Singapore on a budget
First published 12th November, 2009
If you're on an extended trip through Southeast Asia, with its first-world prices Singapore can be a real budget buster. Here are some tips to stretch your Sing dollars that little bit further from a long-time budget traveller turned Singapore resident.
The cheapest and best food in Singapore comes from the plentiful food courts and hawker centres. They're clean, offer lots of variety, open until late, and nearly everything costs under S$5. Start the day with a hearty breakfast of nasi lemak or a toast set (soft boiled eggs, kaya toast, and coffee) -- they cost around S$3 each.
If there's a restaurant you're dying to try, check if they have a set lunch. On weekdays from 12:00-14:00 many restaurants serve soup, main, dessert, plus drink for under S$15. Keep in mind that Singapore menu prices are ++ (plus plus) -- 7% tax and 10% service will automatically be added to the bill.
Give your liver a break -- alcohol is highly taxed in Singapore. At a supermarket or hawker centre a big bottle of Tiger beer runs around S$5, but in a bar or nightclub a small bottle can easily exceed S$10 or S$12 for a mixed drink. Keep an eye open for weeknight promotions and happy hours when drinks and pints are usually 1-for-1 (that's Singapore-speak for 'buy one get one free'). Supermarkets sell decent bottles of Australian wine for around S$25, but spirits cost much, much more. If you're arriving by air you may want to buy a bottle of duty-free alcohol to save about 60% off city prices (for example a 1L bottle of Smirnoff vodka casts S$20 at the airport, but S$65 for 750mL in the city).
Protect the earth and your wallet by refilling a water bottle from sinks or drinking fountains -- Singapore is one spot in Asia where the tap water is perfectly safe to drink. Canned drinks and bottled water cost S$1.20 or so and, when sightseeing on a hot day, can add up quickly.
Accommodations are a big expense. The popular hostels in Little India, Chinatown, and Bugis charge around S$20 for a bunk and breakfast. Private rooms start from S$50 at hostels and guesthouses or S$80 at a budget hotel. If you don't mind spending some time on the MRT, the new hostels popping up in the in the city's residential heartlands are cleaner, quieter, and cheaper. The stingiest of backpackers might want to check out www.couchsurfing.com -- we haven't personally tried it, but we hear good things.
Getting around Singapore
Singapore has excellent public transportation -- take advantage of it! Tourists can purchase a Tourist Pass valid for unlimited rides on the MRT and all buses for only S$8 per day (1, 2, or 3 days) plus a refundable S$10 deposit. The double-decker tourist bus charges S$23 for an all-day ticket, but double-decker city buses #7 and #111 do a similar loop down Orchard, through the CBD, and to the Esplanade for just S$1.50.
Singapore's taxis always use the meter and are relatively affordable -- just be aware of the extra fees and peak time surcharges: 35% surcharge from 07:30-09:30 and 17:00-20:00, 50% surcharge from 00:00-06:00, S$3 fee for trips beginning in the CBD or at the airport, plus road tolls (ERP) if you're travelling through Orchard or the city centre!
Shopping & souvenirs
Unless it's particular to the place you're visiting (for example a Night Safari t-shirt), avoid buying souvenirs at the attractions. The same postcards, magnets, "Fine City" t-shirts, and Merlion paraphernalia can be found all over the city for much less. Try Mustapha Centre in Little India, the Bugis Street Market, Orchard Road's Lucky Plaza, or the little shops on Arab Street.
Travelling can take a toll on your wardrobe. Restock on cheap t-shirts at the Bugis Street Market or sneakers/sports sandals at Queensway Shopping Centre (Teva sandals from S$50).
Are you a fashionista on a budget? Trendy but cheap clothes, bags, and accessories from across Asia can be picked up at Far East Plaza on Orchard Road.
The Great Singapore Sale is mostly a tourism gimmick; don't expect any mega-deals.
Attractions & entertainment
Visit the city's fine museums during off-peak times to enjoy discounted or even free admission. The Singapore Art Museum is free Fridays from 18:00-21:00, entry to the Living Galleries at the National Museum of Singapore is free daily from 18:00-20:00, and the Asian Civilizations Museum discounts admission to S$4 Friday nights from 19:00-21:00. Children under 6 are always free.
Book your Singapore Flyer tickets online to automatically save 20%.
Think you'll visit more than 1 of the zoos? The Park Hopper Pass gives you admission to all three for S$45 or two for S$32 (50% less for children).
The Sentosa Choice package lets you bundle admission fees to the attractions to save 30% -- it's a good option if you're planning to spend all day there.
Admission is free to the Botanic Garden, Merlion Park, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Chinese Garden, East Coast Park, and the bizarre Haw Par Villa.
The majority of events at the Esplanade Theatre are free. Check their website for details about art galleries, dance performances, recitals, and concerts.
Movie tickets cost only S$7.50 from Monday to Thursday.
If you're travelling with a laptop you're in luck -- free WiFi is everywhere. Your guesthouse probably has free Internet, but so do most public places -- malls, McDonalds, Starbucks, libraries, etc. Wireless@SG is free, but you'll need a phone number to register.
Save on your bus trip to Malaysia by crossing the border into Johor Bahru and buying your onward ticket at the Larkin Bus Terminal. It's slightly less convenient, but half the price.
Taking the train to Malaysia? Train tickets originating in Singapore are charged in Singapore dollars and cost double the price than if you started in Johor Bahru. The easy way around it is to buy two tickets on the same train: one from Singapore to Johor Bahru, then another for Johor Bahru onwards.
Related readingTop 10 Hawker Centres: Part 1
Top 10 Hawker Centres: Part 2
Singapore: Escape the urban jungle
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