travelers should definitely visit Singapore – we would recommend 4-5 days just to give yourself enough time to see everything!

  11. kira says:

    you’re absolutely right that avoiding alcohol is the first and best way to not lose all your money in Singapore…that is, unless you were able to experience Ladies’ Night? Every Wednesday, we get free cover and drinks at most bars and clubs. There’s even a place that serves free pizza ! It’s one small consolation for [female] budget travelers around here :)

  12. Paris Wells says:

    They actually serve the same pre mixed Singapore Sling now in ECONOMY for free in Singapore airlines!! Totally agreed , Singapores not really a back packers place, great for shopping and spending money though!

  13. raviraj says:

    Hi kate, Nice post I would like to add one more thing to it, If you don’t want to do couch-surfing or have no contacts to stay, there are few budget hotel’s in Little India …around s$16 – s$20 only one room with toilet n basic facility thats ok if your planing to roam the city and just was a place to sleep.

  14. Great post on Singapore, we’re actually visiting friends in the city right now! Its a fantastic place, so unique actually. We’ve found it tricky to stick to our budget, however possible it is, but even so we’ve managed to do some pretty fun things for our money :)

  15. My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was
    totally right. This post actually made my day. You cann’t imagine simply how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  16. Yes! Finally something about cruise vacation.

  17. Great tips for Singapore. We only went there because we had hotel points for a free stay. You are so right about the Singapore Sling. We usually avoid those tourist traps but succumbed to this one. We felt dirty afterwards.

  18. evelyn says:

    hi, kate! thanks for the info on singapore trip. it sure is a helpful one. my daughter and I will be going to singapore on a 3day tour come october, and i really am so thankful for your info on a cheap singapore tour. we would be staying at fragrance hotel at gelang, and I would like to know the nice places there that we could visit on foot and for free. you see we would be traveling on a limited budget. well, just to be able to see and experience singapore. thanks a lot and God bless you.

  19. It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the longer term and it’s time to be happy.
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  20. Sareeta says:

    Hi.. Thanks for the suggestions.. I am also planning 3 day trip to singapore and its my first time travelling alone.. Also in a limited budget!

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