Once upon a time, Singapore was a cluster of small villages with quiet streets and a tranquil local life, but the area has been revitalized and is pushing for an ultra-modern future. Now Singapore is a top destination south of Malaysia that has seen a huge boom in tourism due its character presented in works of pop culture like the bestselling book and subsequent movie, Crazy Rich Asians.
With depictions of Singapore projected across the world, tourists are now eager to explore the exotic tastes of the street food, walk in the famous botanic gardens, and explore the dynamic city streets.
Selamat Datang – Welcome to Singapore
Singapore is unique because it has no capital. In fact, the capital of Singapore is Singapore. The country is also unique because it’s also an island and its own state. While located off the southern coast of Malaysia, Singapore is technically a sovereign island nation, so it tends to act like its own country.
While the main island of Singapore is where most of the tourists visit, the territory actually consists of 62 smaller islets as well. The popularity of Singapore also means that man-made islands are create for real estate purposes every year.
Culture and Language
Most of Singapore’s history dates back to the 14th century, when it was ruled by a man named Parameswara. The island started as a trade settlement and expanded as an important colony for the British. In World War II, Japan occupied the island, until the end of the war when Britain took power. But it wasn’t until 1965 that Singapore began the unique nation it is today, when it was expelled from Malaysia. Since Singapore separated from Malaysia, it has become a great success in its business and economic sectors.
Along with the growth of the city, the housing sector greatly expanded with new high rises and apartment blocks being rapidly developed. By the 2010s, Singapore was becoming a popular tourist destination and amongst the offices and apartments, large resorts were being constructed. The Marina Bay Sands is the iconic resorts that features double towers connected by a bridge and often it is featured in photographs of the city. Now, the city is stable, and they voted into power their first female president in 2017.
With the unique past and blend of countries in power, Singaporean culture is a combination of cultures with influences from Asia and Europe. Harmony is a large part of Singaporean culture, where the people want a balance between peace, justice, and religion. But even in the urban environment, nature has a huge cultural significance. From the gardenscaped architecture, botanic gardens, city parks, and nature reserves, Singapore is working towards being the world’s greenest city.
Malay is the national language of Singapore, but other languages used throughout the country include English, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil. The majority of the people will speak English alongside Malay, because English is taught in schools and is considered a de factor language. English is also commonly used in business, alongside Mandarin Chinese. Though most Mandarin Chinese is spoken within private homes. The minority language spoken is Tamil and like Mandarin Chinese, is often spoken within private homes. For English speaking tourists, Singapore is popular because of its use of the English language, which means that there is less of a barrier on the streets and between people.
For US citizens interested in visiting Singapore, no tourist visa is required before arrival to the country is you are staying for less than 90 days. However, your entry is based on the discretion of the customs agent and most people are more likely to be stamped for approval for 14- and 30-day stays.
You can extend your visa once and in person at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. It is important to extend your visa before it expires so that you are always in the country with valid documents. The extension fee is $40 US dollars and it will give you another 89 days within the country. With the extension, you will likely be asked for proof of sufficient funds and or a return/onward travel ticket.
Other requirements include having a valid US passport with at least 6 months validity. You will also need two blank pages for stamps. You will also likely be asked to provide proof of a return ticket or onward travel and funds for the duration of your stay. If you fail to provide any documentation that is asked for, you risk being denied entry into the country.
While the visa is important because you’ll need it to legally stay in Singapore, it is also crucial that you consider your spending budget while you are planning your trip. Singapore is a moderately affordable country if you compare it to European prices. But considered more expensive than its nearby neighbors like Vietnam and Thailand. Still, you can travel Singapore on a backpacker’s budget. The most important parts of your budget will include the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Flying to Asia is expensive and Singapore is no exception. The flights are long and depending where you live in the United States, will likely include multiple connections. The more connections you make, the less expensive your ticket will be. If you are willing to take the time for layovers, you may find tickets cost just over $400 US dollars. However, United does have a direct flight from Los Angeles to Singapore available for about $600 US dollars. The flight takes almost 18 hours but saves you the hassle of having to make multiple connections.
Other airlines may have special deals and as always, when you travel and how far in advance you book your ticket can affect the price. Singapore is unique because it tends to be quite popular all year round, but you will find that airline tickets are more expensive around the winter months and holidays with November through January being very busy. June and July are also are a high peak for tourism, so expect tickets to go up in price. The further in advance you book, the more likely you’ll be able to save a little money.
While plane tickets are expensive, you can save on your budget by staying in affordable accommodation. Hostels are quite popular throughout Singapore and they will cost about $12 US dollars per night for a dorm room. But be aware of reviews and use them for guidance. Many hostels also get poor reviews and it would be best to look elsewhere.
If hostels are not your style, you can try staying in a capsule hotel for about $40 US dollars. The capsule hotels are better suited for individuals because you will be quite literally staying in your own personal capsule. However, a mid-range hotel may be your personal preference and it will cost about $160 US dollars per night. However, you may be able to find lower rates in the tourist off season with the average being $120 US dollars per night.
Guesthouses are another option with the average cost being about $80 US dollars per night, but you will have to look at various booking sites. Airbnb is not legal in Singapore and choosing to rent any listing could get you into trouble with local law enforcement.
Finally, resorts have become a major staple in the tourism industry in Thailand with the Marina Sands Bay being the most infamous accommodation. A stunning view of the city, pristine pools, and luxury rooms make this a top accommodation for many tourists. But if you are planning on staying resorts, be prepared to raise your budget. The Marina Sands Bay starts at $500 US dollars per night.
Once you’ve determined your flight and accommodation, the next important portions of your budget will be once you are in Singapore – food and drink. Singapore is known for having a crazy delicious and affordable food scene. Some street food stalls have even earned the prestigious cuisine award of a Michelin star.
Most Singaporean food is divided into five different categories: meat, seafood, noodles, rice, desserts, and snacks. Crab is a common seafood dish that is cooked in a few different ways. Chili crab and black pepper crab staple dishes within the cuisine. Laksa is another favorite dish, which combines Malay and Chinese flavors with rice noodles, vegetables, and curry. Chicken rice or khao man gai, is a simpler dish but a favorite amongst locals and tourists. For sweets, you can try what CNN called “Singapore’s National Cake”, Pandan chiffon cake.
Street food is the most affordable way to eat and many dishes will cost less than $2 US dollars. But don’t let the cheap prices fool you because you’ll step into a world of rich flavors. Street food is famous in Singapore, as we’ve mentioned, and it has become so well renowned that two small stalls have gained a Michelin star. Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, as well as Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle both gained their star in 2016.
However, street food isn’t the only famous dining. Restaurants are bountiful in Singapore and there are multiple one star, two stars, and a single three-star Michelin awarded dining locations throughout the city. But if a Michelin star restaurant is out of your price range, besides the two street food stalls, you should expect to pay about $30 US dollars for a nice meal.
Singapore is also known for having a thriving nightlife and there are plenty of bars for you to explore. But don’t expect to drink cheaply. Alcohol is expensive in bars and you will likely pay $20 US dollars for a single cocktail. Beer alone is about $12 US dollars per can and a glass of wine can range from $15-$20 US dollars.
One famous cocktail that you can try is the Singapore Sling, which is available at the Raffles Hotel bar. Madam Fan Bar is famous for their unique cocktails made by Davide Boncimino while The Old Man is a unique bar that derives its name from the classic tale, The Old Man and the Sea.
Attractions throughout the city may also cost money, so you should be prepared to pay an entrance fee of $6-$52 US dollars, depending on where you’re headed. Tours are also a great way to see the city but can be costly. Some tours are affordable with prices starting at $23 US dollars, while more detailed itineraries will cost up to $300 US dollars.
Overall, an affordable budget for backpackers in Singapore would be $100 US dollars per day. However, if you are looking to experience a little more than a backpacker’s travel style, you should expect to spend $200-$300 US dollars per day. But for luxury vacations, you will likely spend more than $400 US dollars per day.
How to Get Around
Singapore is a small island, so it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort or money to move around from location to location. The MRT or Mass Rapid Transit is the rail system used throughout the main island. It is the most efficient way to travel and costs about $1 US dollar per ride. You can also buy a pass for $7 US dollars, which saves you 30% for every ticket used. It also has a $5 US dollar refundable deposit, which can be claimed upon your exit from Singapore.
A Singapore Tourist Pass costs $10 US dollars for 1 day, $16 US dollars for 2 days, and $20 US dollars for 3 days and provides you with unlimited rides on the bus or MRT. For people who are traveling around Bangkok to see all the tourist spots, this is the best pass to purchase. But if you are walking a lot or not sight-seeing, the cost may not be worth buying a few single tickets.
There also isn’t much price difference between the bus and MRT tickets, so you don’t have to worry about saving money in that aspect. Most people prefer the MRT over a bus, but in case of emergency or you are only left with one option, know that there are plenty of trains and buses available on the main island.
Taxis are also available and can be affordable. Uber is not in Singapore, but they have a similar app called Grab. The price for most taxis or the Grab app is about $0.16 US cents per minute. Walking is also a great and free way to explore the city. Just be sure you are aware of your surroundings and have a secure hold on your belongings. You should also avoid walking alone at night.
Finally, day trips to the islands may also be part of your transportation budget and will cost about $30 US dollars. Sentosa Island is a popular destination, which has a cable car to a location where you can then walk to the island. Other ways to get to the islands may be to hire boats for find tours, which can be more expensive. Tours will be more costly and could be up to $100 US dollars if they have a full itinerary. Short boat rides would likely be $30 US dollars or less.
Top Places to Visit in Singapore
Due to Singapore being one large cities, you don’t have the option to hop from one city to the other like other destinations. So, instead of reviewing cities, we will give a brief overview of the best sights, attractions, and points of interest in Singapore.
Marina Bay is a popular area within Thailand, which houses the infamous Marina Bay Sands resort and sky park, Gardens by the Bay, Merlion, Singapore Flyer, and a host of other attractions. While many attractions have made it onto our list, the area is central to Singapore and is featured in many pictures of the skyline.
A huge resort location in itself, Sentosa Island is just off of the mainland’s southern coast. The island has become hugely popular for its beaches, views of Indonesia, food stalls, suspensions bridge, and boardwalk. You can reach the island by cable car, road, or walking.
The Civic District is the most historical part of Singapore that is filled with government buildings, museums, galleries, parks, the city hall, and Raffles Hotel. Though small in size, the Civic District is the heart of Singapore and where you can explore the past and remember those who have passed. With huge significance to Singapore, the Civic District a top tourist destination.
Many cities have a bustling retail business, but Orchard Road is the Rodeo Drive of Singapore. This area is filled with luxurious boutiques, brands, and hotels. You can shop for everything and explore the colorful nooks and crannies. The unique architecture make Orchard Road visually stunning too.
Clarke Quay is a historic location on the riverside in Singapore, which has now become known for the nightlife. The quay at night is lit up with neon lights and you can get out on the water with a boat tour. With plenty of bars and clubs, you can dance the night away in Singapore’s top party district.
Singapore is known for their amazing zoo, which has many animals roaming freely in an enclosure. Guests can get up close and personal with some animals and take a walk through 11 different zones. With a fully immersive experience, the zoo is a top attraction for families.
Chinatown is a dazzling place in Singapore, which is known for its ornate architecture and street food. The Chinatown Food Street is packed with restaurants serving traditional dishes while shops and boutiques are scattered in-between. At night, the lights of the streets are sure to draw you in with their warm glow.
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is often considered to be the green heart of Singapore and it is the most well-known botanical location due to the three waterfront gardens. Unique environmental technology trees and stunning architecture are mixed within the greenery, which only makes the gardens more breathtaking.
While vastly different from the Gardens by the Bay, the Botanic Gardens are another beautiful place located within Singapore. It is also the only tropical garden that has made it onto the list of World Heritage Sites. With a 160-year old history, you can step away from the busy Orchard Road and escape into a little bit of nature.
Built as a large observation Ferris wheel, the Singapore Flyer gives you a bird’s eye view of the city. The wheel is located in the Marina Bay area and features 28 air-conditioned capsules. Riders can sip champagne and look through the glass windows to see the beauty of Singapore.
Universal Studios Singapore
In 2011, Universal Studios opened a park on Sentosa Island in Singapore, which has become a major theme park attraction for the city. With 28 rides, multiple shows, and various zones, families can explore the magic of Universal and dive into a behind the scenes look of Hollywood blockbusters.
Merlion Park is named for the half fish and half lion fountain statue, which spouts its water into the bay. The waterfront park is an icon to the city and a place where tourists can sit back and observe the city.
Siloso Beach is one of the most popular locations on Sentosa Island because of its white sand coves. But don’t be fooled, the beach is not natural, and it was actually man-made for locals and visitors to relax. But being on Sentosa Island, there is plenty to do and you can stay in beach front accommodations.
Get Out and Go
While the island life is certainly unique in Singapore, the hustle and bustle of this modern city is sure to draw you in for an adventure. The collision of old and new fill the streets with excitement – not to mention all of the delicious dishes. Whether you’re intrigued by the skyline or drawn to the culture, Singapore will be a destination you won’t soon forget.