Three Days in Singapore: A Backpacker's Travel Guide
I’ll admit it. Singapore was the Southeast Asian city I was least bothered to see. With all the rumours around its sterile modernity, extortionate prices and excessive rules and rigidity, I was convinced we were not going to vibe.
But travel likes to throw up curveballs. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of cool places to visit in Singapore and the city’s edgy pockets. This small city-state quickly shattered all my expectations and claimed itself a top spot on my list of travel favourites.
So if you’re backpacking Southeast Asia or simply after a new holiday destination in the region, seriously consider a visit to Singapore. Leave the renowned Changi airport (which you’re bound to pass through anyway) and spend a few days exploring this special city. Because if Crazy Rich Asians hasn’t already convinced you to visit, this blog post just might. I bring you the perfect Singapore travel guide to spend three budget-friendly days of bliss in this cool Asian metropolis.
Singapore: Where to Stay
Now, admittedly, we did splash out on our Singapore hotel. For a backpacker’s budget anyway. This was the very first stop of our four-month tour of Southeast Asia and after 25 hours of travel, we were desperate for a few solid nights sleep. So we booked ourselves into Village Hotel Katong to get some serious shut-eye. But there are certainly more budget-friendly options to help you save your ££s. But it was thanks to those cushy hotel beds that we were ready to hit the town bright and early our first morning in Singapore.
Singapore: Day One
Kick off your day with a stong kopi (coffee) and a traditional Singaporean brekkie. Head to a hole-in-the-wall kopitiam (coffee shop) and try your first helping of Kaya toast - toast covered in a local coconut butter jam - which you dip into a mix of soft-boiled eggs and soy sauce. It may sound strange, but it’s quite tasty, and became our very first excuse to chat with the locals.
Fully fuelled, head to the colourful Koon Seng Road. It’ll be swarming with Instagrammers, but as soon as you arrive, you’ll understand why. This rainbow road is a colour magpie’s dream. Built in the 1920s, these were once the homes of wealthy Peranakans (Chinese immigrants to the Malay Peninsula) that are now fully conserved by the Singaporean government. We were lucky enough to strike up a conversation with one of the current homeowners who kindly gave us a tour of his surprisingly modern interiors. So hang about long enough and you may get an invite inside!
For more of your colour fix and an authentic local lunch, head to Little India in the afternoon. This cultural hub will hit all of your senses, as you wander through its bright buildings and pulsating markets. With over 200 years of rich history, you can explore the small streets off the main hub, Serangoon Road, and discover some of the original Hindu temples nearby. Then fill up with a traditional Thali and a refreshing coconut or rose water to help you survive Singapore’s unrelenting heat and humidity.
Next, work your way to Hadji Lane, Singapore’s equivalent of London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Williamsburg. Here, hang with the cool kids as you check out some of the local street art (which is mostly restricted to this part of the city), pop into a few artisanal boutiques, and, most importantly, sample a selfie coffee. Yes, you read that right. You can try a coffee with your very own selfie imprinted in the foam. It’s massively overpriced but it’s certainly a latte you won’t forget.
Singapore: Day Two
Feeling more refreshed, we decided to brace the crowds and hit up some of Singapore’s more popular tourist hotspots. We had another cheap Kaya toast breakfast and booked a Grab (Southeast' Asia’s answer to Uber) into town. But you can also save some cash and get around via Singapore’s incredibly efficient public transport system. Whatever you choose, kick off day two at the ArtScience Museum. Your budget will take a hit here, as entry is $19 SGD (£10) but bite the bullet. This is not your ordinary museum. The fact that it’s shaped like a lotus flower (no joke) is just the beginning. It blends art, technology and science to deliver some very cool immersive experiences, including the Digital Light Canvas, which you’ve probably seen all over Instagram. But anything that makes you feel like a fairy wandering through a magical night sky is totally worth a visit in my book.
Once you’ve had your cultural fix, head to the Shoppes at Marina Bay, a massive shopping centre next door, and do some people watching. Singapore is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and you’ll certainly feel it as you wander among the shops and crowds inside. We did our best to clean up our backpacker look and blend in with the locals, though I think my trekking sandals probably still gave me away.
After a wander around the mall, head back outside to get up close and personal with the famous Merlion (he’s quite small in person!) and, if you get your timings right, wrap up just in time to watch the sun start its descent across Singapore’s spectacular skyline. As the colours turn, the city only gets more magical. And, if you’re reaaallly patient, hang about long enough to watch the free lights show after dark.
By this point, you’ll probably be seriously hangry, so head to one of Singapore’s' renowned Hawker Centres. We choose Maxwell Road Hawker Centre but there are plenty of options. These traditional food markets - with their countless stalls - will blow your mind - and your belly. You’ll find every variety of Asian cuisine, with each hawker having mastered his own special dish. Find the stalls with the longest queue of locals and get in line. I devoured a delicious Laska (a spicy curry soup containing rice noodles, chicken, prawns and fish) and a traditional Singaporean Hainanese chicken in one sitting.
Singapore: Day Three
We went out with a bang, hitting up the sights we were most excited about on our last day in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay and the Cloud Forest and Flower Domes. Backpackers’ budgets will take another hit here, as entry to the domes costs around $28 SDG (£16), but have you really seen Singapore of you don’t go here?! And wandering the park grounds will consume most of your day anyway. If you’re really keen, you can also pay an additional $8 SPG (£5) to scale the Supertrees, but we chose not to due to our mutual fear of heights.
We treated ourselves to a little lie in on our last day (Jetlag = 1, Yari = 0) but I’d recommend getting there early to avoid the crowds. And wear comfortable shoes. You will spend the whole day walking around this massive garden complex so do whatever you can to protect your feet.
Start with the Cloud Forest Dome, which I think is the most impressive and will easily take up a full morning or afternoon. We probably spent more than four hours wandering around, taking photos, learning about the various plant species and falling so love with cloud forests that we ended up booking a flight Borneo to see Mount Kinabulu (post on this coming soon!). The Flower Dome is smaller (and by the time you get around to it you’ll probably be knackered), but you’ll still be humbled by the massive baobab trees and catci that envelope you once inside.
When you’re ready to rest your weary feet, walk over to the Marina Bay Sands, the famous hotel that’s practically become the city’s mascot. Opened in 2011, this massive hotel houses over 2,500 hotel rooms, the world’s longest elevated swimming pool and countless “celebrity chef” restaurants. It’s not to be missed. After admiring this impressive architectural wonder, head to Ce La Vie, the rooftop bar at the top. Here, try a signature Singapore Sling (Singapore’s famous gin-based cocktail) whilst you gaze at the glamorati enjoying the hotel’s infinity pool next door as well as the stunning views of Singapore. You’ll certainly be able to say you ended your whirlwind tour of the city in style.
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