It’s been a long time coming, but I was inspired by a recent post on my YouTube channel that I should be offering some background advice for Singapore since my Singapore documentary film was released.
Time Magazine’s Daven Wu interviewed locals and dove into the scene, in Singapore to find out what to do in the city-state. Speaking with locals, you may be surprised at what they’re missing in their own backyard. But rest assured, there are plenty of things to do there. With only a couple of noted exceptions, this list is free, for all you budget travelers out there (transportation and food excluded).
1. If you’re an early riser, the Botanic Gardens open up at 5a.m. and are absolutely stunning. It’s more than just a breath of fresh air. And if you’re a jogger, it’s the perfect getaway from the hustle-n-bustle of the city. You’ll go through orchid gardens, see countless different species of butterflies, and groups of Tai Chi practitioners on your way around the loop. Get to the main entrance from Upper Palm Valley Road.
2. Ever heard of Hotel-hopping? No? Well, you can actually get into this in Singapore. If you go the Raffles Hotel, you’ll enter another world, back in time when this place fits more into the roaring 20s. You can half expect someone to walk buy with slicked hair and a zoot suit. Then there’s the Ritz-Carlton, which has one of the most spectacular collections of contemporary art. Their exhibits frequently boast works by Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Rainer Gross and Henry Moore just to name a few. There are more, but you get the picture. When hotels compete for attention, you win!
3. And if it’s art that you’re into, there are more museums than you can shake a stick at down Stamford Road. If this area is not already, it should definitely be known as the Museum district. It’s also in the vicinity of an old Dutch building-turned restaurant strip and a 12-story library frequented by students of the nearby university. And it’s all within a few city blocks. All of this is either free or they take donations for entry.
4. The Singapore zoo and Night Safari are not to be missed. Hit the zoo in the day time. And for an even cooler experience, visit the neighboring Night Safari Park for an otherworldly experience that you will thank yourself for seeing. The zoo covers 28 hectares and is open from 8:30 to 6pm (+65 6269 3411). Tickets run SD$22 for adults & $14 for kids. The Night Safari covers 40 hectares and is open 6:30 to midnight (+65 6269 3411). Tickets are SD$35 for adults $23 for kids. And while they’re not connected to each other in any official capacity, I do believe there is a discount if you buy zoo+safari tickets at the same time. You can see my footage from the Night Safari on my film, Travel Geek: Documentary Singapore.
5. The China Heritage Center (peranakanmuseum.sg), the Asian Civilization Museum (acm.org.sg) and the Singapore Philatelic Museum (www.spm.org.sg/) all charge a reasonable donation, but are worth the visit to get out of the heat and to learn something new about the history of Singaporean emigration and stamp collecting. The Star Wars nuts will love the stamp collection at the philatelic museum (ore about this in Documentary Singapore).
I should also include temples in number 5. Definitely seek out the temples. They are almost always free and you can spend several days checking them all out. There’s a Buddha’s tooth remnant said to be in the temple at South Bridge Road (found in Guthama’s ashes). And most other temples in the area have similar quirky claims to fame like that as well.
6. Avoid the shopping megastores which, if you’re anything like me, will make your head spin and cast you headlong into a relentlessly ebbing sea of commerce. To get your gear fix without the name brand barrage, head out to North Bridge Road to check out the Digitalife Mall where gear-heads and techies alike feel right at home. No purchase necessary. Another option would be Sim Lim Square on Rochor Canal Road.
7. Arab Street: Go there! It’s a little Indian quarter of the city that’s chalk-full of dining options, street bazaars and, most importantly, a nightly gathering of shisha-smoking locals. Relax in the cool, night air and order some local foods. But remember that this is a highly Muslim area. So heavy drinking (and the activity associated with it) is frowned-upon. Check out Documentary Singapore for my hostel review and dining experience at Cafe La Caire and the Shophouse Hostel across the street.
8. Probably the most expensive thing on the list, the Singapore Flyer, costs $30 Sing Dollars (US$24). But this has a hidden benefit. For starters, because its so high, it’s a lot like getting a semi-private helicopter ride over the best part of the city. And secondly, the fee is a deterrent for most people. So the lines are short and the cabins are less crowded. I rode the Flyer in my film. Check it out for details. There are also a ton of restaurants on the ground floor. Head downtown to Raffles Avenue to get there.
9. Though not free, visiting the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino will only set you back US$12. And while you’re up there, have a beer and enjoy the view of the Southeast Asia’s highest open-air swimming pool. This is where I did the introduction to my film from Singapore. To get into the infinity pool there, you may have to book a room. But you can probably stuff a fist-full of dollars into a hearty handshake with the security guards at the top floor and gain access the old fashioned way. To get there, just tell the cabbie you want to go the Skypark at the Marina Bay Sands. There’s a special entrance, so just save yourself the hassle and have them drop you off at the elevator.
10. The most amazing thing you’ll do in Singapore is to visit the Geylang Red Light district. When you hear people talking about the “dark side” of Singapore. This is the area they’re referring to. No rules. No one judging you. Just go there and decide your own level of involvement. The more you want, the more they want to give. But spend your time wisely. Many people go hard and fizzle out early. This is also the undisputed culinary leader in Singapore’s street food and cafes. You won’t be sorry. Head to Singapore’s east coast for the old world of architecture and simple pleasures.
To splurge on food and make it worth it: head to Dempsey Hill and find the White Rabbit Restaurant, which is a converted 1950s garrison barracks & church. Now, its full of art galleries, fine restaurants and spas. Wear your dinner jacket, though. They are not used to sweaty backpackers dumping their gear on the floor next to the tables.
To splurge on entertainment: Take the cable car over the Sentosa theme park and resort. But plan ahead wisely. This area is not cheap. But there’s more fun for adults to have than a night at the Playboy Mansion. There’s a Disney World area near the resort. But the Marine Park, tram stops, snake handling, plays and performances and about a gazillion other things go on here. Just visit the website, take your pick of things to do, and make a day of it. In my film on Singapore, you can see two of these events: The iFly indoor skydiving event and swimming with the sharks. Each costs around US $80 per visit, per person.