If Bali is a chaotic island paradise, Singapore is a well oiled city machine. In stark contrast to the crazy lawless driving and moto filled streets of Bali, Singapore has a slick and modern metro system and Ubers and Taxis waiting to pick you up on every corner.
My first excursion outside of the small surfers mecca I now call home, Singapore was both business (I needed to make a visa run) and pleasure. This place is CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN. Here are some tips and tricks to help make YOUR visit to Singapore as awesome as mine.
1 - The MTR and Singapore Airport
You’ll be taking the MTR (their underground metro system) everywhere, but you DON’T need to buy the tourist pass - just purchase individual tickets when you need them and you’ll be on your way in no time. Pickup an MTR map in the airport at any one of the info kiosks, and make your way to Terminal 2 via the sky-shuttle. If you’ve got some extra time check out the Butterfly Garden in The Departure Area, levels 1 and 2.
There are plenty of well regulated places to change your money (You’ll need to do this at the airport to take the MRT - and the rates are good, so just exchange your cash and don’t worry about the fees - there aren’t any). At those very same counters you can pick up a Singtel Tourist SIM card for your phone at a discounted rate that will keep you connected the whole trip. I purchased a 5 day card with 4Gigs of data and a couple hundred minutes for $15SGD ($11USD).
2 - Save A Ton Of Cash and Stay In An AirBNB
Like most cities around the globe, AirBNB is still gaining a foothold and the regulation has yet to catch up. It’s not exactly legal in some buildings, but it’s also not against the rules. Talk to your host and be discrete. I managed to book a STUNNING private suite on the 53rd floor in a three bedroom condo right in the heart of downtown across from the famous Marina Bay Sands for $97USD a night (saving myself over $750 vs nearby hotels). Check out the pics below of my view. WOW.
3 - Forget the fancy restaurants - Eat at the Hawker Centers!
Listen to Anthony Bourdain when he tells you the best food in town is located at the stalls in monster mall-like food complexes known as hawker centers I PROMISE he’s right! The Grand Dame of Hawker Centers, Lau Pai Sat (Old Market in Siang) was just a block from my condo and filled with more food than I could possibly hope to eat in a lifetime. It’s stunning clocktower, vaulted arches and amazing food located in the heart of the financial district make it a must see. I also visited the Chinatown Hawker Complex and the famous Maxwell Center as well as a few other smaller centers scattered around town. Don’t worry to much about what your going to eat, the choice paralysis can be overwhelming. Just head to the stalls with the longest lines and point at the photos of items that look interesting - you can’t go wrong. Expect to spend about $4-$8 SGD per meal.
4 - Get Lost and Make Friends!
After taking the MRT to Chinatown in search of more Hawker Center food, I decided to just wander the streets and explore. I was lured into a bottle shop by the rows and rows of fancy whiskey (still to expensive for my personal budget), and there I met a couple traveling from UAE. After bonding over our shared love of good whiskey and world travel, we proceeded to wander the streets together exchanging stories of adventure and eating our way through the neighborhood. Finally after discovering we were both craving a decent bookstore, we caught an uber to another neighborhood and spend an hour pouring over the stacks at Books Actually. It was brilliant. We made plans to meet up the next day for some more exploring and drinking!
5 - Do The Free Things!
There are so many amazing attractions in Singapore that don’t cost a penny. I didn’t have time on my short trip to conquer them all, but I did get a chance to explore the Singapore Botanical Gardens and their MASSIVE Orchid Complex. The Gardens are so stunning and huge that they are a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. You won’t be bored I promise. Definitely pay the small $5 SGD ($3.70 USD) fee to gain access to the Orchids. They have rare species from all over the globe laid out an amazing clusters among winding roads and greenhouses that stretch for miles. The whole thing is made to look natural, but you can tell it’s $100M+ worth of orchids carefully arranged and tended to with the eye of an architect to have the maximum visual impact. Other fun free things to do include The Gardens By The Bay Super Trees, catch the light show at The Marina Bay Sands while grabbing a photo with The Merlion, or get your culture on with free shows at The Esplanade.
6 - Check For Local Events
Super lucky me just happened to be traveling to Singapore during their annual Asia Beer Festival. With over 500 beers on tap from hundreds of international brewers, this was a MUCH cheaper way to spend an evening with friends and meet locals than buying $30 beers at a local hotel. The entry ticket was $33 SGD but would have been $22 SGD if I had purchased online in advance. Beers ranged from $5-15 SGD, but there were so many free samples, I only ended up actually purchasing 3 beers before I was “over my limit” for the night. Thank goodness for Uber.