Singapore was my first taste of Asia. I was expecting a bit of culture shock, but I found the country surprisingly Western. I couldn’t believe the amount of English everyone speaks there; even their street signs are written in English. While I did not have a problem with the language barrier, I had huge issues with the outrageous heat and humidity. Singapore lives exactly on the equator and I have never experienced anything like it in my life. (And I helped my best friend move to New Orleans in August!) In this blog, you will find recommendations and ideas of what to expect when visiting Singapore.
Download the Grab app
I love a good wander around a foreign city, but not in Singapore. Sights are spread out and often not within walking distance. (Mind you, walking distance for me in 90F/32C heat is no more than 10 minutes.) They don’t have Uber, so download the Grab app to easily get around.
Tap on the MRT with your phone or PayWave
Singapore’s public transportation is clean and punctual. And to make it even easier to use, you can tap on and off with your phone’s wallet or any credit card that has PayWave. No need to buy a metro card!
Avoid going out from noon to 5pm
The heat and UV index are off the charts in Singapore, especially in the afternoons. To make the most of your time, plan on very early mornings or very late nights. When we visited, it already felt like 96F/35C outside by 10am and was still above the 90sF/32C after 9pm. Temperatures are like this year-round.
Book somewhere with a pool!
Needless to say, the only way to beat the heat is with an afternoon swim. You’re already drenched in sweat, so why not take a dip?
Buy a SIM card at the airport
The Singapore airport makes two things very convenient for foreigners: an honest exchange rate and affordable SIM cards. Anthony bought a $15 SGD ($11 USD) SIM card with 100GB of data valid for 7 days which also doubled as his metro card. If you miss them at the airport, 7-Eleven sells them too. Just don’t forget to bring your passport with you.
Beware the ++ tax
Singapore prices are some of the highest in the world, so you’ll need to budget accordingly. If you see ++ on a menu, it means tax and service are not included and an additional 17% will automatically be added your bill: 10% for service and 7% for GST. Fortunately, because of this tipping is not customary.
Budget for your alcohol
Consider buying booze duty free when you arrive because I cannot stress enough how expensive alcohol is. For reference, Anthony and I spent $75 SGD ($55 USD) on three pints of Hoegaarden at Cé La Vie, a swanky rooftop bar at Marina Bay Sands. Unless you find a decent happy hour, which I highly recommend, expect to pay around $12-15 SGD ($8.75-11 USD) for a beer and sometimes upwards of $20-25 SGD ($15-18 USD) for a glass of wine. Specialty cocktails could run you even more.
Don’t forget to pack
- Reusable water bottle
- Bathing suit
- At least 2 shirts per day…. trust me, you’ll sweat through all of your clothes in no time! We even had friends go to the store to buy more t-shirts because their accommodation did not provide laundry facilities.
What to eat and drink
The best (and cheapest) meal we had was at the Telok Ayre Markets. Hawker halls remind me of large food courts often in an outdoor market-type setting and they all serve authentic, affordable meals. Anthony and I both had lunch with two beers for $26 SGD ($11 USD) which in one of the world’s most expensive cities is a steal!
Singapore’s craft beer scene leaves a bit to be desired, but you can’t go wrong ordering a cold pint of their national beer.
HUGE question mark here, but you see them referenced everywhere. Durians are the most pungent smelling “fruit” you could ever imagine. They are so putrid that they’re banned from Singapore’s public transport. One Aussie resident described the experience of eating a durian something like this: “it has a custard consistency, strong garlic taste, but kind of like blue cheese at the same time. It’s stringy and kind of burns when it goes down like you’re taking a shot of whiskey. People here act like they’re obsessed with them, but if anyone actually tells you that they like durians, they’re kidding themselves.” Are you up for the challenge? If so, please video it and let me know how it goes.
Singapore Sling at Raffles
Raffles is Singapore’s first hotel and home of the Singapore Sling. This cocktail will set you back $33 SGD ($24 USD), but it’s the original recipe. When we were there, we didn’t feel the need to wait 20 minutes in line for a table, but our friends told us it was worth it.
What not to miss
Get your head in the clouds and find out why Singapore’s rooftop bars are world class. From cocktails atop the iconic Marina Bay Sands to beers at the highest microbrewery in the world, there’s something for every taste.
Gardens by the Bay
Futuristic looking trees and lush green landscape make these innovative gardens one of the most famous sights in Singapore. The gardens are free to wander, but it’s worth spending the $8 SGD ($6 USD) to check out the views from the treetop lookout.
Pro tip: Grab an evening drink at Cé La Vie, level 57 of Marina Bay Sands, and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the gardens light show.
Since this was my first trip to Asia, I had never heard of let alone seen half of the animals on display here: sun bears, tapirs, hornbills and Komodo dragons, just to name a few. Their natural barrier enclosures make it feel like you’re extra close and personal with swinging monkeys and goofy baboons. Arrive right when they open so that you’ve seen everything before the peak of the afternoon heat.
To Thai For chili crab dip at Loof
Singapore’s first rooftop bar doesn’t boast the same kind of skyline views from the 3rd floor, but the vibe is chill and non-pretentious. And if you want to get a taste of Singapore’s famous chili crab without its usual sky-high prices, order Loof’s chili crab dip with waffle fries. Also try their refreshing “To Thai For” cocktail with lemongrass infused vodka. Loof offers great happy hour specials with attentive service. Probably my favorite find of our visit.
Fireworks at Level 33
We were in Singapore during a holiday weekend (both good for crowd control and bad for the lack of happy hour specials) and got an amazing recommendation from a friend to watch the National Day fireworks from the world’s highest microbrewery. With sweeping views of Marina Bay and fireworks at the perfect eye level, our evening at Level 33 did not disappoint!
Views from Mr. Stork
The views from the 39th floor here actually made me gasp. The skyline hangs at your fingertips and the surrounding skyscrapers make you feel like you are really in the city rather than just looking at it. They also have some interesting tepees set up for couples and small groups of friends. It’s not a cheap place to hang out, but it’s a special one. Make sure to visit at night to gawk at the city lights.
Cheap beer alert! The 7-Eleven in Clarke Quay has a beer tap out front and it is everything. Grab yourself a cold Tiger and a seat at their patio along the water.
Yes, you read that correctly and yes, it is exactly as it sounds. We stumbled upon this gem late one Friday night. Swipe your card, wait 5 minutes and receive your ATM pizza! It was both absolutely disgusting and absolutely hysterical.
Would I go back?
In two words, Singapore is hot and expensive. Unless you’re from the Sun, I think Singapore is best explored as a stopover destination. If all you want to do is lounge by the pool and party for a week, there are more affordable places in Southeast Asia for that. We visited for 6 days and I found it more than enough time. I would be happy to return though for a day or two if I was ever in transit in that part of the world again. If there is a next time, it would be interesting to get off the island and explore a nearby city in Malaysia or possibly take the ferry to Indonesia for the day.
Have you been to Singapore? What other tips and travel hacks do you recommend? Comment below to share!