I think as of last count, me and my sister have visited Singapore three or so times, with my sister having one visit more than I have. I have to say after all those visits, the fact that the city-state, located at the southern end of the Malaysian peninsula, was not really that budget-friendly got impressed on my mind, but with a little creativity, it can be a worthwhile tourist destination.
Now, a few background notes on Singapore itself for the first-time visitor. The Republic of Singapore is the smallest nation in Southeast Asia, and as mentioned is located at the southern tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. Although it started as sort of a shipping hub (and it still is, in a way), the city-state is more of a financial center these days, although tourism also plays a big part in its economy.
The primary means to get to Singapore, of course, is via air travel. A tourist has more than a few options open to them, and depending on their budget, can choose which airline to take to get there. Cebu Pacific has regular flights to the city-state, and so does Philippine airlines, but in my experience it’s better to take the latter, as while it’s slightly priced more than the former’s tickets it does provide in-flight meals, which is always a plus in my book. For those really on a budget however, there’s Tiger Airways, but unlike Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines, one has to endure a drive to Olongapo to board their planes.
The trip to Singapore doesn’t take two hours from takeoff at Ninoy Aquino International to Changi International Airport. Depending on the airline you took, you’ll either be deposited in ‘Old’ Changi, or the so-called Budget Terminal. The Budget Terminal is accessible by both car service and taxi, but Old Changi does better with direct access to the country’s MRT service. In either case, it’s best to keep in mind the moment you step off the plane the fact that Singapore is a land of laws, and rather harsh ones; things that one can get away with here in the Philippines with a proverbial slap on the wrist like throwing waste on the street or smoking in non-designated areas are fined mercilessly (and quite expensively too), and let’s not get into things like jaywalking… Don’t let that scare you though, as all the laws make Singapore one of the cleanest and safest cities to be in.
If you’re visiting Singapore the first time, it’s really suggested that you do so on a tourist package—in fact, that’s what my family did on our first visit here, before Tatay actually started working there, that is. Although it’s very likely you won’t get five-star accommodations (indeed, my father, sister and myself got deposited unceremoniously in a 2-star hotel in the middle of what might count as the city’s red-light district), packaged tours do have the advantage of giving you time to get familiar with the sights of the city. Pay close attention to the places located at Orchard Road as it’s one of the city’s major shopping hubs outside of the Downtown area, and it’s a place one might one to return to in subsequent visits.
And really, one can’t really appreciate the place on one visit alone, or at least that’s how I felt during my first visit there. Call it a personal bias, but I really do prefer going over a place on foot, and despite the fact that one might be able to walk across the city in less than a day, there’s just so many things to see that only be accessible via walking. Okay, the ride up the Singapore River was quite an experience, as was the visit to the historic Raffles Square, and the Merlion Statue in front of the bay, but I do feel that it’s more personal to go about wandering in the city with just your map in hand, dressed casually, with comfortable sneakers enclosing your feet.
One of the places I was able to go to on my visits to Singapore was Sentosa Island. Meaning peace and tranquility, Sentosa is one of Singapore’s so-called resort islands, and is accessible via MRT as well as bus, and the island itself has a dedicated bus service, but I have to say it was very much a pleasure to explore it on foot. The island is the location of several attractions, such as the Underwater World, as well as a Dolphin Lagoon, but since on both occasions that we visited there we were on a budget, we weren’t able to partake in any, though the sheer amount of greenery on display more than makes up for it, I think.
As Singapore is thoroughly cosmopolitan, it’s inevitable for a visitor not to encounter the city’s many, MANY malls. My sister and I had an unfortunate experience of walking through what seemed like an endless, endless series of interconnected malls, starting of course from VivoCity to SunTec City. I have to admit, going through all those linked buildings can be an alternative to walking in the sub-tropical heat—although Singapore is one of greenest cities ever, with the sheer amount of trees it has, it’s still only 1 degree cooler than Metro Manila, which isn’t much—one can only take so much shops after all.
A visit to Singapore would not, and I stress, not be complete without trying the local cuisine, which is often viewed by people as a prime example of the ethnic diversity of the city-state’s culture. The so-called Hawker Stores, open-air complexes housing stalls that sell relatively inexpensive selections of food, are commonplace enough that they’re located within walking distance of many residential complexes (and indeed, one is located just across the street from the apartment my father is staying at for the duration of his work there). There are also various restaurants that cater to specific tastes, and I had the privilege of eating at an honest-to-goodness Indian restaurant that sold genuine spicy curry… Of course, everything else was spicy as well, a fact that my sister and Tatay weren’t able to appreciate. There were also the expected Chinese restaurants, and we were able to eat at the variety that sold VERY delicious noodle dishes, as well as the types that served more traditional meals that could be eaten with rice.
If there’s anything that Singapore isn’t, it’s definitely not a shopper’s city. Frankly, the goods you’d find there on sale are only slightly on this side of expensive. The souvenir shops are an exception of course, where you could find a variety of knick-knacks to bring back to relatives in the Philippines. The Merlion keychains are a perennial favorite, as well as the T-shirts printed with the city’s major tourist attractions, but I have a fondness for the inlaid lighters; while I don’t smoke cigarettes myself, one of my ex-supervisors at work and more than a few teammates do, so it’s something I make sure to pick up for them.
Then there is Lucky Plaza. If there was any doubt about the presence of Filipinos in Singapore, then one need not look further than Lucky Plaza. Lucky Plaza, in a nutshell, is a five story building filled to the brim with shops and eateries. Not a single shop is bigger than two or three hundred square feet, and there are literally dozens of shops all selling cameras, or clothing, or jewelry, or leather, or furniture… you name it. It’s also filled to the brim with Filipinos, especially during Sundays, where the OFWs gather to socialize, or just send money back to their loved ones back home.
Although I’ve already visited the place two or three times already, I feel that there’s still more than enough places left for me to discover there. I’m not really sure how things would turn out, but my sister is planning another trip to Singapore this summer, as a sort of commemoration of what might be my father’s last few months of work there, and even now she’s reminding me to reserve some leaves just for that occasion. You can bet that I’m looking forward to the trip.