How to Backpack Singapore on a Budget
Singapore is a cosmopolitan city-state that became independent from the British in 1965 and is now one of the world’s leading economic centers in shipping and banking. This place is expensive by Southeast Asian standards with everything costing about double what it does elsewhere in the region. While most people come here for a couple of days just to “do” Singapore and check it off their bucket list, over the past few years, the city has shed some of its stuffy nature and become a much more fun city. I love this city and think it deserves longer than that. There’s a lot to do here from incredible tropical parks by the Malaysian border, delicious and cheap Chinese and Indian food, shopping, fun theme parks, beautiful beaches, and a world class zoo. Singapore rocks!
- Eat at the Boat Quay
Boat Quay is a hive of activity and is the place to go for dining and entertainment. The alfresco pubs and restaurants also make Boat Quay ideal for relaxing after a long day of sightseeing. Be sure to bring a camera to capture the imposing skyscrapers and bizarre statues along the riverside.
- See the Supertress at Gardens by the Bay
Located along Marina Bay, this urban landscaping project is a series of fake “supertrees”. At heights of 80-160 feet, the metal structures have roughly 200 species of orchids, ferns, and other tropical plants coating their structure and forming a lush, colorful skin.
- Hang Out at Sentosa
This little island is popular with locals and tourists alike. You can visit Tiger Sky Tower (18 SGD), Asia’s tallest observation tower or Universal Studios, which is also on the island too. There’s also a host of bars, restaurants, and beaches here too. You have to pay to get on to Sentosa. The cost to get there on the Sentosa Express is 4 SGD.
- Visit Singapore Zoo
This zoo is one of the best in the world. Covering an area of 70 acres, this place is huge and has a vast array of animals: over 3,600 mammals, birds, and reptiles. The zoo’s night safaris are awesome. Entrance to the zoo and a night safari costs 71 SGD. There’s no restaurants around here and, since you have to wait for the night safari to begin, you get stuck eating the overpriced zoo food. See the zoo in the morning and come back at night for the safari.
- Hang With the Marlians
You are sure to see statues of these imaginary creatures dotted about Singapore. The Merlion is Singapore’s mascot and has the head of a lion and the body of a fish. The original statute (and most impressive Merlion) can be found in Merlion Park with the 37-meter tall replica on Sentosa also pretty cool to see.
Other Things to See and Do
- Admire Thian Hock Keng Temple
Stunning architecture makes Thian Hock Keng one of the most photogenic buildings you’re likely to see in Singapore. The temple was built in 1840 and made from the finest materials available at the time. The temple was designated as a national monument in 1973. It’s open daily from 7.30am-5.30pm.
- Explore Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Bukit Timah is located within Singapore’s only remaining stretch of rainforest, and is the country’s premier ecotourism attraction. You” find macaques, squirrels, flying lemurs, and various species of birds. The reserve is 30 minutes from the city center and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 7am-7pm.
- Wander around Chinatown
Chinatown encompasses two square kilometers of traditional Chinese life, nestled beside the modern Central Business District. This remains the place to get a real sense of Chinese culture within Singapore. The streets are filled with temples, craft shops, stalls, and restaurants and are a great place to pick up a bargain.
- Take a trip to Pulau Ubin
This island lies off the northeastern coast. It’s incredibly different from the modern city — locals still use a diesel generator for electricity and fetch water from wells. Rent a bike and explore sights, villages, and beaches of this island. Very few tourists make it out this way!!
- Relax in the Singapore Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens lie close to the city and consist of 52 hectares of gardens and forest. The main attraction is the National Orchid Garden, which is home to over 1,000 species of orchids. There is also a ginger garden, rainforest, and various streams and waterfalls to explore.
- Eat in Little India
No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to Little India. Here you can get amazing, cheap and delicious food, fresh vegetables, and interesting snacks and souvenirs. Make sure you eat at the giant cafeteria restaurants and don’t be afraid to eat with your hands!
- Learn about Singapore’s History
For a more cultural experience, visit the former British naval base of Fort Siloso. It’s the only preserved fort on the coast of Singapore and provides a fantastic look into the city-state’s complicated history. It’s a well-constructed, interactive attraction. Entry is 6 SGD. It’s open daily from 10am-6pm.
- Visit Sri Mariamman Temple
This extremely colorful, ornate temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. It was constructed in what is known as the Dravidian style and lies in the Chinatown. It’s open daily from 7am-12pm and 6pm-9pm.
Accommodation – Accommodation here isn’t cheap. You’ll pay between 15-17 SGD per night for a bed in a dorm room at a hostel. Most hostels offer free WiFi, free breakfast, and some offer free linens. You can find a room in a 2-star hotel with amenities like air-conditioning, private bathrooms, free WiFi, and a TV starting around 45 SGD per night. Most large hotels cost between 80-110 SGD per night. On Airbnb, you can find shared rooms starting around 22 SGD per night and entire homes (including studio apartments) starting around 85 SGD.
Food – You’ll find all kinds of food from all over the world in Singapore, but especially Chinese and Indian food. Chinese and Indian food is usually around 8-9 SGD per meal. As for Singaporean specialties, try the seafood. There are plenty of low-cost eateries around Singapore with street stalls typically selling food for less than 6 SGD per meal. Most casual restaurants are around 20 SGD and after that, the sky is the limit. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 75 SGD per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods.
Transportation – There are plenty of buses and taxis around Singapore, but the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) runs the length and breadth of the country. MRT tickets vary based on the distance traveled, but generally cost around 4 SGD. There’s also the Singapore Tourist Pass which has unlimited travel within a designated time period. A 1-day pass costs 10 SGD, a 2-day pass is 16 SGD, and a 3-day pass is 20 SGD. (Note that there is a 10 SGD deposit that’s returned if you return the card 5 days after purchasing it).
Activities – On the whole, activities in Singapore are not that expensive. Some, like the Singapore Botanical Gardens and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, are free. Entrance to Singapore Zoo is 48 SGD.
Money Saving Tips
- Take public transit – Travel on public transport is just 10 SGD per day for tourists with a Singapore Tourist Pass. This will get you unlimited rides on a number of buses and trains.
- Eat on Smith Street – The stalls here offer food for less than 6 SGD and are a great place to sample local snacks.
- Eat cheap – Save money on food by eating in Little India, Chinatown, or the hawker stalls throughout the town. Meals in these places cost only a few dollars.
- Couchsurf – Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds and couches and stay for free. I use the service a lot and find it not only saves me money, but I meet great people too. There’s nothing better than having a local guide to show you the ins and outs of the city!
- Stick to happy hour – Alcohol is expensive in Singapore, which means you’ll want to limit your drinking. If you do plan on having a few, stick to the happy hours where you can find buy one, get one free deals.
- Avoid bottled water – The tap water here is perfectly fine to drink, so avoid buying water and just refill your bottle. It will save you money and it’s better for the environment!
- Take a free walking tour – Companies like Singapore Footprints offer free tours around the city, these are a great way to explore and learn about the culture, history, and architecture of Singapore.