Slings on a shoestring. Singapore

April 4, 2010 at 7:40 am 12 comments

Sitting in Raffles’ Long Bar sipping our exquisitely expensive Singapore Slings and spitting peanut shells onto the floor we forgot, for the first time in months, that we were backpackers. The world where cockroaches fell on our bellies while we slept, rats scampered around our feet while we ate and someone sweaty was always pressed up against us while we travelled, seemed a million miles away. For one short hour – dressed in our only clean clothes – we were just two more bankers/retail developers/gallery owners/internet tycoons enjoying post-work drinks and a splash of culture on a Friday evening. In keeping with our adopted characters we discussed the stock market, the global economy and the difficulty of finding the right penthouse in the right neighbourhood near the right schools. Seperating work and play can be difficult sometimes, darling.

It’s hard not to splash out a little in Singapore though. The city oozes wealth, stlye and class from the highrise shopping centre shimmering in the sun to the beautifully restored whitewashed colonial building next door. And if you are going to splash out, there is no better place to do it than Orchard Road. Singapore’s most exclusive address is home to Miu Miu, Dior, Chanel, Sony, Apple, Dolce and even Gabanna. If however you are just a lowly backpacker who, still in character after a cocktail date with Singapore’s gliteratti wandered into a tea house in Asia’s most expensive shopping destination, it’s probably best to put down your Royal English Afternoon Tea and Earl Grey Coconut Macroon and beat the shortest path out of there before you pawn your round-the-world ticket for a pair of Laboutins. Even if they are very very very… very… pretty…

As much scope as there is to spend a fortune in Singapore though, it is also surprisingly easy to travel on a shoestring. Transport, for one, is particularly affordable on metro and bus routes and with so much breathtaking architecture spread out across the city, it’s not hard to lose days just wandering around rubbernecking. Even in the most expensive neighbourhood there is always some cut-price activity to fill your hours.

Sentosa Island, for example, is exactly the kind of place that backpackers are normally forced to avoid. Built with the sole purpose of providing high-class, high-cost entertainment to the masses, the island is a warren of theme parks, canyon swings, zoo attractions, sweet shops, shopping plazas, toy stores and one very swish monorail. As a particularly cruel form of punishment, I dragged Gary there one wet afternoon to show him the new Universal Studios he couldn’t afford to visit, the canyon swing he couldn’t afford to use and the bungee jump he didn’t have the money to hurl himself off. The day wasn’t such a waste though because Sentosa Island did have a surprising amount to offer us penny-pinchers. With its free artificial beaches, sand sculptures, rope bridges and bird cages, it would have been a delightful break from the claustrophobia of the city had it not been the middle of monsoon season.

Soaked to the core and bickering like tired children we headed back into the CBD to the one place we knew would definately cheer us up – our favourite hawker centre, lau pa sat Festival Market. Wandering around the stalls jumping from Korea to Japan, China to Vietnam and India to Malaysia, it took us a lot longer to decide on our third dinner of the day than it took us to dry. While it cannot really claim its own unique cuisine, Singapore’s food is a fantastic reflection of the country – a huge big melting pot with so many diverse influences and ingredients that it somehow gets the best of every world.

Other freebies in Singapore include the Singapore Art Museum which is free on a Friday from 6pm to 9pm, the National Park and Haw Par Villa (aka Tiger Balm Gardens), the last of which is an absolute hoot. Built by the sons of the man who invented Tiger Balm (the cure to all of life’s problems, by the way), the garden is an alter to olde world kitsch. Crammed to bursting point with tacky statues telling old Chinese tales, the definate highlight of the garden is the Ten Hells – a group of intricate models based on the ten different punishments given to sinners in the afterlife. Our favourite was death by drowning in a volcano, the punishment for “disobeying one’s siblings.” Thank God Western culture is a little more forgiving.

Besides from cocktails in Raffles, the best way to spend your daily allowance is a trip to Singapore Night Safari. Technically a zoo, the Night Safari differs in that it uses no cages and allows many of the animals to roam free. As well as offering visitors the chance to get up close and personal with lions, tigers, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, flamingos and hyenas (from the safety of a golf buggy/safari jeep), the zoo hosts nightly dance performances and fire shows. The best bit however, is the two enclosures you are allowed to wander through freely – the bat cage and the flying squirrel enclosure. How could I ever have thought that our trip would be complete without seeing a squirrel fly?

Whether you are travelling on a shoestring or a platinum credit card, Singapore is the perfect place to class up your act.

More pictures from Singapore are available in the gallery

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. leebie  |  April 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    you guys look effervescently radiant. Missing you so much x

    Reply
    • 2. yearlongbreakup  |  April 6, 2010 at 5:54 pm

      Thanks LEE! We miss you too!

      Reply
  • 3. unstranger  |  April 7, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Still an excellent blog.

    Reply
  • 4. Larie  |  April 11, 2010 at 8:57 am

    great write-up of singas! a positive aspect from seasoned backpackers as you are. 🙂 i hope the personality of her people were not as imposing and bland as charming as the skyscrapers…

    Reply
  • 5. ash  |  April 12, 2010 at 4:21 am

    Fantastic review and such beautiful pictures.
    Nobody I know visits Haw Par Villa LOL

    Reply
  • 6. Fiona  |  May 17, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Nice write up!
    I think the night market is call “Lau Pa Sat” instead of “Lau Sat”
    It actually means “Old Market” in Chinese. 😉

    Reply
  • 7. rett  |  May 17, 2010 at 4:54 am

    Nice! Refreshing to read about my own country from a fellow backpacker’s point of view. Although as a Singaporean I must disagree with “While it cannot really claim its own unique cuisine” – Singaporeans are very proud of our food and you might start a war with a comment like that!

    (In fact, there was recently a food war started by Malaysia: http://singaporeseen.stomp.com.sg/stomp/3552/4132/253508)

    Reply
  • 8. Steve  |  May 18, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Good luck in finding an Apple shop in Singapore . . . you will find EpiCentre which are Apple authorised resellers . . . but definitely no Apple Shop . . . otherwise not a bad write up.

    Unfortunately Singapore Slings at Raffles are revolting, sugary, pre-mixed things and the Long Bar isn’t exactly great! Not worth the time and definitely not the money.

    Reply
  • 9. mike  |  May 18, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Where is the bungee in Sentosa?…..monorail has been closed for a while?…I’ve been working in Singapore for ages, a few porkie pies being told i think!

    Reply
    • 10. yearlongbreakup  |  May 26, 2010 at 3:56 am

      Hi Mike, Thank you for your comments. When we were in Singapore (at the start of April) the monorail on Sentosa was still running and we really enjoyed our bird’s eye view of the island – is it not now? As far as the bungee goes I think you’re right, my mistake. I was thinking of the jungle canopy thing they have there with all the zip wires and also of the G-Max reverse bungee on Clarke Quay. So many countries visited and so many memories – they get scrambled sometimes. We would never consciously lie on the blog. Hope you are enjoying your time in Singapore, slightly jealous that you get to spend so much time in such a beautiful city.

      Reply
  • 11. RobM  |  May 19, 2010 at 2:24 am

    Great blog! Lau Pa Sat is possibly my favourite place to eat in the whole world!

    You trip makes me jealous.

    Reply
  • 12. Vic  |  May 25, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Really enjoyed your article!
    Singapore is changing so much that I don’t even recognise it when I return home and I didn’t even know there is free entry to the Singapore Art Museum , good on you!

    Anyway it’s “lau pa sat” not “lau sat” =)

    Reply

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