Singapore – A mini travel guide

2015-09-27

Updated 2018-02-12

Overview

Singapore is a small city state on the edge of the Malaysian peninsular, with the Johor Strait separating the two countries. The city state was founded back in 1819, and was under British rule up until the merger with Malaysia in 1963, a time period of 144 years. But due to political turmoil and racial tension in the ’60s, Singapore was voted out of the Malaysian federation shortly after the merger and thous became the first country in the world becoming independent against its will. This year the country is celebrating 50 years of independence, after the split in ’65. The country faced many problems in the beginning of its independent history, including mass unemployment, shortage of housing and no natural resources. But under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew the country was transformed into the economic power house of the region it is today.

Singapore is a great city to visit, although it can be quite expensive if you don’t know where to go. Everyone speaks English, the MRT (subway) and buses transports you quickly throughout the city, and it is like most other Western cities, just a bit more futuristic and bolder. It is easy to get in and out by plane to the big and modern Changi (SIN) airport, or by bus from major cities in Malaysia. This makes Singapore a good place to acclimatise to Asia and the tropical heat. Here follows a mini travel guide to Singapore, based on personal experiences.

Getting there and getting around

The easiest way is to fly into Changi (SIN) airport. This airport has been voted the best airport in the world several times. The airport does have a cinema (allegedly), swimming pool and a pretty cool outdoor bar. So don’t forget to bring your bathing suit if you fly from here! Transport to and from the airport is fast and easy, you can take the MRT or buses out to it or simply take a taxi which will set you back S$18-30 depending on where and when you are travelling.

There are also a ton of different bus companies that you can take up to or down from Malaysia. I went with Qistna directly up to Kuala Lumpur, they are stopping both at TBS and Pudu Sentral in KL and leave from Little India in Singapore. The cost was S$23.8 if you book online, but I think you only have to pay S$21 if you buy it directly at their booth in Little India Arcade, a short walk from the MRT station with the same name. The trip was okay but you have to change buses in Johor which pulls down the rating a lot.

When it comes to getting around in Singapore, you’ll find the public transport system more than satisfying. The only complaint I have is that there are no announcement of the stops for some of the buses, so you pretty much need to know when you need to get off. I missed my stop a couple of times but luckily the stops wasn’t all to far apart. But if you are only staying in the central part of town, you might not even need to go with a bus as the MRT covers large parts of it. The cost of a trip depends on how far you are going and what kind of ticket you get. There are tourist passes costing S$8 per day, single tickets and a reloadable EZ-link card that costs S$5 and is non-refundable and which you top up on the go. If you are only staying in Singapore for a few nights, then single tickets or the tourist passes will be the most affordable, for longer periods or if you know that you will return then the reloadable EZ-link should be your choice.

Taxis are fairly cheap and are mostly of good standard. They use taximeter here, so you don’t have to worry about haggling with them. Uber and Grab is available for ride sharing.

Stay

There are accommodation in all price ranges, from super luxury like famous Raffles Hotel and Marina Bay Sands to cheap backpacker hostels. I’ve stayed at a couple of different places in different price ranges.

  • Green Kiwi Backpacker Hostel – $ – Located not far from Farrer Park and Little India at the Boon Keng MRT station, this hostel has seen better days but is still a good option for a cheap stay. There are a nice roof top patio, where people gather during the evenings to have a drink together and it has always been easy to find people to hang with here. There are a free, but simple, breakfast servered consisting of coffee/tea, fruits and toast. The wifi is free and there are 4 computers you can loan for free as well. The rooms and bathrooms are clean, but in general a bit worn and the place needs some fixing up. I stayed here two years ago and doesn’t seem like a lot have been done since, other than fixing the bathroom doors. There are no lockers for bags though, only smaller lockers that are big enough to fit a Macbook Air 11″ laying down and they are about as high. Rating – 4 out of 5.
  • Grand Mercure Roxy Singapore – $$$ – A typical business style hotel in the Katong area, 10-20 minutes by bus from the Marina depending on what line and time of day you’re going. Only reason I stayed here was because I’m an Accor Hotels member. But the hotel is good enough for business travellers and families that don’t need to be in the city centre. It has a pool and an adjacent bar, but the bar is like any hotel bar, expensive. There is an Executive Lounge as well for Platinum Accor members, which serves an okay breakfast in the morning and have free drinks in the evening between 6PM-8PM. Don’t know the assortment as I wasn’t around during those times but they had beer and wine at least, most likely some spirits as well. Free coffee/tea and soft drinks throughout the rest of the day. There are two shopping malls in the immediate area, Parkway Parade and I12 Katong, not the best shopping but there are some stores at least. There are a lot of restaurants and bars in the area as well that are worth checking out. Bergs Gourmet Burgers are on of them. Rating – 4 out of 5.
  • Mercure Bugis – $$$ – A fairly newly built hotel right behind Bugis Plus shopping mall. In general the rooms can be a bit on the smaller side, but the price is fairly low so can’t complain too much. I would recommend the cosy loft rooms which gives you more space although they are a bit more expensive. The Mercure also has an executive lounge which is quite rare for a Mercure, so definitely a plus even though the selection during evening cocktails are really limited. Rating – 4 out of 5.
  • Novotel Clarke Quay – $$$$ – A business hotel in need of a refurbishment located centrally right outside Clarke Quay night life area. The rooms are a bit worn and the executive lounge is often overcrowded. Service, at least as a platinum member, is impeccable. But overall I wouldn’t recommend to stay here, unless you want easy access to Clarke Quay and won’t have access to the lounge. Rating – 3 out of 5.
  • Sofitel Sentosa – $$$$$ – This resort is located on eastern Sentosa, Singapore’s own resort island. I stayed in one of their Prestige Suites, upgraded from the Junior Suite due to my Platinum membership. 64 sqm of luxury. Even got a complimentary bottle of French wine. It’s situated on a cliff so you’ll have a good view out over the Singapore Strait, parts of the harbour and the many ships anchored off shore, from the restaurant. The breakfast is overwhelming, all tastes can be satisfied and it is the best one I’ve had at a hotel. There is a big pool with a luxurious sundeck and a pool side bar. And the whole place is surrounded by a lush forrest. Rating – 5 out of 5.

Eat and drink

There are so many bars, restaurants and food markets around that you can spend years eating your way around Singapore, so will just mention a couple of them. Check out my Singapore Craft Beer Guide for all your craft beer needs.

  • Chinatown Food Centre – Smith Street – $ – One of many hawker centres around town, and among the largest. Well worth a visit but can be overwhelming to decide what you want from the hundreds of stalls. Don’t forget to swing by Smith Street Taps if you are here.
  • Lau Pa Sat – CBD – $ – A hawker centre that is a bit shunned by locals and expats because of the “high” prices, due to it’s location smack in the middle of the skyscrapers in CBD. But it is still packed during rush hours like lunch and dinner. I’d still say it is worth a visit late in the evening when they close of one of the streets to make it a walking street. The street is lined with Satay stalls and tables to sit down.
  • Genki Sushi – Bugis/Orchard Central/Takashimaya – $$ – A sushi train restaurant with multiple locations. A bit more expensive than the conveyor belt sushi Sushi Express, but well worth the extra money. Order your sushi on a tablet and it will be sent out to you fresh by train. The quality is superb for the price, which also attracts a lot of people. Expect 20-30 minutes of queuing during rush hours.
  • Bergs Gourmet Burgers – 45 East Coast Road/Haji Lane – $$ – There are 3 Bergs in the city. There are several kinds of burgers to choose from, even 3 vegetarian options including falafel patty. If you are having the menu with chips then the small burger is plenty enough. The big plus is that they also have craft beer from Mountain Goat.
  • LeVeL33 – Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1 – $$$$ – This restaurant and lounge is also a micro brewery, located at the 33rd level in a skyscraper right in the financial district. You’ll have a stunning view over Marina Bay while you dine or just having a beer on the balcony. The food is good but the beer is quite disappointing. But it is worth a visit just for the view alone, although I recommend 1 Altitude for this more. Make sure to reserve a table if you want to dine.
General areas
  • Arab Street – Get your Middle Eastern fix here, from textile to Moroccan lamp shops to amazing restaurants. Don’t forget to visit the neighbouring Haji Lane lined with small fashion shops and bars.
  • Little India – I absolutely love Indian food, there are Indian places all over Singapore but a visit to Little India is a must.
  • Clarke Quay – Want to go clubbing or drink Singapore Slings at a bar, then Clarke Quay is the place to be (if you have money). But do know that alcohol is not cheap, and specially not here. Drinks are easily more than S$20 and even simple crap beer like Heineken will cost you S$20++ after happy hour.
  • Boat Quay – Way more laid back and much cheaper than Clarke Quay, the place for hanging at a bar rather than drinking overpriced drinks.
  • Telok Ayer – Close to Boat Quay is the MRT station of Telok Ayer. This is another prime spot to go out which in general isn’t as hectic as Clarke Quay. The streets Boon Tat St, Amoy St, Club St, Ann Siang Hill and neighbouring alleys and streets are filled to the brim with restaurants and bars. Can be a bit dead during Saturday and Sunday though due to its location in CBD.
  • Sentosa – Singapores own resort island and home of Universal Studios amusement park among other things.

Do

There are a lot of stuff do, you can spend an entire day just walking around marvelling over the architecture. From the ultra modern Marina Bay Sands and ParkRoyal skyscrapers to the old colonial style buildings like Raffles Hotel. Many come here for the shopping as well, every luxury brand imaginable are represented here. And many of the compete in building the most ludicrous store fronts. Louis Vuitton probably won that race with their floating store outside of Marina Bay Shopping Centre.

  • Singapore Zoo and Night Safari – Haven’t been but is one of the big attractions in the city, located close to the border.
  • Gardens by the Bay – Voted as one of the best botanical gardens in the world. A must visit when in town.
  • Marina Bay Sands Skypark – Costs S$23 do get up to MBSS, but the bar and restaurant is free. Watch out for dress code. But I would rather recommend to go up to 1 Altitude instead, S$35 entrance with one drink included.
  • Wonder Full – A light and water show displayed 2-3 times a day outside of Marina Bay Shopping Centre at Event Plaza. Come and sit down at night to watch this fantastic and free show, truly a must.
  • ArtScience Museum – Yet another attraction adjacent to MBS, they have a few exhibits per year so check their website for what is on right now.
  • Singapore F1 Grand Prix – The race is in September each year and is a really cool event, even if you don’t follow the F1 tour. Standing just a couple of metres away from cars speeding past you in over 200km/h is quite the experience. If you have a walkabout ticket for zone 4, then I can recommend standing behind the food market next to Esplanade.
Shopping
  • Vivocity – Singapore’s largest mall, located at the Harbourfront MRT station. You will need to take public transportation to get here as it isn’t walking distance. A mix of regular stores, restaurants and luxury shopping.
  • Bugis Junction – A central mall in Bugis with little bit of everything. Right next to it is Bugis+, another mall connected by a bridge.
  • Orchard Road – Singapore’s famous shopping street, even if you don’t plan to buy anything I still recommend a visit just to look at the store fronts.
  • Everywhere! – Literally, you will find malls and shops everywhere you turn in the city.

Well, that was it for now. As I’m living in Singapore, ask any questions in the comments sections and I’ll try to answer them.

About

Jonas lives in Singapore, always looking for a new adventure. Follow him around the world here on Drifter.

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