We’ve just returned “home” to Ireland from our 3 week whirlwind vacation that included 3 days in Dubai, 2 weeks visiting family and friends in Melbourne, Australia and 4 days in crazy Singapore.
We flew Emirates from Dublin and paid a little extra for the stopovers. The Emirati government actually subsidizes their two national carries (including the vastly expanding Etihad airline based out of their capital, Abu Dhabi) to bring more tourists into their country by consistently providing competitive fares with better service than most airlines provide (free cocktails in coach!). The United Arab Emirates has tons of oil money but they know it will run out some day so they have created an expensive grandiose desert play land to draw tourists and investment. Emirates has 3 flights a day from Dubai to Melbourne and 2 of them stop in Singapore, so we took advantage and had a great time in both cities. It’s a very long trip to Australia so it’s worth breaking it up and experiencing a couple cool cities.
We’ll be honest in saying that Singapore was not on either of our bucket lists because of its reputation for being strict, sterile, ritzy and expensive. While we found all these stereotypes to be true in some form, we also discovered much more and we were both surprised by how much we liked it. We thought the city would be all high rises and shopping centers, but step foot in Chinatown, areas around the river at Clarke Quay and many other places and you feel like you can be in Anytown, Southeast Asia, which we really loved. Singapore is also home to a large Indian population and in “Little India” you feel like you could actually be in India for many blocks. Little India is home to an amazing outlet called the Mustafa shopping center and we couldn’t believe that the store was probably twice as big as a Super Wal-Mart, incredibly.
Yes Singapore can be very expensive and the amount of shopping centers with top end outlets is a ridiculous spectacle. On the flipside, having an abundance of Guchi, Prada and Louis Vuitton stores all over the city kinda diminishes their exclusivity (as does ripoff models that can be purchased around southeast Asia), and given all the poverty in this world, we kinda dig that aspect. You cannot drink as cheaply as you can in most places in Southeast Asia because the taxes on alcohol are high and it’s predominantly a very wealthy small nation. The unnecessary discrepancy of wealth however means you can still eat and drink at local places cheap because much of the labor is cheap. Many Malaysians are granted guest worker visas and they generally make about $24 Singapore a day (around $20 US), working up to 16 hour shifts. To put this in perspective, a Singapore sling at the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel, where the cocktail originated, costs $30. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, hi ho.
Bell and I found many local places where we could drink massive 633 ml Tiger beers for around $5-$6 Singapore dollars and ate most meals in cheap local restaurants in the neighborhood of $3-$6 Singapore dollars. We even ate a tasty vegetarian meal in a food court for $2. Contrary to popular belief, you can have an excellent time in Singapore for very little.
Sleeping in Singapore is the biggest expense to get around and we paid around 400 euros total, for 4 nights, including breakfast, for a very small room, but with an awesome location close to everything at the Best Western Jayleen 1918. The 75 year old owner randomly joined us at breakfast 2 mornings and we enjoyed our chats with her. As she occasionally makes the short 45 minute drive to Malaysia to pick up cheap food, she even offered to drive us there for free, but with so much to do in Singapore we politely declined. Guests of the 42 room hotel have access to a large, mostly empty rooftop with a stunning view of Singapore, including the 3 tower Marina Bay Sands hotel with the largest roof top swimming pool in the world. There are a couple plastic tables and chairs and one night we enjoyed a wonderfully romantic takeaway meal up there, just the two of us. We paid $10 for an entire meal for two and the spectacular view all to ourselves made it worth $500.
There is a lot to say about this ethnically diverse place of predominantly Chinese, Malaysians and Indians, whose official language is English, but most don’t even speak it that well. English makes Singapore an easy place for Westerners to get around and Bell coined it “Asia Light.” Singapore has some of the strictest rules in the world so be sure not to eat or drink on the subway (among many things) or you could face a $500 fine. I forgot and took a swig of water on the metro and everyone who saw this looked at me in disbelief. Fortunately, no undercover police witnessed my swig. And thankfully no authorities caught me swearing either- this could have resulted in fines, two years in prison and possibly having my bum caned. No joke. We’ll share more in depth advice and stories about crazy Singapore in the coming months. But in conclusion, don’t believe Singapore has to be expensive and it’s 100% worth visiting if you happen to be in the area…