Singapore: The Ultimate Guide

Una BaufalaAsia, Destinations, Singapore, Travel Tips and Guides Comments

View of Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

Singapore is an island country located at the tip of Peninsular Malaysia. Singapore consists of 63 islands, and the main one is called Pulau Ujong. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. For a couple of years in the 60’s Singapore was a part of Malaysia, but in 1965 it gained its independence.

You might think that Singapore is another concrete jungle, but it is not. One can find a lot of parks and nature reserves in Singapore. This is a result of greening efforts, which began shortly before their independence, in 1963.

One of the things Singapore is known for is the airport, which is considered to be the best in the world. Another thing is – Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which has the largest rooftop pool in the world.

We didn’t know much about Singapore when we headed there for the first time two and a half years go. We were hitchhiking from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru and then we boarded a bus which took us over the border to Singapore. We knew then that Singapore is a very small country, but a very wealthy one. We knew that the standard of living is high there, as well as that Singapore is among the world’s most expensive cities to buy property. We didn’t even know the currency and exchange rate when we were on our way there.

Our first visit to Singapore was very short – less than a full day. But a couple of months later we came to Singapore one more time and stayed there longer. Then we got to know Singapore more and now I’m going to share with you all we know about this country.

View of Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

View of Marina Bay Sands Hotel and ArtScience Museum

Getting to Singapore

Just like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore is a famous stopover destination on the way to other countries in Asia, Europe and Australia, as well as Middle East. You can find a lot of cheap direct flights to and from various destinations in Asia and various cities in Australia. As well as affordable direct flights to and from Europe and Middle East.

As I mentioned before, one of the things Singapore is known for is its airport – Changi Airport -, which is considered to be the best in the world. Changi Airport definitely is an amazing airport. It has many attractions and relaxation options. You will find several gardens in the airport, such as cactus garden, water lily garden, orchid garden, sunflower garden, piazza garden, butterfly garden and interactive Enchanted Garden with light and sound effects. Interesting fact is that Changi’s Butterfly garden is world’s first butterfly garden in an airport.

There are several installations and sculptures and one of them is Kinetic Rain – moving bronze droplets. You can take a dip in a rooftop swimming pool and sit in a Jacuzzi. Note, pool and Jacuzzi is not complimentary. But most of the other attractions are free. Sounds nice? So, plan your stopover there.

You can get to and from Changi Airport by metro, public bus, shuttle bus and taxi. We prefer metro (MRT), because we find it both the most convenient and cheapest way to get to and from the airport. There is one line which goes to the airport – green line (East West). The Airport MRT station is accessible by foot from Terminal 2 or 3. Is MRT station accessible from Terminal 1? No, but Airport’s terminals are connected by a Skytrain service, which is free of charge. So, you can travel from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 or 3.

It is easy to get to the Airport. You can find East West (green line) MRT train stop very close to city center – at Raffles place. Be aware, that green line divides at Tanah Merah Station. Take the train which goes towards Airport, not the one which goes towards Pasir Ris. If you are staying in Little India or China Town, take the purple line and change at Outram Park. You can see a map of MRT lines on Singapore government website.

You can take public bus, as well (#36), which stops in the basement of Terminals 1, 2 and 3. Bus #36 stops at various bus stops in Singapore city, including a couple of stops on Orchard Road and Raffles Boulevard. If you are buying a ticket in the bus, note that you must give exact fare as no change will be given.

Singapore Flyer

View of Singapore Flyer and Flower Dome / Gardens by the Bay

Bus and MRT fares are not high – tickets cost about SG$2 – 2.50 (around 1.60 EUR), depends on distance.

There is the Airport Shuttle, which is a shared van servicing biggest hotels in Singapore. There is an Airport Shuttle Service information counter in the Airport. The ride costs about SG$9 (6 EUR).

You can get the bus to Singapore from various cities in Malaysia, for example, from Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth, Kuantan. There are two bridges that connect Singapore and Malaysia – Malaysia–Singapore Second Link and Johor–Singapore Causeway. Most of the buses will usually use the Second Link.

It takes 10 hours to get from Butterworth to Singapore, 6 – from KL to Singapore and less than one hour from Johor Bahru. Tickets are not expensive – 10-hour ride from Butterworth to Singapore will cost you starting from 15 EUR, but 6-hour ride from KL to Singapore – starting from 10 EUR. Of course, it depends on company and travel class.

You can buy bus tickets in bus stations and terminals or online. Our favourite booking service is redbus.sg. For instance, if you are traveling by bus from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, you can buy bus tickets at Terminal Bersepadu Selatan, which is Kuala Lumpur’s main bus terminal. And that’s also from where bus to Singapore departs.

Note, that it might take more than one hour to clear Malaysian immigration, cross the bridge to get to Singapore and get through Singapore immigration and security check.

View of ArtScience Museum Singapore

View of ArtScience Museum Singapore

If you are traveling from Johor Bahru to Singapore: head to Johor Bahru Sentral Station, find Malaysian immigration, clear the customs and head downstairs to take a bus to Singapore Woodlands, which is an immigration office in Singapore. There are three Causeway Link busses CW1, CW2 and CW5. Board any of them, doesn’t matter which one, as you only need to get over the bridge to Singapore. The ticket costs about 3 RM (0.70 EUR), and you need to give exact change.

In Woodlands, just like in JB Sentral, it is quite easy to find your way, as there are signs everywhere. Don’t worry, if you can’t find the way, ask somebody! Locals are very friendly and speak English very well. When you get through Singapore immigration, take the escalator down and look for the same Causeway Link busses. Here you need to take into account which bus to take.

CW1 goes to Kranji MRT Station, CW2 – to Queen Street and CW3 – to Jurong East Bus & MRT Interchange. Or you can just walk to the Woodlands or Admirality metro station and take metro into the city.

Bus or metro ride costs approximately SG$2 – 2.50 (around 1.60 EUR), again – depends on distance.

There are daily trains from Malaysia to Malaysia – Singapore border. At the time of writing – September 2016, the railway is still under construction. The railway has been electrified and modernized from Gemas up to Kuala Lumpur and Butterworth. But the other part – from Gemas down to Johor Bahru is still out of date. So, that’s why you need to change trains in Gemas – get off the modern one and get in the old type, diesel train.

Journey from KL to Malaysia – Singapore border takes about 8 hours and costs starting from 50 RM (11 EUR), from Butterworth to the border – 12 hours and costs starting from 100 RM (22 EUR). When you arrive at JB Sentral, follow the instructions, which I have written above.

You can even travel by train from Bangkok to Singapore! Then you will need to change trains a couple of times, though. The complete journey from Bangkok to Singapore takes two nights and costs starting from 50 EUR. Of course, you can stop somewhere on your way, for instance, on Penang island, which is very popular place among tourists traveling to Malaysia, and Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

You can get to Singapore by ferry from Batam island in Indonesia. It costs around 16 EUR and the journey takes approximately one hour. There are several ferry companies, for example, Sindo Ferry and Batam Fast, just to name a couple of them.

Train route from Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, to Singapore

Train route from Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, to Singapore

Visas and customs in Singapore

When arriving in Singapore you are required to fill in a Disembarkation / Embarkation Card. At the immigration counter you must present your passport and completed card. The officer will keep one part of the Disembarkation / Embarkation Card, the other will be given to you. Your passport, as well as the part of the card will be stamped and there you will see how long you are allowed to stay in Singapore. When leaving Singapore, it is required to hand over the other part of Disembarkation / Embarkation Card to immigration officer. So – don’t lose it! You can see an example of Disembarkation / Embarkation Card on Singapore Government webpage.

All European Union citizens are allowed to stay in Singapore for 90 days, without acquiring the visa. The passport will be stamped on the border, without any stamping fee. The same applies for citizens of United States, Switzerland, Norway and South Korea.

Citizens of Canada, Australia, Turkey, Central and South America countries, as well as citizens of more than a half African countries are allowed a maximum stay of 30 days without a visa in Singapore.

There are several countries (for instance, Russia, Belarus, India, Ukraine) whose citizens must apply for a visa online. And several countries (mostly from the Middle East) whose citizens must obtain a visa in advance.

Always check information on the webpage of the embassy before traveling to Singapore! And remember, that your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Singapore.

Be careful with the medicine, because some prescribed and over the counter drugs available in Europe are considered controlled substances in Singapore. You must apply for a permit to carry this kind of drugs. You may bring up to three months’ supply of drugs, which doesn’t contain controlled substance, without prior approval. Although copy of the prescription as proof that the drugs are for your personal use might be requested.

Remember, Singapore has very strict drug laws. Drug trafficking carries a mandatory death penalty! The sale of chewing gum is forbidden in Singapore, so the import of chewing gum for resale is illegal. But it is allowed to carry some chewing gum for personal use.

I have read that it is even forbidden to carry toy handcuffs, those pink and fuzzy ones. Don’t mess with Singaporean customs, carefully read the information boards and rules before entering the country.

Take into account that littering is a punishable act in Singapore. And the fine is very high!

Arab Street, Singapore

Arab Street, Singapore

Transport in Singapore

Public transport system is fast and efficient. At the time of writing, in September 2016, there are five metro (MRT) lines, three Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines, a lot of buses and, of course, taxis.

In my opinion, MRT (metro) is the fastest way to travel in the city. Metro rail network is extensive and that means, you will be able to get almost everywhere in Singapore by metro. This is a good Wikipedia article about MRT in Singapore. There you will find a map of metro lines, as well.

Bus network is extensive, too. There are several types of buses and its network is covering most places in Singapore. Taking a bus is the cheapest way of traveling in Singapore. Metro is slightly more expensive.

Three LRT (Light Rail Transit) lines serve residential towns – Bukit Panjang, Sengkang and Punggol. These LRT lines are linked to the MRT.

You can buy single trip tickets, but if you plan to use the MRT, buses and LRT frequently during your visit, you can buy a Singapore Tourist Pass, which is a special type of EZ-Link Card.

Tourist Pass allows visitors to travel without any limits by MRT, LRT and buses. One-day pass costs S$10, two-day pass costs S$16 and three-day – S$20. The cards are sold at the TransitLink Ticket Offices in the biggest MRT stations, such as Changi Airport, Orchard, Chinatown, City Hall, Raffles Place and HarbourFront. If you plan to stay in Singapore for a longer time, buy a standard EZ-Link SmartCard.

If you are planning to use a taxi in Singapore, try Grab app (formerly known as MyTeksi). Uber is popular in Singapore as well. Register on Uber using this link and you will get 5 euro discount. We will get discount, too.

Masjid Abdul Gafoor - Mosque in Little India, Singapore.

Masjid Abdul Gafoor – Mosque in Little India, Singapore.

Budget hotels and hostels in Singapore

When we first came to Singapore, we stayed there only one night. In hostel? In a budget guest house? No, in a park. Right, in a park – in Gardens by the Bay. At that time, we were traveling with Kaspars’s brother, and he read that people do that – spend a night in this park. As we were on very tight budget we thought, OK, why not? It was quite peaceful night. There are bathrooms and showers in Gardens by the Bay. There is even hot water available, so it is possible to make a cup of tea or Maggi Noddles.

During our second visit we stayed at Prince of Wales hostel in Little India. We didn’t book it in advance, so it took some time until we found this place. We just knew that a lot of budget hotels and hostels can be found in Little India, so that’s why we searched there. Prince of Wales is not the cheapest option, but the hostel is very nice and it has a good rating – 8 out of 10. Breakfast is included.

Most of the budget accommodation are located around Chinatown and in Little India. Prices start from S$16 (about 10 EUR) for a dorm bed and from S$40 (27 EUR) for a double room. In hostels breakfast often is included.

But on AirBnb (link below) you can find private rooms in condominium apartments not too far from city center for about S$61 – S$77 (40 – 50 EUR) per night. It is a little bit pricey, but you can enjoy all the condominium facilities, such as pool and gym, as well.

If you want to stay in a good five-star hotel, Singapore has a lot to offer. Just check out Booking.com or Agoda.com! The most popular luxury five star hotels in Singapore are Marina Bay Sands, The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, Raffles Hotel Singapore, Four Seasons Hotel, Mandarin Oriental, Grand Hyatt.

To book a hotel or hostel in Singapore go to booking.com or Agoda (our favorite in Asia).

Check out also Airbnb! Register using our Airbnb link and you will get a 18 euro discount for your first booking of 75 euro or more.

Street art in Kampong Glam, Singapore

Street art in Kampong Glam, Singapore

Food in Singapore

You won’t believe it, but it is for real! Truly amazing fact is – in summer of 2016 two hawker (street food) stalls in Singapore were awarded a Michelin Star! This is the first time in Michelin history that street food stalls have been awarded Michelin star. Wow! The hawkers in question are Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice And Noodle and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles.

Singapore is popular for its street food stall centers aka hawker centers. Here is the list of the most popular ones.

  • Maxwell Food Center in Chinatown. There are two rows of over a hundred stalls serving Asian dishes, mostly – Chinese. The most popular dishes are Tian Tian chicken rice, Zhen Zhen porridge, oyster cake.
  • Chinatown Complex Market and Food Center. Another food center in Chinatown. There you will find now famous Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice And Noodle – the stall which has been awarded Michelin Star. Note, there are very long queues now, because of its popularity. People are waiting a couple of hours, seriously! When we were in Chinatown Complex, we bought several snacks on sticks, such as chicken satays, BBQ squid, fish balls. And paid less than 4 EUR for two of us.
  • Tai Hwa Eating House. It is a small food center not too far from Little India, where you will find now popular Michelin starred food stall – Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles. There are few other small and cheap restaurants in there.
  • Old Airport Road Food Centre. It is one of the oldest and largest food courts in Singapore. It is located quite far from main tourist places, some 5 km away from Marina Bay. If you want to visit this hawker center, you can get there by MRT (yellow line, Dakota MRT stop) or public bus. Prawn noodles, Char kway teow, fried kway teow, soya beancurd, Hokkien mee and fried oyster are the most popular dishes.
  • Singapore Food Trail. It is located on the on the Singapore Flyer’s (huge Ferris wheel) ground level. Foodwise, this center is similar to the ones mentioned above, only an interior is a little bit nicer. These small restaurants are decorated as traditional wooden street food stalls, the wheels and all. The restaurants in Singapore Food Trail center sell Malay, Indian and Chinese food and the most popular dishes are satay, char kway teow, prawn noodles, fish ball noodles and hokkien mee.

The turnover is rapid in these places. It means you can be sure, that the food is fresh. In most of these places you can get a good lunch with drinks for two people for about 6 – 8 EUR.

If you crave Indian food, head to Little India. There are lots of them in Little India. Tekka Centre is a good place where you can find various Indian food stalls. If you are looking for a nicer Indian restaurant, visit The Banana Leaf Apollo, which is one of the most well-known restaurants in Little India. Taste of India is another fancy Indian restaurant. Of course, the meals won’t be cheap there. Cheap vegetarian food you will get in Komala Vilas restaurant.

If you are ready to splurge on a meal in Singapore, go to any upscale restaurant in Marina Bay, for instance to Colony, Peach Blossoms, Cut by Wolfgang Puck and Spago by Wolfgang Puck.

Street food in Chinatown, Singapore

Street food in Chinatown, Singapore

Shopping in Singapore

We don’t like shopping, but some of the shopping venues in Singapore we find eye-catching and interesting enough.

My favorite is Haji Lane. It is located in Kampong Glam neighborhood, near Sultan Mosque. Haji Lane is cute, colorful and well-kept street. It is regarded as one of the narrowest streets in Singapore. You will find quite a lot of unusual and interesting boutiques selling cute and extraordinary clothes, shoes and accessories. There you can spot some vintage stuff as well. Mostly prices are decent and you will be able to find some tops and T-shirts for S$20 (13 EUR).

Another cute shopping street in Kampong Glam is Arab Street. Here you will find Persian carpets, Arabic textiles and dresses, as well as handmade perfumes.

If you are looking for affordable souvenirs and handicrafts visit Chinatown, which is a famous heritage district, regarded as one of the best places to visit in Singapore. You can buy cheap clothes, accessories and shoes in Chinatown as well. Another good place where you can find cheap souvenirs is Bugis Street. It is one of the busiest and largest street-shopping place in Singapore. It is located near Bugis Junction and Bugis+ Shopping Centre.

If you are interested in buying some Indian groceries and clothing, head to Little India! Colorful saris and kurtas, incense, Indian spices and other goods – just to mention some of the things you can get there.

For those who are searching for gadgets, new and used, I recommend to visit Sim Lim Square, which is grand shopping mall specializing in electronics, located near Little India. Computers, cameras, tablet computers, phones, TVs and audio equipment is sold there. A couple of hundreds of stores are spread over six floors. Clearly Sim Lim Square is the largest IT mall in Singapore.

There are a lot of shopping malls in Singapore. The most popular is VivoCity, which also is the largest one. VivoCity is located in Harbourfront, 6 km west of Marina Bay. You can get there by metro.

There is a grand and luxury shopping mall located in Marina Bay Sands complex. It is worth a visit, even if you don’t like shopping. The architecture alone is very impressive – grand atriums, huge windows and even a canal!

Several malls and designer stores are located on Orchard Road. Far East Plaza is one of the oldest shopping complexes in Singapore, whereas ION Orchard is really impressive building!

Shopping in Kampong Glam Singapore

Shopping in Kampong Glam

Activities and Landmarks in Singapore

Singapore is known as the Garden City of Southeast Asia. Because of the greening policy, Singapore has a lots of parks, gardens and nature reserves.

During you stay in Singapore visit its various gardens and parks. Gardens by the Bay is a spectacular park located on a reclaimed land. It has several sections, such as Supertree Grove, Children Garden, Dragonfly and Kingsher lakes, Sun Pavillion, Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. Flower Dome is extremely spectacular and it is the largest glass greenhouse in the world. Gardens by the Bay is a big park, so take into account that you will need at least a couple of hours to see everything. There is no admission fees.

Another impressive park is Singapore Botanic Gardens, which is a 156-year-old tropical garden located near Orchard shopping road. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is the only tropical garden which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like in Gardens by the Bay, there are several sections in Botanic Gardens. And there is no entrance fee, only for the National Orchid Garden, which is a main section in Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is a splendid Orchid Garden, flower lovers won’t be disappointed.

We really enjoyed our walk in Fort Canning Park, which is quite big park located 2.5 km North of Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

Definitely visit Sentosa Island, which is a very popular destination amongst tourists. Sentosa is full of man-made activities for tourists and Singaporeans, who wants to escape from the big city. Theme parks, golf club, cable car, aquarium, casino, educational nature parks and gardens are located there. There are cute manmade beaches in Sentosa, too. Fun fact – beautiful white sand, what you will see on the beaches, is imported in from Malaysia.

Ride The Singapore Flyer, which is one of the highest observation wheels in the world. This grand Ferris wheel provides views of nearby Malaysia and Indonesia. Singapore Flyer’s capsules are huge and can hold more than 20 people. The tickets are expensive, though – S$33.00 (22 EUR).

Visit Marina Bay during the night as well. There is a light, water and sound show (WonderFull). Every night at these times: 8–8:15, 9:30–9:45 PM, skies are lit by moving lasers and LEDs and air is filled with music. All of this is accompanied by beautifully choreographed fountains. There is an additional show at 11 PM (until 11:15 PM) on Friday and Saturday nights. The admission is free.

If you love wandering around vibrant neighbourhoods, visit Kampong Glam, Chinatown and Little India! Not only these places are good for shopping, but also just for sightseeing. You definitely will like artsy Haji Lane and Arab street. Don’t forget to check out graffiti in Haji Lane as well! There is a beautiful mosque in Kampong Glam – Masjid Sultan.

There is a spectacular mosque in Little India as well – Masjid Abdul Gafoor.

If you love skyscrapers (just like us), walk around Central Business District in Singapore. Buildings are pretty impressive there.

Visit Merlion Statue, which is an icon of Singapore! Merlion is a half-fish and half-lion and it has its own park – Merlion Park.

Supertree Grove in Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Supertree Grove in Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Map of Singapore

Map of Singapore

If you still have some questions about Singapore, contact us!

Author: Una Baufala

Una is a traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. Apart from traveling and exploring new places she loves to read books. And she adores cats. Together with Kaspars they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since October 2013. WeAreFromLatvia.com is where she shares her travel experiences.

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