How to Save Money when Backpacking Singapore
South East Asia is one of the world’s cheapest regions for backpacking, but with one exception – Singapore. Singapore is not a budget destination, it’s actually also one of the most expensive cities in the world, but it’s still worth at least a few days of your timeand even on a tight budget it’s possible to enjoy backpacking Singapore and all this multicultural city has to offer.
Singapore is a small city island state that has become South East Asia’s success story and has been described as a microcosm of Asia. It’s the diversity that makes backpacking Singapore so interesting. Singapore combines modern skyscrapers and futuristic architecture with colonial history, international cuisine, a multicultural culture, a tropical climate and a taste of different Asian cultures and religions in a clean, organised, slick air conditioned comfort.
Unlike some of the more rough and tumble regions of South East Asia, backpacking Singapore offers a great introduction to the region, perfect for a first time visitor to Asia, and luckily with a bit of planning it’s possible to enjoy Singapore on a backpackers budget.
Practical Money Saving Tips for Backpacking Singapore
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Ride the MRT. Luckily Singapore has excellent public transportation systems. Signs and announcements are in English, fellow passengers are polite and the systems stretches to nearly every corner of this island state. Choose a hostel close to a MRT station to enable you to get around Singapore easily without shelling out for taxis.
Use Public Transport. Get a EZ- Link card for the MRT which will save you money rather than paying for each individual trip about ($2) but don’t buy the Singapore Tourist Card unless you use the MRT 5 – 6 times a day you won’t get your money’s worth.
Eat in Food Courts. Eating out can also be expensive. Some backpacker hostels will have kitchens so you can cook your own food or head to the food courts in malls and hawker centers that offer a awesome taste of Singaporean life and a huge variety of cheap and delicious food (about $4 – $7) in a buzzy environment. Maxwell Food Center and China Town Food Street are favorite places to eat out while backpacking Singapore.
Don’t be afraid to drink the tap water. Unlike the rest of South East Asia the tap water in Singapore is safe to drink and filling up a bottle before you head out to sightsee will save you money as it can cost $3 to buy a bottle of mineral water.
Leave your boozy nights out for Thailand or Bali. Drinking in Singapore is expensive – on par with Australia expensive! No 50 cent beers or Khao San Road here! If you really want a drink while backpacking Singapore then the food courts or hawker centers are your best bet for a beer around $6 or look out for happy hour promotions or drink at the hostel. Wednesdays and Thursdays are usually Ladies Nights in Singapore so you can try to get free entry and drinks so if you a girl backpacking Singapore those are the best nights to do out on a budget.
Don’t expect bargain shopping. Singapore is a shoppers paradise, the national past time in Singapore appears to be shopping and Singaporeans are achingly stylish but bargain hunters and backpackers will be disappointed as it’s no longer the place to get dirt cheap clothes, designer goods or electronic bargains. The best place to pick up cheap souvenirs when backpacking Singapore is Chinatown or Little India.
Don’t get fined – there seem to be a lot more rules in Singapore than in the rest of Southeast Asia and getting a fine will really dent your backpacking budget. The number one reason to get fined in Singapore is for not using marked crosswalks. You can also get fine for eating and drinking on public transport, riding a bike on pedestrian-only paths and not wearing a seatbelt.
Stay in Backpacker Hostels. In the rest of South East Asia private rooms are affordable but in Singapore staying in a hostel is the best option to save money on accommodation when backpacking Singapore as hotels can be really expensive. There are plenty of modern, clean backpacker hostels in Singapore from about $20 – $25. I’ve visited Singapore 4 times now as its a good flight hub.
My favourite backpacker hostels in Singapore are:
Sleepy Kiwi as the staff are really friendly and helpful and the atmosphere is really sociable. The free breakfast was also yummy and there’s also a bar and cafe with a weekly open mic night. The hostel is in a cute restored shophouse in the interesting area of Kampong Glam near to the impressive mosque and the shops, food stalls and MRT in the Bugis area. It’s also known as the Green Kiwi.
5 Footway Inn have 5 really stylish and well equipped boutique backpacker hostels in great locations across Singapore including China Town, Bugis and my favourite 5 Footway Inn Boat Quay which has views over the river to Marina Bay.
The Inn Crowd Backpacker’s Hostel is a good value for money hostel close to Little India and the MRT stop there. They serve a free breakfast of toast and coffee and you can also do a fun free scooter tour of the city if you book it in advance. The dorms are clean and theres a sociable common area and the staff are always happy to help you out with information about the city.
The Bohemian Chic is a colourful, stylish and lively backpacker hostel in the buzzing area of Chinatown with its temples, shops, street food and MRT station. The dorms are well equipped and the beds feature privacy curtains. Breakfast is nice and there also a games room and a shared lounge great for hanging out with other travellers. They also offer a free one-way shuttle service to the airport which helps you to save money when backpacking Singapore.
Also consider, Fisher BnB it’s consistently one of the most popular and highly rated backpacker hostels in Singapore. Fisher’s is located near to the 24 hour Mustafa Shopping Center and Lavender MRT Station. It’s a clean, modern, comfy and well run hostel. The layout of the dorms means the beds feel quite private and breakfast is also included.
Free Things to do while Backpacking Singapore
Away from the shopping malls and expensive theme parks and attractions there are loads of budget friendly things to do while backpacking Singapore. If you did want to see a few attractions in Singapore like Universal Studios, Singapore Zoo and ride the world’s highest observation wheel the Singapore Flyer then consider buying an attractions pass to save money as these activities can really start to add up.
Luckily there is a lot you can see and do in Singapore without spending anything. One of the joys of Singapore is the multiculturalism, with so many different cultures it can feel like you are in many countries in one day so use the MRT and your feet and wander around and take in all the different areas – it hardly costs a thing.
Free Things to do in Singapore: Culture and Temples
Take a free walking tour – To get your bearings start backpacking Singapore by taking a free walking tour with Singapore Footrpints. They meet at 4.15pm at Raffles MRT Station and share history and Singaporean tales as they take you through both old and new Singapore and to some more hidden places. If you enjoyed the tour it’s polite to tip.
Explore colourful Little India where chanting and the smell of sandalwood radiates from colourful Hindu temples covered in small sculptures of the pantheon of blue coloured Hindu gods and, especially at weekends, the streets bustle with shops selling saris, Bollywood DVDs and bangles and enjoy delicious South Indian food.
Kampong Glam, the Malay Muslim district is best explored in the evening while the call to prayers wafts out from the impressive Sultan Mosque – the largest in Singapore, with it’s huge, golden, onioned dome and towering minarets. If you cover up and go outside prayer times, its possible to go inside. Wander the quaint streets of colourful, restored shop houses around the mosque with dress shops showing off a magnitude of different fabrics to be made to measure and Arabic restaurants serving middle eastern cuisines and hookah pipes.
China Town also has a different character, explore the narrow lanes of historic and restored Chinese shop fronts decorated with red lanterns and try haggling for a bargain amongst the many souvenir stalls. There is also an awesome food street here with so many delicious and relatively cheap Chinese dishes to be tried the hardest part is choosing which one so see here for the best stalls to try in Chinatown.
There are also many temples of differing religions in Singapore to visit: In Chinatown, the imposing wooden Buddha Tooth Relic Temple where the tooth of the Buddha is reputedly kept and the oldest Hindu Temple Sri Mariamman complete with colourful gopura and lounging cow statues is also here.
The Kong Meng San Phor Kark See is a sprawling, stunning working monastery housed in 12 buildings with dragon topped pagodas, a bell and drum tower, statues, and various halls and FREE vegetarian meals are also served in the dining hall and also try to check out the amazingly kitsch and free to enter Haw Par Villa featuring out of the world scenes from Chinese legends and mythology
Also, check out the elaborate carvings at Thian Hock Keng, Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple from 1839 and at Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple (Chinese Goddess of Mercy Temple) in Waterloo Street you can have your fortune read, shake out a divination stick and get a slip with the answer, with English translation included.
Free Things to do in Singapore: Colonial Heritage
Explore Singapore’s history through the colonial heritage in the downtown civic or colonial district. Many buildings are now luxury hotels or museums but you can still usually soak up the heritage architecture atmosphere without having to pay anything.
Visit grand colonial structures like Raffles Hotel, Asian Civilizations Museum, City Hall and the Arts House (the former Parliament House) and learn about their stories. Pop into Fullerton Hotel, which used to be Singapore’s General Post Office to admire the pristine restorations of the colonial-era architecture.
Also, wander along the river by Clark Quay, which comes alive at night, starting from Raffles Place and enjoying the contrast between colourful old shophouses and towering skyscrapers.
Visiting the Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling will set you back about $30 but popping your head into this Singapore icon is highly recommended but dress smartly as backpacker elephant pants, flip flops and shorts will make you unwelcome. There is also a small FREE museum.
Make sure to pay a visit to Merlion, the symbol of Singapura – Lion City. Merlion stands proud by the waterside welcoming visitors from the sea as it has done since 1972, with his lion face and mermaid tail against a backdrop of modern, international offices showcasing the success of modern Singapore.
Free Things to do in Singapore: The Great Outdoors
Enjoy Singapore’s tropical climate in Singapore’s FREE parks, walking trails and nature reserves.
The lush Singapore Botanic Gardens, a green, respite from mall lined Orchard Road. Founded in 1859 by the British, the Botanic Gardens hold a host of exotic plants and is a nice space to people watch and relax in the quiet green space.
Historic Fort Canning Park, once the centre of the British administration and technically Singapore’s first botanic gardens. The central, hillside location of Fort Canning overlooks central Singapore and contains some historical sites.
Even if you can’t afford the resorts and theme parks of Sentosa you can still enjoy a day on the beach for free soaking up Singapore’s tropical climate. You can also swim, chill, BBQ and camp (with a permit) for FREE at the East Coast Park.
If you’re feeling energetic the best walking trail is along The Southern Ridges Trail through the gently sloping hills of Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah, Kent Ridge and Hort parks through the lush greenery and over canopies being rewarded with panoramic views over the city.
You could hike also climb to a 250m suspension bridge that soars above the rainforest canopy on the 8km Treetop Walk in MacRitchie Reservoir Park.
Also visit Palau Ubin Island – a small island off eastern Singapore that is considered the last ‘kampung’ (village) in Singapore. It costs only $3 and takes only 10 minutes to get there from Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Palau Ubin makes a nice day trip away from the city to experience a more laid back lifestyle. You can hire a bicycle and spend the day pedaling through the rustic countryside, checking out secluded beaches, viewpoints and mangroves.
Free Things to do in Singapore: Museums
Whilst in London most of the excellent museums are free making them great for backpackers, students and anyone on a budget. Unfortunately most of the top galleries and museums in Singapore charge about $10 admission for foreigners. If you’re backpacking Singapore on a shoestring budget and you’re a museum buff you could buy a 3 day pass for $20 to save money or look out for special free events or money saving evenings.
A visit to the Asian Civilizations Museum will help you understand a bit more about the mixture of different cultures represented in Singapore and the rest of Asia. It’s normally $8 but on Friday its open till 9pm and is half price after 7pm. Learn about the unique culture of the Peranakans’s (Straits Chinese) in the Peranakan Museum which also offers the same half price deal.
The National Museum’s permanent collection housed in a lovely, grand colonial building costs $10 but the excellent Living Galleries are FREE to visit, the highlight is the food gallery that will inspire you to try some of Singapore’s famous hawker dishes.
If art is more your thing then marvel at some contemporary art for FREE at Gillman Barracks a former army camp that now houses 13 galleries of international Art in its colonial-era buildings.
Free Things to do in Singapore: Entertainment
Admire the view of the expensive Marina Bay Sands hotel, from in front of the hotel you also have a good view point to enjoy the FREE sound and light show in the evenings that illuminates the hotel and bay every evening at 8pm and 9.30pm for almost 15 mins telling a story with state-of-the-art lasers in a water and light show spectacle – a must see when backpacking Singapore.
The famous durian-shaped icon of Singapore – The Esplande – often has FREE events on like performances, art exhibitions and live music by the riverside.
You could also enjoy FREE concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. See here for What’s On. Bring a picnic and enjoy the atmosphere at the Classics at the Park sessions at the Botanic Gardens.
Experience the FREE other worldly landscapes of the illuminated Gardens by the Bay. This new billion dollar Gardens by the Bay is no normal garden and you can’t miss seeing this when backpacking Singapore. Look upwards at the Supertrees – giant, artificial trees, that can use solar energy to light themselves at night and harvesting rain water to irrigate the surrounding plants but beware that if you want to go inside the conservatories, walk on the elevated walkway between the trees or to the bar on top then you’ll have to pay.
Things worth Splashing Out on in Singapore
Singapore Sling. Having a Singapore Sing at the iconic Raffles Hotel will set you back $30 each but it’s an quintessential Singaporean experience sitting under the whirling leaf shaped ceiling fans in this iconic colonial building chucking peanut shells on the floor (named after Sir Stamford Raffles the British founder of modern Singapore)
Night Safari. Singapore Zoo is one of the best zoos in the world and the Night Safari ($32) is consistently rated as the best attraction in Singapore. It opens at 7.30 pm but get there early or expect big queues. You can watch shows and explore the trails in the darkness and ride the tram to witness nocturnal animals among the landscaped design (no cages)
Singapore Flyer. The Singapore Flyer is the world’s largest observation wheel and riding it a night ($30) will give you spectacular views over the modern CBD, Marina Bay and the Colonial District and out to the South China District. The city really does looks amazing at night but you can also enjoy the views from a high rise bar but after the cost of a drink you won’t save that much money.
Marina Bay Sands – everyone wants to have a swim in the amazing infinity pool with stunning views over Singapore but it’s for guests only with room prices from about $300 a night. I haven’t found a way to sneak in yet – but I’m open to ideas! You can purchase a $23 admission ticket but you still can’t use the pool. Better to just purchase a drink in the restaurant if you really want to go up there but without being able to swim in the amazing pool it’s hardly worth it. I can only dream about swimming on top of the world at expensive Marina Bay Sands Hotel!
Remember, if you want to see the top attractions while backpacking Singapore then consider buying an attractions pass to save money.
Singapore is also a prefect introduction for first timer visitors to Asia and as there are so many free things to do with a bit of planning it’s easy to enjoy backpacking Singapore on a budget so there’s no need to skip this modern island metropolis just because you’re on a budget. Allow a few days to enjoy the modern, clean, air conditioned bliss, explore the different cultures and amazing diversity of food and witness South East Asia’s success story.
Thanks to the staff at Sleepy Kiwi Hostel who helped me with information about free things to do and saving money when backpacking Singapore.
Have you been to Singapore? Leave a comment below if you have any more free things to do or budget tips for backpacking Singapore