We just returned from our first trip to Singapore as part of our Southeast Asia trip this January/February. Singapore was our first stop and an awesome introduction to this part of the world.
Before we arrived, the only things I knew about Singapore were that it was hot and expensive. I had also heard the food was amazing. And even though I had watched Crazy Rich Asians a few times, I knew our first trip to Singapore wasn’t going to involve nearly as many parties, fancy dresses or private planes.
To be honest, I went into Singapore with some pretty low expectations. But, I was pleasantly surprised! Singapore ended up being one of my favourite parts of our trip and I definitely think it’s well worth a stop if you’re in Southeast Asia.
Before you head out on your first trip to Singapore, check out my top tips below!
Research the type of transit pass you’ll need
Public transportation in Singapore is amazing. It’s clean, fast, on time and well connected. There’s even adorable little characters reminding you to take your backpack off, let people exit before you enter, etc. So on your first trip to Singapore, you should definitely utilize public transport.
But what kind of tickets should you get? If you’re only in Singapore for a day or two, or don’t plan to use transit often, you can just buy single-use tickets at any station. But if you’re going to be there a few days and using transit all the time, you might want to look into a transit pass.
Colin and I went with the Singapore Tourist Pass. This card gives you unlimited rides on the MRT, buses and LRT, and is available for 1-day ($10), 2-days ($16) or 3-days ($20). There’s also the EZ-Link pass, that you can load with money, but there’s a non-refundable $5 deposit.
But here’s the kicker: the Singapore Tourist Pass is only available at offices at certain stations at certain times. And that’s why you want to figure out what kind of transit pass you’ll need before you arrive. Colin and I didn’t figure it out until day two, meaning we had already bought a single ticket and now had to go out of our way to find a station that was open and selling the pass.
Check out this post for more info on transit options in Singapore!
Stay at a hotel by an MRT station
Like I said, public transportation in Singapore is amazing. The MRT is super simple to use and will get you where you want to go. So, make sure that your accommodation is close to an MRT station.
Our hotel was about a 10-15 minute walk from the MRT. This worked okay for daily sight-seeing, but was a pretty big pain when we had to take our bags with us. The next time we’re in Singapore, I would definitely pick somewhere even closer to an MRT stop.
Take AC breaks
Singapore is HOT. I’m sure that isn’t news to anyone. But it seriously is steamy in Singapore. If you’re not used to this type of heat, you need to make sure to take breaks. Luckily, Singapore is lousy with places with wonderful air conditioning.
One of the best places to take an AC break is in a mall. Head to Orchard Road and choose any of the amazing shopping complexes to indulge in some frosty retail therapy. These shopping malls are pretty impressive, and a must see in Singapore anyway, so you might as well head in midday when you can escape the worst of the heat and humidity.
Find cheap food
Singapore is expensive. But food in Singapore doesn’t have to be. It’s very easy to find cheap and delicious food in Singapore.
That mall you just popped into to enjoy some air conditioning? Head to the food court and grab a plate. Mall food courts in Singapore are not filled with the sad fast food establishments we’re used to seeing back home. These malls are home to some really delicious food stalls. In fact, I think our favourite meal in Singapore was Indonesian BBQ we bought at the mall food court!
Of course, hawker stalls are the other awesome cheap and delicious food choice Singapore is known for. I’m planning to do another post on hawker centres but suffice to say, you definitely need to go to one on your first trip to Singapore!
Know when to splurge
Yes, Singapore is expensive but it’s possible to do it on a budget. There are lots of amazing things you can see and do for free. But sometimes, it’s worth it to splurge.
In my opinion, Gardens by the Bay is totally worth the splurge. This awesome indoor garden is so much cooler than any plant exhibit I have ever been to. It’s interesting, educational, beautiful and the air conditioning is so nice. Yes, there’s a free exhibit outdoors, but the paid part of Gardens by the Bay is well worth the cost. You could spend a whole day here!
Another activity that’s worth the splurge? The Singapore Zoo! Seriously, this zoo is phenomenal. I’m not a huge zoo fan, and I was totally blown away. The animals are active and happy and the enclosures aren’t behind huge fences or glass walls. And then there’s the Night Safari, which is another incredibly cool and worth-it experience. I’d suggest a whole day here on your first trip to Singapore.
I’m not a theme park person, but if you are, that might be another place to splurge in Singapore.
Crossing the road takes forever
Okay, I know this one sounds weird. But something we kept coming across in Singapore was wanting to cross the road, and not being able to for ages. Usually the crosswalk was super far away and the road was too busy to j-walk. And by the time we did get to the crosswalk, the lights took forever to change. Getting on the right side of the street of Marina Bay Sands took us an eternity!
Don’t forget your warm weather essentials
It can look hazy out there but remember that the sun is still strong and can kick your butt. So wear a hat and sunglasses, and make sure you’ve applied your sunblock. And don’t forget to drink lots of water! The tap water in Singapore is potable so you can fill your bottle up anywhere and stay hydrated all day long.
Of course, you’re also going to be walking a ton so make sure you wear good shoes for that. I logged almost 25,000 steps on our first day in Singapore!
Bonus tip: Relax, everyone speaks English
Here’s a bonus tip for you! Guess what? You don’t have to worry about a language barrier in (most of) Singapore. English is widely spoken. It’s actually one of Singapore’s four national languages (along with Mandarin, Malay and Tamil). English is taught at schools and you’ll be able to converse in English almost everywhere you go. Which makes Singapore an even easier place to travel!
Have you been to Singapore? What tips would you offer for someone’s first trip to Singapore?
And stay tuned for future posts on Singapore including an itinerary and more info on Singapore’s hawker stalls and the Singapore Zoo!