After 5 years of living abroad, I like a challenge, and attempting to spend a week in Singapore without going broke seemed good enough. It’s well-known that the city-state is not a cheap place to visit and this is evident in the lack of dirty hippie backpackers slumming around. My friend Anna and I rarely saw foreigners and when we did, they were families or couples, who obviously had enough money or good taste to not wear elephant pants. We tried out backpacker bars, but they were weirdly devoid of backpackers and beers cost 11 SGD or 8 USD. Servers at restaurants outwardly disliked us when we didn’t order drinks or spend enough money and we literally had a taxi driver drive away from us because we wanted to go to a nature reserve. If you like to sit on bean bags, drink a shitty mixed drink out of a bucket while walking down the road, and pay only two dollars for a meal, then Singapore may not be for you, but I loved it! It certainly was a challenge, but I managed to spend less than I’ve spent on some beach vacations in Southeast Asia. Here are my tips on how to have a fabulous time in Singapore and not feel like a total street rat.
Accept that you have to change your drinking habits and think outside the box
The most expensive thing in Singapore is a good drink. Even a bad one, really. Cocktails run from 20-30 SGD and a beer or glass of wine is about 10 SGD. Your best bet at saving money is to not drink, but I’m not an idiot, you won’t do that. Second best option is to buy some hard liquor at Duty Free and make mixed drinks in your hotel room that will bring you right back to your college days.
It’s also a good idea to hit up the happy hours all over the city, running from 5pm-9pm. You’ll be able to find beers for half price or two for one. They still won’t be as cheap as you’d like, but they won’t be a wallet bomb either. I had the best cocktail of this year at Loof, a very hidden, rooftop bar. It was called To Thai For and it tasted exactly like Thailand. I’m literally sitting in Thailand right now and I miss it. It was 17 SGD and worth it, even if it was the only drink I could afford that night.
Be careful about taking your drinks out into the street. Drinking in public is completely illegal in many places, especially after 10:30pm, due to recent riots.
Don’t eat in any restaurant that isn’t open air
The cheapest places to eat in Singapore are the food centers, hawker stalls, and street noodle shops. None of these places have legit doors. If you want a meal running from 2 SGD-8 SGD, then you can’t be hanging out in one of those fancy restaurants with doors. You’ll be looking at plates from 10 SGD-30 SGD.
Newton Food Centre has delicious seafood, while Maxwell Road Hawker Centre has rows of Thai, Chinese, and Japanese delectables. My personal favorite was a place called Scissor Cut Curry, in Little India, where a plate of rice, bean sprouts and mixed vegetables, curry sauce, and a fried egg was less than 2 SGD. Once I found it, I didn’t see the point of eating anywhere else.
Take advantage of all the free sights in Singapore
Singapore is full of night safaris, amusement parks, fancy hotels, and observation decks, but none is this seems fully Singaporean to me. There are many more things to do, which actually let you explore the culture, rather than pay money for experiences that have nothing to do with it.
Singapore Botanic Gardens are massive, worth a whole day, and FREE. That blows my mind because they could make a killing (although the park restaurants are not cheap so bring a picnic or try the cheapest option, Food For Thought). There’s a myriad of trails, a large lake, amphitheater, a garden that teaches you about the medicinal properties of various plants, and even an “evolution garden.”
Beware the monitor lizards though. We saw one swimming in the lake and another digging in the bushes and they are disturbingly large.
Little India and Chinatown neighborhoods are free to wander and both have stunning temples (also free, but cover up) within. Eating street food, wandering through shop stalls, watching the locals pray, and of course, taking a bunch of pictures on Instagram will keep you fully occupied.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a small, but lovely hiking/walking area on the outskirts of Singapore. All the Singaporeans we asked acted like we were going to the moon, but it’s laughably simple to get there. Either take the MRT to Beauty World (it’s about a 5 min walk away) or a taxi from Little India was only around 11 SGD. You probably don’t even need to wear hiking clothes, as the terrain is not tough and mostly paved. We had a silly time playing on the exercise machines and play structures placed throughout and got to watch two monkeys do it before attacking some woman, so I’d say it was a pretty eventful day.
If it’s raining, nerd it up and go to The Mind Cafe, a board game cafe that has several branches in the city. We went and were the only non-Asian, non-students. We felt a little weird at first, in the cramped, upstairs cafe that reminded me of high school, but we laughed our asses off playing some sandwich slapping game made for children. It was 3 SGD for an hour and it kept us entertained, plus the people watching is great.
If you want to be cooler than that, go to the Singapore Art Museum on Friday nights when entry is free.
For a even weirder experience, there is Har Paw Village, made by the inventors of Tiger Balm. It’s easily one of the most photogenic/fucked up things I’ve seen in a long time. And I live in Thailand.
I wouldn’t take super young children or if you do, you might have to explain why there is a statue of an old woman suckling some lady’s boob (or explain it to me because I still don’t know why.)
Hang out at the airport
We spent 5 hours at the airport the day we had to leave….by choice. There’s that much to do there. You can watch free movies in a movie theater, go down a four story slide (if you can show a receipt that proves you have spent 10 bucks somewhere in the airport), a sunflower garden, a butterfly garden, free art activities, and on-going events. We got to pose with Storm Troopers and sit in an X-wing for free. No wonder it is the world’s best airport.
Ok, and splurge a bit. You earned it!
I love coffee, nay I goddamn obsess over it. My splurge was going to Chye Seng Huat Hardware almost every day. No, I was not buying hammers, it’s a hipster AF coffee shop that turns into a craft brewery at night. I know, right? Dreams do come true. Their iced latte rocked my world and just thinking about it makes me want to buy a plane ticket back.
For a great meal that isn’t insanely expensive, Gayatri Indian Restaurant has got some spicy and filling banana leaf curry.
If you want to go dancing, but you’d rather not dance around in your room to Youtube because that is all you can afford, Kyo is the new hip place to be. Entry is around 20 SGD (but ladies, go on Thursday for free drinks and/or entry), but they had one of the best DJ’s I’ve never heard and no, it’s not because it was the first time I’d had a decent amount of alcohol all week.
That’s it, good luck, and try and head to Thailand afterwards, so you can feel like a king and wear mangy clothes again without being judged.