A Simple Guide To Backpacking The Multicultural Singapore

Singapore is a small yet modern country. In many ways, it’s quite different than most of its neighbours – highly efficient, diverse cultures as well as super clean and safe to travel in! Nevertheless, Singapore is also known as an pricey country to visit by South East Asian standards, especially compare to Vietnam, Laos or even Malaysia.

But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t visit Singapore on a budget! And, that definitely shouldn’t deter you from skipping it on your South East Asia travel itinerary altogether.

Getting to Singapore

Singapore’s Changi Airport is one of the busiest and best connected in the world, handling over 100 airlines flying to some 400 cities. The airport is also home to Singapore Airlines, the flag carrier of Singapore. Together with Scoot, both airlines fly to more than 135 destinations globally.

From chilling out in the sunflower garden or the butterfly garden to testing out the highest slide to watching a free movie or playing free video games, Singapore Changi Airport is surely one of the best airports for layovers.

Visa

Most visitors to Singapore do not require a visa for entry. For more information on visa requirements and the Visa Free Transit Facility, you can check with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority. The period of stay granted will be shown on the visit pass endorsement in your passport.

On immigration clearance, the SG Arrival Card (SGAC) e-Service should be completed before you leave your departure point. You can visit the Singapore Immigration & Checkpoints Authority website to submit your arrival information up to three days before your visit.

Getting from Changi Airport to City Center

The easiest way from Changi Airport to city centre by taking the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport), which runs between 5 am and 11 pm. Catch on the train from Terminal 2 and 3 and transfer to the westbound station at Tanah Merah.  

The bus is the cheapest option but it’s less frequent and longer journey. Bus 36/36A is a direct ride from the Changi airport to the city centre from bus terminals at the basement.   

Expect to pay S$30 to S$40 for a taxi, or Grab from the airport.

Getting around Singapore

Singapore has one of the most reliable transportation system in the world. The world-class MRT System is made up of five main lines that bring most of Singapore within easy grasp. The five lines are colour-coded and named with regard to their orientation. The service is open from around 05:30 – 23:30 which may vary according to the station.

  • East West Line (EW) – This line is green and runs from Joo Koon (EW29) in the west to Changi Airport (CG2) and Pasir Ris (EW1). The Changi Airport line is a spur from Tanah Merah (EW4) where you need to change trains here. Convenient stations on the East West Line include Bugis, City Hall, Raffles Place and Outram Park (for Chinatown).
  • North South Line (NS) This is red line and runs from Marina South Pier through the centre of the city, north to Woodlands before wrapping around and eventually finishing up at Jurong East interchange on the East West Line. This is a very convenient line for tourists and you’ll probably find yourself on it quite a bit. Stations include Marina Bay (NS27), Raffles Place (NS26), City Hall (NS25), Dhoby Ghaut (NS24), Somerset and Orchard (NS23 and 22 respectively).
  • Circle Line (CC) – The orange Circle Line starts downtown at Dhoby Ghaut (CC1) and loops around the city with a spur running down to Marina Bay (CE2). The main line terminates at Harbourfront (CC29) which is a popular stop for Sentosa. Other convenient stops include Nicoll Highway (for Kampong Glam and Golden Mile), Botanic Gardens (CC19), Haw Par Villa (CC25) and Labrador Park (CC27).
  • North East Line (NE) This purple line starts at Harbourfront (NE1) and shoots straight through the city, terminating at Punggol (NE17). It is a very accessible line as it connects Sentosa with Chinatown (Outram Park NE3 and Chinatown NE4), Clarke Quay (NE5), Dhoby Ghaut (NE6) and Little India (Little India NE7 and Farrer Park NE8).
  • Downtown Line (DT) – The newest line in the city, this starts at Bukit Panjang (DT1) in the north and finishes at Chinatown (DT19). It is a functional line from the financial district at Downtown (DT17), Bugis (DT14), Little India (DT12) and Botanic Gardens (DT9).

Ticket price ranges depending on the length of trip. You can check all the fare details at the SMRT website. Tickets are purchased at kiosks and booths at the stations where both notes and coins are accepted. The price of individual ride will be more expensive and can be used up to six times within 30 days from the date of purchase. The purchase price includes a deposit of 10 cents which will be automatically refunded on the travel fare of the third trip. A user also enjoys a 10-cent discount on the sixth trip.

If you foresee yourself taking public transport frequently, you many want to consider getting a SG Tourist Pass which allows you to have unlimited travels on Singapore public transport.

Best time to visit Singapore

Singapore is hot and humid all year-round, with temperatures usually reaching over 30°C but you should always be prepared for rain at any time. Although Singapore is a year-round destination, the Northeast monsoon has a “wet phase” that lasts through November to January and a “dry phase” from February to April. The cheapest time to visit Singapore is July and August as they’re the country’s slowest months for tourism.

Currency

Singapore’s currency is the Singapore dollar (SGD or S$). Notes are issued in common denominations of $2, $5, $10, and $50; coins are in denominations of 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, and $1. Polymer notes are progressively replacing the paper banknotes in circulation.

ATMs are plentiful around Singapore and accept most types of debit and credit cards, usually charging a fee for each withdrawal. Larger retailers and companies accept all major cards, and there are often adverts in the press offering discounts on shopping and meals if you pay with your card.

Telecommunication

This is a free public hotspots across Singapore available at many locations including malls, museums, public libraries, MRT stations, Changi Airport and major tourists attractions. To get connected, register for an account with your foreign mobile number at any Wireless@SG hotspot and you will receive your login details via an SMS message. Overseas charges may apply.

If you prefer to get a SIM card, here are the tourists’ SIM cards for comparison:

Alternatively, you may collect a 4G portable Wi-Fi from Changi Airport.

Eating in Singapore

One of the best things about being in Singapore is undoubtedly the food. Being multi-ethnic and heritage, Singapore has a wide variety of local delicacy to offer! Nevertheless, choosing to eat out a restaurant can be a costly affair. A 3-course meal can easily set you back several hundred dollars, especially if you add a nice bottle of wine or two to the bill.

As pricey as Singapore can be, you can actually still eat delicious food without paying a bomb for your meal. Even without street food vendor like in Thailand or Vietnam, there are hawker centers around with each dish costs you as little as S$4-S$6. The best part is, there is much more variety of food to choose from than eating in a restaurant!

Drinking in Singapore

Alcohol is heavily taxed in Singapore and it is always the cost of alcohol that people remember during a Singapore budget trip. The average beer in a bar will set you back around S$10-S$15, while a bottle of house wine in a restaurant will start at around S$60 and if you want to indulge in fancy cocktails in one of Singapore’s roof-top bars, expect to fork out around S$20 per drink!

If you are looking for ways to save money on alcohol in Singapore, you may head to hawker centers for a large bottle of Tiger that costs around S$6-S$7. Also, instead of purchasing alcohol in overprices nightclubs, you can also pick up alcohol at lower price in the supermarkets or 7-Eleven. Then head to the Singapore river for epic views over the city.

Accommodation

The most expensive part of travelling in Singapore is definitely the accommodation costs. Unfortunately, the budget accommodation options in Singapore are still not that cheap. Similar to Australia and New Zealand, a bed in hostel can easily cost at least S$25-S$30.

Alternatively, you may try using Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds and couches and stay for free. There is nothing better than having a local guide to show you the ins and outs of the city!

Things to pack for Singapore

Because of its tropical location, the average temperature in Singapore is quite consistent all year round. It ranges between 25 and 31 degrees Celsius and humidity is high, usually between 70% – 80%. The warmest month is April and the coolest month is usually January, with November being the wettest month. There isn’t really a wet or dry season in Singapore, and it’s normal to experience rain every month.

Singapore is not a conservative country, so you can dress however you want. For those who are not used to the heat and humidity, Singapore can be quite a brutal place to walk around. Wear dry-fit clothing if possible so your skin can breathe and wear comfortable walking shoes. Almost every indoor is heavily air-conditioned, so be sure to carry a cardigan or light jacket to layer up with. 

Other essentials you might want to consider bringing are umbrella, sunglasses, mosquito repellent, sunscreen and water bottle. 

Good to know

  • Chewing gum is ban in Singapore since 2004 to improve cleanliness of the city, with an exception has existed for therapeutic, dental, or nicotine chewing gum.
  • Doing/possessing/selling drugs is an offense punishable by death. So don’t be doing any of that nonsense.
  • Singapore is notorious for being a “Fine City” – Do note that you can be fined hundreds of dollars for smoking in certain public places and sheltered areas, littering and even spitting.
  • The tap water here is perfectly okay to drink without boiling it, so avoid buying water and just refill your bottle. It will save you money and it’s better for the environment!
  • Singaporeans tend to refer to strangers such as cab drivers and hawker centre stall owners as “Aunties” and “Uncles”. This is an endearing way of addressing older gentlemen and ladies. 
  • Singapore has 4 official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil.  However, don’t be too surprised to hear Singaporeans adding to their sentences the occasional “lah” and “leh”. These are just bits of what make the local Singlish vocabulary so unique.
  • Singapore has a 7% Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is levied by all companies except small businesses. Prices in shops include GST, but it’s not uncommon for hotels and restaurants to leave it out, quoting prices with “++” at the end. The first plus indicates a 10%  service charge and the second plus indicates the 7% GST. So avoid eating in restaurants and bars.

Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!

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Aloha! I'm Bunzy, a curious dreamer who is passionate about roaming around the world getting lost, experiencing new cultures and meeting the locals. My superpower is to be able to sleep anywhere, anyhow!

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