Now you might think a 4-day weekend trip to Singapore – a city known for being one of the most expensive in the world – for under HK$2,000 is something of a joke. But with a well-timed trip along with a pre-planned agenda and a willingness to explore the city on foot, you can experience the best of what ‘The Lion City’ has to offer for less than expected.
It starts with choosing a good time to visit. While flights to Singapore are relatively more expensive compared to the likes of Taiwan or Malaysia, avoiding peak seasons will allow you to choose the cheapest flight available.
I used an aggregating travel search engine like momondo to find a HK$1,100 round-trip ticket in February, almost half the price of a Easter weekend trip that would have cost HK$2,500.
Budget accommodation options are widely available throughout Singapore, but I would recommend staying in Little India or Chinatown. These are the key traveller hubs; Little India has a higher concentration of hostels and cheap food options, while Chinatown is more centrally located. Expect to pay around HK$100 for a dormitory bed, but slightly more on weekends. By choosing accommodation that offers a complimentary breakfast, you can save some valuable spending money.
A thing to note about the city is that it is extremely small. At 719 square kilometers (only two-thirds the size of Hong Kong), I found myself walking around for most of my sightseeing. Not only do you get to see more this way, it also helps save those precious dollars for other important things, like enjoying the wide variety of cuisines from Malaysia, India, China and other countries throughout South-east Asia.
Meals in Singapore can be found for as little as HK$15 if you choose to eat at one of the many hawkers centres, which are open-air food courts that house a variety of cuisines. For example my favourite find was a simple snack dish called ‘economy noodles’ costing HK$5.5 (SG$1), served at the hawker centre in Chinatown.
Transport options are similar to those in Hong Kong; there is an extensive metro system (the MRT – yeah, not MTR) covering the city that operates from 05:30 till midnight – a consideration for those who want to enjoy the vibrant but very expensive nightlife in the city’s Clarke Quay area.
A beer would cost about HK$100 in a nightclub and HK$30 at a 7/11 (pre-drinking suggested). However, be advised that a new law introduced in 2015 means drinking in public is no longer allowed, whilst it is now also illegal to sell alcohol in shops after 10.30pm.
Taxis are widely available but are pricey, especially compared to Hong Kong, so it is best to download apps like GrabTaxi and Uber, which are widely used in Singapore, when a taxi is absolutely necessary.
Actual tourist attractions in the city are relatively few and far between. Instead of visiting the generic options like the Singapore Flyover (ferris wheel), Universal Studios or the Night Safari, I chose to gain some insight into Singapore’s young history at the National Museum, where student tickets are priced at a mere HK$25.
Other free things to do include exploring the cultural hotspots of Little India and Chinatown as well as the Botanical Gardens, a tranquil park situated in the heart of the city that has recently been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sentosa Island, just off the coast of the mainland, is a popular tourist resort with many overpriced activities to keep yourself occupied (indoor skydiving, Universal Studios etc.). I would recommend visiting the island’s ‘artificial’ beach, where the pristine sand imported from Indonesia is well worth a picnic lunch visit and is an ideal setting to enjoy the beautiful tropical climate of Singapore.
It is also possible to visit one of Singapore’s most famous landmarks, the Marina Bay Sands hotel, and catch a spectacular rooftop view over the city for free during the day (just tell the staff you’re going to the bar). An alternative sightseeing point is found on the 55th floor Observatory area at the Sky Bar ION Orchard Mall, which you can also enter without cost.
Meanwhile, the evening sound and light shows at Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa Island and projected from Marina Bay across the Singapore River are also definitely worth seeing.
While speaking to friends about Singapore, it seems to be a place that people either love or hate. Nevertheless, this is how I had a fantastic experience exploring the diverse culture of this sparkling clean and seemingly brand new city, without having to break the bank.