Free & Cheap in Singapore

edventuremama's picture
14 years
12 years
10 years
2012-12-07 to 2012-12-10

Singapore is known for a lot of things, being a cheap place to visit isn’t one of them! The experience of passing from elsewhere in Southeast Asia into this gleaming paragon of a city-state is a bit like being abducted by aliens and dropped off on some super-clean, hyper-consumeristic planet with Christmas music (we visited in December) playing non-stop, having had a babble fish stuffed into your ear. 

First impressions of Singapore:

  1. Chinese GardenIt’s clean. This is a “master of the obvious” observation, I know, but really, after spending months in the “rest” Southeast Asia... holy cow, it’s clean.
  2. It’s well organized. Beautifully organized. The rest of the world should take a page out of it’s book.
  3. I love the trains. The tourist pass, $30 for three days unlimited rides with a $10 refund if you bring back the plastic card, is a no brainer. Get it.
  4. Shopping. If you want an “authentic” Asian city experience, don’t book an eco-tour, go to the mall. Anyone who thought America had the corner on consumerism hasn’t spent time in a major Asian urban center. 
  5. Avatar. That’s what the big “super trees” remind us of. They’re enormous man made “trees” that collect solar power, are lined with living plants and also help recycle the trash waste of the city. I forget all of the details right now, but I’ll write more about them later. They are fantastic. 
  6. We can see the wind. It’s weird to say, “Hey kids, look at the wind,” but imagine a huge wall, the whole side of a building, made out of pieces of polished metal about the size of half a sheet of paper and hung on the short end so that each individual piece is like a prayer flag to the wind god. This is the side of the Marina Sands Hotel. It’s spectacular.
  7. “Are we in Italy?” Was the first observation made about the boats running in a canal INSIDE the mall. Inside. See #4.
  8. Ice skating. We are approximately 85 miles north of the equator and there is “ice skating” (once again in the mall) except that it really isn’t on ice, it’s a plastic rink! Crazy. 
  9. It’s expensive. $50 for lunch at the airport... cheap Chinese food with the horrible chopsticks you have to crack apart at the top. Dinner, cheap Indian food (butter chicken with three pieces of naan bread for the six of us) was $62. We drank water. After Thailand, where we’d work the kids over and make them feel bad if they went for the $4 plate instead of the $3 plate and we’d box some up to take home, well, we’re in wallet shock over here.
  10. And also, it’s clean. We were afraid they might not let Ez in, because he’s so filthy all the time... but actually it was Gabe who set off all of the bells and whistles at the airport, with his six piece wood carving set and long, pointy rasp. It took some miming to get the point across. They let him keep his tools.


Where to stay:

Wanderlust HotelI have a confession to make: we didn’t cheap out on accommodation. We’re staying at the Wanderlust Hotel. It’s a little boutique place tucked away into a cardamom scented corner of little India. It’s fantastic, actually. Perhaps the best place we’ve stayed in years. The rooms are themed, by floor and done up by several designers. The kids were in a modern art room on the third floor, we had a the “space room” with Ezra on the 4th. There’s a spaceship tacked to the wall. The first thing Ez did was unpack his “guys” and get them set up inside it. There’s a huge soaking tub and a rain shower, and... wait for it... the bed in the loft... it’s SOFT! This is news to anyone who’s lamented the rock hard beds in Southeast Asia. It’s a mid-range hotel, for Singapore, and definitely worth the splurge. Their full breakfasts are out of this world and will power you up for a full day of sight seeing. 


NEWater Plant 

NEWater tourDid you know that Singapore has a land surface area of only 699.1 square kilometers and approximately 20% of that is reclaimed land?

Did you know that the population of this tiny island country, with only 150 miles of coastline, is almost 5 000 000 people?

In 2011 Singapore used 380 million gallons of water per day. Historically, Singapore has had a hard time with water and water management as their land is so limited and the population continues to grow. So where do you get water if you’re stuck on a tiny island with five million of your closest friends?

The NEWater plant is a big part of how they’re solving those problems and how the country is on track to be completely water self-sufficient by 2061. 

You can visit the plant for free. They’ll even send a shuttle to pick you up from the train station, just call ahead and make your reservation. I can’t recommend this strongly enough. We learned so much, and it helped put the environmental challenges of this amazing city-state into perspective in concrete ways that the kids could get their minds around. 


Ice Skating

Skating Rink, Marina Bay SandsLo & behold, there’s a plastic “ice” rink at the Marina Bay Sands complex in Singapore. What else would American-Canadian kids do in December, within spitting distance of the equator but go skating when the opportunity presented itself?

Skating on plastic is not much like skating on actual ice, other than it’s white (although I suppose they could technically dye the rink any colour they liked!) It’s a far trickier thing, actually, and a plastic rink is less forgiving than falling on ice, which has a certain give to it. This was rather like skating about on my mother’s vinyl cutting board with butter knives strapped to our feet. The skates weren’t sharp, they were a poor approximation of rental hockey skates and I, for one, was missing my toe-picks badly. I attempted one pirouette, I landed on my biscuit. There was no skating backwards to be had and certainly no tricks. 

Nonetheless, it was novel to whirl around humming the Skater’s Waltz in December as I’ve done in Canadian winters since I was small enough to need two runners strapped to the bottom of each little boot. Ezra fell so much he got frustrated (“You can’t use the sides of the blade to push off, Mom, you just fall!) Gabriel was hysterical, sliding all over with his six-plus feet of arms and legs flailing in every direction; I was reminded of that scene in Bambi when the baby deer is trying to learn to stand on ice. Hannah whirled around with relative grace, in a garden print sundress, perspiring. Elisha sported his new (reclaimed) Ray Bans and picked up Singaporean chicks in his age bracket. Tony took pictures, of course.


The Mall 

I know, it sounds weird to suggest going to the mall, but go to the mall. The Marina Bay Sands Mall if you can. It’s a spectacle and a destination in and of itself. There are boats, reminiscent of Venice, a water fall from the outdoors, and every fancy store known to man. It’s a mystery to me how Singapore supports the thriving commerce that is exploding from every corner of the city, but somehow it manages! Since this article is about free and cheap, I’ll warn you not to buy anything and try not to eat a meal, even in the food court... lunch cost us over $65! It is, however a fun, and fantastic and free place to walk and watch Singaporeans in action! And also, it’s air conditioned!


Where to Eat

NOT AT A MALL. And not at a restaurant either, if you want to save money and have a bunch of kids. Your best bet are going to be the hawkers markets that are often found around the train station entrances. You’ll get a good meal for $5 and lots of choices. Expect to sit on plastic chairs, elbow to elbow with the “real Singapore.” The food will be delicious. Get some of the scallion pancakes if you can. Yum!


Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum 

Live Turtle & Tortoise MuseumIt was a long, hot, beautiful walk through the Chinese Garden to the Turtle and Tortoise Museum. Ez chatted excitedly about his hope for a snapping turtle. We recapped the difference between the two creature cousins. We pointed out Confucius, presiding on his pedestal and discussed the fine line between a philosophy and a religion. We noted the similarity between the dragon wrapped poles flanking him and the Inuit totems we saw in British Columbia last fall. We watched for the renegade monkey, who’s mug shot and a warning not to feed or encourage him was posted on the gate house. The museum is not free, as we’d read online, but at $5 a head it’s not ridiculous either, the bundles of greens to feed the inmates were worth every penny at $2 a newspaper wrapped handful.

We saw turtles of every sort, and tortoises too. We watched the Koi in a pond hidden in the center of a pagoda that was the very postcard of all you imagine Asia to be.

If you have young kids, this is a hidden gem that’s not to be missed. The long train ride out from the center of the city is a bonus; it’s an air conditioned way to check out Singapore as it sprawls away from the well touristed downtown.


The Super Trees at Gardens by the Bay 

You really can’t help but see these trees if you go downtown at all. However, it would be easy to point at them, proclaim them “cool” from afar and move on. Don’t do it. Take the time to walk along the river, cross the bridge and stand directly beneath them. They are engineering marvels that create energy, and reduce the carbon footprint of the city. Take the time to read the information plaques that surround them and stare up at their branches high above. Of course you can pay the big bucks to go up in one and have lunch, or take the “tree top” walk stretching between a couple. But it’s free to stand beneath them and soak up the science and educational value of one of Singapore’s most photographed landmarks!

Hawker Food
Wanderlust Hotel
Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum
Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum
Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum
Pagoda, Chinese Garden
Pagoda, Chinese Garden
Little India Train Station
Chinese Garden
Super Trees Explanation Plaque
Super Trees
Marina Bay Sands Mall
Little India
Skating Rink, Marina Bay Sands
NEWater tour
Wanderlust Hotel- space room
Wanderlust Hotel Exterior
Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions


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