Six things to know before your first trip to Singapore

Merlion, Singapore

Heading to Singapore for the first time? Dispel the myths and equip yourself with the crucial details to get the most out of your visit to the notoriously pricey first-world southeast Asian city.

Singapore drinks menu - photo by Simone Brunozzi

Alcohol is expensive
Sip on a cocktail in Singapore and expect it to set you back in the region of $20 – beer and wine are similarly expensive. Even a ‘cheap beer’ spot listed by Time Out charges $5 a glass. But duty-free is cheap – a bottle of Baileys on arrival at Changi cost $25.70 in September 2014, compared to 820 baht (around $33) at duty-free when leaving Bangkok. Singaporeans use every chance they can to shop duty-free, so do yourself a favour and follow their lead by picking up a bottle (your duty free allowance is a single one-litre bottle) on your way in, and make it your mission to get through it during your stay.

Singapore MRT - photo by daarwasik

Grab an EZ-Link card
Much like the Rabbit card in Bangkok, the stored value EZ-Link card will save you heaps on public transport and is valid on the MRT, LRT and buses. There are tourist-geared unlimited travel passes that cost $10 a day, plus a $10 deposit that’s refundable if you return the card within five days, or you can get a regular EZ-Link card for $12 – that’s a $5 non-refundable card fee and $7 initial top-up. The latter is perfect if you’re not sure you’ll be travelling around enough to get your money’s worth (fares with an EZ-Link card are low as it is) or if you want to hang on to the card for future visits. Which is a good idea in itself, as the queue to get a new card (at the MRT ticket office in the basement of Changi airport terminals 2 and 3) is long and slow-moving.

Singapore Bus - photo by Jnzl's Public Domain Photos

Public transport winds down early

If you’re planning a late one, make sure you’re aware that the MRT comes to a halt at midnight and most buses also run their last services not long afterwards (though a few operate 24/7). That remains your remaining option is a pricey taxi, with additional surcharges levied after midnight. Factor it into the cost of your evening, or better still party somewhere you can walk home from.

Shoes in Singapore - photo by miss_yasmina

Singapore is not flip-flop country

Sure, a fair number of locals do strut around in flip-flops and sandals, but generally Singapore is just a little too classy for it and I felt significantly underdressed in shorts and flip-flops. There’s something about its developed and westernised appearance that makes the most casual of sandals seem as unnatural as they would in say London in all but the most extreme mid-summer heat (which, granted, you’ve got here just about every day). Go just a little smarter for your city break and pack a pair of pumps or other casual closed shoes – or at the very least wear your flip-flops with upturned jeans as a compromise.

Lavender Food Centre

Hawker centres are king

Just as street food rules the roost in other southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia, so hawker centres are where you’ll find the most authentic and expertly cooked – and conveniently the cheapest – Singaporean nosh around. Though the Singaporean government has long since taken individual vendors off the street and clustered them into these market areas, the so often attributed ‘sterile’ label is undeserved and these are in fact buzzing centres of each of Singapore’s districts. The best way to be sure of a great meal in any southeast Asian country is to find a cook who specialises in at most a handful of recipes that have been handed down through generations. That’s what you get here, along with decent English to make ordering easy and prices that won’t bust your wallet (figure on $3-5 for most dishes).It feels like there is a hawker centre on just about every corner, and the crowd changes during the day – from lunching office workers to locals chowing on noodles and sipping on beer with a street view as the evening winds on, you can be sure that you’re getting the real deal.

Singaporean hostels - photo by William Cho

Hostels aren’t always cheapest

Your instinct may be to save a buck or two by bunking up in a hostel. But while many of Singapore’s hostels offer excellent comfort and facilities, they are far from being the world’s cheapest. All very well if you’re travelling alone – you’ll still find a bed in the $20 region, and a few more dollars will bag you extra conveniences – but if you’re travelling with one or more others then a budget hotel like the fantastic Kam Leng will likely work out cheaper.

What are your top tips for travelling to Singapore? Leave them in the comments!

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1 Comment

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One Response to Six things to know before your first trip to Singapore

  1. I remember my first time in the Lion city, I was so excited and my expectations are high. I went to all their tourist spots. And they did not disappoint. I enjoyed every minute of it. Also, I wore my flip flops there. I think no one cared as long as your feet are clean. Singaporeans are generally good and simple people and they are easily approachable.

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