Let’s face it, Singapore is an expensive place. As a tourist you will want to see more and spend less. Unless you make deliberate plans on how to work around the $40 cab rides and $25 cocktails you are going to run out of bullets fairly quickly. There are ways to explore my hometown smartly; you just have to know where to go and how to avoid the tourist traps.
Protip #1 – Think twice before booking a hotel
According to Singapore tourism statistics, average hotels room rates in 2012 sold for $250 per night. In fact at $250, you’re probably getting a fairly average no-frills room at an old 3 or 4-star hotel. Make a decision to book a short-term stay or backpacker hostel. Short-term stays also known as bed and breakfast accommodations, guest inns or hotels are private residences that rent out individual rooms or entire apartments. A private room can be rented for $50 to $100 a day a stone’s throw from Orchard Road. Hostels also provide good value with private rooms going for $90 a night.
Protip # 2 – Eat where the locals eat; stick to food courts, coffee shops and hawker centers
The large shopping malls usually contain at least one foodcourt. Foodcourts are large spaces with 2 to 3 dozens hawker stalls selling local and foreign fare. Meals costs between $3 to $10 dollars depending on which foodcourt you visit and what you are eating. Eat at the Chicken Rice stores if you want something tasty and local. If you are health conscious go for the Yong Tau Foo store – Each food court will have at least one of these shops.
Coffee shops and hawker centers, as distinct from food courts are typically situated in public housing areas. These public housing areas or HDB estates house 80% of Singapore’s population. Some of the most genuinely local food can be found in these areas. As a tourist I recommend taking a short detour from town to visit Ghim Moh Market or Alexandra Food Centre. Don’t worry about food poisoning; most of the food served at hawker centres is fresher than the stuff served at restaurants. If you’re a beer drinker, the added bonus is that beer comes cheap in these coffee shops, although don’t expect to pick up girls and guys there; it’s not a bar silly.
Protip # 3 – Use the buses and trains
Singapore has a super efficient public transportation system. The whole country is connected and accessible by bus, train or a combination of both. Use gothere.sg to find out which buses and trains go to your desired destination. If you are in Orchard Road and you would like to go to the zoo, type in “orchard road to zoo”. The site gives you step by step instructions on how to get there. The first time you board a MRT train buy a $20 easylink card. You will be able to use this card on all busses and trains anywhere in the city. If your card runs out of money just , top it up at any train station.
While Singapore is a cosmopolitan city, don’t spend all your time looking at the inside of buildings. Take some time exploring Singapore’s natural beauty. You’ll also get some exercise in the process. Checking out the following is a must:
– Botanical gardens (1 Cluny Road) – 3 hour walk
– Southern Ridges walk starting at Hort park (33 Hyderabad Road) – Full day if you are planning to walk the full 10km.
– Bukit Timah Nature Reserve enter from Hinhede carpark (177 Hindhede Drive) – Half day walk
You will want to wear a good pair of rubber sneakers for the Southern Ridges and Bukit Timah because there is a mixture of offroad and onroad walking. Also bring a lot a bottle of water, a change of shirt and a plastic bag to contain your sweaty shirts at the end of the day. Check the weather report the day before to make sure rain is not forecasted. Being stuck in the rain outdoors isn’t where you’ll want to be.
Protip # 5 – Forget Sentosa
While Sentosa is recommended by virtually every travel brochure; there are really only 3 reasons to visit the island:
1) Tanjong Beach Club’s (TBC) quarterly full moon festival
2) The new Resorts World Sentosa Aquarium
3) Zoukout, which happens in December every year
Most travel guides tell you to visit the beach, but that’s because Singapore has really very ugly beaches. Relative to the really bad beaches all over the island, the Sentosa beach looks like a slice of paradise, however anyone who has visited Bali, Phuket or any other quintessential beach town is likely to be disappointed when they lay eyes on this man-manufactured sand pit.
Protip # 6 – When buying electronics, avoid Sim Lim
Getting a discount on electronics in Sim Lim these days is harder than the Singapore Workers’ party winning the next election. For all the potential heart ache you will get from getting cheated, you are better off buying from one of the big brand retailers like Challenger, Courts and Harvey Norman.
Check out Parisilk Electronics if you are visiting Holland Village; they’re a mom-and-pop electronics store than has been in business for over 20 years because they have attractive prices and no BS customer service. If it is a camera you are looking for, you should consider visiting Peninsula Plaza and Peninsula Shopping Centre across the street. Peninsula Shopping Centre in particular has an interest array of used camera lenses where you can find good buys from time to time.
Parisilk Electronics Holland Village:
Tel: 6466 6002
Number 15A Lorong Liput ,
Protip # 7 – The Singapore zoo is worth the visit
I have visiting over 40 zoos in my life and although I am not a fan of keeping animals in captivity, the Singapore Zoo really does stand out versus its peers. It is well maintained, organized, and has a cornucopia of animals and birds to feast your eyes upon. Wear shorts and something that will keep you cool. It’s a tropical jungle out there!
About The Guest Blogger
James is the CEO and co-founder at pandabed.com, a website that connects travelers with trustworthy residential accommodations in Asia Pacific. He is an avid traveler, finance-hippie, tech-geek, consumer minimalist, value-seeker, and all-around keeping-it-realist. He spends his time traveling around Asia hand-picking properties for PandaBed and sharing about the social travel revolution.