Singapore may geographically be part of Southeast Asia, but it’s an outlier in a region known for vibrant cities, rural villages, and a bit of chaos. Coming from nearby countries like Thailand or Indonesia, the order, sterility, and infrastructure in Singapore (not to mention being able to drink the tap water!) are a shocking change – and so are the prices.
While Southeast Asia is home to many of the world’s cheapest travel destinations, enticing travelers with $3 hostels and $1 beers, Singapore is literally the most expensive city in the world – and that means the cost of backpacking Singapore is high.
Not surprisingly, many backpackers and budget travelers skip Singapore altogether, leaving a tiny hole at the southern tip of Malaysia on their “Where I’ve Been” map. We’d actually planned on doing the same, but when we started looking at flights from Hanoi to Bali and saw that many of them passed through Singapore anyway, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see a place that’s so different from the rest of Southeast Asia, even if it meant needing to rethink our budget.
While there’s no way around the fact that backpacking Singapore is far more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia, we found lots of ways to keep our expenses down and still have a great time there. If you’re similarly determined to stick to budget travel in Singapore, following these tips will help make it possible.
Travel to Singapore by bus.
Getting there cheaply is the first way to keep your costs down when backpacking Singapore. If you’re coming from Kuala Lumpur or elsewhere on the Malaysian peninsula, will usually be the cheapest option.
Since we weren’t coming from Malaysia, we don’t have any personal experience to share, but everything we’ve heard suggests it’s a straightforward journey on a comfortable bus. Plus, Singapore is only about a five-hour bus ride from KL, so flying would barely even save you any time (and would rob you of the chance to see the Malaysian countryside!).
Fly a budget airline.
If you’re coming from somewhere else and can’t travel overland, the good news is that several budget airlines fly to Singapore, including Scoot, JetStar, and AirAsia. You should be able to find tickets for $100 or less from most cities in Southeast Asia – just don’t forget to factor in the baggage costs and other hidden fees many budget airlines charge!
And as always, make sure you use Google Flight alert to track airfare. We visited in March and ended up paying $101 each on Scoot from Hanoi to Singapore and then $87 each on JetStar from Singapore to Bali (including a checked bag each, because our backpacks were out of hand).to find the cheapest flights available: for starters, put your browser in “incognito” mode when searching for flights, compare different airlines and booking websites, and set up a
Stay in a hostel dorm.
Traveling as a couple (and as 30-somethings who work from the road and don’t have much of a penchant for partying), we rarely stay in hostel dorms. In most of Southeast Asia, private rooms are incredibly cheap and cost barely more than two dorm beds, so there’s really no reason to.
But Singapore’s a different story. We did our fair share of research on places to stay there, checking different booking sites and travel guides, convinced we were going to find some hidden deal. We didn’t, but we did eventually realize that staying in a dorm was the best option for budget travel in Singapore.
We ended up choosing a six-bed dorm at Mitraa Inn, which is rated as one of the best backpacker hostels in Singapore. It’s in the Little India neighborhood, and our stay worked out to $22 a night ($11 per bed), including breakfast.
An absurdly loud snorer in our room notwithstanding, we had a great experience there; it was super clean, comfortable, and secure, and the amount we saved by forgoing a private room was well worth it. Even if you tend to avoid shared rooms, you might consider making an exception if you’re backpacking Singapore and want to save money.
Fortunately, there are tons of hostels in Singapore, and these are a few of the other places we considered:
- Mori Hostel
- Blue Jazz Hostel
- ZEN Hostel Lavender Street
- Betel Box Backpackers Hostel
- RedDoorz Hostel
Look for a hostel or hotel that includes breakfast.
While Singapore’s accommodations tend to be pricey, the good news is that many hotels and hostels include breakfast – and given the high cost of restaurants, not having to pay for breakfast makes a difference. When you’re deciding where to stay, look for places that include breakfast (most of the ones listed above do).
Not having to pay for accommodations might be one of the best ways to save money in Singapore! While most travelers would say the heyday of Couchsurfing has passed, it’s still super active in some cities, and it seems like Singapore is one of them. There are hundreds of active hosts listed on the site, and if you can find someone to host you, you’ll save a bundle and get a local view on the city.
Take public transportation.
Singapore’s public transportation system is extensive and easy to use, and it’s the cheapest way to get around (apart from your own two feet, that is). The train system known as the MRT connects much of the city, and there’s also a smaller light rail network (the LRT) and dozens of bus routes. Google Maps gives almost perfect directions for public transportation, and you’ll never be too far away from a bus stop or train station.
Get an EZ-LINK card if it makes sense for you.
Like in most cities, Singapore’s public transportation system has a stored-value card that gets users discounted fares. The EZ-LINK card isn’t free, though, so whether it’s worth it depends on how long you’ll be in Singapore and how many rides you intend to take. Since we were only there for three days, paying for rides separately turned out to be cheaper, but if you’re staying much longer, the card will almost certainly save you money.
Base yourself in Little India.
If you search a booking site for accommodations in Singapore and sort the results by price, you’ll probably notice that Little India keeps coming up over and over again. This budget-friendly enclave is the perfect neighborhood if you’re backpacking Singapore: it has the cheapest accommodations in the city, plus great Indian restaurants, accessibility to the train, and plenty of fascinating streets to explore.
Eat at the hawker centers.
What if the best food was also the cheapest? In Singapore, it is! The city is famous for its many, many, which are essentially food courts made up of street stalls.
They serve all different kinds of food – some centers focus on one type of cuisine, but most offer a variety – and they’re part of what makes Singapore such a sought-after culinary destination. For saving money, eating well, and having an interesting cultural experience, hawker centers are a must for anyone backpacking Singapore.
Pick up snacks at the supermarket.
Singapore has loads of 7-Elevens and other convenience stores, but their snacks and drinks are usually outrageously overpriced. If you want to stock up on snacks or groceries, skip the convenience stores and head to a larger supermarket instead. There are several supermarkets chains in Singapore, but Giant and Sheng Siong tend to be among the cheapest, so head to one of their branches if you can.
Limit your partying.
Singapore has some legendary nightlife, but the cover charges and drink prices rival what you’d pay in a city like New York – probably not in the cards for anyone who’s backpacking Singapore. To have a good time, skip the swanky nightclubs and instead grab some beverages at the store and head to the Esplanade to drink with a free view; there will be plenty of other people doing the same thing.
If you’d rather drink in an actual establishment, consider sticking to bars in Little India, which is generally the most affordable neighborhood, or look for places with happy hour deals and other specials.
Drink the tap water.
If you’ve been traveling around Southeast Asia for a while, suddenly being able to drink the tap water again feels like a huge luxury. And besides, bottled water costs something like four times more in Singapore than in most nearby countries.
While you’re backpacking Singapore, carry a reusable bottle with you to keep refilling; you’ll save money and cut down on plastic waste at the same time (and if you’re coming from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, you’ll enjoy the novelty, trust me).
Explore Singapore by foot.
Simply roaming the city streets is one of our favorite things to do anywhere we go. After all, it’s completely free, and you never know what you might find.
Singapore’s many ethnic enclaves – like Little India, Chinatown, and Arab Street – are some of its most fascinating neighborhoods to wander, and Orchard Road, Bugis Street, and the Lavender District are a few others you shouldn’t miss a chance to stroll through. Another place you’ll want to explore by foot? Kampong Lorong Buangkok, Singapore’s last remaining kampong, or traditional village.
Shop at budget-friendly places.
There is no shortage of places to shop, including several massive shopping malls and plenty of high-end boutiques. But to save money in Singapore, stick to window-shopping there, and make your actual purchases at one of the city’s more budget-friendly spots.
For instance, Mustafa Centre in Little India sells almost everything and is known for having some of the lowest prices in Singapore (and it’s open 24/7/365, so you can literally shop whenever you want). The Bugis Street Market and the Chinatown Street Market are also good options for budget-friendly shopping, and as bustling outdoor markets, just exploring either one will be an experience in itself.
Otherwise, stroll through Little India or Chinatown, which are generally the cheapest neighborhoods in Singapore, and stop at the many small shops you’ll see along the way.
Spend time in nature.
Singapore is known for being urban and sterile, so we were surprised to find huge green spaces and many opportunities to enjoy nature in the city. And getting out in nature is the perfect activity for budget travel in Singapore, because it’s usually free.
For instance, the 200-acre Singapore Botanic Garden is one of the best places in the city to soak up some nature; it’s even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then there’s Marina Barrage; while a water reservoir admittedly doesn’t sound much like a worthy attraction, this one is different. You can kayak on the water, and there’s tons of space to relax, have a picnic, watch the local families who come to fly kites, and take in a stellar view of the city.
Of course, Gardens by the Bay is easily Singapore’s best known green space, with attractions like the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest, and Children’s Garden. While some portions of the park have admissions fees, much of it is free to enter.
While Singapore is a city, it’s also an island – and that means the beach is never far away. East Coast Park is Singapore’s biggest park at 460 acres, and it has a huge range of entertainment and recreation activities, or you can just chill on the sand. Nearby Changi Beach Park is tiny in comparison, with more of a village feel, but it also has nice stretches of sandy beach.
For something more active, Singapore also has several hikes and walking paths that are easily accessible. The mile-and-a-half-long Changi Point Coastal Walk (also known as the Changi Boardwalk) runs right along the coast and has beautiful sunset views over the water. Or you can climb to Singapore’s highest point, the 535-foot Bukit Timah Hill, or the 345-foot Mount Farber, which offers panoramic views.
For a longer option, the Southern Ridges Trail stretches for over six miles, and is primarily known for its two most popular sections: the Henderson Waves, an architecturally interesting pedestrian bridge with views of Singapore’s skyline, and the Forest Walk, a treetop canopy walkway that’s nearly sixty feet off the ground at some points.
Go on a free walking tour.
We were surprised to find that such an expensive city has a number of free and tip-based Indie Singapore and Sneakpeek Singapore both run interesting-looking tours of different neighborhoods. We can’t personally vouch for any of them, but we’ll definitely be taking at least one next time we’re in Singapore (and will report back!)., and we only wished we’d learned about them sooner and been able to go on one!
Take advantage of free things to do in Singapore.
While some of the city’s most famous attractions come with hefty price tags, there are also many light show at Gardens by the Bay is completely free, and so is , which depicts Chinese mythology and Buddhist hell and is definitely one of the country’s quirkier attractions.in Singapore. For starters, we were surprised to find out that the famous
Several of Singapore’s museums are also free to visit – including Baba House, the NUS Museum, Gillman Barracks, the MINT Museum of Toys, Reflections at Bukit Chandu, and the Singapore City Gallery – as are the many Science Centre Observatory or catch a free outdoor movie or live performance.. And if you’re in town on the right day, you might be able to go stargazing at the
Don’t break the law (seriously).
I suppose this is always reasonable, if obvious, advice when traveling (or when you’re at home, for that matter). But with the wide variety of hefty fines imposed for relatively innocuous behavior, it’ll also save you a bundle when you’re backpacking Singapore.
A few things punishable by fine in Singapore? Jaywalking, chewing gum, using e-cigarettes, spitting, not flushing public toilets, getting caught with porn, feeding the pigeons, taking food or drinks on the train, and bringing in alcohol from Malaysia (anywhere else is fine). If you want to keep your money instead of handing it over to the Singaporean government, avoid doing any of those things until you’ve moved on to the next country.
Do you have any other tips for backpacking Singapore? Let us know in the comments!
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