Let’s Go Exploring! Singapore: Futuristic Foodie Paradise

FIRECracker
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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!

Crimes include:

  • Ungratefulness
  • 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.

 

Sentosa Island

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.

 

Gourmet Food

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):

source: https://lxtan.webs.com/geylangaljunied.htm

 


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33 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Singapore: Futuristic Foodie Paradise”

  1. Oh man, I was just salivating over Singapore’s Wikitravel page last week. Thank you for sharing an on-the-ground report! Between my wife and I we’ve got a few languages but none from Asia — is English adequate for pretty much anything?

    1. Adam, English is the official language of Singapore, so you won’t have any language issues. Kristy, this is a terrific write-up, thanks.

    2. “salivating” is the perfect word to describe Singapore. Umm…I’m still dreaming about those soup dumplings.

      Yeah, like reader Templeton said, you’ll be fine in Singapore with just English. Ditto for most of SE Asia too.

  2. We were planning a trip to Singapore over the summer, but Covid caused used to postpone. We hope to try again in the Summer of 2021. You gave me some great ideas that were not part of my original itinerary.

  3. Thank you very much Kristy for sharing our post about the Taiwan Gold Visa! Shortly after receiving our Gold Cards (they aren’t made of gold unfortunately :-/), we got invited for a fancy “Evening Reception” at the Regent Taipei Hotel were we had the chance to hear a few words from the minister of the National Development Council that has been promoting this program. Minister Kung clearly encouraged us to promote this Gold Card to anyone that is interested to come in Taiwan and participate in this program so I’m glad you are helping spreading the word on an honestly not well know program. I’m sure some of your audience will be able to qualify and Mrs. NN and I would be looking forward to welcoming anyone of them and show them arround this beautiful island!

  4. Hi Kristy, thank you for your kind words about my country. Singapore aspires to be a city in a garden and so there are beautiful parks and gardens all over the country.
    It is worth visiting the Singapore Botanic Gardens which is the first and only tropical botanic garden inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
    I invite you to venture further out to the suburbs the next time you visit Singapore, where you will discover more lush greenery.
    Here is a link to the official government website where you could find all the useful information >> https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature
    The most wonderful thing is they are all free and easily accessible by cheap public transportation!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Wei. Yes, we did go to the Botanical garden the first time we visited Singapore. There were so many amazing things to see, I forgot to mention it.

      Will check out the lush green suburbs next time.

  5. I was flying from Czech to Nepal and had a long layover at Changi. Had great reasonable priced HK BBQ and Indian Tandoori meals. They were the finest foods that I had before doing my treks in the Himalayas!

    1. Oh yeah, Changi had the best priced and quality airport food compared to all other airports in the world that we’ve been too. Super cool that you go to trek in the Himalayas! Sounds like an amazing trip!

      1. The amazing part was I did 14 days ABC Trek and Bardia National Park on my own. The sad part was my camera stopped working (a $20 repair!) and I held off on doing the Mt Everest Trek. Now I have to go back!

        China has very good road on their side of basecamp 1 Himalayas. I am considering doing a cycle trip. The sceneries will be amazing. Afterward I plan crossing over to Nepal and do the Everest Trek. (Or do these the reverse order.) Timing would be September/October next year. We can start a discussion if there is sufficient interest.

        Disclaimer, I am not profiting off this. The costs would be manageable if there is more people sharing

  6. There’s a friendly rivalry between major cities in North America – which city is better, Toronto or Vancouver (it’s Toronto!) or which city is better, New York or LA (it’s NY). For expats in Asia, it’s which city is better, Hong Kong or Singapore and the answer is …. it depends.

    Families love Singapore – schooling is cheaper, lots of family-friendly activities to do on weekends and holidays and try finding somewhere safer – you won’t. On the other hand, Hong Kong has personality and grit which, in my opinion Singapore doesn’t. Plus great hiking!

    I’ve been to Singapore maybe 30 times, mostly for work, but i prefer living in Hong Kong. Or I did until recently …. I haven’t ruled out living in Singapore yet.

    As a traveller you have to visit both and this is a great article!

    1. Ha ha, I had no idea there was a rivalry between HK and Singapore! I’ve only visited HK on a layover from Thailand, but Wanderer’s family is from there. I can see the merit of living in both…well, until recently, like you said. Communists ruin everything.

      1. My mom thinks along your thought all the time. I agree she suffered a lot. This is my reasoning,

        At the time this government took over, all of China’s wealth was stolen or robbed. There was no money in the coffer. Unfortunately, they were hit with droughts also. How could any government help its people under these circumstances? I firmly believe this was the reason for their hatred of literate people. (Most of Mao’s supported cast was actually highly educated) Mao did a great job of holding the country together. This is one of the longest stretch when there has been no civil war in China.

        I am one of the first wave that did the designed in US/made in China process and have seemed amazing improvements in their society. A lot of the ‘bad’ claims that we have been using has not been truth for a while. For example, Mandarin/local dialect/English are used in the major cities public transportation announcements.

        China like most Asian countries dislikes rhetoric. This is where there maybe a lot of disconnect.

        My 2 cents!

  7. Been to Singapore once. At the airport I flew from, a fellow passenger asked: “Are you going for work or for pleasure?” Me: “I’m going to visit my PhD advisor to work on my thesis”. “Definitely not pleasure”.

    Didn’t see too much of the place but did go to a couple of hawker stalls and judo practice. Somehow my gallery has a whole 5 pictures of that trip up.

    Air Canada sent an email about something about COVID-19 medical insurance abroad being included with tickets.

    1. Me: “I’m going to visit my PhD advisor to work on my thesis”. “Definitely not pleasure”

      Bwahahaha. Yeah, I’ve found that people who go for work don’t think much of it but the people who go for travel tend to love it a lot more. I think it’s cause you have to have the time and space to explore to really appreciate it.

      I saw the email about Air Canada. My hesitation is that the insurance doesn’t cover trip cancellation due to covid, just covid-related medical expenses. May need to get additional insurance in case we have to cancel a trip due to covid-related reasons.

      1. Maybe one of these days I’ll try Singapore again when traveling less on business. Certainly sounds better with more free time rather than when working all the time. I did make it to judo practice in Singapore at least, good way of meeting locals.

        On the other hand, nothing is actually close to NZ, and it’s not like I can get back if I leave right now. We’ll see about the future.

        You could indeed be out to the extent of the flight costs, but at least not medical care (though that is not itself terrible in non-US countries)… Are international flights expensive these days? Just booked some cheap Air NZ tickets to Queenstown, like $60pp all in one way.

  8. Thanks for sharing your travel and entertainment tips. We have never been but this is definitely a place to go on our list to go one day. I really appreciate your cost break down. This is something we like to do as well for our adventures. Its interesting to see where you spend your money. I am super impressed with your housing and food costs.

    It seemed like English was used often to help with tourists. Did you find it hard to navigate the any language barriers?

    1. Knowing a bit of Singlish will help and is a fun way to interact with the locals. Most will switch to ‘normal’ English once they are aware that we are ‘foreigners’.

      One bit of advice. Do look into getting a local SIM card that can ROAM at Singapore data rate (approx. $25CDN for 4GB every 4 weeks and leftover data accumulates) and recharge over the Internet. These usually ROAM in most Asian countries, China, England, US, Canada and the Oceanic. I have been using one for 3+ years, the last 18 months in US and Canada.

      Have fun.

    2. Thanks! I think it might be because I’m OCD about costs. Optimization is a fun game for me. Maybe not so fun for other people. But glad the numbers can be helpful to others.

      Definitely didn’t have any issue with language barriers. English signs everywhere and most people spoke English and Mandarin.

  9. Love the pictures! Seems like a destination to add to my list of places i gotta see someday! Those Dumplings look amazing!

  10. Thank you for another great post. My husband and I visited Singapore years ago. We stayed in the Little India neighborhood. I enjoyed the food, people, extreme cleanliness, attractions, exceptional subway system, efficient and organized society,… However, I was so lethargic from the February heat. It was 90-110 F on most days. We went exploring in the morning, got dead tired and heat stroke by noon. How do you combat extreme heat in places like Singapore, Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai? Do you suffer a lot and let your body adjust? Do you train your mind by saying it is the right temperature for your body and visualizing ice cubes? Do you try to go out before 7am and be back before 11am? We love hiking and exploring places on foot, so I wonder how we would hike and explore these tropical places. If I can learn to manage the heat, I would like to spend month(s) in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai. Your inputs would help me.
    On a different subject, I really love your well-researched, well-written, well-cited book How to Quit like a Millionaire. You two are gifted writers. Will you write more books in the future? I would love to read more books from you.

    1. “How do you combat extreme heat in places like Singapore, Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai?”

      Great question. We tend to go out earlier to avoid the heat and then head to the beach or pool to cool off. Swimming is a big part of our staying cool strategy in Asia. Also, there are enough air-conditioned places that it’s not a big deal. For Thailand, I would highly recommend going between the months of Nov-Feb when the temperature is perfect. Singapore seems to be always hot but Chiang Mai is more north so more comfortable and less humidity.

      Thanks so much for your kind words on our book! We are currently planning our next book–we’re thinking of going back into fiction. Right now really enjoying our time with family and friends, so it might take a bit longer to write it since we are prioritizing family this year.

      If you enjoyed Quit Like a Millionaire, would you consider leaving us a review on Amazon? That would really help other readers discover it. Thank you!

  11. Yep, Singapore is my kinda town…. good food at affordable prices, cheap attractions, nice weather, and even a decent airport.

    Definitely on my list of places to visit. Thanks for sharing your trip FireCracker. Hopefully we’ll all get to travel again… some day.

    1. I think the kiddos would love Singapore since it’s so family friendly too. Hope you can go there some day! I’m itchy to travel again. Stay safe!

  12. I love Singapore. I was there 20 years ago for work. Although I was only there for 36 hours, I did get to stay in the Ritz Carlton, with an amazing view of Marina Bay. We went together in late 2016 for New Years. This was just before we discovered FIRE so we spent a bit more on accommodations than we would now. But a friend there took us to the Old Airport Road hawker center. Yum. I think every other meal was at a mall food court. One of my favorite signs in Singapore was they subway sign that said the usual no drinking, eating, smoking, or flammable good, but also said “No durians.” Only in Singapore!

    1. Ha ha ha. Yeah, I see those “no durian” signs all over Asia. Good call. Definitely a good call. Back when we were working, I remember someone bringing durian in and leaving it in the fridge and the second my director stepped into the lunch room she said “Ugh. Why does it smell like something died in here?”

  13. the best part about singapore: you can go many times and never have the same experience twice!! we have been about 5x, but of course i never saw this creepy cool ‘theme’ park! we live for hawker stalls and have always asked cab drivers to take us to their faves – never been disappointed! we havent been back since ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and im wondering how it will be – may not make a difference now bcuz of the damn ‘Rona, but i remember it getting a lot of attention as a hot destination after the movie…

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