Singapore is the smash and grab country of Southeast Asia. Easily the region’s most expensive destination but essential to be ticked off the list. The budget traveller’s goal to get in and back out without too much damage. Snap a few photos then onto the next. From first glance many travellers are put off by Singapore’s loss of Southeast Asian charm. No Tuk-tuk’s, rice paddies, triangle hats or cliches. Its humble Malay beginnings replaced with a dazzling, futuristic facade. Shop house heritage pathed over by shiny, new skyscrapers. But this is why you must see Singapore. It is uniquely Singapore. Vibrant, refreshing and unlike anywhere else. A fascinating, multicultural, mixing pot of culture and cooking. Food and eating at its best. Singapore is food heaven and fortunately for me much of the best food is found at hawker centres in budget areas. To me the budget areas the best areas. Rich in character, culture and cuisine. Definitely where to stay in Singapore on a budget. Often with a slightly ‘red light’ reputation they add an edge to the straight-laced Singapore. For hotels the popular budget brands in Singapore are Hotel 81 and Fragrance Hotel. Both dotted through budget areas of Singapore. They are also infamous ‘short-stay’ hotels so best to ask for a quiet floor.
My first port of call for Singapore on a budget. Geylang is located conveniently between the Airport and City Centre and offers the cheapest, budget hotels in the city. It is also the unofficial food capital of Singapore. Opening all hours for food fiends with diverse Chinese, Indian and Malay foods on offer. Me at my happiest is on a Geylang street corner with Tiger Beer, Mutton Curry and Roti Prata. Note Geylang is also Singapore’s famous red light strip although far from seedy or intimidating. No more than a trickle of freelancers and inconspicuous, local punters keeping to their own business. Unlike other red light districts of Southeast Asia there is no hard sell or sleaze on the streets of Geylang.
On leaving Geylang two MRT stops finds Bugis and the Little India area. Two further again finds Raffles Place and Downtown Singapore. The budget areas are not so far from the city centre. Little India roughly 2km from the main attractions at Marina Bay. Walking distance. The contrasts are obvious however in price and in culture. Again Little India a great place to stay on a budget with similar prices to Geylang (maybe a little more). It is also the best area for Indian food in Singapore and quite possibly Southeast Asia. Eating fish head curry a must in Little India.
Third on my list for Singapore on a budget. Arriving from the airport Chinatown is found on the opposite end of Singapore centre. A longer journey from arrival but within walking distance of Downtown Singapore (1km finds Boat Quay, 2km finds Marina Bay). Chinatown offers fewer budget hotels than Geylang or Little India and in my opinion is a little too clean cut and touristy. Of course the area has many great Chinese foods but in Singapore great Chinese food is everywhere.
You have little chance to stay here on a budget. This is where you find Singapore’s shiny new facade and priciest hotels. It is found a few stops from my listed budget areas. At night the area comes to life with a light show (8pm) at the Marina Sands building (tall sci-fi looking one) and surrounding water and buildings. Best views for the light show are from Merlion Park which sits opposite. Merlion Park is home to the iconic Merlion statue – half lion, half fish. Other cool stuff include the Sky Park on top of the Marina Sands building (amazing views as below) and the shiny, futuristic trees of Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay. A walk along nearby Boat Quay worthwhile. For accommodation the cheaper riverside area is Clarke Quay – a tad garish and quite a bit more expensive than the above areas.