A Singapore vacation offers a diverse, culinary, and futuristic experience for Globetrotters at any budget.
Watching this past summer’s hit movie Crazy Rich Asians, it’s hard not to feel just a pinch of wanderlust for Singapore, where much of the movie takes place. With sweeping shots of the city’s beautiful marina, lavish parties in the shadow of the awesome “Supertrees” at Gardens by the Bay, and scenes in which the wealthy young protagonists pile their outdoor table high with plates of fresh hawker food, the movie sometimes feels more like an ad for Singapore tourism than a Hollywood production.
That’s because for all of its showy excess, there are some elements in Crazy Rich Asians that aren’t exaggerated, specifically, how much fun Singapore can be – and you don’t need to be “crazy rich,” or Asian for that matter, to enjoy it.
Singapore is undeniably the most expensive city in Southeast Asia, with prices on par with Japan or Hong Kong rather than its neighbours. But like Japan and Hong Kong, this is a destination that can be explored on any budget, and knowing a few simple tips can help you save even more.
The City in a Garden
Singapore proudly calls itself the City in a Garden, and offers two large attractions that really bring this promise to life. The first is newer, features prominently in Crazy Rich Asians, and has become an indelible part of Singapore’s landscape. Simply put, the Gardens by the Bay are a must-visit while on a Singapore vacation, both for their aesthetic beauty, and their forward-thinking eco innovations. In the shadow of the boat-shaped Marina Bay Sands building, the gardens feature two large climate-controlled conservatories, one containing The Flower Dome, the world’s largest indoor flower garden, and the other, The Cloud Forest, with displays detailing the delicate relationship between these environments and natural weather patterns.
These conservatories are best seen in the afternoon, before the “Supertrees” that dominate the landscape outside come to life. Besides lending the gardens a decidedly space-age flavour, these marvels of technology collect both water and solar energy for the gardens, in essence, photosynthesizing in a way similar to real trees. As impressive as they look during the day, the trees are particularly atmospheric during the nightly Garden Rhapsody, a sound and light show that reveals these beauties’ hidden musical talents. For a small fee, you can also wander the skywalk between them.
A walk through the Gardens by the Bay costs nothing, unless you wish to enter the conservatories, where a S$28 ticket includes both the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome. Those really wanting to see Singapore’s gardens on the cheap might head to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which are free to explore with the exception of their crown jewel, the National Orchid Garden. This can be enjoyed for just S$5.
No matter your budget, both gardens are well worth a visit on your Singapore vacation.
Gourmet Happiness on the Cheap
When Singapore received its first Michelin guide just a few short years ago, foodies around the world agreed it was long overdue. The city state’s many high-end restaurants are run by cutting edge chefs eager to impress and innovate. Yet, even the multi-millionaires of Crazy Rich Asians eschew these options to plonk themselves down on plastic chairs and go face down in a feast assembled from the many food stands at one of Singapore’s hawker centres. Whether it’s on Chinatown’s Smith Street, in Little India’s Tekka Centre, at Satay by the Bay, or in any one of the other hundred or so hawker centres currently operating on the island, this is the ultimate way to dine with friends – or assemble a gourmet feast for one, we don’t judge – in Singapore.
The country is commonly said to embody “Asia in miniature.” Its prosperity has brought immigration and influences from all over the continent, and with it, a tremendous variety of flavours and techniques that shape modern Singaporean cuisine. Still, many of the hawker stands specialize in just a few dishes, and have been preparing them the same way for generations. This makes dinner at a hawker stand an affordable way to indulge your senses with authentic dishes from all over Asia, prepared in their truest form. Two of these hawker stands are even in the Michelin guide, though the owners haven’t let this fame inflate their prices. Singapore may be the only city in the world where you can try a Michelin-starred lunch or dinner for under $3. You’ll probably have to queue, but a line-up of locals is the sure sign of any good hawker stand!
What to do with those savings? Since food is one of Singapore’s main passions, consider immersing yourself in the experience and embarking on a tasting tour. The Peranakan Trail in particular invites you to sample the spices and culinary traditions of the original Straits Chinese who arrived in Singapore.
4-Day A Taste of Singapore
Ways to Save on Singapore’s Best Sightseeing
Watching Crazy Rich Asians, you might be relieved to learn that taking in Singapore’s biggest draws doesn’t have to break the bank. Certainly, if you want to zip to the Skydeck of Marina Bay Sands, stay at an iconic colonial property like Raffles, or visit some of the pricier tickets such as the flower-shaped ArtScience Museum, the Singapore Flyer, Universal Studios on Sentosa Island, the new National Gallery, or the atmospheric Night Safari, it’s possible to spend a small fortune on your Singapore vacation. But even budget travellers shouldn’t rules these out completely. Many of those tickets are worth it – especially if you skip that S$26 glass of wine on the Skydeck.
There are still cheaper alternatives that offer fantastic value to the thrifty Globetrotter. The superb Asian Civilisations Museum, Peranakan Museum, and Chinese Heritage Centre all offer their own range of impressive galleries, with ticket prices under S$10. If the Night Safari is too rich for your blood, the slightly cheaper – and neighbouring – Singapore Zoo and River Safari both rank among the best, and most eco-friendly wildlife attractions in the world. If Universal Studios seems a little steep, Sentosa Island offers bike rentals, a cable car, luge and skyride, a water park, and a marine park, all at significantly lower prices. You might also splurge on a Sentosa Island City Pass, choosing three of the island’s attractions plus a 1-day hop-on/hop-off bus tour for one heavily discounted price.
One of Singapore’s most enjoyable activities needn’t cost you a cent. A big part of the garden city’s charm lies in its colourful neighbourhoods, including Chinatown, Little India, and the Malay district of Kampong Glam. Besides being a delight to simply explore, these districts offer some unique and very Singaporean finds to shopaholics not up for high-end retail therapy on Orchard Road. Duck into Little India’s Tekka Centre for example, and choose a custom made sari from hundreds of colourful fabrics. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll glimpse a Singapore largely ignored by the glitzy, Chinese-dominated world of Crazy Rich Asians and see a more diverse, everyday side of the country.
With that said, don’t skip Orchard Road completely. It offers visitors a great snapshot of modern-day Singapore, and even if the malls aren’t your thing, you might be grateful for their air conditioning in the Singapore heat.
Keeping It Relative
If there’s one thing Singapore embodies more than anything else, it’s the variety of Globetrotting adventures you can have in Asia. From food, to shopping, to architecture, to cutting edge attractions, to a rich history steeped in culture and tradition, to a simply jaw-dropping airport, Singapore has a lot to offer. As such, it can be many things to many different people on an Asia trip. With a well-developed tourist infrastructure and a population that is mostly fluent in English, it can be a great first-timer’s introduction to Southeast Asia. Or, if you’ve just come off a more adventurous Southeast Asia journey, spend a few days in Singapore and enjoy a touch of luxury before flying home.
Singapore is also an excellent city break to pair with other favourite cities like Bangkok and Hong Kong – or both, as in Goway’s 10-Day Classic South East Asia which also includes the idyllic Indonesian island of Bali. On such an itinerary, set against the glorious history of never-colonized Thailand, the high rise excitement of modern day Hong Kong, and the relaxation of Bali, Singapore’s architecture feels like a taste of the future – one you don’t have to be “crazy rich” to experience first-hand.