For some travelers in Asia, part of the appeal is feeling richer than the local population. Well, in Singapore forget it. Its a wealthy place and has the prices to match. It is clean, modern, organized, and efficient. It is, in other words, a comfort zone where there is almost zero chance of getting food poisoning, pick-pocketed, or even bitten by a mosquito. And yet it retains the variety of flavor of Asian from its ethnic neighborhoods to its funky food stalls, temples, markets and colonial architecture.
Its also easy to get around, thanks to a three-line rapid transit system (called the MRT, it closes at 1am), and an efficient bus network. Taxis are cheap, with most journeys costing only a few dollars, and a ride from the airport to downtown is just over $10. (Note: All prices are in Singapore dollars. Where two prices are shown, the second one is for children.) So be prepared to spend some money here, and to sample much of Asia’s best minus the worst.
Way to go: City Hall MRT
One of the most hyped hotels in the world. Raffles is officially classified as part of Singapore’s heritage. Opened in 1887, Joseph Conrad Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling stayed and wrote here. The Singapore Sling was invented here in 1915, and even at $14 a pop, stopping by the Long Bar to sample this gin/cherry-brandy/fruit-juice cocktail is a must for many visitors.
Way to go: Orchard MRT
A shopper’s paradise lined with mega-malls and five-stars hotels. On Sundays the trip teems with crowds of Filipino maids come to socialize on their day off.
Zoo & Night Safari
Way to go: Ang Mo Kio MRT, then bus 138
When: Zoo, daily; 8.30am-6pm. Night Safari, 7.30pm-midnight
More than 3600 mammals, birds and reptiles make their home at the Singapore Zoological Gardens. You can even have tea with an orangutan. On the Night Safari more than 1200 animals lurk in a moonlit forest.
Fort Canning Park
Way to go: Dhoby Ghaut MRT
When: Daily; 10am-6pm
A green oasis in the city center, with a Malay shrine atop the hill, and underneath, the Battle Box museum, where life-sized models reenact the British military’s decision to surrender to the Japanese in 1942.
Jurong Bird Park
Way to go: Boon Lay MRT
When: Daily; 9am-5pm
More than 8000 birds including a flamingo-filled lake.
Way to go: Harbour Front MRT
A theme park-like island off the southern tip of Singapore, full of attractions from the absurd to the marvelous. The Musical Fountain projects love messages onto a water screen. Other attractions/activities include a beach, nature walk, horseback riding, dolphins, gold, kayaking.
Way to go: Harbour Front MRT
When: Cable car operates daily; 8.30am-9pm
Across from Sentosa, Mt. Faber offers one of the best views of Singapore. Take the cable to the peak to glimpse old colonial houses, the bustling port and skyscrapers.
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Way to go: Bus no. 171 and 182 from Orchard Road.
When: Daily; 8.30am-6pm
Eighty-one hectares of forests. More plants species than all of North America. Trails for walkers and mountain bikers.
Way to go: Raffles Place/Clarke Quay MRT
Formerly the heart of Singapore, now a district of restaurants, bars and renovated warehouses. Singapore’s symbol of tourism, the Merlion, a half-lion, half-fish, water-spouting statue, is at the mouth of the river. Along the south bank is Boat Quay, a lively strip of restaurants and bars. On the other side and upriver is Clarke Quay, a more laid-back area. Market on Read Bridge on Sunday afternoons.
Way to go: Little India MRT
All the sights, sounds and smells of big India clustered in one neighborhood along Serangoon Road. Visit Sunday evening (or don’t) when 10000 Indian men celebrate their day off.
Way to go: Outram Park MRT
Historic home of the Chinese. Many traditional shop-houses restored to their original specs. Souvenirs, knick knacks, antiques along Pagoda and Trengganu Streets.
Way to go: Bugis MRT
The center of Muslim culture. Good deals on textiles, batik, silk and more. Home of Sultan Mosque.
Way to go: Paya Lebar MRT
Traditional district of indigenous Malays. Market bubbles with cuisine, costumes and crafts.
Asian Civilization Museum
Way to go: Raffles Place MRT
When: Mon; 12-6pm, Tues-Sun; 9am-6pm, Fri; 9am-9pm
One of Singapore’s best museums. Five galleries explore connections between Asian cultures.
Way to go: City Hall MRT
Looks like a gigantic pair of fly’s eyes and sometimes called the ‘durian buildings.’ A 1600-seat concert hall and 2000-seat theater, along with smaller studios, galleries, performance spaces, restaurants, bars and boutiques.
Singapore Art Museum
Way to go: City Hall/Dhoby Ghaut MRT
When: Mon-Sun; 10am-7pm, Fri; 10am-9pm
Housed in a classical baroque building. Focuses on Singaporean and regional artists, with a strong emphasis on electronic arts.
Drinking is not cheap in Singapore. To keep it cheap, have your beers at the open-air food centers and stalls you find everywhere. Most young Singaporeans do not drink much, so many places cater to the large community of highly paid expats working in the financial sector. (You remember the Barings Bank-buster Nick Leeson, right?).
Way to go: 2 Emerald Hill Road
When: Sun-Thu; 5pm-2am, Fri-Sat; 5pm-3am
High-ceilinged, L-shaped bar opens into an alley. Dim-sum snacks.
Way to go: #01-01B Suntec City, 1 Raffles Boulevard
When: Mon-Thu; 3pm-1am, Fri-Sat; 3pm-2am
Elegant atmosphere, designer armchairs and sofas. Live jazz. TVs at individual tables.
Way to go: Marriot Hotel, 320 Orchard Road
When: Mon; 7pm-2am, Tues-Sun; 7pm-am
Adult contemporary music with a rock edge provided by house band.
Way to go: #01-05 Riverside Point, 30 Merchant Road
When: Mon-Thu; Noon-Midnight, Fri-Sat; noon-1am, Sun; 11am-midnight
Popular riverside microbrewery with California menu.
Way to go: 165 Perang Road, #01-00 Winsland House II (Somerset MRT)
When: Sun-Thu; 11.301m-1pm, Fri-Sat; 1.30pm-2pm
Rustic Irish pub with authentic Irish fare. Leather sofas, oak furniture, brick walls.
Way to go: 28 Boat Quay
When: Sun-Thu; 11am-1am, Fri-Sat; 11am-2am
High-volume house band downstairs, laidback retreat upstairs. Nick Leeson’s favourite.
Jazz @ South Bridge
Way to go: 82B Boat Quay
When: Sun-Thu; 5.30pm-1am, Fri-Sat; 5.30pm-2am
Cozy mainstream jazz. Comfy sofas.
No. 5 Emerald Hill Cocktail Bar
Way to go: 5 Emerald Hill
When: Mon-Thu; Noon-2am, Fri-Sat; Noon-3am, Sun; 5pm-2am
Traditional Shophouse-turned-European-style pub. Pool room upstairs.
Way to go: 400 Orchard Road
When: Open 24 hours
Nicknamed ‘Four Floors of Whores,’ this is a four-story complex that conjures the image of a tamer version of Bangkok’s Nana Plaza. Neon-lit bars, thumping music, transvestites and Western men prowling for Asian women.
Prince of Wales
Way to go: 101 Dunlop Street
When: Everyday; 4.30pm-1am
An Aussie-style pub and beer garden in Little India that has a good line of draft beer staffers by Australians. Card carrying backpackers get a whopping 50% discount.
Singapore’s hottest dance clubs are concentrated along Mohamed Sultan Road off River Valley Road. Most have cover charges and dress codes. Don’t show up in shorts or flip-flops. A lot of the clubs are open late, and there are other after-hour venues, too.
Way to go: #02-02 One Fullerton, 1 Fullerton Road
When: Wed-Thu; 10pm-3am, Fri-Sun; 10pm-4am
Massive dance floors. House, garage and techno beats. Some of the best DJs from around the world.
The Liquid Room
Way to go: #01-05 the Gallery Hotel, 76 Robertson Quay
When: Sun-Sat; 10pm-3am
Classy atmosphere, beautiful people and huge dance floor.
Way to go: #02-02 One Fullerton, 1 Fullerton Road
When: Tues-Sat; 10pm-3am
Intimate and eclectic. Wall murals and crystal chandelier. Latin beats.
Way to go: 17 Jiak Kim Street
When: Wed-Sat; 8.30pm-3am
The original Singapore club and still one of the hottest. DJ’s from around the world. Same complex as Phuture and Velvet Underground.
The variety of places to chow down is one of the best things about Singapore, from yummy inexpensive street food, to fine international cuisine. Singaporeans munch gleefully away at all hours of the day or night in locations all over the city. For budget travelers, hawker stalls and food centres offer great grub, a relaxed atmosphere and clean surroundings for a few dollars a plate. But don’t eat all your meals there, since there are so many superb restaurants and eateries to try. Simply choose a district and stroll through until you find something that strikes your fancy.
Not surprisingly, you will find great Chinese food in Chinatown, and great Indian food in Little India, and many other locations around the city. Stroll along Boat Quay, and touts will jump out at you from every restaurant to show you a menu. Its rather touristy and not cheap, but the riverside atmosphere should be experienced. Holland Village at the other end of the city is a gathering place for Westerners and has good Italian and Lebanese food. Near Raffles Hotel, Chijmes is a collection of Western and non-Western restaurants in a former convent. For a more authentic local experience, try Lau Pa Sat, a sprawling open-air food centre in the stomach of the business district.
Places to Crash
The main strip of budget hotels is along Bencoolen Street, near the city centre, though some have closed in recent years as the area gentrifies with larger hotels and offices. Still, there are a dozen or so cheap hotels and guesthouses with prices around $15-$50, and packpackers walk up and down the street at all hours. The area is easy walking distance of Little India and Orchard Road. Some favorite haunts include:
The Hawaii Hostel,
171-A Bencoolen Street,
131-A Bencoolen Street,
55 Waterloo Street, Catholic Centre Boulevard 4th Floor,
For more culture and character, try Chinatown or Little India; both offer good, small hotels. In Chinatown, those in the $100-$150 range include:
12 Ann Siang Road,
Dragon Inn Chinatown,
18 Mosque Street,
55 Keong Saik Road,
The Inn on Temple Street,
36 Temple Street,
In Little India, decent, boutique-style hotels are found for under $100, including:
12 Perak Road,
9A Jalan Besar,
195 Sarangoon Road,
Dickson Court Hotel,
3 Dickson Road,
2 Owen Road,
Tai Hoe Hotel,
163 Kitchener Road,
If you’re hankering for your own kind, crash at the Prince of Wales Backpacker Pub at 101 Dunlop Street, $12 a night in a four bed dorm and a free beer every night.
(This post were written for my old blog in March 2005 and moved over here – so beware that information can be wrong and make your own investigation from the tips you find here).