From evocative artefacts to million-dollar light shows, plus the simple pleasure of hitting the city’s diverse neighbourhoods where daily life is the best show in town, Singapore rewards visitors with enough to do and see.
To explore Singapore without breaking the bank.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO?
From the beautifully-preserved vibrant ethnic neighbourhoods to peaceful gardens, there are plenty of free things to do in this city. While you’re at it, make sure you sample some ridiculously-cheap local food.
ESPLANADE: THEATRES ON THE BAY
Home of the esteemed Singapore Symphony Orchestra, this architecturally-striking arts centre hosts an action-packed programme spanning music, theatre and dance. There’s no shortage of free events, from live-music gigs to art exhibitions and film screenings. Don’t miss the view from its rooftop garden.
GARDENS BY THE BAY
Spanning 101 hectares, Gardens by the Bay is a showpiece of modern Singapore, and much of it is free to visit, from the four themed areas of the Heritage Gardens, to Marc Quinn’s ‘floating’ sculpture of a giant sleeping infant boy, Planet. Topping it off is the twice-nightly Garden Rhapsody sound-and-light show.
MARINA BAY SANDS
Like Gardens by the Bay, MBS — a sprawling hotel, casino, theatre, exhibition centre, mall and museum — dazzles with its own twice- or thrice-nightly spectacular, Wonder Full, a 13-minute light, laser and water show choreographed to a stirring score that sees Marina Bay transformed into a video art screen.
Chinatown is a visceral jungle of heady temples, medicinal curiosities, heritage shophouses and still-wriggling market produce. It costs nothing to explore the architecture of places such as the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, the gut-rumbling Chinatown Complex wet market, or the contemporary exhibitions at pocket-sized Utterly Art.
Singapore’s most refreshingly unruly inner neighbourhood offers an intense dose of colours, sounds and scents. Soak up the hypnotic energy of the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, the fairytale architecture of the Abdul Gafoor Mosque, and the riotously colourful shops and stalls of Dunlop Street and Buffalo Road. Look out for the showmanship of roadside brewers ‘pulling’ hot milk tea, teh tarik, to create the characteristic thick frothy top.
Go farm-hopping in Singapore’s far northwest, home to rustic enterprises peddling everything from mangoes to goat’s milk and frog meat. They offer a different take on Singaporean life and the Kranji Countryside Association, a farm collective helping to promote the industry, runs a daily hop on-hop off minibus service that visits many of the best farms en route.
Singapore Airlines, Air India, Jet Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Malindo fly to Singapore Nits from Mumbai and New Delhi. The convenient ez-link Singapore Tourist pass offers visitors unlimited travel on basic bus, MRT and LRT trains. In the city centre, taxis are good for short distances.
Eating and drinking
MAKANSUTRA GLUTTONS BAY
This row of alfresco hawker stalls is a great place to start your food odyssey. Get indecisive over classics such as oyster omelette, satay, barbecue stingray and black carrot cake. Head in early or late to avoid the frustrating hunt for a table.
If you need some comfort in a bowl, this cult-status joint off Boat Quay delivers with its bak kut teh (pork rib soup). Literally `meat bone tea’, it’s a soothing concoction of fleshy pork ribs simmered in a peppery broth of herbs, spices and whole garlic cloves. Be in by 11.45am for lunch or before 7pm for dinner, or else head to the back of the queue.
It might be a canteen-style joint in Little India, but who cares when the food is this good? Wash your hands by the sink at the back, and tuck into a delicious thali, dosa or uttapam.
One of the best-value options in Little India, Haising Hotel is a basic but friendly place. Rooms are pokey and some come without a window, but all have private bathroom.
Wanderlust delivers highly imaginative rooms, including monochromatic Pantone numbers and comic-book ‘mono’ rooms. Extra perks include free iPad use and a French restaurant.
Just around the corner from Orchard Road, Holiday Inn Express is good value. Rooms are tasteful, with neutral hues, bold yellow lounge chairs, iPod docking stations and bathrooms with decent-sized showers.
Fancy a curry?
Table by Rang Mahal offers authentic North Indian and coastal food and is very popular with the locals.