Two speed Singapore – tips for visiting without breaking the budget

Singapore – how would I find it nearly 40 years after I first visited? My emotions drifted from excitement and anticipation through to fear that I was visiting a City which was hyper-expensive and lacking character. Whilst we aren’t budget travellers we also don’t travel in the heights of luxury, so I was wondering how we would find Singapore cost wise. We like to mix it up, saving money on some things and splurging on others. Would Singapore allow us that opportunity or would we end our visit feeling deprived and broke?

To give you some perspective; I first visited Singapore in 1978 as a backpacker, arriving ‘deck class’ – yep that meant sleeping on the deck in all weather – on a grubby boat that had departed Indonesia. We stayed in a backpacker dormitory in Bencoolen St and ate at kopitiams and hawker markets. Our only touch with luxury was collecting our poste restante from the American Express office in one of the upmarket hotels.

This time we arrived on Qantas flight QF35 which we really enjoyed and caught a taxi to our hotel in Southbridge Road.  The Southbridge Hotel is in the Chinatown area of the City, for us a great location and a good rate. Fair to say the room was the smallest I have ever seen, and the hotel itself a bit of a rabbit warren. However it is clean and comfortable and relatively quiet and for $120 a night good value. If you are looking for accommodation in other areas of Singapore there are some great recommendations in this blog post by Travelling King.

Singapore food

The first morning after arrival we had a short walk around our area to familiarise ourselves with Chinatown. I was delighted to see that local architecture, colour and flavour were still in abundance as are local cuisine and prices. We quickly scouted out a dim sum restaurant for breakfast the next morning.

Breakfast – dim sum from Tak Po in Chinatown

In contrast, we then met friends for lunch at the Asian Market Café in the Swissotel The Stamford where an alcohol free buffet lunch was $70 each. With the same friends we repaired to a bar owned by an Australian, full of Australians. Needless to say there were multiple TV screens showing both the NRL and the AFL matches. Not our kind of place and with a 500ml draft beer costing $14.50 it was not a cheap shout. Fortunately none of us felt like staying on!

The next morning we breakfasted at our chosen dim sum restaurant [update September 2017 – sadly Tak Po is no longer operating in Chinatown] and filled up on delicious dumplings and Chinese tea for $25 for two – a bargain. After breakfast we walked over to the Arab Street area and wandered the streets and lanes, popping in and out of shops. Again I was delighted to see an area that was not heavily sanitised but exuded colour and personality. We stopped at a kopitiam where Rowan had a coffee and me a tea, both heavily sweetened as is the local way. No point me asking for a decaf coffee here. Still full of dim sum we didn’t eat but the Indonesian food looked delicious and everyone was eating with their fingers. Two coffees, one tea and a bottle of water were only $7, I imagine a meal would have been under $10.

On the way to Arab Street we passed The Parkview Museum which had an exhibition of “On Sharks and Humanity”. We didn’t go into the Exhibition but enjoyed some of the sculptures in the forecourt outside.

On Sharks and Humanity

That night we decided to go a little more upmarket and enjoyed some French wine along with salmon rillette and Croque Monsieur at the delightful O Batignolles just 5 minutes walk from our hotel. Again the joy of Singapore for us; the quick transition from the Chinatown scene to an international vibe a street away.

A little French rose sil vous plait

More dim sum for breakfast the following day, then we popped into a taxi and headed up to the National Orchid Garden within the Singapore Botanical Gardens. We are normally great users of public transport when we are travelling but have found Singapore taxis so inexpensive that we didn’t bother coming to grips with the MTR.

Singapore National Orchid Garden

The National Orchid Garden was overwhelming in the best possible sense. We both took an enormous number of photos. Entry to this part of the gardens is inexpensive too – $5 for an adult. If we had been a little smarter we would have taken along our Seniors Cards and then the entrance fee would have been only $1.50. Never mind, it was worth every cent we paid and highly recommended. By and large the Botanical Gardens are free to walk around and they are enormous and fabulous.

National Orchid Garden

Later the same day we walked over to the Gardens by the Bay to watch the Sound and Light show in the Supertree Grove. It was spectacular and well worth the walk. My second day in a row of clocking up over 10,000 steps, what a great way to balance out all the food. We have found the City excellent for walking; largely flat with well-made footpaths, clear street signage and pedestrian crossings which are respected by local drivers.  It does get hot though and thunderstorms arrive quickly so be prepared for all weathers.

Supertree Grove sound and light

We haven’t done much shopping whilst we have been here although Rowan has had a suit made. I haven’t been in the mood which is probably a good thing! However, I did buy this little collection to give away to one of our readers – see competition details below. The hand painted lacquered coconut bowl and matching napkin rings are locally made. The napkin rings can double up as tealight holders if napkins aren’t your thing. Don’t forget to enter, I would love it if one of our subscribers was the winner.

Win this lacquered bowl and napkin rings/tealight holders

As I write this, we have a couple more days in Singapore before we head to Penang. We have really enjoyed our time and found it surprisingly easy to travel here without blowing the budget. No doubt if you stay in 5 star accommodation, eat mainly western food and drink lots of alcohol in bayside bars it will be super expensive. If like us, you choose to stay in 3-4 star accommodation, eat more local food and not drink much alcohol then it can be quite inexpensive. Whatever your choice, Singapore is a great City to visit.

To win the lacquer bowl and matching napkin rings/ tealight holders tell us your tips for managing the budget whilst travelling. This is a game of skill and the author of the best tip will win. The judge’s decision is final. Sorry, open to Australia and New Zealand residents only. Entries close Monday 15th May 2017 at 5 pm AEST.

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