Ah Singapore, home of skyscrapers, shopping malls, and anti-chewing gum laws. But hold the phone, there’s more! Known primarily as a popular gateway hub due to its geographical location and quality of airport, Singapore is also a damn fine place to stop for a day or three on your way to or from Europe or Asia. With so many friends and colleagues living in Singapore over the years I’ve taken plenty of opportunities to stop on the way home and put my feet up. If you’re there for a good time but not a long time, here’s what you need to check out.
Singapore at a Glance
Singapore is right on the equator and tropical. The weather therefore ranges between “bloody hot and humid” and “thunderstorming”. This is the case pretty much all year round. Expect daytime temperatures around 32°C (86°F) during the day and maybe a few degrees cooler at night.
Prices per day:
Singapore can be everything from cheap as chips to “my God that was expensive” depending on whether you give your money to small-time locals in hawker markets or places catering to expats. Beware as sales tax (7%) may not be included in the quoted price- you can always ask. In restaurants you will also be subject to a 10% service charge, additional to the quoted prices.
Big Mac Index: S$4.50 (16.5% cheaper than a US Big Mac)
Food: From a few dollars for (usually fantastic) street stall cuisine up to S$50+ for dinner at a nice expat-ty type restaurant
Hotel: S$100 (budget) to $400 (high end). If you’re arriving late, try the Crowne Plaza, just past security at Changi airport Terminal 3. Easy as pie and you can sleep next to the runway and take the MRT into the city in the morning. Or for a hotel in the city, try the Shangri-La Hotel in the Orchard Road area which is very nice.
Hostel: S$20 to S$60. Try the Adler Hostel in Chinatown- awesome accommodation at low prices.
Entertainment: Generally not on the cheap side- you could easily spend S$25 on cover charge for a popular nightclub
Drink: S$3 – $4 a can of beer if you drink at small hawker places or $10 and up at nice bars. And I do mean “and up”! Drinking is a very good way to spend your money quickly in Singapore… unfortunately.
Transport: $10 for a taxi in the city or around $25 from airport to city or vice versa. A few bucks to catch the MRT.
Taxis are not really that expensive in Singapore ($10 for a taxi in the city or around $25 from airport to city or vice versa), but honestly, do yourself a favour and catch the excellent MRT subway system. It’s cheap, goes everywhere and it’s so damn efficient. Watch in bewilderment as the readout gives you the number of seconds til the next train, which arrives dead on schedule and the platform doors (yes there are doors on the platform itself) open up in perfect alignment with those on the train. In contrast the taxis are old and stinky.
1. Boat Quay and Clarke Quay
It’s going on dusk, the bars are buzzing and the traffic is sliding past on the river. Boat quay is a row of neat little colonial houses nestled amongst modern day skyscraper monoliths. It’s not only picturesque but a great place to go for a beer, a burger, or some chilli crab. A favourite for expats finishing work, well-heeled locals and tourists. Grab a seat overlooking the river, a pint of beer, and watch the ferries go by. Try The Penny Black for an atmospheric colonial-style place. Similar in some ways to Boat Quay but perhaps with more colour, Clarke Quay is a short walk down the river and is a mishmash of little bars, shops, restaurants and nightclubs on the Singapore River. Try Crazy Elephant if you’re looking for a beer and some tunes.
Spectacular or appalling depending on your point of view, but always interesting. The Marina is just inside the Singapore Strait. You can stroll along the waterfront promenade and check out the boats going past and the Merlion spewing water into the air, but beware as the distances can be vast. Not a bad place for a jog, though, if running fairly slowly for prolonged periods is your thing. Interesting buildings to check out are the “Stinky Durian” (actually Esplanade- Theatres on the Bay, but it looks like the tropical fruit), the rather stunning lotus-flower-shaped ArtSciences Museum and the new and rather ridiculous/incredible Marina Bay Sands. The latter will cost you an arm and a leg to ascend, and you’ll possibly have to queue for a while but swimming in the huge infinity pool checking out the city below is rather a tres-cool thing to do. It also houses a casino which like most casinos is horrible and locals are even prevented from law by entering.
3. Go Shopping for Electronics
Singapore’s not quite as cheap for electronics as it once was- hang out for Hong Kong or the USA for bargains if you can. But if you are fixated on this kind of activity in Singapore then check out Funan shopping mall, the nearby Peninsula Mall, or Sim Lim Square. However, do your research, be prepared to haggle and have a rough idea of a good price so that you can make an informed decision. Otherwise you’ll probably get ripped off since they do this every day- you don’t.
4. Go Shopping for Clothes
If you’re a shop-til-you-drop kinda gal (or guy, not to make presumptions here) or if your girlfriend (boyfriend) is, or even if you’ve never bought a thing in your life then you might like to take a stroll down Orchard Road. It’s modern, it’s happening, it’s skyscraperish and all the big fashion chains from Armani to Zara have stores here. There’s also a bunch of pricy restaurants and bars.
It’s not just a world-class international airport you know! Changi is an awesome off-the-beaten track place with fishing villages, fishing boats, great hawker-style food markets and last but not least, the site of the notoriously brutal Japanese POW camp from World War Two. The museum is sombre, fascinating and well worth the visit.
6. Eat Chilli Mud Crab
Cooked in a delicious thick tomato and chilli based sauce, and a Singapore specialty, you can catch this dish in many eateries but do yourself a favour and head up to Dempsey Hill. There you can hang out on an outdoor table in the balmy tropical air at Long Beach, Harry’s or Jumbo with a jug of Tiger beer and a plate of chilli crab or black pepper crab. Mmmmmm my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Singapore is truly one of the best, cheapest and most diverse places to eat on earth. While I’m at it, I’ll recommend the districts of Little India and Chinatown for their respective ethnic gastronomy, as well as being fascinating places to walk around.
7. Catch up on Some Colonial History, Mate
Singapore’s strategic location right between India and China, its excellent harbour, and its free-trade status granted by its visionary founder Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles has led to enviable success as an Asian hub and a veritable treasure trove of beautiful British-lookin’ Victorian-era buildings. Basically they are everywhere you look, but I like the Cricket Club, Raffles Hotel, the Fullerton Hotel, Stamford House and the Central Fire Station. Oh and don’t miss the bridges- Cavanagh Bridge is delightful.
8. Ride the Flowrider, a Rollercoaster or Lay on the Beach at Sentosa
If Singapore’s artificiality is depressing you, then you’d probably best stay away from Sentosa. On the other hand if you’re looking for some cheesy but shameless fun then get on down. There’s not many places in the world where you can ride a flowrider (an artificial wave) but Singapore is one of them. Beware though, it’s difficult. Even if you’ve surfed before, this is not like riding an ocean wave and you are likely to take a pounding and go over the falls onto foam-covered concrete a couple of times. I managed to avoid injury but I imagine wrists and collarbones would be common casualties. Sentosa also has a bunch of theme parks and beach bars. The beaches are man-made and rather artificial, but I kind of like hanging on the beach there as you are right on the Singapore Strait with all the ships going past. And there ain’t nothin’ quite like bathing in the oil-stricken wake of 100 passing tankers.
9. Take a Treetop Walk
An oft-overlooked part of Singapore is its stunning natural environment. The National Parks board maintains a series of walks on elevated walkways and other walks through the forest. If the weather’s not too hot this is a sensational way to spend a day or the afternoon. Expect to see plenty of wildlife including cheeky monkeys. The most famous is the MacRitchie Treetop Walk, and the Forest Walk is great too.
Singapore is not the world’s premier nightlife destination, but actually it’s pretty bloody decent. A healthy expat population are all out looking to have a good time. Most places shut at 3 am but there are a growing number of 24 hour establishments, but beware as prices can be decadent. Expect your night out to cost $50 – $100 and up depending on how much of a good thing is your thing. There are loads of places I could suggest, but Zouk or Chijmes are good places to start.
Have you been to Singapore or lived there? Do you agree with this list? What are your favourite things to do in Singapore? If you enjoy these tips and want more of them, why not subscribe. It’s FREE.