The words ‘Singapore’ and ‘budget’ don’t often go together hand in hand – as one of the world’s wealthiest countries, it’s a destination that is often overlooked by backpackers. It shouldn’t be though! Singapore is a fantastic stopover for a few days after travelling off the beaten path in other South East Asia destinations, and it’s modern conveniences can be a welcome respite from other less-developed countries.
We were lucky enough to spend just under a week in Singapore, and whilst we spent more here than we probably had done in the last few weeks – we still managed to save money. We did this by doing our homework – reading about the experiences of others, and looking at the most efficient way to do things.
Get yourself an EZ-LINK card. These are available from the customer service booths at all MRT stations. The card costs $12 SGD, and include $7 of credit. We topped them up with a further $10. That $17 lasted us five days in Singapore. They can be used on all trains and buses. The system is so efficient (and easy to navigate) it doesn’t make sense NOT to use it! There’s a station to pretty much every destination, with the MRT coming up into the shopping centre itself or the grounds of the sight you’re visiting.
It’s a substantially cheaper alternative to taxis, and while most sights in the inner city are a walkable distance, sometimes it’s nice to not exert yourself unnecessarily in the humidity!
If you don’t use up all the credit prior to leaving Singapore, you can have the balance refunded to you when you hand the EZ-LINK card back at a customer service outlet on departure.
This can easy be one of the biggest expenses in Singapore. The best way to save money – and not compromise on taste – is to eat at Hawker centres. Every district has them – food stalls (often located in the lower stories of shopping centres) offering a range of cuisines cooked cheaply and fresh and eaten at communal plastic tables and chairs.
Our favourite was the Tekka Centre in Little India, which was near where we stayed. We enjoyed two curries, rice, and two naan bread for just $10! It was seriously good food.
Of course if you like to splurge, there’s no shortage of places to dine – but head to areas where there’s a lot of competition. You’ll notice most businesses have a salesperson by their door, offering you a deal to eat at their establishment. We splurged one night, spending $55 SGD on dinner – but we got $30 SGD of cocktails for free for eating at that particular restaurant. It’s worth walking past all the sales pitches to see who is offering a great deal before settling on a restaurant.
Singapore has no shortage of incredible things to experience! Some of which you can enjoy completely for free – others are worth shelling out for.
Gardens by the Bay
Our favourite place in Singapore – a beautiful park area with the incredible Supertree Grove. Every night at 7.45PM and 8.45PM they have a light show – come late afternoon and enjoy the various gardens, before picking a spot in the Supertree Grove to sit and watch the light show. Nab the tree right at the back, nearest Supertree dining – it’s the best spot to look upwards and see all the other trees.
The Garden Rhapsody light show was one of the coolest things we’ve seen – and completely free! For just $5 SGD you can also ascend the OCBC Skyway, a walkway between the trees 22m high!
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Botanical Gardens are unmissable – and once again, are free to enjoy (with the exception of the Orchid Garden). There are plenty of themed gardens to enjoy, and for the most part the gardens provide lots of shade – a welcome escape from the humidity! Make sure you stop by Symphony Lake – there are turtles here that you can feed with food from the vending machine.
Sentosa Island is definitely a location where you could easy drop hundreds of dollars visiting it’s parks – Universal World, Underwater World, Madame Tussauds – the list goes on and on. However, if it’s the island you wish to see – which offers beaches, gardens and boardwalks – you can do this completely for free!
Reach Sentosa via the 500m boardwalk from VivoCity (the Harbourfront MRT stop) at no charge. Wander through the park areas before reaching local ‘station’ – here you can jump on the free beach tram to visit the beaches along the far side of the island. When you’re done for the day, head back to the station and you can take the Sentosa Express (monorail) back to the mainland for nothing!
We generally aren’t huge fans of zoos, with many of them lacking in adequate facilities and care for the animals. However, with it’s numerous awards for excellence and reputation for having naturalistic, ‘open’ exhibits – we knew we couldn’t miss Singapore Zoo.
Our visit to the zoo proved to be our most expensive day but was one experience we felt was definitely worth it. You can save further money on the entrance costs by a) purchasing a combo ticket with one of the other parks, and b) by purchasing online. We saved about 20% on the usual costs by buying a combo pass to the Zoo and Night Safari online.
We highly recommend the Singapore Zoo. It was an incredible experience. Other than the poor polar bear Inuku, most of the animals looked happy and sociable. The open style exhibits were incredible – no glass walls prohibiting your view.
The Night Safari was also unlike anything else. Featuring nocturnal animals, the zoo offers walking trails and a tram trail. Start with the walking trails first (the queue is much shorter), and then join the line for the tram (which flows quickly) to do the second part of the park.
The Zoo is easily reachable by public transport, but on the way back to the city, jump on the double decker HippoBus – at $5 SGD per person, it will take you back to a stop near you plus you get the benefit of a free city tour – well, kind of!
We LOVED our time in Singapore, and wish we could have spent longer there. So many museums to see and food to eat! It’s definitely a country that impressed us, with it’s friendly helpful people, clean streets, efficient systems and no shortage of things to do. Luckily Changi airport is one we’ll be passing through quite a bit in the rest of our Asian travels – we just might need to have a longer stopover there each time!
What are your tips and suggestions for experiencing Singapore on a budget? We’d love for you to share them in the comments below.