People admire Singapore for its beauty and progressiveness. It’s a country that is diminutive in size compared to other countries—in fact, it’s only slightly more than 3.5 times the size of Washington DC, but what Singapore lacks in size, it makes up for in wealth. It’s the epitome of a cosmopolitan city, and signs of luxury and the good life can be spotted everywhere. This is a place where high-end cars such as Lamborghinis and Ferraris are driven on the road and not just parked on the driveway. It’s a country touted as a new Monaco, a paradise for the very wealthy few. Singapore is the world’s richest Chinese majority country, and the island has 188,000 millionaire households, which means 1 in 6 homes has a disposable wealth of $1 million.
With all these rich folks living in the island, naturally consumer spending is encouraged and tailor-fit to draw the interest of individuals with discerning tastes. Hence, you have your restaurants backed by world famous chefs, designer branded products in abundant display in shop windows, and places of entertainment and leisure that only the truly wealthy can afford to patronize. Budget travelers and backpackers might complain that a holiday spent in Singapore will mean a month or so of eating instant ramen noodles to make up for the cost, but believe it or not, there are a lot of things that you can do here that will cost next to nothing. Yes, even in the playground of the rich and famous, it’s possible to have a fun time without draining your wallet.
Before we round up all the places to visit and activities to do that are a budgeter’s dream, here are a few tips on saving money while on vacation in Singapore:
- Don’t be afraid to drink tap water. Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, tap water in Singapore is safe to drink. You might want to consider it, since a bottle of water can cost about $2 in convenience stores. Or you can buy a small bottle, then keep it and refill it with tap water for free.
- Don’t eat at a posh mall. Get good eats at cheap prices from food courts, food halls and hawker stands. A delicious meal at a food hall will only cost you around $4 to $6. For packaged snacks, buy those from the big supermarkets that you can find in the malls. Don’t get them from the convenience stores, the mark-up is quite high.
- Don’t drink or smoke. Alcohol and cigarettes are heavily taxed in Singapore. A pack of cigarettes costs $12, and the door fee for night clubs plus one watery drink can set you back by $30.
- Get familiar with Singapore’s transportation system. You can easily spot a person who’s visiting Singapore for the first time by the way he travels. Most newbies pay for each bus and train journey, and that adds up. To save money, get an EZ-Link card. It’s a card that you can use on the MRT, LRT and most public buses. It costs $15 and has $10 worth of credit. It’s also easy enough to reload the card at MRT train stations and convenience stores. Having an EZ-Link card also means that you get to save time while travelling, as there’s no need to wait in queues at ticket machines at the MRT station.
- Be careful where you shop. Singapore has a lot of shopping malls, and most of them carry ridiculously expensive items. Do your souvenir shopping in Chinatown or Little India. If you’re in need of a little retail therapy, you might want to look into buying Singapore brands that are considered to be luxury brands in some parts of Southeast Asia, but are actually quite affordable. Check out Charles and Keith for shoes and bags. You can also visit factory outlets of famous brands such as Giordano, Esprit and Adidas to get the real deal at deeply discounted prices.
- Search for budget-friendly accommodations. Even a modest hotel can cost a lot of money, so consider staying in Little India where hostels and hotels have cheaper rates. You could also look into couch surfing. This is a practice done by former travelers or expatriates wherein they open up their home to give someone a free place to sleep. Check out couchsurfing.com to find people you can stay with in Singapore, for no cost at all.
- Take advantage of freebies. Explore the parks, enjoy public performances and art displays along the riverfront and city center. Stop by on a weekends to get your entertainment for free.
- Follow the rules, or risk getting fined. Fine payment kiosks can be found all over the city, so unless you want to blow your budget paying fines for seemingly innocent actions, it’s good to be aware of Singaporean rules and regulations. For instance, you can get fined for not using marked crosswalks. The same goes for not using a seatbelt inside a car and using a mobile phone while driving. You might also be charged for chewing gum, eating snacks and drinking inside MRT trains or public transportation.
Now that all that is out of the way, we can go to the fun part. Here are the top 5 places to visit that are affordable, yet lots of fun!
1. Sengkang Swimming Complex
Cost: $0.65 to $1.20 per person
The country can be oppressively hot: that’s why the government has built a network of swimming facilities all over the island to help people escape from the heat. These pools and water parks are subsidized by the government, and the fee is as low as $0.65 for kids, and $1.20 for adults.
2. East Coast Park
East Coast Park is not a park—it’s a 15km stretch of beach where you can swim, work on your tan, read a novel, and get away from the crowds. The barbeque pits can be used for free, so bring your own burgers, chicken and drinks. By evening, you can join in a friendly game of soccer, as amateur locals often head to this park for impromptu matches.
3. Light Show at the Marina Bay Sands
In 2010, one of the world’s most expensive casinos, the Marina Bay Sands, opened in Singapore. It is one of the most profitable casinos in the world. Singaporeans and other permanent residents must pay a government collected fee of $80 as admission fee but foreigners may enter for free. This casino also has a free light show called Wonder Full. It comes on twice every evening, and as often as three times on weekend nights. The whole show lasts for 13 minutes, artfully combining lights, graphic projections and water jets accompanied by music recorded by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra. Stay at the Helix Bridge or at the Marina Bay Sands Event Plaza to get a good view of the light show.
4. Visit a village that’s frozen in time
Though Singapore is an ultra-modern country in a lot of aspects, it wasn’t always this way. The country used to be a part of Malaysia, and when it gained its independence in 1965, Singapore was still dotted by kampongs, or villages. For $2, you can ride a wooden boat from the Changi Point Ferry Terminal going to Pulau Ubin, a remnant of kampung life. It’s a place where there is a charming lack of development, a true throwback to the Singapore of yesterday. One can buy and enjoy a fresh coconut after walking around the woods, and there are a few houses on stilts, bicycle trails and lakes. It’s an experience that you don’t want to miss, especially since it only takes 10 minutes from the ferry terminal to the kampung.
5. MacRitchie Reservoir Treetop Walk
For a respite from the concrete jungle of Singapore, head to MacRitchie Reservoir Park for an 8km round trip to the Treetop Walk. From there, you can climb a 250m suspension bridge that is atop the rainforest canopy. Wear comfortable shoes if you plan on doing the Treetop Walk.
Though it seems like everything costs a lot in Singapore, the country does have attractions and activities that one can enjoy without spending a lot of money. Make smart choices, stick to the rules, and go off the beaten path once in a while and you’ll be fine. You’ll definitely enjoy your vacation more, knowing that you’ve made the most of your stay while managing to stick with your budget so you won’t have to live off instant ramen once you get home.
And that, coupled with the adventure of a lifetime in Singapore, is priceless.