It’s not easy to go cheap in a city like Singapore where the price of a normal commodity is enough to freak the daylights out of our Filipino frugality, but it is entirely possible to experience the city without spending too much. If you’re a casual tourist like me, or a backpacker just passing through or a student who represents your country for an international conference held here, you can still make the most out of your meager budget in the Garden City.
Singapore is a small island-state in Southeast Asia that’s been looked up to by its neighbors for a long time. My country, the Philippines, is one of them.
And for good reason too. Around 50 years ago, Singapore was a just an overlooked, backwater swampland teetering on civil unrest and poverty. It had lost its membership from the Malaysian Federal States due to the “overwhelming” differences on views of their leaders. No one really expected Singapore to make it after the separation but the great thing about Singapore is it did.
Under the guidance of a well-meaning Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the innovative vision of its top government officials and the collective maturity of its people, Singapore is the powerhouse country we know now, a democratic state of people who respects the authority of law and trusts the government to do its job.
Singapore is often known as the Garden City. I heard that the late Prime Minister Lee’s wife was fond of orchids and I think it played a part in Lee’s overall vision for the city. Singapore may be a concrete jungle for some nature trekkers or backpackers but it’s one damn beautiful concrete jungle. I suspect the shapes, sizes and linings of skyscrapers are intricately planned and designed to form a harmonious, sophisticated feel on the eyes. It would be a great idea if some of government scholars who took up engineering, architecture and urban planning would spend a week in Singapore and just have a pleasant stroll around its streets, hang out on its parks or go inside one of its buildings.
This is what I did. I don’t have any itinerary in mind (partly because of my low-budget plan) I just go where my feet would take me and that has been my motto as a traveler since I consider myself as one.
Dinner at Changi Bay
I arrived on Singapore at exactly 6:05 PM. The sky is still clear and bright, unlike in Manila where dusk would have fallen around this time. Travel guides and websites weren’t lying that the Changi International Airport is one of the efficient airports, if not the best, in Asia. It is literally a shopping mall inside an airport. Once your plane made a lay-over in Changi and your transfer flight wouldn’t be due until six hours later, you can avail a tour of Singapore’s most iconic sights and it’s all paid by the airport.
If you’re planning to stay in Singapore for a long time, you can purchase a local sim which costs around $15.00 (PHP 500) inside the airport. They will also get you an affordable internet promo depending on the length of your stay. Internet in Singapore, as I attested, is nothing compared here. It is expensive, but the fast connection is worth it.
At around 7PM, my aunt, who’s been staying at Singapore for more than five years now, picked me up from Terminal 2 and we had our early dinner at Changi Bay. They have a nice boulevard with a road good enough for biking, skating or a leisure jog. We settled ourselves in one of the benches at a food center not far away from the beach and I became easily relaxed with the Monday after-work chill of the people around me.
Food in Singapore costs about $4.00 – $7.00 SGD (150.00 – 330.00 in Peso), depending on the menu. They also serve this large noodle dish with seafood and spice, and it’s good enough for two people. You can get cheaper food if you’re traveling with a companion or two.
You can trust the taxi drivers (most, if not all) in Singapore to be honest with what they charge you. I like to think that their meters are reliable and they give you the exact change even in cents. My aunt said refusing a commuter out of preference to traffic, or the race of religion of a commuter is a serious legal offense. Inside the cab, their personal identification cards are displayed along with numbers to contact if the commuter feels harassed or unsafe.
Base fare, as far as I remember, is $4.00 SGD (PHP 150.00) and I recommend taking it as last possible resort or if you’re traveling in groups. Unlike here in Manila, however, five or more people are strictly not allowed inside a cab. For budget tour around the city, you can take a bus which costs around $0.40 – $1.60 SGD (PHP 13.00 – 50.00) depending on your destination.
We reached my aunt’s place and we settled in for tonight. I learned that an apartment unit in Singapore is only allowed 99 years under your property. It’s one of the drastic measures the government has to take to control the booming of migrants and to maximize the dwindling space in the city. And seeing a lot of cranes and lots being excavated where a skyscraper shall soon rise, it seemed Singapore keeps on growing. It is still at the tail-end of its construction and I doubt the momentum would stop as long as it’s economy is growing.
On the my first night in Singapore, I lay on the couch beside the tall windows, watching at the twinkling of lights on the buildings near my aunt’s apartment. Everything in this city is damn efficient, I remembered thinking before falling asleep.
I asked my aunt on breakfast where do Filipinos hang out in Singapore. Pinoys thrive in communities and common interests, no matter where they are in the world. Naturally, she took me into a place where Filipinos mostly hang out and that’s the Lucky Plaza Mall.
It’s got everything that can somehow ease your homesickness if you’ve recently come to Singapore to work. It even has Jollibee, for crying out loud! It’s also a convenient place where you can remit your money back home, do some groceries for Filipino products or brands, or just chill with your fellow kababayans on Sunday evenings. My aunt told me they also go on this building at Orchard Road for a disco on Sundays but as a couch potato (I habit I wouldn’t change wherever I am) I refused to go, opting to spend that particular evening enjoying the ultra-fast connection at her apartment.
Marina Bay Sands
After getting some food in Lucky Plaza, we took an MRT going to Marina Bay. I don’t even want to compare the MRT there versus the MRT here. C’mon! What I just like to point out however is that the MRT in Singapore is carefully and well thought off. It’s not a single, linear lane that we have here, but a complex grid of stations and terminals that overlap each other so the commuter would have the fastest, easiest travel on the destination they want.
MRT rides cost around $1.15 – 2.50 at most (PHP 38.00 – PHP 80.00) at most but it’s still the fastest mode of transportation if you want to avoid traffic that much. Before going up (or down) the terminal, an LED sign would indicate how many minutes until the next train would arrive so that you can calculate your time of travel effectively.
We dropped off Marina Station and strolled towards the world-famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Before that, we passed over an impressive river that is as much as every bit historical as it was picturesque. Fifty years ago, this river has been littered with small bancas and small ships manned by half-naked men whose sweat-stained skin shone under the sun, a typical sight for a busy British outpost. Now, an occasional tourist ship would just pass by, distorting the reflections of the sleek buildings, the bowl-shaped entrance to the Museum of Science and Arts and tourists passing by the wooden platforms lined around it.
We walked to the Marina Bay Hotel and as we come closer, I feel my jaw dropping more ever so slightly. The whole thing is enormous. I can’t exactly describe how much of an eye-candy it is and I’ll just let my pictures to tell it for you.
You can gain access at the top of the hotel and get a sweeping view of Singapore for $23.00 (PHP760.00) My aunt asked if I would like to go up but being a killjoy (and cheap) I am, I decided not too. I’m not really a fan of heights and especially not a fan of a soaring price for entrance tickets (though I’m sure it would be worth it! Getting on top of Marina Bay AT NIGHT is highly-recommended)
Singapore’s proud, iconic Merlion stands against the backdrop of Collyer Quay and other attractions such as the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Museum of Science (that half-egg shaped structure)
We walked through the strip of Raffles Place to where the Merlion is. If you’re coming from any part in Singapore, just take the MRT and get off at Raffles Station.
Garden by the Bay
We crossed the hotel to tour around the Garden by the Bay. It’s a recent addition to the Marina Bay attraction and you can get to park free (but some attractions have entrance fees)
For example, we took an aerial walk for the Cloud Forest for $10.00 (PHP300.00) and you can stay up there as long as you want. It’s a perfect place for selfie shots that I couldn’t resist one.
Chinatown is a perfect spot for gifts and souvenirs to take at home. It is also pretty accessible (via MRT or bus) and has lots of things to offer, especially if you are a bargain hunter like me. I managed to snag off 36 keychains just for $10 SGD (P300.00!) There are plenty of goods to choose from.
While we’re here, we also visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a jaw-dropping four-storey Temple which stands as an iconic landmark of Singapore’s Chinatown. As a Christian, it was the first time I set foot on a Buddhist Temple and it didn’t certainly disappoint. A strong hymn fill the place, inspiring reverence and peace in one’s soul, even for just a while. We’re supposed to visit Thian Hock Keng Temple, the oldest Chinese Temple in Singapore, but we ran out of time.
Musings so Far
Like every traveler with a tight budget, I decided not to go to the world-famous Singapore Sentosa or to the Universal Studios but if you have money (and time) to spare, don’t miss out anymore than I did. To sum it all up, my Singapore experience is nothing short of memorable. Singapore is everything I expected and more. While you’re there, you can also cross over to Malaysia and experience two states at once. That will make the slightly expensive airfare worth it.
Other tips I must share:
- Nightlife in Singapore is definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss. It’s not hard to commute at night because of friendly drivers and safe streets. Garden by the Bay is especially beautiful at night.
- Aside from Chinatown, you should also take a look at Little India if you’re in for some authentic Indian food or goods.
- Always make sure to bring your passport as a tourist.
- Locals speak in Singlish (Singapore-English) Most of them understand and speak English very well. Signages and street posts markers have English translation.
- To eat cheap, you can get a decent meal at the food centers below high-rise apartments. Almost every building in SG has one. I heard from my aunt that many Singaporeans opt to dine-out instead of cooking their own meals (due to busy schedule and whatnot)
Being the most sustainable city in ASEAN, as well as the most developed city in the region, we Filipinos can definitely learn a lot from Singapore. Just by experiencing it, we know what to demand from our government because we know it’s possible to achieve it. YET, a big YET, what I’ve noticed from Singapore is that the people, in general, has the highest of respect to their city. They are more than willing to put up with all the rules just to live in harmony with other people. I guess it’s what spelled the difference between us and Singaporeans. They know Singapore wouldn’t become the Singapore now without their cooperation, their trust to the governing institutions and their sense of ‘community’ rather than the self-centric mindset prevailing here in the Philippines.
When Singapore broke away from Malaysia, everyone thought it sealed its fate. With hard work, unity and vision, it proved everyone wrong. Now, it’s time for the Philippines to do the same.
PS: For those interested, I only spent $25 SGD (PHP800.00) for a whole-day of exploring Singapore. Considering the number of places I’ve seen, not too bad, I guess.