We’ve just returned home to Ireland from our three 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 quickly 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. They even serve 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 two 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 world class 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 huge disparity of wealth means you can still eat and drink at local places cheap because much of the labor is inexpensive. 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…
Want to Save Money on Accommodation in Singapore?
We often find that booking.com offers the best hotel deals, especially in Europe, but even in North America. If you’d prefer to stay in an apartment over a hotel and have never used Airbnb, sign up here and receive $40 off your first stay over $75! That’s an awesome deal, especially since Airbnb typically provides better value over hotels. Just be sure to only book places with consistently good reviews!
Want to Fly to Singapore for Free?
The Chase Saphire Reserve includes a priority pass, offering complimentary airport lounge access (with free wi-fi, food and cocktails!). They’ll also compensate you $100 for free Global Entry and TSA pre-check to skip airport lines. The annual fee seems steep at $450, but you receive $300 back in travel credits (even Uber counts towards that), so it’s really only $150 for travelers. Their 50,000 bonus point sign up is good for $750 in travel credit, enough for a free ticket overseas! We’ve found the perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve easy to use and it’s currently the most popular card among travel hackers.
The Delta Skymiles American Express Gold Card is free the first year and just $95 each year after. They give a 40,000 point bonus after you charge just $1,000 so this is a great card (not quite enough to get to Singapore on its own but you’re getting there). There are a lot of other perks to having the card like free checked bags on Delta flights.
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