(Originally posted on Love, Justine in 2019)
Singapore is once again the most expensive city in the world, but don't worry. If you want to live your Crazy Rich Asian dreams, but don't have the trust fund to support it, I've got tips on how you can live your best Crazy Rich Asian life in the best Crazy Middle Class Asian style...even if you're not Asian. You can budget travel and still enjoy the finer things in life!
My husband had been bugging me to go to Singapore, because one of his friends lives there, but is going to leave Singapore this year. I kept telling him it was too expensive and we couldn't afford it. However, I decided one day to Google flights to Singapore just to see how much it would be and I was shocked at what I found. So, I'm going to break down the cost of us going to Singapore and also give you a review of our visit to the world's most expensive city.
A $450 USD round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Singapore? No way! The airline offering this incredible deal was Air China. I had never heard of it before, but China only has four major airlines, and this is one of them, making it one of China's top and biggest airlines. I only learned this once I got to China though, so upon first Googling Air China, I was nervous. This has got to be a horrible budget airline, I thought. Budget airlines for short distances are tolerable, but for a twelve and a half hour flight? And that's just to Beijing where the layover would be. Reviews I could find were not encouraging either. My dad had flown Air China within China before, but my dad travels Business Class, so that wasn't helpful either. My biggest worry was the seats. My husband is a big guy and if there's not enough leg room, the flight would be insufferable. I had also read that food was either terrible or nonexistent.
The layovers were long too, with a minimum of six hours. So, that led me to see what was possible to do in China over a long layover, because six or eight hours in the airport was not exactly appealing either. However, this is when I discovered that China has a 72-hour visa free window, which allows you to travel within China, and specifically designed for these long layovers are Layover Tours! You can see the details and full of review of the Layover Tours here.
After careful consideration, we decided to go for it anyways, because $450 to Singapore? It sometimes costs more than that just to get from LA to NYC. Plus, we can see Beijing while we're at it. When I went to actually book it, the total came out to $483.68 USD per person. The funny part to me is that when they break down the fare price for you, the actual base fare is only $144 USD. It's the rest of the taxes and fees that make it $484.
The flight itself was not bad either. The seat space was actually probably the roomiest we've experienced in Economy. That was only on the leg to Beijing though. From Beijing to Singapore the seats were a little bit tighter, but the flight was half as long as from LAX to PEK. The food was your average airplane food, except with Chinese options. It wasn't anything spectacular, but I don't ever really expect too much out of airplane food even in Business Class. On our way there they even gave us some Haagen Dazs ice cream for dessert. I'm not sure if I was asleep when they did this on our way back, or if they just didn't do it for some reason, but I have no real complaints about the flights.
As for accommodations, unfortunately, due to the high cost of living in Singapore, my husband's friend was not able to host us as he lives in a little one bedroom apartment. We looked into Airbnbs and I saw numerous at around $85 USD a night, but the reviews concerned me a bit. Plus, his friend told us that Airbnb is technically not legal in Singapore, and in such a tightly and strictly run city-state, you don't exactly want to go breaking their laws there. Ultimately, we found a great deal at M Social, a modern, hipster hotel owned by Club Med and is part of the Millennium Hotels group, for $111 USD/night through Expedia, with the total including taxes and fees coming out to $363.52. I also had a few Expedia points that I was able to use to bring our final cost down to this price. We had to make a separate reservation for one more night because during the trip we went to Thailand for a few nights. The one night, which was a Saturday night, cost us $136.44 USD for that weekend, with a total including taxes and fees coming out to $160.55 USD. That brings us to a total of $524.07 USD. The best part, we had enough points on our travel card to cover this cost. So basically, $0. So, one big tip is to have a good travel card. I like my Bank of America one, because it's got a good points system, and since it's not tied to any one airline, it means I can redeem my points on any flight as well as any travel related cost, including accommodations and shared rides. Research the best one for you, though I have found the Bank of America Travel Rewards card to be commonly among the best travel cards in my own research.
As for M Social, the hotel was in a great location on Robertson Quay, which is along the river, and makes for nice evening walks. It's also very close to everything, not that Singapore is very big. The actual hotel is very modern looking, and the entrance and lobby are very instagrammable. Singapore isn't exactly known for its customer service, which I was surprised by, so don't expect people to smile and welcome you warmly. Our friends living in Singapore said it can be quite horrible, but I did not find anyone to be outright rude. I've dealt with worse in Paris, which is known for its lack of customer service. Perhaps, we were fortunate on our trip.
The rooms are tiny! But they're sufficient. They're very clean, too. My only complaint is that even with the AC the rooms still felt a bit humid, I think because they're so tiny, and mostly the showers. The reason I can tell it's humid, too, is because when we hand washed some of our clothes they took longer than normal to dry. The hallways are also humid, and the scent they use is not particularly pleasing to me, but that's probably a personal preference. One feature of the rooms that I don't love, but I've noticed is common in tiny modern hotel rooms, is that the bathroom floor is all one, so your shower water inevitably splashes onto the floor in front of your toilet. There is a door to prevent too much splash though, but still. Because of the tiny quarters, it was especially humid in the bathroom, so I wasn't totally pleased with that because it made me feel claustrophobic, but it wasn't the worst. Again, it was clean and modern. To help give the illusion of more space, the ceilings in the rooms are quite tall, and they added a window to the shower which winds up being right next to the bed. So at first I laughed, because I thought, my husband and I can watch each other while we're in the shower and on the toilet. However, they do have blinds that you can open and close in the shower so that you can have your privacy. I didn't realize they were there at first though, because they're between the glass and there's just a little nob to turn.
You're surrounded by other buildings, so there's not much of a view, and I'd be careful to close the curtains when changing, because people may be able to see you. The views aren't bad though, because from both rooms we stayed in, we were looking at other tall buildings and their swimming pools. M social has a nice rooftop pool, which is really on the fifth floor. It's not a large pool, but it's definitely a nice rooftop to lounge on. We invited our friends over one night to swim and have some drinks. There is also a small fitness center, which is nice and clean. There are just two treadmills, an elliptical, a bike, a bench for weight lifting, and one other weight machine.
The restaurant is supposed to be pretty good, but I found it very underwhelming. It's called Beast and Butterflies. We only had breakfast there once, so maybe lunch and/or dinner are better. The breakfast options included a mix of western and Chinese food. You have to remember that Singapore is largely Chinese in culture now, though with great diversity which I'll get into later. The most impressive thing I found at the restaurant was the robot that made my omelet; however, it's mostly just social media worthy, because a human would have been able to make ten omelets in the time it took the robot to make one, and the taste was unimpressive. I prefer Marie Callender's omelet station.
Speaking of robots, the hotel has robots from which you're supposed to be able to order items you need to your room, and it will deliver them. We could not figure out how to get the robot to work; however, when we mentioned this to the front desk, and asked them to send us water and more body wash, they sent the robot to deliver it to us. That was pretty entertaining. Still, the buttons don't seem to work well on the robot, because I could not get it to conclude its services and leave. Eventually we closed the door on it, and when I went back to check on it a few minutes later, finally enough time had passed, where just as I opened the door it said, "Okay I'm going home now, bye bye."
When we came back from Thailand we wound up with a handicapped room so it was a bit more spacious. This was a plus, because the bathroom was less humid, and there was a door and no window into the bathroom. Otherwise, everything was the same.
In places like this, it's all about the street food. Or in this case, it's the Hawker Centers, which are essentially like food courts with many different little stalls, but really awesome food courts. This is where in Singapore you can still eat well and eat cheap. There are many a food stall that are even Michelin star stalls. What you want to look for are long lines--that's how you know it's good. Oddly, whenever we went, I feel like there weren't a lot of people, and/or many places were closed. Many places are closed Sundays--I'm not sure why, since it's not necessarily a Christian state. I think maybe it's because it's most people's day off? Not sure about this one. In any case, we were able to have delicious meals for $5 USD. One of my favorite stands was the fresh juice stands. For $2-3 SGD (~$1.50-$2.25 USD), I could get a fresh pressed juice, which they pressed on the spot in front of me. They had a plethora of flavors, too, but my favorite was the pineapple + passion fruit combo. A local drink you'll find in many places is fresh sugarcane juice. We tried it, but I wasn't a big fan. It's very sweet, and for some reason to me tasted slightly of coconut water and sugar, but it's just pure sugarcane. I recommend trying it, since it is their local concoction. I wish I knew more about local dishes so I could have tried more, but of what I was recommended and tried, I'd suggest these foods: Laksa (a delicious noodle soup, and definitely one of my faves, which reminded me a bit of Tom Yum, the Thai lemongrass soup), Carrot Cake (which is not actually carrot cake, but a sticky radish cake, and the Singaporeans make it like an omelet mixed with egg), Hainanese chicken and rice (a simple dish, but indeed quite delicious), and Satay. I really wanted some Chili Crab, which seems to be a well-known dish there, but unfortunately was unable to find it when I wanted it. I did come home with some Chili Crab flavored chips though, so I can't wait to dig into those. There's also a large Indian population there, so Indian food is something worth trying, especially in Little India.
One of the best meals we had was quite unexpected. On our way to the light show, we stopped at the Hawker Center by the Garden to have dinner first. We came upon a hot pot/grill section, and while more expensive at $25 SGD/person (~$19 USD), it was SO WORTH IT. If you ate there, you weren't allowed to bring food from other parts of the Hawker Center, and it was all you can eat. We only had thirty minutes to eat before the light show started, and we ate a lot in a little time. So, I'd recommend giving yourself at least an hour, if not more, to really enjoy the meal and take your time with it. It's fun and delicious, with all kinds of seafood, meats, and vegetables. You need time especially to cook some of the seafood. They have different broths, too, for different spice levels, and delicious sauces for dipping. I would definitely splurge and enjoy this hot pot/grill. It's interesting, too, because you usually have just hot pot, or just a grill, but here you had both. Mmm, I'm drooling just thinking about it.
Singapore is a food mecca, and so if you're able to, I would treat yourself to at least one fine dining experience. We did not have time for fine dining, but we did make time for afternoon tea. Since there is British history and influence in Singapore, it seemed like a good place for afternoon tea. For a traditional and historical experience, it's recommended to have tea at Raffles Hotel; however, Raffles was and still is under renovation until mid 2019, supposedly. So, unfortunately, we were not able to have tea there. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was the Brit who negotiated the treaty for a British port in Singapore, thereby leading to Singapore becoming a British colony; thus you'll see several things named after him, including a mall and hospital. After some research, I decided on afternoon tea at Anti:dote at The Fairmont, which is just across the street from Raffles Hotel. It seemed like a good combo of traditional tea with a bit of Singaporean flare. I'd have to say that it's not the best afternoon tea I've ever had, but it still made for an enjoyable afternoon. You get A LOT for $45 USD per person. Afternoon teas like this can get pricey, so it was a great price for what you got.
It's a beautiful display, brought to you in a box set of three drawers. On top of the box they lay out all the sweets. The first drawer contains the sandwiches, the second contains the scones, and the bottom drawer contains the clotted cream and jam. The scones are served warm, but I found them to be a tad dry. The sandwiches were my favorite--I can't tell you which I loved most, but I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. The sweets I wasn't crazy about. Chris has the bigger sweet tooth, and he really liked the matcha flavored desserts. There was one that was funny and looked like moss in a mini ice cream cone. After tasting it, I realized the "moss" was really just matcha bread. There wasn't much flavor to it, but I appreciate the design. There were also a couple with a raspberry-like moose which I enjoyed. Of course there's always something with orange and chocolate. Neither of us are big fans of orange and chocolate, but that's a personal preference. Everything was very prettily designed. Again, it's A LOT of food, so by the end I was just taking a bite of each just to taste them. Chris did finish all of his servings though.
The tea itself, I found fine--nothing too spectacular. I ordered the White Silk Tea: "Reuniting only the best from the tea plant, this blend of China blue tea, green tea and the finest silver tips of Yin Zhen yields a floral bouquet with soft tonalities of honey and caramel. A tapestry of flavours." One of my favorite teas is a white tea, but I found this blend to be uninspiring.
I forgot to mention that we each also got an appetizer. They had two options so we ordered one of each to try both. Both were egg dishes, and both were divine. One was a Scrambled Egg with Winter Truffles Snow and black caviar, and the other was a Slow-Cooked Egg with burnt truffle crumbles and foie gras. Again, divine.
On weekdays, their afternoon tea is served from 3-5pm. We made our reservation for 4:30pm, but arrived early at 4pm, and the hostess was very pleased we arrived early. I guess she wanted to go home. So, if you have tea there, try to reserve your spot at least an hour before closing. There were other guests after us, but it wasn't crowded. There's a nice ambiance and good mood lighting to relax you and close out the day. The lighting isn't great for photographs, but we got a few. On weekends they do two seats, one from 12-2pm and another from 3-5pm. Reservations are required, so be sure to do so, but dress is casual. The Anti:dote is located conveniently next to the lobby so you can't miss it.
One thing I must mention when talking about food in Singapore is durian. If you're familiar with it, durian is a smelly fruit, and it tastes like it smells. I am not a fan, but you'll notice there's durian everything, even durian popsicle. Who knows, you may enjoy it!
Now if you know me, you know I'm all about the snacks. Instead of bringing home useless junk, I like to bring home snacks from each country I visit and share them with friends and family. A common and apparently popular snack I spotted everywhere was "Salted Egg Fish Skin." Salted Egg is a popular flavor and it was quite good on chips and popcorn. As for the fish skin....I don't know about that. However, in my rush to grab a couple bags of salted egg flavored chips on the way home, I accidentally picked up salted egg fish skin. So, I guess I will try it and see. I bet it tastes good, but it's the thought of eating fish skin that weirds me out.
OTHER SIGHTS TO SEE AND THINGS TO DO
We learned quickly that you can see most of Singapore in one day, but I still wish we had at least one extra day to really get to enjoy a few more things. We didn't go outside of the city center, because we had no interest in visiting Universal Studios, and were headed to Thailand for an island getaway, so did not have interest in the beaches. While there are other gardens to see, we saw quite a lot of garden just in the famous Gardens by the Bay, so we'll start there.
Gardens By the Bay
The gardens are generally free, and you should definitely see the light show at night. It's fifteen minutes long and runs twice a night. After the light show, head over to the Marina to watch the water show--it reminds me of Fantasia at Disneyland--even to the extent of people grabbing seats on the floor early ahead of the show to get a good spot. The water show is also about fifteen minutes long and runs twice a night. The music and the lights on the water are a magnificent display.
There are two domes in the Gardens that require ticket purchases. It's recommended to go first thing in the morning on a weekday before it gets too crowded. We tried to do this, but slept in, and when we arrived around 11am on a Monday morning, the crowd did not seem horrific to me. Both domes are like greenhouses, but they are kept very cool. It was almost too chilly for me, so you may or may not want to bring a light jacket with you. I ended up being fine without one, but just a heads up in case you're sensitive to the cold. I guess most people would not want to walk around if it was as humid or more humid than it already is outside.
The two domes are the Cloud Forest, which has a giant waterfall and skywalk, and then the Flower Dome, which has a lot of flowers...duh. It's interesting because neither are particular to Singapore, but they're both sort of like a world history of nature. It's beautiful and educational. They're also a great spot for plenty of photos, and a good way to cool off from the heat.
The ticket prices are $28 SGD (~$18 USD) per adult. Children are $15 SGD (~$11 USD) per child.
The outside free areas of the garden are just as beautiful at night as they are during the day. If you watched "Crazy Rich Asians" it's where the Supertree Grove is, where they had the crazy wedding reception.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel
This is the famous ship hotel. It's an expensive hotel, and if you're not a guest you can go up to the Skydeck for a fee. If you go to Ce La Vi, the restaurant and Skybar up top, your fee covers your beverages and you can enjoy a nice view and a drink. At night the Ce La Vi lounge turns into a club. The cost of going up is $23 SGD (~$17 USD) per person. I'm not sure it's really worth it, but I suppose it's a must do in Singapore to go to the top of the ship to look out at the view.
The hotel is attached to the mall there (there are many malls in Singapore as they are a must for cooling off and helping you cut through the city without melting into a complete puddle). I really like this mall, because it has a fresh and clean atmosphere, and feels less crowded than others we walked through--probably because it's more high end and you really only go there if you're going to the hotel or the garden...or the gorgeous Louis Vuitton. Yes, the Louis Vuitton there is worth a visit if you have a taste for fashion and design. It's a site in and of it self. There's a good food court, too, and while not Hawker Center prices, I still was able to have a nice, large delicious bowl of Laksa for $8 or $9 SGD (~$6 or $7 USD). There were other items that were more expensive, but at least you had options and the food was good. I did see chili crab there, but that was some $60 SGD or something like that and I wasn't that hungry at that time for what looked like a sizable feast.
Just as a note, I saw a boba shop and boba just sounded really good in that weather, but I have to say I'm not a fan. Taiwanese boba is better. There is also a TWG there, which is Singapore's tea company, and you can have afternoon tea which looked quite good.
Now if you really want a nice view, I recommend grabbing a patio seat at LeVel33, which is a brewery in one of the skyscrapers across the waters from MSB. At least then you can see the giant ship and take photos of the notorious skyline. It's also shadier and the beer is good. The food also looks good there, but we just drank some beers and enjoyed the view. Click the link above to see their menus and prices. It's pricier, but I wouldn't say it's outrageous. You can find similar prices for fine dining in Los Angeles and New York, or even mid-level bougie dining. So, if the food is as good as it looks, then it may be worth it.
There are also other spots with orgasmic dining and views, and this is just one of them.
If you're a book nerd like me, you'll love the Library@Orchard. It just has a cool design and some nifty reading nooks. Orchard Road is like the Champs Elysee of Singapore, but doesn't look as fabulous. It's large and overcrowded, especially on a Sunday. However, the library, which is inside the mall, is pretty cool and worth a visit for all you fellow book nerds.
Chijmes was once a convent and Catholic school. I believe part of it is still used as a school, but most of it is now a high end restaurant corner. There are a few restaurants surrounding a lovely courtyard. It's great for an afternoon drink, and to take some gorgeous pictures. The church definitely had me feeling some hallelujah vibes. I'm not sure it's the best place for food, as one of the restaurants is a taco restaurant (which I love, but not outside of SoCal or Mexico); but we didn't really eat anything so it's difficult to judge.
It's a very nice area though, and like I said, great for an afternoon drink and photos. It was Saint Patrick's Day when we went, so they had some festivities going on. It's definitely a must visit and conveniently located in the middle of everything across from the Raffles Center (mall). I marveled in its beauty--it was dreamy.
Houses of Worship
One of my favorite types of places to visit whilst traveling is houses of worship. Not only is there much history and culture to learn about and experience, but they're also free! As I mentioned earlier, Singapore is fascinatingly diverse, though the population is mostly Chinese-Singaporean these days. The native Singaporeans are Malays who speak Malay (see the end of this post for a brief history), and the government finds it part of its duty to protect the native culture and therefore protects the native language. However, mostly you'll find people speaking Mandarin.
That being said, there are a lot of Indians and Arabs as well, though more Indians I think. Probably my favorite part of town are the Little India and the Arab Street areas. It's like a completely different world from the rest of the city center. Whereas the financial district and the Marina Sands Bay area are very modern with tall skyscrapers and modern art, in Little India and Arab Street you'll find smaller streets, and colorful colonial style buildings with a little more wear and tear. Little India also houses the largest mall, the Mustafa Center, which has EVERYTHING, and is 24 hours. A tip we were given from our local friends is that this is the best place to exchange currency if needed.
Now, the reason I was excited to go to these neighborhoods, was as mentioned, to visit the houses of worship. There are beautiful temples and mosques. One of the most famous and instagrammable spots is the Masjid Sultan, or Sultan Mosque. That area has some cool side streets to wander, too. Another mosque I really enjoyed and found beautiful is the Masjid Abdul Gaffoor. Knowing the cultural customs around modest-wear, I wore a long dress and brought my own scarf, but I found that at both the mosques and temples, they provide cover ups for visitors. At Masjid Abdul Gaffoor, you have to wash your feet first before you can walk in, which is customary in many mosques. Masjid Sultan is bigger, so you still have to take your shoes off, but they don't make you wash your feet. I'm not sure if that's the reason why, because it would be too much of a hassle to have so many visitors washing their feet, or if it's just this mosque.
The Sri Veeramakliamman Temple is one of the most famous Hindu Temples in Singapore. The design is beautiful so it's no wonder. We ended up not going in, because they close visiting hours during lunch, which the mosques also do, so the way our day ended up, we were only able to see the outside, but were able to visit another Hindu Temple in Chinatown, which looked similar on the outside. It was the Sri Mariamman Temple. The Indian cover ups were so beautiful , I put one on even though I didn't need one. It's also required to take off your shoes when entering a Hindu temple.
In Chinatown is the famous Buddha Tooth Relic Chinese Buddhist Temple. It's large and filled with more gold than Trump Tower. On the upper levels there is a beautiful meditation room where no photos are allowed, and this is where Tooth Relic lives. The temple is otherwise fairly new. There is also a nice garden rooftop.
We attended mass at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, which is the same name as our church back home. It was fully crowded, and I appreciated the organization of the ushers. In a very Singaporean way, they very efficiently made sure to fill each and every seat, still with overflow and people standing. Mass was generally the same, and I wondered what language it would be delivered in. I thought maybe Chinese, but it was in fact delivered in English--I supposed because the community is so diverse. The priest leading mass that day was Indian, I believe. The cathedral was also very high tech with all the readings and responses displayed on the walls by projector. That was very helpful.
We also tried to visit St. Andrew's Cathedral, the Anglican church there, because it's my brother's saint so I wanted to light a candle for him; but the security was much tighter there, and we didn't have time to wait around.
Transportation is very easy and cheap in Singapore and there isn't a lot of traffic. You can get an EZ-link card, a contactless card much like an Oyster card, which allows you to use the metro and buses. You can get one at any 7-Eleven or MRT station. 7-Elevens are very popular in Asia and much nicer. You'll find them everywhere. The card requires a $5 SGD deposit, and that's all we put it on it. We took the bus several times, but did not use the metro.
Underground where the metros are are also "City links" which are essentially like underground pathways lined with shops and restaurants. It's another good way to escape the heat, and it literally "links" the city together. Other major cities with severe weather, also have such city links, like Toronto.
Singapore also has its local version of Uber and Lyft, called Grab. Sometimes it was more convenient to take a Grab, and sometimes we were just too lazy to take the bus, so we called Grab. Grabs are easy and cheap as well. It cost us $17USD to take a Grab from the airport to our hotel, which is about 20.4km or 12.7 miles.
But for the intense heat and humidity, Singapore would be a very walkable city. We still clocked about 14,000 steps a day though. So, use public transportation, or Grab, drink lots of water, and walk through malls.
We're not much of museum people, except for when they have art that particularly interests us and when we have the time, so we didn't go to any, but there are quite a number of museums there that you can check out. One I would have liked to have visited had we had the time was the ArtScience museum which is in a Lotus shaped building and apparently part of Marina Sands Bay. Here is the ticketing information for the museum.
Total Spend in Singapore
Flight: $967.36 USD (two tickets)
Accommodations: $525.07 USD for 4 nights ($0 after travel points used)
Miscellaneous including food and other transportation: $460.90 USD (for two people)
TOTAL SPEND FOR 2 PEOPLE: $1428.26 USD
OTHER THINGS AND HISTORY TO NOTE ABOUT SINGAPORE
Have you been to Singapore? What do you love about it? Not love?
Hope you find this review helpful and interesting!
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