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
Read 2 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (15)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (8)
- Cambodia (23)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Kampot or Kep?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking in Virachey National Park
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (14)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- Pasola, Sumba
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (18)
- All stories
- A breeze through Luang Prabang
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Luang Prabang for kids
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- What to buy in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Malaysia (9)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (76)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (32)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (21)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The best hostels in Bangkok 2014
- The best places to stay on Ko Chang, Thailand
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (16)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.