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Asia on the cheap: Singapore edition
Welcome to the 7th edition of Asia on the Cheap! Country #7 on this tour is one of my favourites in the region: Singapore.
People are surprised when I say that I absolutely adore Singapore. The general impression of this tiny city-state is that it’s rather dull and sterile, and far too expensive compared to its neighbours. Expats living there typically complain that there’s little to do except eat or shop.
Well Singapore holds a place in my heart because it’s where we first moved to in Asia eight years ago. I stayed for about six months, and spent many of my days wandering around the various art galleries, going for long walks, and making some local friends. I found that the city has a lot to offer – for little money – if you open your eyes and escape from the glitzy malls.
Singapore is not perfect: citizens have made the trade off between freedom of speech and assembly for comfort, wealth, and stability. But I’m absolutely fascinated by the government’s hybrid socialist and gung-ho free market approach.
On this trip, we were due to spend just 3 days here, but due to a passport mishap, we ended up staying for a whole week.
The former leader of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew, had the vision to transform Singapore into a ‘garden city’ back in the 60s. He wanted the island to be covered by trees and green spaces.
This progressive vision has turned Singapore into a fantastic place to walk: there are so many parks, which are often linked through ‘park connectors’, so you can walk for miles and miles in greenery.
While the weather is hot and humid in Singapore, I think that the sheer number of majestic trees helps to make it feel cooler. There are also 2,000km of covered walkways in the city, which provide shade when it’s sunny and shelter when it’s raining.
On this trip, in addition to general walking around the city, we did walks in the Botanic Gardens, and Bedok Reservoir. We attempted the hike from Bukit Timah to MacRitchie Reservoir, which is about 15km, but heavy rain curtailed our journey early on.
To have a look at all the hikes and walks available in Singapore, check out the National Parks Board website.
Taking in the heritage and culture
The country is home to three main ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay, and Indian, which means that there’s a lot to explore in terms of temples, churches, mosques, and generally taking in the different cultures. For example, right by our first AirBnb, we had a Buddhist Chinese temple, a Hindu temple opposite, and a mosque just behind.
There are also plenty of neighbourhoods with beautifully restored shophouses and quirky shops and cafes. We like looking at the Peranakan shophouses by Joo Chiat Road, walking around Tiong Bahru, and grabbing coffee in Everton Park near Chinatown.
Away from the hipster neighbourhoods, and city centre are the Singapore ‘heartlands’ – regular places inhabited by the average Singaporean that are far from what you see in the Crazy Rich Asians movie. We love wandering these charming neighbourhoods too – and used to live in one.
Scoffing Singaporean food
Such rich heritage comes with diverse culinary offerings. Eating is definitely a national pastime and we enthusiastically took part while we were there. My favourite dish is nasi lemak – a Malay dish that consists of rice cooked with coconut milk, which typically comes with a spicy sambal, small dried fish and peanuts, cucumber, and an egg. I tried to get my nasi lemak fix everyday.
Another food highlight on this trip was discovering Ananda Bhavan, an Indian vegetarian place. The meal sets were absolutely huge, and incredibly delicious.
We made sure to eat some Singaporean laksa, and kaya toast, and also had some great fish and chips in my favourite pub, The Cider Pit.
FutureWorld exhibit at the ArtScience Museum
We didn’t go to any regular art galleries this time, but we did check out the FutureWorld exhibit. We fell in love with TeamLab, a Japanese art collective, when we went to their Borderless exhibition in Tokyo. After we found out they had another permanent exhibit in Singapore called FutureWorld, we knew we had to go!
Like the one in Tokyo, this exhibition is made up of different rooms with interactive, immersive digital art installations. We went on a quiet weekday, so had plenty of time to explore and appreciate the sights and sounds.
How much we spent
£37.56 per person
Yet another freezing Air Asia flight, this time from Yogyakarta in Indonesia.
£93.66 per person total
AirBnb #1: £58.80 per person (3 nights)
AirBnb #2: £34.86 per person (3 nights)
Accommodation is usually the most expensive part of any Singapore visit. We find that AirBnb offers much better value than staying in a hotel, even though AirBnb technically isn’t legal in Singapore.
Our first AirBnb was quite central and convenient, in Little India. However, we decided to move out to Bedok for the latter half, since it was almost half the price, and it was still easy to get around.
£18.30 per person
This was spent on buying a card for the MRT and buses, and topping it up. I still have unused credit on my card for whenever our next Singapore trip comes up.
Food and drink
£52.15 per person
We ate a lot in Singapore, but kept the costs down by mostly eating in hawker centres, and local restaurants. Included in this sum is a lot of drinks as well: mostly tea and yuen-yang (a tea-coffee mix which works surprisingly well!)
£8 per person
This was for the ticket to the FutureWorld exhibit. We got a good discount on these because we used a Singaporean CitiBank card.
Laundry and toiletries, including my expensive contact lens solution that I can only find in Singapore and Malaysia.
Total trip cost
The week in Singapore came up to £224.07 – not bad for a place known for being expensive.
I think everyone should go to Singapore! Have you ever been? Comment below!