Singapore for a backpacker (part one)

Singapore is likely to impress you, one way or the other. Whether due to its meticulous cleaniness and order, the original modern architecture, the number and beauty of the green areas or the care for preserving the cultural heritage – there are many reasons to make your mouth drop. Even if you don’t really like big cities, there would be plenty of reasons to enjoy this city-state. What is more, you can admire much of the city’s beauty for free and finding diverse, mouthwatering budget dining options is surprisingly easy.

Wooden window shutters adorned with red lanterns in Singapore's China Town

From Kuala Lumpur to Singapore

I browsed online for the cheapest bus from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. Unlike many other companies, it didn’t depart from the bus station but stopped just underneath the Berjaya Times Square Monorail Station.

Despite using a less busy of the land crossings to Singapore, there was a huge queue for the immigration. I was dropped off at Golden Mile Tower, just 5 min walk from the Arab Quarter.

Tall palm trees lining the row of colourfully painted historical buildings at the Arab Quarter in Singapore

Singapore on a budget

I spent surprisingly little in Singapore: just £10 a day. How did I manage that? For starters, Singapore is visa-free for most of the nationalities for a 30-day visit (and in case of EU, US and South Korea even for 90 days). Secondly, I didn’t need to pay for accommodation since I was staying with my very good friend. Thirdly, food and transportation turned out to be quite affordable.

Free accommodation

I stayed at Outram Park at my friend’s place, Hitomi. I was amazed by how beautiful the area where she lived was: there were plenty of historical houses and right behind them, high rise condominiums. Hitomi explained that all expats lived in modern condos in the city centre while the locals mostly lived in blocks of flats or older condos, often in the suburbs. Hitomi lived in a small but ultra- modern flat on the 17th floor with a splendind view at the city and the old buildings just below. She showed me an anti-bomb shelter, used as a cupboard. Apparently every single house in Singapore has one!

The author standing in front of the renovated and painted old residences with lush mini-gardens set in Outram Park, near China Town in Singapore

Next morning I started the day doing yoga by the pool side and having a swim. Every condo in Singapore has a swimming pool and a gym as a standard. Couldn’t be more happy with the accommodation.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a friend in Singapore, check Courchsurfing. The cheapest dorms would be around 15 singaporean dollars, so it’d be worth to check the Couchsurfing first.

Cheap food everywhere downtown

Singapore surprised me with very affordable street food. Most of the downtown districts have foodhalls, often located in the basement of high rise buildings. Each district specialises in different kind of food. In Tekka Centre- the food court in Little India- I found bountiful choice of cheap and authentic south Indian food. I topped it up with an amazing Malay dessert- cendol. There are a few such food courts in China Town, most famously: Maxwell Food Centre and Chinatown Complex food centre.

The estate in Outram Park consisting of old blocks of flats was another place where I found a smaller food hall with a variety of budget options. My friend also took me to a local Chinese sweet shop located in a ground floor of residential block. Their large, colourful sweets made of glutinous rice flour with peanut, coconut and other filling fed me for half a day. Basically, when searching for a place to have a meal, avoid shopping malls where the prices are much higher and the areas where Singaporeans go for entertainment. Hawkers centres and food courts are the places to go.

Transportation

Singapore is a huge city so you’d certainly need to use the public transport. The Mass Rapid Transit system is very efficient and not terribly expensive. The A/C buses are obviously cheaper. You can get the Adult Stored Value Smartcard (EZ-link) for $12 inclusive of card value (which is $5). That amount is refundable upon the return of the card. This Pass can be bought at any MRT stations and used both for MRT and buses.

A Singaporean travelcard with a cartoon painting on the cover

Sightseeing and attractions

The sigthseeing was by far my largest expense in Singapore but it was totally worth it. The quality of museums in Singapore versus Malaysia is simply incomparable. Both the Malay Heritage Centre and China Town Heritage Centre were brilliant, truly captivating. It’s hard to resist also shelling out for the OCBC Skyway: walking on a narrow path connecting the tops of the super-trees at Gardens by the Bay. The remaining attractions at the Gardens by the Bay are much more pricey, up to 28S$.

The reconstruction of the room rented by poor Chinese workers at the Chinese Heritage Centre in Singapore

There is a silver lining: some attractions are totally free. The outdoor area of the Gardens by the Bay and the evening sound and light show are free and so is the Singapore Botanic Gardens. If you have more days and like hiking, you could also visit Treetop walk at the MacRitchie Reservoir.

Super-trees: huge metal structures covered with living plants -lit purple during the light and sound show at the Gardens at the Bay

Singapore to Malacca

My next destination after Singapore was Malacca. I took an express bus from Queen street bus terminal to Johor Bahru, the nearest city in Malaysia. There were surprisingly many buses and cars leaving Singapore on Monday morning. The bus dropped everyone at the border and after passing the immigration I waited for quite a while to be picked up by another bus (mine had already left) to take me to the Malaysian border on the other side of the bridge. Then I got picked up again and arrived at Larkin Terminal in Johor Bahru. At Larkin, I easily switched to a bus to Melaka Sentral.

PRACTICALITIES

How to get to Singapore?
By air
Singapore is the largest aviation hub of the region, with direct flights from many destinations in Europe, North America, Australia and the Middle East. There are a few budget companies operating from Singapore.

Changi Airport is often voted the best airport in the world. All 4 terminals are well connected, with free transfer. You can get from Changi to the citycentre by MRT changing at Tanah Merah ($S2, 30-40min) or bus which would take around 1.5h.

By bus
Bus would be best option if you’re travelling from Malacca (3.5h). It’s also not too far from Kuala Lumpur (6h). When travelling from Singapore to Malaysia, change at the border town of Johor Bahru to save some money as the Singaporean buses are more expensive than the Malaysian ones.

Prices [in Singaporean dollars as of September 2018]

15 S$ China Town Heritage Centre ticket
12 S$ travel card, $5 is refundable upon return
8 S$ OCBC Skyway at Gardens By the Bay
6 S$ Malay Heritage centre entrance
3.50 S$ bus to Johor Bahru
2-2.50 S$ cheap meal at the food hall in China Town/ Little India
1.80 S$ sugarcane juice at the food hall
1.80 S$ cendol dessert at the food hall

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