Since I saw Singapore’s supertrees presented as an example of how nature can live harmoniously within a city at the end of Season 2 of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth, it’s been a dream of mine to visit. Whilst I usually will pick an area of natural beauty over the city every time, having only ever lived in London and Birmingham (the 2 largest cities in the UK) the prospect was intriguing to me. As I gazed at the TV screen, I found myself thinking ‘wow, can a city really look this beautiful?’
All this time later, when realising I would have to fly through Singapore on my way from Da Nang to Bali, I couldn’t help but turn the layover into a two-day stopover. It was time to see these supertrees for myself!
I have to say, the ‘keep the streets clean initiatives’ in Singapore certainly work – the city is spotless. And add on the fact that the pavements are comfortably huge and traffic rules are adhered to, I felt miles away from what I’d gotten used to in Southeast Asia – and it felt super refreshing.
At this point, I must mention that as a solo traveller with social anxiety, I’d really struggled in some of the backpacker hotspots. Sometimes I’m okay with being an introvert, but sometimes I really just want to join in. I suspected that Singapore would be a better fit for a shy solo traveller. Here, rather than being desperate to join in, I probably wouldn’t be around backpackers at all. I reckoned I would be able to simply enjoy the time alone without wishing I was in with the crowd.
And I was right.
Having arrived in the evening, the path was dimly lit on the way to Supertree Grove and I somehow ended up getting lost in a hedge. (Don’t ask how. But it happened.) Yet as I turned back to my hostel, even a typical city skyline of skyscrapers and luxury hotels peeked my interest. I’m used to seeing new and old buildings sort of mushed together (London, for example, is both a new and old city) and it was kind of weird to have a wholly picture-perfect view without having to crop out any edges as I walked the streets. Despite my reservations about modernity, here was a place which was undeniably attractive.
Okay… On to the fun part!
So, let’s make this clear, Gardens By The Bay and Supertree Grove are AMAZING. And that’s it. No big description from me, just a big word, AMAZING. After that, you’d really have to see for yourself.
Indoor waterfalls, crazy cloud forest pathways… Maybe it’s because I’m a sci-fi fan but I felt like I entered one of those gardens they design for spaceship movies. You know the ones I mean? The one blown up in the first episode of Battlestar Galactica comes to mind but there are hundreds of references I could draw upon… Except for this one is cooler. Seriously.
It was hard to drag myself away from the gardens, and to be honest I could have spent the whole day there if I didn’t feel compelled to visit the ArtScience Museum. I wish I’d had the time and funds to see more of the exhibitions, but ended up just going to the FutureWorlds exhibition. I can’t really write about this without feeling a lot of emotions because – and apologies for how abstract this will be – it reminded me of my past life in a truly heart-breaking way. To most, I’m sure the exhibition featuring interactive animation felt futuristic… But for me, it took me back to my past. Perhaps I shall share more about that later. But for now, I’ll push forward.
SINGAPORE THE UTOPIA (?)
Since it was a national holiday in Singapore when I visited, I spent my second evening on the side of the bay with thousands of locals dressed in red. The celebrations consisted of army guys jumping out of planes, fly-bys by various aircraft and, of course, many many fireworks. After which, I headed to see the Supertree lightshow aka a ‘Garden Rhapsody’) which unsurprisingly had the theme of Singapore itself.
Over the course of these events, the city state was presented to me as some kind of utopia, where different nationalities could live as one; a clean and safe and friendly place which looked optimistically towards the future… And on first glance, of the many cities I’ve visited, Singapore comes the closest to the utopia it idealised, in particular when it comes to green initiatives. (Although where that is in ‘style’ or substance, I am not sure).
It really is clean (you may know already that no chewing gum is allowed at all there), it is statistically one of the safest countries to live, and whilst they are certainly ambitious, Singapore also looked towards the future in another way: I constantly found that they dolled out reminders of how human life is damaging the planet.
Within Gardens in the Bay is a well-designed and engaging exhibit on how we are destroying Earth – and what we can try to do to repair it. Recycling is huge and easy to do while walking around the city. And then there’s the Singapore itself, which is strikingly green considering it really is a huge modern city.
On the other hand, the idea of Singapore as a utopia becomes ever more dubious when you look beyond the surface, and their anti-LGBT law rightfully creates a negative debate about Singapore’s true nature. Same-sex sexual activity remains illegal and same-sex relationships are not recognised. While its economy has grown successfully, creating many opportunities in both careers and education, there is still low social mobility and it remains an expensive place to live. This warrants more research on my side and such inequalities are of course abundant globally, so apologies for this utterly brief overview.
AN ADULT PLAYGROUND
First, there are some obvious places which welcome adult playtime: the museum itself was full of interactive elements with a largely adult crowd and Gardens by the Bay are surely enough to inspire imagination in even the weariest travellers. But I even found that a very particular element of travel which we tend to either roll our eyes at or defend took on a really fun element in Singapore. I’m talking about photography guys! It’s not all over-documentation; given the opportunity, it’s also one of the few ways the average adult gets to test their creative juices!
Although we’re used to everyone taking snaps while travelling, I found Singapore really offers the opportunity to play: whether it’s getting a unique angle of a Supertree or dancing around an exhibit to take a crazy shot. I’m not talking about photography here – I don’t know my way around a camera myself – but just having fun with it. The architecture around the city is often either designed with a unique creative precision (such as Marina Bay Sands or the Helix Bridge) or leave a laid-back colourful impression (such as Haji Lane or some of the colourful houses around China Town).
Often when travelling I barely take my camera out the bag and just get a couple of crappy shots on my Samsung A6 but in Singapore I had so much fun taking them.
There is something truly futuristic and fun about this city-state that will make you feel taken aback. So even if Singapore doesn’t get you jumping around as it did me, it might just spark a little imagination. And that’s a wonderful thing.
SINGAPORE ON A BUDGET
The $ sign below of course refers to Singapore dollars 😉
It’s not easy to plan a 2-day itinerary for Singapore on a budget! But here are my best tips for how you can save, and the one place worth breaking your budget for!
Okay, let’s be clear… Can you do Singapore on a Thailand budget? No. Don’t be silly. But then, everyone considers Vietnam a super cheap country despite the high tour costs for ‘must-dos’ such as Halong Bay. So whilst Singapore doesn’t have super cheap accommodation, if you consider cheaper than expected meals and free activities, it is doable. As it’s a major transfer hub, you might find yourself able to fit it in as an extended stopover between your cheaper destinations (as I did).
I’m simply going to break this post up into my various expenses and put a note next to each one to explain how you can make a saving (or, in one instance, whilst it’s definitely worth the splurge)!
Breakfast: $1.50 (from the convenience store.) You can probably also get cheap breakfast from some cafes but I was trying to avoid the beautiful smell of coffee so I could save on hot drinks!
Lunch and dinner: $2 – 5 / £1.14 – £2.85 (head to areas like Chinatown, Little India and food halls, not proper restaurants or tourist spots like Haji Lane)
Water: $1 approx – Avoid drinking alcohol in Singapore! Since if you’re on a budget you’re probably making this a short stopover, just wait till you get to your next cheap country if you love beer!
Hostel dorm room: Realistically for an okay reviewed place you’re looking $20 / £11.
Getting around the city:
- in 2 days I spent $3.70 on one return from Chinatown to the Botanic Gardens on the tube
- Honestly? The best way for any traveller’s on a budget is to make sure you have some good shoes and walk as much as you can. (Note: hot spots like Marina Bay Sans, Helix Bridge, Supertree Grove, the ArtScience museum and a load of other big attractions are in a similar area, so you could get a return there and back but just walk for the majority of the day. I was happy to walk here from Chinatown 3 times.)
- Download the Grab app so if you’re ever desperate and can’t find the tube, you’re not going to end up spending loads of money on a taxi. (Grab is like Uber and a great app to have for SE Asia.)
To and from the airport:
- First up, you can get a tube. I’m an idiot and didn’t think to get it but I’m guessing that’s the cheapest option!
- Shuttle bus from airport – $9 ( had to wait a half-hour for the next one but that’s okay). A grab would be about $18
- Early morning taxi to the airport – $15 (it was actually $22 on the meter but I paid $15 because I was on my own and the taxi driver was nice). This was just a cab I hailed on the street since my hostel gave the wrong info and I was left on the side of the street at 6:15 with no idea how to find a cab and no data/sim 🙂
Free Activities in Singapore for Budget Travellers:
Walking around Singapore is a must because it’s such an attractive city! Be sure to spot Marina Bay Sands and stroll around the bay. It’s a really safe, clean city so one of the best places to see on foot.
Botanic Gardens and numerous other attractions are completely free. You can ask your accommodation for other ideas or grab a map.
Wandering around China Town, Little India and Haji Lane is all free of course.
Please note, if you don’t like my suggestion of walking, Haji Lane, Little India and are close together and you can walk between them. (Similarly, the Gardens by the Bay/Supertree Grove, Marina Bay Sands area, ArtScience museum, etc are also very close as I noted above.
Supertree Grove is a real highlight and is FREE! The light show here at 1945 and 2045 is also FREE! (Check times before you go in case they change them up).
The Marina Bay Sands light show at 2000 and 2100 is free, so you can visit this after the light show.
WHAT TO SPLURGE ON IN SINGAPORE?
But if you find yourself in Singapore… DO PAY $28 for Gardens By The Bay!
Yep, me, a budget traveller who NEVER does high paid attractions in cities is suggesting coughing up $28. Why? Because it is amazing! The $28 will get you into the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome and this is one of the most unique experiences I’ve had while travelling. Here’s why:
After that? If you’re there for one day, you don’t really need to do another paid activity. But if like myself you’re there for 2 days, I’d suggest picking one more. For me, it was an exhibit at the ArtScience museum which cost $17. Look for an attraction pass if you’re desperate to do a load of attractions such as the Singapore flyer (their big wheel).
I would suggest seeing what tickets you can buy online in advance as there can be some long queues 😉 For the exhibit I went to, I bought tickets online whilst I was in the queue using the museum WiFi 😉
Going to rack my brains to think of more budget tips for Singapore but in the meantime, let me know if you have any yourself!