Modern, shiny, urban, and clean. Singapore is unlike any other South East Asian capital city. The capital city of this small island situated between Malaysia and Indonesia is possibly the finest city our planet has to offer. Of all the cities I have been to, nothing can rival Singapore in its modernity, efficiency, and jaw-dropping displays of futurism. For this reason, Singapore (deservingly) is much less of a budget-friendly city compared to other South East Asian capitals. However, taking on Singapore with a backpacker’s budget is still very doable.
From extravagant resorts to luxurious high-rise apartments, Singapore is one of the world’s most expensive places to live and vacation in. A single night at the iconic Marina Bay Sands will cost you a whopping $600. Most hotels will be more reasonable than that but will still run you dry.
Skimping a bit on accommodation will easily be the most effective way to stretch your money out. The best ways to save your money would be to stay in a hostel or find accommodation further out from the city center. I advocate for staying in hostels as much as possible, but understand that some people would rather not. I’ll admit, as I get older, staying in hostels seems less and less appealing, but they are still undoubtedly the best way to save money on accommodation.
Hostels often get an undeserved reputation of being backpacker hellholes of debauchery. Hostels are dirty, greasy, loud, and full of young travelers with high libidos and no shame, right? Some are, sure. However, in big cities like Singapore, hostels can be just as luxurious as a hotel at a fraction of the price. Singapore has plenty of hostels and at least one of them will meet your standards.
Some focus on the social aspect of traveling more than others, but if you’re just looking for a place to sleep for cheap, there are plenty of trendy, boutique hostels looking to serve a quieter bunch of travelers.
If you’re still against hostels no matter what, you can opt to stay further out of the city. A good location and home base is important when traveling, but as I’ll go into detail about later, Singapore’s public transportation is the most efficient I have ever encountered. You can get to and from the city in a flash for very cheap. Spending an extra hour a day or so on public transportation can cut your accommodation costs by at least half. Even the longest subway rides will only cost about $3-4 roundtrip.
You could also opt for Airbnbs. I’ll shamelessly plug my Airbnb referral code here so you can get $25 off, which you know, is also a good way to save money. Singapore is a massive city with seemingly millions of apartments. You can easily find a cheap one to stay at on Airbnb.
The public transportation in Singapore is light years ahead of any other city I’ve been to. You can hardly go two blocks without stumbling into a bus or subway station. My first day, I would walk about 15 minutes to the nearest MRT station. By my last day, I had memorized every bus and MRT route to the point that I could get from my uncle’s flat in Tampines to the city center without walking more than a block.
If you’re looking to save money, then public transportation will ease the burden. $20 lasted me over three days, and that was during my initial phase of relentless exploration.
Singapore gets mixed reactions from the travelers that flow through it. Most people will find something to hate about Singapore, but one thing every single person can agree on is that the food in Singapore is to die for. There is no shortage of fancy restaurants and world-class gourmet in this city, but on a backpacker’s budget, you’re going to want to frequent Singapore’s famous Hawker Centres.
Local, authentic, and most importantly, cheap, Hawker Centres are where local residents commune to eat, drink, and socialize. You can get delicious, local food for a fraction of what a restaurant will charge you. Endless soup options, rice and noodle combos, and Singapore’s famous Hainan chicken and chili crab will be present at almost every Hawker Center. Singapore’s diverse population also guarantees that you can explore various cultures through their cuisine. There will be Indian food, Chinese food, Malay food, Thai food, and honestly, anything that your heart desires.
It shouldn’t be hard to get a meal for between $2-$4. Rice, noodles, and soup will be very inexpensive so if you’re ballin’ on a budget, then get ready to carb up.
Hawker Centres can be found pretty much everywhere, but my favorite is Lau Pa Sat near downtown. It is a big hub with plenty of food stalls under a big tent-like dome and then a large patio area that turns into an excellent pre-game station at night. Nothing is better than chasing some spicy seafood with cold Tiger beers. Beers will be the standard rate of $5+ per can, but if you buy in bulk, you can get a pretty decent deal.
Singapore is one of the most expensive countries I have ever gone out in. This includes places like Oslo, Stockholm, London, and New York City. At least in those cities, you can buy beer from a grocery store for under $3. 7-Eleven, my favorite refuge in South East Asia, doesn’t even sell beer in Singapore for under $5. If 7-Eleven doesn’t, then who else can you count on?
I just got back from a bar where I bought a bucket of six beers for $25. Not even good beer, either. We paid more than $4 per Corona. Absurd. This was in the middle of the day at a quiet bar. If you’re looking for a crazy night out at one of Singapore’s most poppin’ nightclubs, prepare to pay up to $20 per drink. All things included, you’d be lucky to finish off the night spending less than $100.
Pre-gaming is essential in Singapore, and even if you’ve mastered the art, you’re still likely to spend a lot of money.
Singapore has no shortage of attractions, mostly man-made. A lot of Singapore’s most famous attractions are impressive architectural feats, from skyscrapers to man-made cloud forests and trees. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to save money on attractions, but I’ll list a few of my favorite free things to do here in a sec.
One of the few pockets of Singaporean culture, Chinatown is the liveliest area in all of Singapore. The classic architecture is well-preserved and the busy stretch of stalls, restaurants, and bars will be the most poppin’ spot during the day. It costs nothing to walk around and explore the area, but if you’re looking to shell out some cash, it is also the cheapest place in Singapore to buy souvenirs and weird gadgets.
Don’t miss the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. It looks amazing when it is lit up at night. Going in the day is also nice, although the heat of Chinatown is absolutely unbearable. Grab an egg waffle while you’re here.
Gardens by the Bay
The Gardens by the Bay are definitely Singapore’s hottest attraction. The observatories are impressive, but I personally did not love them. They are overcrowded and you definitely feel rushed while you’re going through them. Also, it costs $28 to go to both. Should you see them? It’s up to you, but you can also explore the area for free if you don’t want to go to either of the observatories.
The iconic Super Trees (those veiny-looking fake trees/alien structures) are all accessible without buying a ticket. The stunning light shows start at 7:45 PM and 8:45 PM, are free and were absolutely my favorite part of going to the Gardens. The walkway through the Supertrees costs $8. If you skipped the observatories, you might as well treat yourself, I guess.
Ce La Vi
Ce La Vi is a rooftop bar on the iconic Marina Bay Sands resort. Here’s an insider tip a local gave me. A lot of people will pay the $25 or so to go to the observatory at the top of Marina Bay Sands. I mean, why not? It’s probably the best view you’ll get of the city.
Here’s why not. Just stroll into Marina Bay Sands (it’s more convincing if you dress up nicer) and tell the workers you’re meeting some friends at Ce La Vi. The bar is actually a level higher than the observatory and you don’t have to pay to be up there. You can have a couple of drinks for the price of a ticket and you still get the same killer view.
Fort Canning Park
This park is filled with awesome gardens and incredible plant life. If you don’t want to spend money at Gardens by the Bay, you can walk through this large park and see some amazing greenery. Fort Canning Park is also a great spot to take in some of the history of Singapore.
This little walking area around the bay is a good place to catch the best views of Singapore. The skyscrapers, the Merlion, Marina Bay Sands, and more can all be seen just by walking around this area. It cools down significantly in the evening and seeing the city lit up at night is an impressive sight.
Go For A Walk
Singapore has among the most impressive architectural feats I have ever seen. The skyscrapers, modern architecture, and environmental conservancy make it a pioneer in pushing our planet towards the future. Walking around the city just makes you feel like you’ve somehow been transported into the future. It’s hard to go more than five minutes in Singapore without seeing something that blows your mind.
To Sum It Up…
Singapore is pricy. That much is hard to deny. It isn’t entirely unavoidable, though. It’s hard to call it “living like a local” because I’ll be honest, I don’t even know who qualifies as a “local” in Singapore. Depending on what you want to do and what you’re interested in, a day in Singapore can cost you anywhere from $20 to $200.
In short, my biggest tips for saving money would be to take advantage of the public transportation, pig out at Hawker Centres, and find some more modest accommodation. Singapore is an incredible city, and while it often receives a polarizing reception from the crowds that make their way through, I think it is a can’t-miss spot on your South East Asian adventure.