With Singapore now officially named the world most expensive city, landing on its shores onto the 27-time World’s Best Airport can seem like the worst decision you could ever make as a budget traveller.
Your savings get shaky knees and your wallet starts to sweat in the humidity, but there is hope. We had to learn the hard way but there are some tips to make your cash go further while dining on the best in local cuisine and sunbathing on a million pound resort and perhaps even catching a movie if you feel like it!
First to get a mention is the Mass Rapid Transport. In other words the MRT, Singapore’s answer to the London underground, though uniquely Singapore. While being clean, fast, punctual and well connected, it is also really really cheap. Comparing to the London Underground, it is less than half price. I got from the centre of town to the airport for about 70p. That’s cheap and if you reuse your card then you get further discount every 3rd and 6th time you use it.
This makes getting around and seeing Singapore affordable and easy. The carriages are always clean as the don’t allow food or drink and the interior info systems are great at helping you know where you are and which side of the train to get off.
Being us, food is always pretty high on the agenda and in Singapore our tummies rumbled at the expected cash investment a full tummy would take. Not overly sure what Singaporean cuisine was specifically, we headed to a sure fire satisfaction target – Chinatown. On the way we had seen restaurants charging hefty western prices for food and were extremely glad we persevered to Chinatown where within 1 minute we had found steamed buns, dumplings, stir fried chicken and rice and a whole bunch of other thriftily priced food from the street food market at the heart of the quarter. Street food in Singapore, expectedly has a bit more form and regulation when compared to it’s Southeast Asian neighbours and their street food is outdoor but covered, static stalls along the centre of a pedestrianised zone with kitchen staff and fully equipped mini kitchens to serve up hot food made fresh for a customer. At $4/5 Singapore dollars, we definitely recommend heading here for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Chinatown Free Internet
On the topic of Chinatown, the oriental quarter also offers another pretty massive benefit to us traveller folk – WIFI. Free Wifi. Pretty good Free WIFI. As soon as you walk into Chinatown you can pick up the signal and login. No lengthy sign up etc. You can use it for 2 hours before needing to do the process again but that’s fine. Note, it is good enough to browse, not stream. I think that’s fair though.
Now Chinatown isn’t the only place for food in Singapore, clearly there are plenty of options, and cheaper ones like Chinatown, you just have to search around, or speak to locals. One such conversation took us to Zam Zam in the Arab Quarter. Sat on a corner of Arab Street and North Bridge Street Zam Zam is a real local establishment and traditional Islamic style eatery where everyone shares a large room with long tables, sat next to each other. A bit rough around the edges, the restaurant is dinner for many of the devotees of the Sultan Mosque a stones throw away. For traditional food, I thoroughly recommend it. Especially for it’s famed Murtabak. A mincemeat stuffed thin bread with fried egg and curry sauce. You can find this dish in many places in Singapore and Malaysia, this one has been the best by far. The Mutton Curry is also great and this is where we discovered Teh Tarik (or Poured Tea), a sweet and delicious Arab tea made with condensed milk that has been poured from height several times to create a thick, sweet and frothy beverage.
90c 7/11 Steamed Buns
When in need of a quick snack, anyone of the hundreds of 7/11’s can be useful. Dotted around the whole island, indeed the whole of SEA, a 7/11 can be a haven for the basics. By recommendation of our friend Owen, Singaporean 7/11’s have Chinese steamed buns prepared and ready to eat for less than 90cents and provide a perfect quick snack for between meals. Rather than spending loads on another meal of expensive imported nuts or crazy smelly fruit which will make you many many many hundreds of enemies (Durian fruit), a cheeky bun will do the trick.
Although we didn’t make it on this occasion, we were very surprised to find out that 1. Singapore has beautiful beaches and 2. that they are virtually free to go to. This was almost mind blowing and I wish we found this out sooner. Sentosa Island is Singapore’s answer to Florida but is Uniquely Singapore… it has Underwater World, Universal Studios, Golf courses, Hotels, Madame Tussauds and beaches. And you can go to Sentosa for…… $1! Well, the island anyway. Entry to the actual attractions is additional but to get onto the island and therefore the beaches, it only costs $1 and a walk. You can walk across a bridge to the island and spend as much time as you want there. So stroll on over, take in Marina Bay Sands on the way and work on your tan on a world renowned resort.
Gardens by the Bay – Botanical Gardens
These brand new Gardens by the Bay are magnificent and absolutely free to enter. There are 2 bio-domes that cost either $16 each or $28 for both that hold the true magic of the gardens but the entire space is free to walk around and learn about the world’s foliage. Also home to events, parties, christmas markets and award winning restaurants, you can easily spend a lot of time here without spending a lot of money. Think the Eden Project but uniquely Singapore.
Now this is a particularly bitter topic for me as in 2010 when I was at Changi airport, I need to sleep there for a few hours. I had heard from others that it was award winning and you could do some awesome things there but as it turned out, I couldn’t find any and slept next to a service elevator on cold marble floor incase someone found me and told me off. 4 years later I’ve found out that Changi actually encourages sleep at it’s airport and even has a free cinema…. what!!??!! As is turns out, had I got the free shuttle train over to another terminal, there is a free cinema, free internet, loads of restaurants, free massage chairs, sleeping chairs, mini short stay hotels, showers, games, a shopping mall and then some. More than enough to keep me entertained for a night. Usually people wait to the last minute to go to the airport, though next time we’re there, I’ll be heading there early, catching a movie or two and playing some games before boarding.
So that’s a quick and simple guide on how to do Singapore on the cheap and some suggestions of what to do when you are there. If you have anymore recommendations that let us know but we’re certain these will keep you entertained and fight back the panic of the world most expensive city.