When I landed in Singapore after living for a year in New Zealand, I knew I had to be very careful with my budget. Between my crazy journey in Bali, my new adventures to come, my imminent return to precariousness back in France and my broken stuff (my camera died in Singapore, so thank you my beloved Nokia Lumia for having such a shitty camera), I had to find a way to enjoy Singapore without getting broke.
Singapore was voted the most expensive city in the world in 2016, here’s quite a challenge. Since I’m blonde, I didn’t even know about that. When I had to choose a stopover destination, Singapore came to my mind unexpectedly (well, okay, not that much unexpectedly, I figured it would be awesome to say hello to my dear Stewart Island’s partner in crime, Brenna) and that’s only after I booked my flights that I heard traveller’s feedbacks about how expensive the city-state could be.
But it didn’t discourage me. And actually, Singapore has a lot of free and cheap attractions to offer! Here’s a selection of awesome stuff to do while in Singapore and some tips to enjoy your stay without selling your kidney.
For the record: 1S$ = O,67€.
– Get a Singtel Prepaid SIM card (you can purchase it everywhere, even at the airport): the 30S$ one is a good deal, 14GB of data, unlimited local calls and texts, free access to Facebook, Whats’App and Line, and 90 minutes of foreign calls included!
– Get an MRT card (metro) EZLink for 12S$ at the MRT stations, 10S$ at the 7-eleven. You can’t top up less than 10S$ on your card. Good to know, it’s like in Japan, you pay for transport depending on where you go. This is why the Singapore Tourist Pass could be a great deal: it costs 20S$ (plus 10S$ deposit) with unlimited travels for 3 days. One of these passes gives you free entrance to the Chinese Heritage Centre for 38S$ (no deposit this time). Depending on the length of your stay in Singapore, you’ll surely find the perfect MRT card deal.
– Do some Couchsurfing: the best solution if you want to save up some money. There’s a big Couchsurfing community in Singapore and the people who won’t be able to host you will surely be keen to go out for a drink, a dinner or even to show you around!
– Or sleep in a Backpacker hostels: 20S$ per night usually. At the Green Kiwi Backpacker, beds were clean, the desk woman really helpful and the included breakfast was delicious!
– Eat in Hawker Centres: your best deal to get cheap and yummy food. Hawker Centres are like Food Courts but less clean and with no air conditioning, so it’s way cheaper. There’s a lot of choice amongst South East Asian food so it’s time to try everything! Average price for a dish: less than 5S$.
GARDENS BY THE BAY
If there is one attraction not to be missed in Singapore, it would be Gardens by the Bay. It’s definitely the most impressive piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. The pictures in my travel book were teasing me way before I finally landed there. The Gardens are located on Marina Bay, this really fancy neighbourhood where you can find this famous hotel with the infinite rooftop pool, Marina Sands Hotel. The Gardens are also part of a government program to turn Singapore into a “Garden City”. To achieve that, they built almost 100 hectares of all kinds of gardens, Indian garden, Chinese garden, Malaysian garden, Colonial garden, animal-shaped hedges garden, lakes with dragonflies’ statues, a lot of surprising sculptures and most of all… the Supertree Grove.
The Supertree Grove is these famous tree-shaped purple structures that you can notice on every touristic guide or map. Between 25 and 50 meters high, they are indeed made with actual plants and their canopy is self-sufficient in energy thanks to a hydraulic mechanism. Some of these structures even have solar panels to harvest enough energy to get lighten throughout the night. I’m swimming in complete science fiction here, I’m feeling inside a Ballard’s novel.
But, wait, guess what. Every evening, there’s a free music and light show for about 15 minutes. People sit on the ground, they lie down, heads up in the sky. There’s nothing left in the world except those trees for 15 minutes. To be honest, that’s the most amazing light show I’ve ever seen in my life. I was completely carried away by the show, amazed, daydreaming lying down on the pavement.
I liked these gardens so much that I went back there a few times during my stay. I wish I could have gone inside the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, but you know I activated the “cheap mode”, so maybe another time.
GARDENS BY THE BAY, 18 Marina Gardens Dr, Singapore
Cost: Free / Flower Dome & Cloud Forest: 33S$ / OCBC Skyway: 8S$
The Singapore Botanic Garden is about 150 years old and part of the Unesco World Heritage. It’s the one and only tropical garden listed by Unesco. 82 hectares of greenery in the heart of the state-city, with themes gardens like Healing Garden, Evolution Garden, Ginger Garden, BonsaisGardenn, Rainforest garden and the very famous Orchid Garden. This one is fabulous and displays some species specifically created by the garden for the garden. Everything is beautifully, aesthetically and enchantingly staged. It’s like walking in the magical Alice in Wonderland’s orchid garden.
A smart piece of advice, take a big bottle of water with you for the botanic garden is huge and Singapore is a very hot city indeed. Better not die of dehydration. It’s also a perfect place to lose yourself on the way, chill on the grass beside the lake and spend there a few hours without even noticing that time is flying. A magical place indeed.
SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDEN, 1 Cluny Rd, Singapore
Cost: Free / Orchid Garden: 5S$
BIKING AROUND PULAU UBIN
Pulau Ubin can be considered as the countryside of Singapore. This little island on the south-east coast of the city-state is suddenly recalling me of Indonesia. No buildings here, only forests and little houses. The ferry ride was definitely worth the trip because you’re riding on a small (fishing?) boat which can’t contain more than 10 people, top.
Pulau Ubin is the island of Sundays with family, where people come to enjoy a little bit of nature and wilderness, wild monkeys, and beautiful bike rides. Okay, the landscape isn’t that amazing when you’re coming from a place like New Zealand, but it’s really enjoyable to take a break from the busy cacophonic city life. Apparently, the island looks like Singapore 50 years ago… It’s hard to picture that when you catch a glimpse of the crazy buildings just across the sea.
Renting a bike is easy (peasy) and cheap, but be sure to try your bike on a certain distance before starting your tour. Some are kind of old and I had to turn around to get another bike for mine was making a strange sound when I was changing gears. Anyway, mountain bike lovers will be in heaven between the mud tracks, turns, bumps, and slopes!
There’s a little walking track beside the sea, Chek Jawa, which allows you to admire the marine life. Unfortunately, you can’t see anything if the tide is high (like it was the case for me), so if you would like to see some corals, shells, and coloured fish, better go when the tide is low!
Pulau Ubin, between mangroves, forests and beaches is a little wild haven, 10 minutes from the busy Singapore.
Ferry Ride Return Ticket Cost: 6S$ / Bike Rental: 8S$
SOUTHERN RIDGES & HENDERSON WAVES BRIDGE
Southern Ridges are a 10km track which crossed a few parks in Singapore like Mount Faber or Kent Ridge Park. You take a stroll on suspended track in the very heart of the forest. This is totally exhilarating (even under the rain) to walk 36 meters above the ground, so close to the trees’ canopy.
Close to Mount Faber stands the Henderson Waves, this high track shaped like waves in the sky, a bit like a crazy caterpillar running from a forest to another. It’s the highest pedestrian walk of Singapore (36 meters high!) and it’s lightening up every evening around 19:00. From up above, the view is stunning over the city and you can notice a lot of futuristic buildings. And when the golden hour makes everything glitter for a perfect picture, well, you won’t regret that exhausting walk.
SOUTHERN RIDGES & HENDERSON WAVES BRIDGE, Henderson Road, Southern Ridges, Bukit Merah, Singapore
USEFUL TRAVEL BOOK: Pocket Singapore, Lonely Planet