“It’s so expensive.”
“You’re not allowed chewing gum there, you know.”
These are just some of the comments made by Australian friends when I mentioned my upcoming holiday to Singapore. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Sure, chewing gum is a no-no, but there’s a reason for that. My second observation of this amazing city was its order and cleanliness. Everything has its place. There’s no rubbish in the gutters, the grass on roadside verges is mown and edged, even the cars and trucks are clean. All of them.
It costs ten of thousands of dollars to put a car on the road here in Singapore. Cars must be less than 10 years old and there’s no shortage of high-end vehicles. But cars aren’t a necessity here. Public transport is nothing short of brilliant. If Singapore is a 10/10, Australia’s transport system is a 4. There is no graffiti, there’s no rubbish on train platforms, everything is well signed, the ticketing system is easy and efficient, buses and trains are frequent, on-time and very cheap.
I made my first observation as I caught the train from Changi airport to my friend’s place near Outram Park station. (The journey only cost me $3.50. In Australia, the train from my dad’s place to Brisbane airport costs about $23.) I was the only one wearing sunglasses. For some reason few Singaporeans wear sunnies. They also rarely seem to wear hats or caps. (It’s funny the things you notice …)
I feel safe here despite police being rarely seen. I’m told that if there’s any sign of trouble they come from nowhere. There are CCTV cameras everywhere and there’s little doubt there are many eyes watching the day-to-day activities of residents and visitors alike. As a result, crime is very low. It’s a very safe city to wander, any time of day. As a keen walker I’m happy to report there are footpaths along every road: Clean, easy to traverse footpaths, possibly another legacy of the enormous cost of owning a car in Singapore. Taxis are plentiful and Uber is well-utilised here too. I can also report that Singaporean drivers are heaps better at reverse parking than Australians. Hands down.
So let’s address the most common misconception about Singapore, the one about it being a terribly expensive holiday destination.
Look, if you want to shop and get pissed repeatedly on your Asian holiday, don’t come to Singapore. While the range of shops and size of shopping strips blow Australia’s out of the water, there’s little that’s a lot cheaper here. The range is larger but you’re still paying similar costs for shoes and clothing in shopping malls. And if you want to have a few wines with lunch after a morning’s shopping, you’re in for a shock. Booze is bloody expensive here so grab your bottle of Moet or Johnny Walker duty-free in Singapore airport. In fact, in my many wanderings around this city, I haven’t even spied a bottle shop. Corner stores sell some alcohol, as do some bars, but the range is limited and the cost rather large. A Johnny Walker black label on the rocks will cost at least $13, a beer around $15. I guess it’s the Government’s way of making sure alcohol isn’t the bogan problem it is in Australia or other Aussie favourite holiday destinations like Bali or Phuket.
BUT if you want an interesting holiday and an adventure that doesn’t involve shops and bars, Singapore is a great option. There is so much history here, some of it confronting, but fascinating none the less. It is far from “soulless” as was described to me before I ventured here.
Fort Canning Park is worth several hours of your time, even if you’re not a history buff. Close to public transport, this now-beautiful parklands with sprawling lawns and stunning heritage-listed trees is an iconic hilltop landmark which has witnessed many of Singapore’s historical milestones. “The hill once sited the palaces of 14th century Malay Kings and served as the Headquarters of the Far East Command Centre and British Army Barracks. The decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 was also made on the hill, in the Underground Far East Command Centre, commonly known as Battle Box.” There is even a fantastic display of artefacts that were unearthed on the site in the 1980s.
And the great history walks don’t finish there. Fort Siloso is the only restored coastal gun battery of 12 such batteries which made up “Fortress Singapore” at the start of World War II. It’s an awesome walk through beautiful grounds with beautiful views of the harbour and all the ships awaiting loading at Singapore’s huge port. Fort Silosa is a fantastic, free military museum full of surprises.
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and food. Yes, dining at a nice restaurant can come at a price, but there is an enormous range of inexpensive options if you’re happy to eat like the locals. My first meal here cost $5 at the Tiong Bahru markets – a divine Hainanese chicken cooked on the spot.
I decided against the $4.50 mixed pig’s organ porridge and the $5 fried intestine porridge. Maybe next time.
Groceries can be expensive so it’s often cheaper to grab your lunch from one of the many local eateries. All fruit and vegetables are imported and I was surprised by their freshness and quality. Depending on what you’re buying and where, the price of produce is comparable to that of Australia.
Yoga classes are abundant here but they are expensive. A couple of drop-in classes near where I’m staying cost around $30. So I decided against a downward dog and instead found a great meditation centre called Kadampa where I did an $8 beginner meditation class.
A very fun day out is at Sensosa, an island resort very popular with tourists. As well as Fort Silosa, it houses a golf course, more than a dozen top of the range resort-type hotels, Universal Studios, aquarium, beaches, bars and restaurants, nature walks and a stack of adventure activities. You could easily spend a couple of days there and prices are fair.
The best free activity remains standing in awe of the high density housing, tall highrises and mind-boggling construction techniques, with washing hanging on washing lines that stretch from highrise windows thirty stories up. There’s no room for broken pegs in Singapore. And there’s no room for pre-conceived ideas either. Come here with an open mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.