Singapore 101: A Crash Course in Cheap Travel, Food, Lodging & More

The Republic of Singapore has Southeast Asia’s best economy. So if you visit at the end of your trip through the region, it may come as a shock to find out that it costs a bit more than its regional neighbors.

It’s also an island city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, 137 kilometers north of the equator. So you may be finding yourself spending a little more time in restaurants and attractions to escape the heat. And these have a way of costing money.

First off: Transportation.

Getting to Singapore by air is up to you and I can’t speak to costs there. But if you’re coming from Malaysia, there are two options (outside of renting your own car): the bus or the train.

I have taken both on my various trips. And I would recommend either. Both will cost anywhere from $10 to $25 depending on your level of chosen comforts. If I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the bus, however, because they are newer than the trains (which, in my opinion, sorely need overhauling).

I’ve never rented my own car, but I have heard that it is not an issue, coming from Malaysia. So for those of you who are brave (and wealthy) enough to afford this option, off to the forums with you!

While you’re in Singapore, transportation won’t be an issue. It’s a small place packed to the brim with fun stuff to do. For my top ten list of things to do in Singapore, see below or listen to the podcast here.

Hands-down, the cheapest way to get around Singapore is the public transportation system. The buses are safe and super cheap. And the same thing goes for the train. Both of these will get you to just about any place in the city for less than US$3 (one-way). But most hop-on, hop-off rides will cost less than US$1.

I won’t go into the mapping details. But you won’t have a problem asking locals which bus goes where. Everyone speaks English fluently throughout the city. And I was never given the wrong information. Also if they don’t know, they won’t send you in the wrong direction to save face, they will just tell you they don’t know.  For rail transit system, just ask the on-duty safety officer, if an actual transportation agent is not at your stop.

Secondly: Lodging.

As in most places, the cost of lodging will swing widely based on your minimum expectations.  I am a budget traveler, so I probably have the best advice for the shoestring visitor.

In a place like Singapore (and by that, I mean in a place where there are a lot of millionaires), the hotels even on the mid-range will likely match that of higher-priced hotels in other Southeast Asian countries. Remember, Singapore has Southeast Asia’s highest economy. So they hold themselves to a higher sense of class.

Now, this doesn’t mean that they are uptight (okay, some are — like the Singapore Art Museum, for instance). But it does mean that you’ll have to spend a little more of your budget on hotel and hostel stays.

The good news is that you will likely find yourself in much cleaner accommodations than in the other countries in this region. If you’re okay with low-to-mid-ranged budgets, you might want to shoot for Little India or Chinatown. These locations are known for their cheaper and livelier centers of attention. They are also surrounded by restaurants and attractions. So what you might lose in your lodging budget, you might make up for in saving taxi fares.

I was able to secure a three-night stay at the Shophouse Hostel on Arab Street (which represented the norm at the time I researched it), for US$12/night.  This was not only the most competitive price; it was also the very good for the money. It was clean, the staff was super nice, and the owner even came out to help me film on my documentary at Sentosa Island.

Lastly: Food.

While traveling through Singapore, you’ll find that you have a lot of options in the food department. So it follows that you’ll have a wide price range as well.  And depending on your level of courage, you may just end up saving money in this department.

All in, eating from food stalls all day will cost less than US$10.  Restaurants will double that sum. But this includes non-alcoholic drinks and three meals a day.

Alcohol is very expensive once you go south of Thailand. Singapore is no exception. A pint will set you back as much as US$5 and forget about the club prices. Just buy a few cans and dance in the hostel’s upper lounge.

Much of the food in Singapore is fried. So if you’re a health nut or if your system isn’t that forgiving, you can add $10 per day to get away from the more easily and quickly cooked foods.

Some amazing delicacies and local favorites here include stingray soup and nasi lamuk (coconut milk rice) with chicken and veggies. The closer to the Geylang Red-light District you venture, the more adventurous the food gets (think cow tongue and pig penis).

Some important facts:

Dialing code: 65

Weather: 31°C, Wind SW at 11 km/h, 62% Humidity

Local time: UTC+8

Currency: Singapore Dollar

Official languages: English Language, Malay Language, Tamil, Standard Mandarin

Currency conversion:

100.00 USD         =             125.511 SGD

US Dollar              ↔          Singapore Dollar

1 USD = 1.25511 SGD      1 SGD = 0.796746 USD

Travel concerns:

Safety isn’t too big a concern here. Lock up your stuff in lockers, be attentive of your belongings and don’t go and do something stupid like hang your money out of your pocket and you should be fine.

Women: you will be stared at by Indian-Malays and Muslim men.

LGBT: Don’t announce too heavily in the conservative areas.


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