Saturday, 24 Aug 2019

The Ultimate Singapore Backpacking Guide

If you’re travelling around South East Asia, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself backpacking Singapore. More than just a layover, Singapore is a heady mix of other-worldly architecture, traditional temples, city lights and futuristic gardens. It’s also one of the cleanest and safest countries on the planet.

Singapore really does have something for everyone and your money can go a long way, despite its tag as an expensive destination. Whether you are a foodie, party animal, fan of culture and history or you just like to sit back and relax, you won’t regret booking a trip to the ‘Lion City’.

This city-state is located on the tip of the Malaysian peninsula. A country in its own right, it has been shaped by its time as a British trading post and the influx of international workers. There’s now a multicultural population of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Arab and British people. This cultural mix translates into some of the most delicious and diverse food, making Singapore one of the best places to eat in the world. It has grown into a modern city but it’s also one of the region’s greenest, owing to the tropical climate and the country’s ambition to be a city in a garden, rather than the other way around.

Singapore’s small size and excellent infrastructure makes it a dream to travel around and an easy trip to plan. You can quickly go from eating a delicious plate of noodles in a Hawker centre to partying at some of the best rooftop bars in the world. Spend your morning hiking through the rainforest and your afternoon chilling on the beach, visit the museums or simply wander the streets with camera in hand, admiring the buildings, parks and street art.

 

backpacking singapore - Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Hu Chen

Jump straight to:

  1. Best time to visit Singapore
  2. Best places to visit in Singapore
  3. Singapore Visa
  4. Travelling around Singapore
  5. Singapore itinerary
  6. Singapore accommodation
  7. Singapore food
  8. Singapore culture
  9. Singapore costs
  10. Singapore travel advice 

Best time to visit Singapore

There are no distinctive seasons and the weather in Singapore is great all year round. The temperature can climb to a toasty 34 degrees Celsius and won’t drop much lower than 25 degrees Celsius. You get a minimum of 7 hours of sunshine a day and 80 percent humidity. The only time you will feel cold is if you find yourself under air conditioning for too long. While rainfall is common, showers are typically short and are unlikely to ruin your plans. November, December and January are the wettest months, with February to April the driest.

A number of locally run businesses will close during the Chinese New Year public holiday (late January/early February). While the main attractions and larger malls remain open, the city lacks its usual buzz for a few days and accommodation and flight prices peak. When the Formula One Grand Prix comes to town in September prices also increase, so you may want to avoid if on a tight budget.

National Day is celebrated every year on August 9th, with parades and firework displays to commemorate the country’s independence from Malaysia. While I wouldn’t travel specifically for this, it’s worth checking out the celebrations if you’re here.

Best places to visit Singapore

It’s totally possible to explore on a budget and here’s a list of the best places to visit in Singapore for free.

  1. Botanic Gardens

Over 150 years old, the 82-hectare Botanic Gardens are home to over 10,000 types of plants, ancient trees, orchids, lakes and a concert space. You’ll see plenty of wildlife too, including turtles and monitor lizards!

  1. Gardens by the Bay

Singapore’s most popular and unique tourist attraction. It’s a short walk over the footbridge from Marina Bay Sands. It’s a great place to explore at any time of the day but to see Garden Rhapsody – the signature light and sound show, you’ll need to be at the Supertree Grove at 7:45PM or 8:45PM. Entry to Gardens by the Bay is free and no tickets are required unless you want to visit the cloud forest or walk along the sky bridges.

  1. Singapore River and Fullerton Bay Area

The former lifeblood of Singapore the river and Fullerton Bay areas are beautiful spots to explore. Join near Kim Seng Road and follow the river towards the centre of the city. It’s a lovely walk along the water with shady trees lining your path and if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of Singapore’s family of otters, who live in and around the waterways. Keep the river to your right and you’ll pass Robertson and Clarke Quays before reaching the Fullerton Bay area, housing some of Singapore’s most historic buildings.

  1. Tiong Bahru

One of Singapore’s oldest housing estates Tiong Bahru has evolved as one of the coolest places to be. There is a great mix of old and new, where traditional restaurants sit next to hipster coffee shops, bakeries, boutique shops and bookstores. Follow the Tiong Bahru Heritage trail to see the best of the neighbourhood.

  1. MacRitchie Nature Trail and Reservoir Park

If you like to be at one with nature head to MacRitchie Nature Trail and Reservoir Park for boardwalks around the reservoir and trails through the forest. It’s a scenic spot around 30 minutes outside of the city. While there is no MRT station you could take a bus or taxi here. Getting amongst the canopy and taking the HSBC Treetop Walk is a must.

  1. Southern Ridges and Henderson Waves

This 10km raised trail allows you to walk amongst the trees, connecting three parks – Mount Faber, Telok Blangah and Kent Ridge. Part-way through the trail you’ll reach Henderson Waves, a spectacularly architectural pedestrian bridge. Take your camera and keep your eyes open for monkeys along the way. Join the trail at Gilman Barracks where there are a few cafes, restaurants and art galleries, accessible by taxi or bus. End at Mount Faber, where you can walk down to Harbourfront MRT to catch the train.

  1. Spectra

Marina Bay Sands Light and Water Show, or Spectra as it is known takes place near Event Plaza, outside The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands at 8PM or 9PM. Grab a spot to watch the dancing fountains, colourful projections and lasers with city views as the backdrop.

  1. East Coast Park

East Coast Park runs along the southeastern coastline and is best served by taxi. The park is the biggest in Singapore and a lovely place to jog, walk, scoot, rollerblade or cycle with the ocean breeze on your back.

backpacking singapore - gardens by the bayGardens by the Bay

Best places to visit in Chinatown, Singapore

  1. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

This Buddhist temple has five stories and houses a museum and tea house. It is one of the most popular attractions in Chinatown.

  1. Chinatown Street Market

Browse the stalls and do some souvenir shopping at Chinatown Street Market. There is a huge variety on offer, but chopsticks and crockery are popular buys.

  1. Keong Saik Street

Look out for the street art and there are some lovely photo opportunities of refurbished shop houses with modern skyscrapers in the background. Best accessed from Outram Park MRT station.

  1. Hawker Centre

Amoy Street Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre and Chinatown Complex Food Centre are amongst the best in Singapore. Head to one or all three for some cheap, tasty local food.

backpacking singapore - girl standing by chinatown singapore

Best places to visit on Sentosa Island 

  1. Cable Cars

The cable cars provide an aerial link between Singapore mainland and Sentosa Island, across the harbour, providing spectacular panoramic views. There are two lines – Faber Peak, which gets you off the mainland and onto Sentosa and Sentosa which allows you to travel round the smaller resort island. Tickets 25 SGD.

  1. Beach Clubs, Bars and Restaurants

Sentosa has an array of places to eat, drink and socialise on or near to its great beaches. Tanjong Beach Club is the most exclusive with ‘Bali’ vibes in the afternoon through to evening. Siliso Beach has a variety of restaurants to grab breakfast and bars for drinks with Coastes and Bikini bar being amongst the favourites.

  1. Universal Studios

A theme park featuring 28 rides located within Resorts World Sentosa. The park is split into seven themed zones including Hollywood and The Lost World. Tickets 79 SGD.

  1. Skyline Luge

The Luge is a wheeled gravity ride allowing riders to steer their sled around the 2.6KM of downhill trails. Tickets 29 SGD.

  1. MegaZip

A 450-metre-long, 75-metre-high three wire zip line running through the jungle down to the beach. Race your fellow travelers for 50 SGD per person.

  1. Adventure Cove Waterpark

Slides, lazy rivers and marine life form part of 16 attractions at this waterpark. Tickets 38 SGD

Best beaches in Singapore

  1. Tanjong Beach

Located on Sentosa. Tanjong is home to Singapore’s most exclusive beach club and large stretches of empty sand where you can park your towel. The views of the water are particularly nice from here.

  1. Palawan Beach

Also, on Sentosa, a large stretch of sand flanked with palm trees for that much needed shade. It’s a little further away from the bars, restaurants and beach clubs. Palawan Beach is connected by a wooden suspension bridge to a small island said to be the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia.

  1. Siliso Beach

Sentosa’s third beach and while it’s not as aesthetically pleasing, Siliso is one of the most popular as it has the biggest concentration of restaurants and bars. It’s a good place for brunch on the beach or to take advantage of happy hour drinks.

  1. Lazarus Island Beach

Lauded as Singapore’s best kept secret due to its idyllic white sandy beach and blue lagoon. Lazarus Island is accessed by boat from Marina South Pier. Pack supplies, there aren’t any shops or restaurants on the island.

backpacking singapore - cable car into the sunset

Singapore Visa

Tourist visa

Most nationalities do not require a visa to enter Singapore, however check your own countries travel advice on Singapore’s visa requirements before booking your trip. What you will need is 6 months validity on your passport and confirmed onward travel tickets. It’s also strongly recommended to have your accommodation booked before you arrive as this is a question you’ll be asked by immigration on arrival.

Work visa

There are strict rules around the Singapore. The Work Holiday Programme is for eligible students and young graduates aged 18 – 25 who want to work and holiday in Singapore for 6 months. Applications are made through the Ministry of Manpower but note they are capped at 2,000 applicants at any one time. You’ll need to be a graduate or undergraduate of a university in Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom or United States.

Travelling around Singapore

Public transport is incredibly cheap, clean, reliable and easy to use. Singapore is half the size of London and the extensive train (MRT) and bus network allows you to see a lot of the island in a relatively short period of time. Plus, all trains and buses are air conditioned, providing a welcome opportunity to cool off between destinations.

To pay your way, pick up an EZ Link card from any MRT station ticket booth or 7-eleven store. EZ Link is a contactless payment card that you tap when entering and exiting MRT stations and when getting on and off buses. It will cost 12 SGD (inclusive of 7 SGD credit). Don’t let your balance drop below 3 SGD. You can top up with cash or card at MRT station ticket machines.

MRT stations will always be easy to find and there are bus stops aplenty. They are clearly named and numbered, and you will find several buses serve the most popular routes, meaning you’ll never be waiting too long.

Taxis are also a very affordable option. There are several local taxi firms that you can hail from the street and you’ll see designated taxi pick up points across the island. Alternatively, apps Grab and Gojek are very efficient and you often only have to wait one or two minutes for them to arrive. In these Singapore taxis the fare is agreed before pick-up and you may find that they are slightly cheaper too!

Singapore is very walkable, and it can be quicker to move between some neighbourhoods on foot. Don’t let the humidity and occasional downpour put you off, as you will see so much more by walking around. The pavements are in great condition, with many sheltered walkways to protect you from the weather. Street names are also clearly signposted and there is significantly less traffic than you would find in South East Asia’s other major cities.

I have lived here for a while now and still use the City Mapper app to help me navigate, particularly whilst on foot. It has local bus and train timetables built in and recommends various routes to get to where you want to be, from your exact location.

Cycling in Singapore

Singapore is very bike friendly with safe, well maintained roads and pavements along with a fantastic 300km Park Connector Network (PCN) that connects a number of parks and green spaces.

Until recently, Singapore had several bicycle sharing firms, allowing you to pick up and drop off bicycles wherever you want in the city, using an app on your phone. However, unsustainable business models and enhanced regulation by the government led to the collapse of these firms, meaning hiring a bicycle is now much less accessible. If you are keen to do some exploring on two wheels you can visit stores such as Hello Bicycle and The Bicycle Hut, both are centrally located and day rentals cost around 40 SGD.

If you’d like to get out of the city, then head to East Coast Park where there are a number of bicycle hire vendors. East Coast Park runs along the southeastern coastline and is best served by taxi. The park is the biggest in Singapore and a lovely place to jog, walk, scoot, rollerblade or cycle with the ocean breeze on your back. There are plenty of bars restaurants and cafes if you need a pit stop.

Scooter Hire in Singapore

Electric scooters are a popular mode of transport in Singapore and the demise of bicycle sharing firms has created space for new players in the market. The most prominent scooter sharing platform is Neuron. You will need a phone connected to the local network or Wi-Fi in order to use the Neuron app which will show you the location of the scooters. There is usually a big concentration near to the Singapore River and at The Shoppes Mall, next to Marina Bay Sands. Simply register on the app, scan the QR code and start scooting. You’ll need to return the scooter to one of the designated parking spots highlighted on the app. The cost is around 7 SGD per hour.

Before you leave

Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Usually that advice is because the airport is grim, or queues at security are long, but not in this case. If Changi had an awards cabinet, it would need its own terminal! It’s consistently ranked as the world’s best airport for good reason. A number of services are automated meaning few queues and once ‘air side’ there are shops and restaurants galore, a free cinema, games consoles and even a butterfly garden. The most recent addition to the airport is Jewel, which opened in April 2019. Jewel is a huge mall and leisure destination that links three of the four terminals at Changi. There are over 280 restaurants and stores as well as the HSBC Rain Vortex – the world’s tallest indoor waterfall alongside thousands of plants and trees.

Singapore Itineraries

Three-day itinerary

Don’t worry if you only have a short time to explore, you’ll get to see a lot. Here are the highlights to make for an epic three days:

Day One:

Immerse yourself in local culture and head for breakfast at a kopitiam (coffee shop). Kaya Toast and Eggs is a breakfast staple in Singapore and available across the island. I recommend taking the MRT to Outram Park and heading to Tong Ah Eating House, on Keong Saik Road. A family run spot on one of Singapore’s most beautiful streets (you’ll find it behind the big yellow awning). Wash it all down with a local teh (tea) or kopi (coffee). The whole lot will cost you less than 5 SGD.

After breakfast explore Keong Saik and its neighbouring streets. Look out for the street art and there are some lovely photo opportunities of refurbished shop houses with modern skyscrapers in the background. From here take the short walk to Chinatown. Make sure to stop by Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, admission is free with English language tours at 2pm on Saturdays. The temple has five stories and houses a museum and tea house. Do bit of souvenir shopping at Chinatown Street Market before making your way to a Hawker Centre for lunch. You won’t be short of options, but Amoy Street Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre and Chinatown Complex Food Centre are amongst the best in Singapore. Look for the stall with the longest line and join it!

After all that exploring and eating, jump on the MRT to Harbourfront, home to VivoCity, Singapore’s largest shopping mall and the gateway to Sentosa. From here you can take the Sentosa express train (4 SGD) or buy a cable car pass (25 SGD) but the cheapest way onto Sentosa is on foot. A walk along the Sentosa Boardwalk is free.

Nothing says holiday more than sunshine and having sand between your toes. Whether you want to read a book, nod off or party with your fellow travellers, Sentosa has three pristine beaches. Choose one or visit all three!

Tucked away at one end of the island is Tanjong Beach. Its home to Singapore’s most exclusive beach club, but also has stretches of empty sand where you can park your towel. The views of the water are particularly nice from here.

The next beach along the coast is Palawan Beach and here there is a large stretch of sand flanked with palm trees for that much needed shade. It’s a little further away from the bars, restaurants and beach clubs, so you may want to take a short walk to 7-eleven to grab a few cold ones and snacks. Palawan Beach is connected by a wooden suspension bridge to a small island said to be the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia, so take your camera.

Last but not least is Siliso Beach. Whilst it may not be as aesthetically pleasing as the other two, Siliso is one of the most popular beaches as it has the biggest concentration of restaurants and bars, with people flocking for brunch on the beach or to take advantage of happy hour drinks.

For the journey back to the mainland you can take the Sentosa Express from Beach Station back to VivoCity for your connection to Harbourfront MRT or bus services, there is no payment required to exit the island.

Splash out a little in the evening and cap a great day at one of Singapore’s rooftop bars. Some of the best views of the cityscape are from 1-Altitude. Entry 6PM – 9PM costs 35 SGD, which includes two drinks. Get there before 7PM to see daylight, sunset and nighttime views.

Day Two:

One of Singapore’s oldest housing estates Tiong Bahru has evolved as one of the coolest places to be. There is a great mix of old and new, where traditional restaurants sit next to hipster coffee shops, bakeries, boutique shops and bookstores. Grab a breakfast pastry from the much loved Tiong Bahru Bakery or stop off at Forty Hands, an Aussie style café serving up tasty egg dishes and good coffee. Then spend your morning following the Tiong Bahru Heritage trail around the neighbourhood.

Before you leave stop by Tiong Bahru Market and head up the escalator to one the best Hawker Centre’s in Singapore. Grab a fresh Sugar Cane Juice and a tasty snack, some of the stalls here have been cooking up the same dishes for over 50 years.

After experiencing the best of what Tiong Bahru has to offer take the bus or make your way on foot towards the Singapore River, joining near Kim Seng Road is a good place to start. From here you can follow the river towards the centre of the city. It’s a lovely walk along the water with shady trees lining your path and if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of Singapore’s family of otters, who live in and around the waterways. Keep the river to your right and you’ll pass Robertson and Clarke Quays before reaching the Central Business District, housing some of Singapore’s most historic buildings. If you don’t fancy the walk you can take a River Cruise (25 SGD).

Grab an ice cream sandwich from one of the stalls next to Cavenagh Bridge, near the Fullerton Hotel then make your way along Queen Elizabeth Walk before joining Jubilee Bridge to take some stunning photos of the city. At the end of the bridge is the Merlion statue, a symbol of Singapore. With the body of a fish, representing beginnings as a fishing village and a lion’s head, a nod to the cities name ‘Lion City’ the Merlion is a 9 metre statue spouting water from its mouth, overlooking Marina Bay.

Marina Bay Sands is modern Singapore’s most iconic building and recognised worldwide as one of the architecturally most impressive. It has three 55-storey hotel towers, connected by a huge roof terrace, Sands SkyPark. The observation deck provides panoramic views across the bay, but entry costs 23 SGD. Instead head to Spago Bar & Lounge (not to be mistaken with Spago Dining Room) between 4PM and 7PM, Monday to Thursday to take advantage of the Sundowner Menu, which offers discounted drinks and bar snacks. You’ll pay 10 SGD for a beer and 16 SGD for one of the tastiest cocktails in Singapore. For the location this is extremely good value. You won’t regret ordering the grilled cheese sandwich either!

Garden Rhapsody is a signature light and sound show of Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s most popular and unique tourist attraction. It’s a short walk over the footbridge from Marina Bay Sands. The 15-minute show takes place at Supertree Grove daily at 7:45PM and 8:45PM. No tickets are required, entrance to Gardens by the Bay and the light show is free. Arrive before nightfall to appreciate the gardens in the daylight, then stay for the light show. If you’re hungry after the show, mosey over to Satay by the Bay for dinner and end the night with drinks by the water at Boat Quay.

Day Three:

Visitors to Singapore are often surprised by how green the island is. By now you will have appreciated that this is no concrete jungle. The climate helps, with the sunshine, high humidity and rainfall, allowing for an abundance of parks and gardens, some of which are even built on top of skyscrapers.

Escape the city for the morning and head to the OG of green space in the city – The Singapore Botanic Gardens, the only tropical botanic garden on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The MRT station is directly next to the gardens and opposite the entrance you’ll see Cluny Court, where you can pick up some breakfast. Over 150 years old, the 82 hectare Botanic Gardens are home to over 10,000 types of plants, ancient trees, orchids, lakes and a concert space. You’ll see plenty of wildlife too, including turtles and monitor lizards! There is no admission fee, except for the National Orchid Garden which costs 5 SGD.

To refuel, take the train to Telok Ayer MRT and stroll to Lau Pa Sat, a true Singapore landmark and easily the most handsome Hawker Centre on the island. After dinner you can make your way to Orchard Road to walk the 2.2km promenade and get lost in the vast malls.

Spend your evening in the Bugis area. Loof is a highly rated rooftop bar with a great happy hour menu, running 5PM to 8PM Monday to Saturday. Beers and Prosecco are 10 SGD with house pour spirits and wines priced according to the hour, starting at 6 SGD before 6PM. End the night on Haji Lane, this area is Singapore’s oldest urban quarter and now one of its trendiest spots with cool shops, bars and live music.

backpacking singapore - girl sitting in botanic gardens

Botanic Gardens

Staying for a week?

If you’re lucky enough to be in Singapore a bit longer, here are some suggestions to supplement the Three-Day itinerary. Spend a week and you’ll have time to travel a bit further afield, sample a wider variety of cuisine, visit award winning animal parks and further immerse yourself in Singaporean culture:

Day Four:

Little India is one of Singapore’s most vibrant districts and has a very different feel from the rest of the city. Spend your morning exploring Serangoon Road and its neighbouring streets. Stop by at the Tekka Centre to browse the stalls and grab some Roti Prata and a milk tea for breakfast. Visit the beautiful Sri Veeramakaliamman Hindu Temple, which dates back as far as the 1800’s. If you really like to shop, the Mustafa Centre is open 24/7 and it sells everything, literally everything!

Day Five:

One of the country’s historical landmarks is Fort Canning Hill, located on the edge of the Central Business District. Entry is free. It was here that the British surrendered to the Japanese in World War II. Nowadays you can marvel at ancient artefacts, wander the immaculate lawns and gardens. The green also hosts theatre performances and music concerts throughout the year.

Singapore has a wide variety of high-quality museums to choose from, whether you want to supplement your culture fix or shelter from the rain for a few hours here are three of the best.

National Museum of Singapore is both the oldest and largest and it’s worth a visit purely for the building itself. Entry costs 10 SGD or 5 SGD if you have a student card. Inside the museum is split into two main galleries, with exhibitions taking place throughout the year. Since its restoration and refurbishment in 2006, the museum re-opened, offering a more immersive and interactive environment.

The ArtScience Museum is one of the more striking buildings in Singapore, with its design said to resemble a lotus flower. The museums mission is to explore where art, science, culture and technology come together. You’ll find it on the water, near to Marina Bay Sands and tickets cost 18 SGD or 13 SGD with a student card

If you’d like to expand your knowledge to other parts of Asia, then a trip to the Asian Civilisations Museum is in order. Here you’ll explore the artistic heritage of Asia and understand more about the ancestral cultures of Singaporeans. It’s in a great location next to Singapore River, opposite the Fullerton Hotel. Tickets cost 20 SGD or 15 SGD with a student card.

Spend early evening having a drink at Level 33 which is the world’s highest urban microbrewery, or the livelier Kinki’s Rooftop Bar which plays great music. Both have happy hour and drinks discounts running until 8PM.

After drinks, take in the second light show of your trip. In addition to the spectacular Garden Rhapsody at Gardens by the Bay is the Marina Bay Sands Light and Water Show. Spectra as it is known is also free and you can watch the dancing fountains, colourful projections and lasers from the Event Plaza, outside The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands at 8PM or 9PM.

backpacking singapore - Marina Bay Sands Light and Water Show

Days Six and Seven

Spend your remaining days eating your way across the city and re-visiting some of your favourite spots.

If you can’t get enough of city views, or a bit blurry eyed during your rooftop bar visits then take one last look with a ride on the Singapore Flyer, a giant observation wheel offering 360 views of Singapore and beyond. Tickets 33 SGD.

Have drinks on Ann Siang Hill and Club Street. In the evening the streets are pedestrianised, so you can pick a spot outdoors and take in the atmosphere. Drinks & Co and Operation Dagger are popular Singapore bars. You can even take in a movie at rooftop bar / theatre The Screening Room. You should know the drill by now, look out of happy hour offers which usually run early evening. If it’s Thursday, check out Highlander in the heart of Clarke Quay. They offer free flow deals for 30 SGD from 9PM.

Here for Two Weeks?

You lucky devil! If you’re here for around fourteen days then you can slow things right down, immerse yourself in nature and take day or overnight trips.

Day Trips from Singapore

Head to Changi Point Ferry Terminal and catch a bumboat to Pulau Ubin. Once there are 12 passengers, the boat will start the 15-minute journey. Cost is 3 SGD. Life on Ubin is a lot more rustic than mainland Singapore and you’ll feel like you have stepped back in time. The best way to explore the island is to hike or bike, the latter costs around 10 SGD.

Been to Malaysia yet? If not consider taking the four-hour coach ride to the UNESCO heritage city of Malacca. Like Singapore, Malacca is rich in history and as a former colony, has Dutch, Portuguese and British influences, as well as Malay. There are various coach companies to choose from, with journeys as cheap as 15 SGD each way. Due to the distance and coach timetable I would suggest an overnighter. Look for a hostel close to Jonker Street.

Although a flight away, Kuala Lumpur is certainly a do-able day trip option. The flight is less than an hour, so you’ll have a good amount of time to do some exploring in the Malaysian capital. A return flight will set you back around 80 SGD.

Did you know that Singapore consists of 63 islands? If you want to get away from the crowds and top up your tan, then Singapore Island Cruise offer ferry services from Marina South Pier. Tickets 18 SGD. Two of the best are St Johns Island and Lazarus Island. Lazarus in particular has been lauded as Singapore’s best kept secret due to its idyllic white sandy beach and blue lagoon. Lazarus Island is linked by causeway to St Johns so visit both in one trip. There aren’t any shops or restaurants on the island, so pack supplies so you can spend the day and enjoy a picnic on the beach.

Back on the mainland

Katong has rich peranakan history, housing a nice mix of western style cafes, eateries and local fare. Here is the best spot to eat Laksa. Be sure to take a walk down Joo Chiat Road to see the colourful shop houses.

Southern Ridges is a perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and burn off all that tasty Hawker food. This 10km raised trail allows you to walk amongst the trees, connecting three parks – Mount Faber, Telok Blangah and Kent Ridge. Part way through the trail and you’ll reach Henderson Waves, a spectacularly architectural pedestrian bridge. Take your camera and keep your eyes out for monkeys along the way. Join the trail at Gilman Barracks where there are a few cafes, restaurants and art galleries, accessible by taxi or bus. End at Mount Faber, where you can walk down to Harbourfront MRT to catch the train.

Equally impressive is the MacRitchie Nature Trail and Reservoir Park where you will find boardwalks around the reservoir and trails through the forest. It’s a really scenic spot around 30 minutes outside of the city. Whilst there is no MRT station you could take a bus or taxi here. MacRitchie feels much more natural than other parks in Singapore. There are facilities, but large parts of the rainforest are untouched and as such your chances of encountering a monkey or monitor lizard increase. Getting amongst canopy and taking the HSBC TreeTop Walk is a must.

If you’re like me and enjoy the novelty of watching a movie alfresco then look out for one of Singapore’s Outdoor Cinemas. Whilst they are not permanent there are various companies holding viewings throughout the year, such as Peroni Sunset Cinema, Popcorn and Films at the Fort. Tickets are usually around 20 SGD.

backpacking singapore - view from the river of marina bay sands hotel and singapore skyline

Singapore Accommodation

Hostels in Chinatown

Tribe Theory

There are plenty of great Singapore hostels, but let us introduce you to the 2019 HOSCAR winner of the ‘Best hostel in Singapore’… AKA Tribe Theory. Not only will you have sweet dreams here, you’ll also meet inspirational people to help you bring your big business dreams to life. Tribe Theory is an entrepreneur centric hostel where you’ll meet likeminded individuals, who are both trying to see AND change the world with their big ideas! With a great social vibe, comfy capsule beds, ideal co-working spaces and a central location in Chinatown, it’s clear to see why Tribe Theory is an award-winning hostel.

The Bohemian Chic Hostel

If you want a fun, social hostel in Singapore, The Bohemian is the clear winner. In fact, it has been the HOSCAR winner of ‘most popular hostel in Singapore’ three years in a row, and for good reason. The facilities, atmosphere and location are fantastic, close to the station, Chinatown and all the main attractions of Singapore.

Beary Best!

If you go down to the woods today Chinatown, you’ll find a great hostel called Beary Best! Located in a stunning restored heritage building featuring bright pastel-coloured windows, this hostel provides comfortable and good value accommodation in a friendly and bright environment. Oh, and there’s also a collection of fluffy teddy bears if you fancy a cuddle!

Adler Hostel & Coffee Bar

What do you call a posh hostel? A ‘poshtel’ of course! Now you know what a poshtel is, we can reveal that Adler Hostel & Coffee Bar is widely known as one of the top poshtels in Asia. You can expect beautifully decorated interior and big, comfy beds each with their own curtain for added privacy. Adler has chilled vibes, so if you’re looking to meet others or party, we’d recommend alternative hostels. But if you want a relaxed stay in a luxury hostel near Chinatown, Adler’s is the one for you.

backpacking singapore - Adler Hostel & Coffee Bar hostel room - poshtel

Other top hostels in Singapore

The Pod – Boutique Capsule Hostel

The Pod boutique capsule hostel is a great option for travellers looking for stylish accommodation close to the bustling Haji Lane. This modern hostel doesn’t just provide private, clean, comfortable beds in an excellent location though – The Pod also provides a free hot buffet brekky which has been described as “superb, although they do serve some strange things like chicken nuggets!” In Singapore, it’s never too early for chicken nuggets!

Quarters Capsule Hostel

Quarters Capsule Hostel caters for all. With private pod beds, each with their own curtain, you’ll sleep like a log. But if you’re keen to socialise, just stroll on down to the vibrant common room or kitchen to meet other explorers. If you’re looking for activities, you have Marina Bay within walking distance and many buzzing bars on your doorstep. If bars aren’t your thing, have a cosy night in playing board games (provided by the hostel) with your new hostel buddies!

River City Inn

River Inn is a family-owned hostel in the heart of Singapore, just minutes’ walk away from Singapore River. This friendly hostel is the perfect place to unwind, write your journal, talk to other travellers and share stories after a day exploring the different cultures and delights of Singapore. Perks include free brekky plus you’ll be an easy 15-minute walk away from Marina Bays Sands and Supertree Grove.

backpacking singapore -River City Inn communal area with sofa and bookcase

Singapore Food

If you like to eat then you’ll find it difficult to beat Singapore as a travel destination, as the locals are mad about food! It’s Chinese, Malay and Indian cultural influences has meant there is an overwhelming variety on offer and all at affordable prices. At around 3 SGD for a meal it’s the perfect place to live out your dream of having double dinner’s every day!

Singaporeans are immensely proud of their Hawker Culture, so much so they have nominated it for UNESCO heritage status. Hawker Centre’s are the hub of the community, it’s at these food courts where young and old, rich and poor come to eat, drink and hang out with their friends. Many stalls have been run by the same family for generations, each perfecting just a handful of dishes. You’ll find the tastiest, most authentic and affordable food here, or in small family run Kopitiams. Here’s my list of recommendations of the best food and drink to try and where to find them.

  1. Kopi (Coffee) and Teh (Tea) – and how to order it like a local!

If you can’t start your day until you’ve had your morning caffeine hit, you’ll need to know how to order like a local. It can be a little complex at first with so many different versions available, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. A basic cup of Kopi or Teh will come with condensed milk and sugar. I recommend you try this for starters. You can then play around with your preferences:

Kopi / Teh O – No milk

Kopi / Teh C – Switch condensed milk for evaporated (Carnation)

Add ‘Siew Dai’ for less sugar

Add ‘Kosong’ for no sugar

Add ‘Peng’ if you want it iced.

Don’t worry if you forget the above, you can order in English if you get stuck!

Where? – Get your beverage from any Kopitiam or drinks stall at a Hawker Centre. It might even come in a bag with a straw.

  1. Kaya Toast and Eggs

A breakfast staple, Kaya is a coconut jam, served on toast with soft boiled eggs. It might not look too appealing, but it’s all about the taste. Do what the locals do – crack your eggs into a dish and add a little soy sauce and white pepper, mix it all up and dip your toast.

Where? – Tong Ah Eating house, 35 Keong Saik Rd (behind the big yellow awning) or at franchises, such as Ya Kun Kaya and Fun Toast.

backpacking singapore - singapore food with iced coffee and eggs

  1. Hainanese Chicken Rice

Probably Singapore’s most famous dish, Chicken rice is just that. Steamed or roasted chicken on a bed of rice cooked in chicken stock. It’s pretty simple but is full of flavour. It will come with some chili sauce on the side and a bowl of chicken broth.

Where? – It’s everywhere across Singapore. If you don’t mind queuing, then Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre is highly rated. Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Complex received a Bib Gourmand in 2017 and has the title of the cheapest Michelin Starred food in the world.

  1. Char Kway Teow

A local favourite originating from Malaysia, Char Kway Teow is a dish of rice noodles stir fried with soy sauce, chili, beansprouts, prawns, cockles, Chinese sausage and fishcake.

Where?  – Outram Park Char Kway Teow at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre.

  1. Hokkien Mee

Another popular noodle dish, this time originating from China. Hokkien Mee is a mixture of noodles stir fried with seafood, beansprouts and chili.

Where? – Nam Sing Fried Hokkien Mee at Old Airport Road Food Centre

  1. Carrot Cake

Not to be mistaken with the western dessert, this carrot cake is savoury and doesn’t actually contain carrot! It is a mix of rice flour and white radish, cubed, steamed and fried with garlic, soy sauce and eggs.

Where? – Zion Road Hawker Centre

  1. Laksa

A spicy soup stock with coconut milk typically served with noodles, beansprouts, prawns and fishcake. Laksa is a combination of Chinese and Malay flavours and there are a huge variety of versions to choose from.

Where? – 363 Katong Laksa, 29 Lor Liput (Near to Holland Village MRT)

  1. Curry Puffs

This mini pastry one of Singapore’s best-known snacks. The traditional filling is curry sauce with chicken and potatoes, if you’re lucky there could be some chopped egg in there too! There are also a variety of other fillings to choose from such as vegetables, fish or beef.

Where? – Tanglin Crispy Curry Puff at Maxwell food centre or franchises such as Old Chang Kee and Tip Top.

  1. Chili Crab

An iconic seafood dish in Singapore, Chili Crab has also been ranked in the world’s top 50 most delicious foods. The crab is stir fried with a sweet and spicy sauce, served with steamed buns. It gets messy and on the pricey side in comparison to other dishes on this list.

Where? – Keng Eng Kee Seafood, Bukit Merah or the Jumbo seafood restaurant chain.

  1. Curry Rice

Another Hainanese dish, curry rice is a much-loved comfort food. Rice is topped with a usually mild curry sauce, veggies and your choice of fried protein.

Where? – Loos’ Haianese Curry Rice, Seng Poh Road, Tiong Bahru

  1. Pau

A Pau is a steamed, filled Chinese bun and an extremely popular snack in Singapore. There is a vast array of fillings including minced chicken, char siew BBQ pork and red bean paste.

Where? – Tiong Bahru Pau at Tiong Bahru Food Centre or 237 Outram Road.

  1. Dim Sum

A traditional comfort food introduced to Singapore by migrants from Hong Kong. These bite sized parcels are served in steamer baskets and come with a variety of fillings. Usually paired with copious amounts of tea.

Where? – Restaurant chains Tim Ho Wan and Din Tai Fung are across the island. Both have Michelin stars, but remain affordable.

  1. Durian

Known as the stinky fruit, Durian divides opinion. It’s difficult to describe the smell, but the fact it’s banned on public transport will probably tell you it isn’t pleasant. A lot of locals are Durian connoisseurs and when the fruit is at its best, travel across the island to their preferred seller.

Where? – Head to any wet market and you’ll likely find grocers selling the fruit, already prepared. You are often given a pair of gloves to protect your hands from smelling for the rest of the day. Make sure you take some mints too!

  1. Roti Prata

An Indian flatbread that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, roti prata is often eaten with vegetable or meat curry. Nowadays a lot of vendors have branched out and offer an array of toppings including cheese, chocolate and banana.

Where? – Various stalls around Little India including Prata Saga Sambal Berlada or Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata, 300 Joo Chiat Road

  1. Paper Thosai

Originating from South India, paper thosai is a huge pancake much thinner than roti prata. Usually eaten at breakfast with a choice of dips such as curry and chutneys.

Where?  – Komala Vilas, 76-78 Serangoon Road

  1. Chendol

A Malaysian dessert, the basic ingredients are shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar and jelly cubes. After that you can pimp your bowl with a huge variety of toppings to choose from, including fruit, red beans and sweetcorn.

Where? – Old Amoy Chendol at Chinatown Food Complex

Hawker Tips:

Get there early as you’ll probably need to queue for the more popular stalls. Particularly those a little further out of the city, will close once they have sold out.

If you notice packets of tissues or cards on tables, this is the local’s way of reserving or ‘choping’ a table. Feel free to follow suit.

 

Singapore Culture

Singapore history

The name Singapore comes from the Malay words “Singa” for lion and “Pura” for city. Legend has it that a Sumatran prince identified a creature when landing on the island sometime during the 14th century, he was told that this was a lion.

Singapore’s location, on the major sea route between India and China appealed greatly to the British, who in the early 19th century were looking for a trading post to support their endeavors in India and China. A chap called Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles saw potential in what at the time was a swamp covered island. Eventually Singapore became a crown colony and under British rule flourished as a trade hub, attracting many immigrants. However, the influx of workers and traders from a variety of different countries caused some disorder at first and the colony was split into ethnic residential areas, forming the basis of the neighbourhoods that still exist in Singapore today.

Singapore’s development as a trading hub led to the establishment of banks and other businesses, but any progress was halted when the country was attacked by the Japanese in World War II. Following British rule and an unsuccessful merger with Malaysia, Singapore became an independent and sovereign democratic nation in 1965.

Since gaining independence Singapore continued to thrive as one of the world’s leading players in global financing and trading. Its initial success was down in most part to its geographic location and this has been sustained along with heavy investment to promote economic growth and a high quality, multi-cultural workforce. Despite being one of the youngest, Singapore is now recognised as one of the world’s most successful nations.

Languages

Singapore has four official languages – English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. The working language for government and business is English, so you’ll find that you can have a conversation with the majority of locals you interact with. Having said that, there is an un-official language, known as ‘Singlish’, effectively a hybrid that could leave you confused.

Singlish is commonly used by locals in social settings. Most Singaporeans speak more than one language and whilst they have been schooled in English, their language at home could be, for example, Malay. Meaning some English sentences will seem shorter or broken with Malay words as replacements or additions on the end.

Singapore Traditional Clothing

As you would expect, the traditional clothing in Singapore is influenced by the variety of different cultures here. Whilst you typically won’t see them being worn on a daily basis here are some of the outfits that are prominent during religious festivals or significant annual calendar events.

Chinese Cheongsam – This elegant, colourful figure hugging dress with a high collar is made from cotton or silk. The Cheongsam is worn for special occasions such as family events and during Chinese New Year. They are available across Singapore for all budgets. Try Chinatown for a more budget friendly item. Hotels and wedding boutiques will tailor make one off pieces, for a price.

Chinese Changshan – This long shirt is traditional Chinese dress worn by men during formal events and celebrations. Similar to the Cheongsam it has a high collar made from cotton or silk and can be picked up off the shelf or custom made.

Baju Kurung and Baju Melayu – The national dress of Malaysia, a baju kurung is a loose-fitting full-length dress available in a variety of colours and patterns. Baju Melayu is a loose-fitting shirt for men with long sleeves often paired with long pants and a sampan wrapped around the middle of the body. Both can be custom made, with Arab Street having no shortage of stores. Sales peak during the month of Ramadan.

Sarong Kebaya – Traditionally associated with the Peranakan community the kebaya is an embroidered blouse, paired with a sarong. It is very common in Singapore and Indonesia and has heavily influenced the uniform designed for Singapore Airlines’ female flight attendants.

Sari – The glamorous and colourful sari is an item of clothing recognised worldwide. Worn by the Indian community the sari is typically worn on a daily basis, with special designs saved for religious festivals or significant annual calendar events. Head to Little India where you will see these being worn and available to purchase.

Malay culture in Singapore

Malay Singaporeans are the second largest ethnic group in Singapore, accounting for around fifteen percent of the total population. Their culture is similar to that of mainland Malaysia. Most speak Malay with dialect from southwest Malaysia and their religion is Islam. The Kampong Glam / Bugis area of Singapore is the best place to immerse yourself in Malay Heritage.

Chinese culture in Singapore

Chinese Singaporeans are the largest ethnic group in Singapore, accounting for over 75% of the total population. Singaporeans of Chinese descent are grouped depending on their ancestral origins which can be differentiated through dialect, custom, religious practices and food. Most Singaporean Chinese trace their ancestral origin to southern China and the majority are Buddhists.  Head to Chinatown for a taste of Chinese heritage.

backpacking singapore - fountain spurting water with sunset and marina bay sands hotel in background

? Sasin Tipchai

Singapore costs

 Singapore Currency

The currency is the Singapore Dollar (SGD). Coin denominations are 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and 1 Dollar, while banknote values include 2, 5, 10, 50 and 100. At the time of writing, 1 SGD is equal to 0.56 GBP or 0.73 USD.

Card or cash?

A mixture of both is recommended. Contactless card payment methods are available across the island however you’ll need cash for purchases at smaller businesses, Hawker Centre’s and in some taxis.

Is Singapore expensive?

The official answer is yes. It’s well documented that Singapore has consistently been ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world. But, this factors costs such as renting an apartment, buying a car and putting your kids through school, something you don’t have to worry about when backpacking!

Sure, there are lots of opportunities to spend your hard-earned dough, with some of the world’s best bars, hotels, restaurants and shopping on your doorstep. But it’s also easy to explore for less and with little compromise. Here are some average costs:

Travel on public transport (per one-way trip) – 1 SGD

Public transport from airport to city – 2 SGD

Taxi from airport to city – 20 SGD

Taxi (15/20 mins) – 8 SGD

Meal in a Hawker Centre – 3 – 4 SGD

Large Beer in a Hawker Centre – 7 SGD

Local tea or coffee – 1.50 SGD

Fresh juice – 3 SGD

Meal in a mid-range restaurant – 20 SGD ++

Beer / Wine in a mid-range restaurant / bar – 14 SGD ++

Movie Ticket – 10 SGD

Museum Ticket 15 SGD

Small bottle of water at 7-eleven – 2.50 SGD

++ GST and Service charges

If you are quoted a price ++ this refers to Goods and Service Tax, which is at 7% and Service Charge, at 10%. Most bars, restaurants and cafes will add this to your bill so be mindful when checking the menu. You’ll avoid paying the extra 17% at Hawker Centre’s, Food Courts in malls and most Kopitiams (coffee shops). Because of these levy’s, tipping is not customary anywhere in Singapore.

GST on shopping at major retailers can be claimed back at the airport on departure by presenting receipts. You’ll need your passport on you when making the purchase.

 

Tips to save money in Singapore

Eat local – Singaporeans love their food and a visit here will certainly not leave you hungry. Avoid restaurants in the tourist hotspots and head to a Hawker Centre. These food courts house a variety of food stalls cooking up delicious local dishes with inspiration from across the region. There are over 100 Hawker Centre’s on the island to choose from and not only is the food better, meals cost a fraction of the price. You will leave with a full stomach and an appreciation of just how multicultural Singapore is. Food courts in malls are also good options, they are usually in the basement or on high floors. You’ll pay a little more for the air-conditioning and modern surroundings.

Drink smart – Whilst you can chow down on tasty food on the cheap, your beverage bill will be a little higher to say the least. The bar scene is strong in Singapore and nothing beats a warm evening sipping on your favourite tipple in nice surroundings. But alcohol is expensive, so you’ll need to play it smart and keep your eyes peeled for drinks offers. Luckily, there are 1 for 1 discounts, free flow deals and ladies’ nights available across the city, including at some of the most desirable nightspots. Check out the itineraries for details.

Use public transport – Hailing a cab is so convenient and even more appealing if they are cheaper than at home. But try to resist, public transport here is great with MRT stations and bus stops within walking distance of most of the places where you’ll be spending your time.

Drink the water – You’ll get through plenty of h2o and buying it from 7-eleven everyday will soon add up. The water here is clean and safe to drink with water fountains available at most tourist attractions and malls. So, bring a water bottle and you’ll be doing your bit for the environment too!

Singapore travel advice

Vaccinations

Aside from confirming that your vaccinations for life in your home country are up to date there are no courses or boosters usually advised for travel to Singapore.

Getting to and from the airport

You’ll fly in and out of the world’s best airport, Singapore Changi. It’s an attraction in itself but save exploring until your departure and head straight into town. The Changi Airport MRT station is located at Terminal 2 with trains to and from the city taking approximately 40 minutes.

Travelling to Bangkok?

Singapore is extremely well connected to the rest of South East Asia and beyond. If your next stop is Thailand’s bustling capital, the cheapest, quickest and most comfortable travel option is to fly. Plus, you’ll get to hang out at Changi Airport for a while. There are several budget airlines offering flights throughout the day. AirAsia, Scoot and JetStar are usually the cheapest carriers with prices starting around 75 SGD one-way. You’ll be in the air for two hours.

About the author….

Matt has been living and working in Singapore since January 2018, having relocated from the UK with his wife Hannah. He loves old skool Hip-Hop tunes, football (Wolves) and finding new rooftop bars that offer delicious food and tasty beverages. In his spare time you’ll find him exploring his new home or travelling South East Asia.

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