5 INTERESTING THINGS TO DO IN SINGAPORE FOR LESS THAN $20


The little red dot was, in March this year, named the world’s most expensive city based on the Economist Intelligence Unit. Despite rising costs of food, transport and lodging, there is still a smattering of activities that can be done on the cheap that makes Singapore a worthy place to visit even when compared to her cheaper Southeast Asian counterparts. Here is our list of top 5 things to do in Singapore for less than $20 a day for each traveler.

1. HAWKER FOOD HUNT

Try out exciting dishes!

Try out exciting dishes!

One of the country’s biggest draw is its incredibly diverse food scene. New York City aside, there are few cities that boast the ethnic and cultural selection present in the melting pot that is Singapore. For your next trip to this sunny city, skip the Michelin Star restaurants and hipster cafes that are all the rage here and opt instead to eat at a hawker centre for a quarter of the price. Eat as locals do for less than $6 a meal on average, inclusive of a can drink – or if you’re more adventurous, order a teh-bing, sour plum juice, or a yin-yang.

For under $20, spend an entire day on a true blue Singaporean hobby – food hunting. We recommend starting your day at Maxwell Food Centre, where some of its stalls open as soon as day breaks. It is also home to two famous local delicacy stalls, namely Tian Tian Chicken Rice and Jin Hua Sliced Fish Bee Hoon. Be prepared to spend at least two hours there, and half the time queuing. The market is constantly busy even during off-peak hours as Singaporeans really do make time to eat any time of the day.

There are several other hawker centres and markets worth visiting spread out across Singapore, specifically Boon Lay market, ABC market, Whompoa food centre, Chinatown Complex food centre, Old Airport Road food centre, Tiong Bahru market food centre, Chomp Chomp food centre, and the old tourist favorite, Newton Circus food centre. The last three on the list are best visited in the evening or during supper time, when the boisterous local atmosphere is best soaked in. Remember to take the readily accessible public transport wherever you go. By the end of the day you should be happily contented and dare we say, in a food coma, having sampled the best of Southeast Asian cuisines at reasonably low prices.

2. EXPLORE HAW PAR VILLA

The Haw Par Villa is a traditional Chinese theme park located in central Singapore featuring the culture’s folklore and mythology. Once roaring with success, the theme park is now relatively quiet most days even though admission is free. Despite the decrease in local visitors, we would definitely recommend that you pay a trip to the historical attraction that houses a myriad of grotesque and peculiar sculptures and statues. Legend has it (or security guards, more like) that the statues are wax-covered human beings and come nightfall, they come alive to roam and haunt.

Rumors aside, Haw Par Villa is rich in historical value and bears testimony to a generous and consuming brotherly love between old millionaires Boon Haw and Boon Har. It was also first built for a didactic purpose – to impart traditional Chinese philosophy. If you’ve exhausted the usual Singapore tourist attractions, you should definitely visit this fairly unconventional and incredibly strange one – especially while it’s still open to the public and free of charge.

3. VISIT ETHNIC ENCLAVES

Get exciting bargains in Little India

Get exciting bargains in Little India

Another thing to do on the cheap would be to visit the many ethnic districts in this multiracial city, for example Little India and Chinatown. Feel the juxtaposition and cultural diversity jumping from one district to the other all in a waking day.

There is always something to do in each area. Little India is home to Mustafa Centre, a giant three-block shopping mall that is open twenty-four hours a day and sells almost everything you can think of, from fresh produce to electronics and even jewelry. The many eateries, many of which sell prata (a traditional Indian pancake-bread), are honest and serve delectable food and curries. When unsure, look for the eateries with the most number of Indian customers. You can also get some henna, a non-permanent tattoo-esque body art, or have your eyebrows threaded in the many small shops along the streets.

At Chinatown, walk among the throngs at a Chinese market where you can purchase herbs, bracelets, and a calligraphic print of your native name translated to Mandarin. If you’re more adventurous, visit a fortune-teller! Items at Chinatown tend to be pricier, but you should nonetheless enjoy the leisurely stroll along the pleasant and interesting heritage streets even if you do not pick up a souvenir or two.

Chinatown: The Mecca of Shoppers

Chinatown: The Mecca of Shoppers

4. SPEND TIME AT HDB HUBS

Some 70% of all Singaporeans live in HDB flats in Singapore. For the uninitiated, these are densely populated high-rise blocks built all around the city, but most concentrated in certain areas called HDB hubs. If you would like, take the time to visit some of these lesser known areas that are never featured in a typical tourist itinerary, for example Toa Payoh, Jurong West, or Redhill. There you will find small businesses such as hair salons and mama shops under residential blocks, and you can observe daily routines such as groups of elderly practicing Tai Ji, a relaxed form of traditional chinese martial arts. Food and clothing are typically much cheaper there as well.

There are some more historically significant neighborhoods that you might also want to visit, for example Tiong Bahru that is now a prime area for real estate, where a small three-room HDB flat might fetch prices of SGD 1 million and upwards. Unlike typical high rise HDBs, the Tiong Bahru flats retain their old pre-war shophouse architecture, and is thus one of the most aesthetically appealing estates in Singapore. If you do drop by the area, remember to visit Singapore’s beloved homegrown bookstore, BooksActually.

5. JOIN A QUEUE OR TWO

Singaporeans are big on sales, and by extensions, queues. Generally, in Singapore at least, a queue would mean a very good deal. Locals queue up for free newspapers at selected train stations at 7am on weekdays, crazed teenagers queue in the blistering sun for famous ice cream (read: Llao Llao and Honey Creme, most recently), and fashionistas camp in queues for warehouse sales on clothes at a heavily discounted price. For good fun and in the name of curiosity, join the queue if you see one – especially when it’s for food.

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