Note: This was written before the pandemic. We are still in Canada, but I wanted to post this for everyone, who like us, can’t wait to travel again.
“C’mon!” Wanderer’s said, tugging at my arm, while I tried to keep my heavy eyelids open. “I have to show you something!”
We’d just gotten off a flight and I was crankier than a nap-deprived toddler. My back was killing me, my arms and legs ached, and my head was throbbing.
“Can you just let me sit here for a second?” We’d just arrived on a flight into Changi Airport in Singapore, and as soon as we entered the arrivals area, I tossed our bags onto the floor and plopped down into the first chair I could find. As soon as my butt touched the seat, I thought “I’m never moving from this spot again”.
Wanderer, somehow still over-caffeinated as ever, spent a good twenty minutes exploring the entire airport. And now, he was gesturing wildly toward the other side of the terminal and bouncing up and down like an excited puppy. “But I have something to show you!”
My eyes followed his pointing fingers to the “W.H Smith” store in the distance.
“What is it?” I asked, exasperated. “Did you spot the most interesting package of Kleenex ever?”
“Noooo,” Wanderer responded, rolling his eyes. “Just come with me. I promise you won’t regret it.”
I sighed, groaned loudly, and swung my backpack onto my shoulders. Reluctantly, I let him lead me across the airport, pretending to be interested in whatever lame-ass thing he wanted to show me, while feeling my irritation grow by the minute. Little did I know, said annoyance would quickly turn into awe as soon as we stepped into the W.H Smith.
Turns out, this is what he dragged me across the entire airport for:
That’s when I realized:
“I like Singapore. I like Singapore a lot.”
Admittedly, this isn’t our first time in Singapore. We’d been here before back in 2015, but only as a short layover and we spent most of our time holed up in our Airbnb writing. We had no idea that said writing would end up on a Singaporean bookshelf 5 years later.
This time, we actually got to go out and explore the city.
What surprised me was that, even though Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, eating out was surprisingly affordable and entertainment was relatively inexpensive or even free. You just have to be strategic about where you stay (I’ll get to that in the expenses section).
If you ever get a chance to explore Singapore, don’t miss the following:
Garden’s by the Bay SuperTrees
Want to see a spectacular light show created by solar-powered “Supertrees” that tower 50 meters above you? Go to “Garden’s by the Bay” to see these man-made trees which not only generates electricity from sunlight, but also collects rainwater for the conservatories below.
They have a free eco-friendly light show every night at 7.45 p.m. and 8.45 p.m, which is great for the earth and your wallet. You can’t afford NOT to go!
Cloud Forest & Flower Dome
While you’re at Garden’s by the Bay, you can buy a combo ticket using the “Klook” app to see the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.
The Cloud Forest lets you experience what it’s like to be in Ecuador except, instead of a mountain, you’re standing on a concrete jungle (literally). A waterfall cascades from the top, making it the world’s highest indoor waterfall, at 30 meters, and at each level, it mimics high-altitude tropical vegetation.
Follow it up with a trip to the Flower Dome: the world’s biggest column-less greenhouse.
They even had a concert performed by the US Air Force while we were there:
Both greenhouses are air-conditioned, which is great for escaping the so-hot-you-could-burst-into-flame Singaporean heat.
Merlion & Marina Bay Sands
When in Singapore, no visit is complete without the obligatory selfie at the Merlion, the symbol of the city, with the Marina Bay Sands hotel in the background:
Haw Paw Villa (also known as “Traumatize Your Kids Land”)
This theme park uses statues to depict the “10 Courts of Hell” from Chinese mythology. Kind of like the 9 Circles of Hell from Dante’s Inferno, but way worse.
Each of the 10 levels has a list of crimes and their corresponding punishments, depicted in excruciatingly gruesome detail:
If you’ve ever wondered why Asian kids are full of anxiety and trauma, this is why.
You know how Western parents take their kids to Disneyland? Well, Chinese parents take their kids here, where, instead of Disney land, it’s Child Abuse Land! Where all your nightmares come true!
- Disobedience to one’s siblings,
- Lack of filial piety
- Refusal to pay rent (uh-oh, “Keep Your Rent” movement, watch out)
- Wasting food
- Misuse of books (ok, that one kind of makes sense. At least for books that I wrote.)
Break any of these rules, and you’re destined to have your body sawn in half, have your heart cut out, or drowned in a pool of donkey blood.
Sleep well, children. Blessings!
The 10 Courts of Hell is, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the park, but there are also other wacky sculptures, like this one:
The inscription said this statue depicts a young woman breastfeeding her elderly mother as a sign of her filial piety.
Not breastfeeding her and instead shoving her into an old folks’ home like we do in North America, makes us all destined for the 3rd Court of Hell, where we’ll be tied to a pillar and have our heart cut out.
This weirdo theme park is completely free but there’s no shade, so it’s better to go in the evening. Plus, darkness just adds to the ambiance.
Did you know that Singapore has an island with 3 gorgeous beaches that is easily accessed from the mainland by the subway?
I did not.
This is also where Universal Studios Singapore is located. Since we’d already gone to universal studios in Orlando, we headed straight to the beaches.
Palawan, Siloso, and Tanjong beach were gorgeous and easy to get to via the free shuttle bus. Palawan has a fun Pirates of the Caribbean style suspension bridge that leads to another mini island with a great look out point.
Both Tanjong and Siloso were great for swimming and relaxing.
And when you get hungry, head for the “Food Republic” food court in the Vivo City mall, which is connected to Sentosa island via a pedestrian bridge. If you’re too lazy to walk, you can also take the cable car or monorail.
Keep in mind that food courts in Singapore are nothing like the food courts we all know and love/hate in North America. Instead of a bunch of crappy fast food chains, food courts in Asia are meccas of culinary delights and affordability. This is the highlight of being in Asia. Cheap and delicious food everywhere (well, with the exception of Bali).
Crane Dance (AKA “The Giant Robot Birds“)
One of the best shows (once again, I can’t believe it’s free) you can see is the “Crane Dance” water and light show that happens nightly at 8pm (arrive at least 10 mins early to get a seat).
You can catch this show at the waterfront by going to “Resorts World Sentosa” (it’s near the bridge that connects Sentosa island to VivoCity mall) and sitting in one of the open-air seats.
Not only do you get robots, lights, and spraying jets of water, there are pyrotechnics involved too. I won’t spoil the ending for you. I’ll just leave it as this: of all the attractions I’ve mentioned, this one is unmissable.
The second unmissable thing is the Supertrees light show. I can’t believe both are free, given that they were even more impressive than the paid Cloud Forest and Flower Dome.
Food Hawker Stalls
Ok, now I know I used the word “unmissable” a few times already, but seriously I have to use it one more time here.
When in Singapore, you HAVE to go to a food hawker stall/center. If you don’t, you’re missing the entire point of the food culture here.
Don’t just eat at fancy expensive restaurants, of which Singapore obviously has many. The mom and pop food hawker stalls are where food really shines here. Plus, at just $3-5 a plate, your wallet will thank you.
Our favourites are “Old Airport Road Food Center” and “Food Republic” in VivoCity mall (because yay air conditioning!)
If you do go to “Old Airport Road Food Center”, make sure to get a plate of BBQ Crispy Pork from the “Roast Paradise” stall and go to the “Cendol” ice dessert place.
Bring cash because they don’t accept credit cards. And don’t worry about cleanliness and food safety because each stall has been inspected and given rating of “A, B”, etc. Any stalls that don’t pass inspection get shutdown.
If you’re a foodie, you will also love Gourmet Soup Dumplings which we found at the “Paradise Destiny: Legend of Xiao Long Bao” restaurant.
They offer a set of 8 “to-die-for” soup dumplings that are not only color coordinated to their unique gourmet flavors, they even have a corresponding legend that tells you what order to eat them for the best symphony of flavors!
Wanderer followed the instructions by eating plainest one first. Then followed up by with Ginseng, Foie Gras, Black Truffle, etc, each increasing in flavour until you reach the final magnum opus of flavour, the spicy Szechuan dumpling.
But me being the maximizer and rebel, decided to optimize by eating the most expensive and flavourful ones first, namely Black Truffle and Foie Gras. My reasoning is that you want to eat the best one while it’s piping hot, and then as time goes on and the dumplings lose their freshness, go down to the less expensive one.
I’m not sure who had the better experience. Since I got to FI by not following rules, I’m going to have to say me.
Changi, The World’s Best Airport
I love the Changi Airport for obvious reasons, but I’m not the only one. It’s been voted the best airport in the world for many years in a row now, and with people actually taking their wedding photos there, I’m not surprised:
Can you imagine taking wedding photos in Pearson or LaGuardia airport? HA!
Writing this post made me miss all the things I love about travel. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that soon, given that there are now more and more medical insurance companies willing to cover COVID-19 related expenses. Visitor’s Coverage is a good one to check-out if, like us, you’re itching to get out there on the road (note: the above link is an affiliate link so we may get a small commission if you decide to buy travel insurance)
Also, with jobs becoming more remote, if you’re curious about living the expat life, my friend and fellow nomadic retiree, Mr.NomadNumbers, recently wrote a post on how to get a Taiwanese Gold Visa that lets you stay for up to 3 years.
So, what do you think? Have you been to Singapore? Did it break the bank for you or did you find it surprisingly affordable like we did?
Here’s how much we spent:
|Category||Cost in USD/couple||Cost in CAD/couple||Notes|
|Accommodations:||$66 USD||$88 CAD||Ooh lucky 88! Not only did we find a great one bedroom condo with laundry, gym, and pool (called Platinum Residence Singapore and has a 4.6/5 review on google), the host also kindly upgraded us to a bigger suite. The area is called Geylang, which was historically the Red-light district, but has since been cleaned up so it didn't feel sketchy and even had lots of playgrounds and stuff for kids to do in the area. We picked it because it was a short subway ride from most attractions and less than a 15 min walk from the Old Airport Hawker center. We ate there everyday and never had to cook.|
|Food:||$24 USD||$32 CAD ($28 for eating out, $4 for groceries)||It's pretty easy to eat out everyday and not break the bank if you pick hawker centers mixed with gourmet food every once in a while. In terms of food in Asia, Singapore is as good as it gets.|
|Transportation:||$39 USD/day||$51 CAD/day||The actual cost per day to ride the subway, only ended up being $6, since some attractions were within walking distance and subway costs were only $1.80-$2.60/ride, but since it cost us $158/ person to fly to Singapore from Chiang Mai on Scoot airlines, this pushed up our daily transportation costs. If we were staying in Singapore long term, the daily transportation costs would be much lower.|
|Entertainment:||$5/day||$6 CAD/day||The only money we spent on entertainment was the combined pass to the Cloud Forest and Forest Dome we bought from klook. All other entertainment was completely free!|
|Other:||$9/day||$12 CAD/day||Since we carry our worldly possessions on our backs, we only buy things when they need to be replaced. Surprisingly, Uniqlo in Singapore had better deals than in Thailand or in Canada, so we decided to replace a few items of clothing, which ended up being $86, which averaged $12.30 for 7 days.|
|Total:||$139 USD/couple/day||$183 CAD/couple/day||Most of the high cost for Singapore comes from accommodation and the flight we took to get there, but if you were staying long term to spread out the cost or used frequent flyer miles, you'd be looking at a more reasonable $126 CAD/$95 USD per day cost since there's so much free entertainment and cheap food.|
Here’s where we stayed (Platinum Residence @ Geylang/Aljunied):
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