Something I find with backpackers and travellers in Southeast Asia is their mutual dislike for Singapore. While I do, in parts, understand their reasoning I at the same time feel they are the wrong reasons. Much of their dislike towards Singapore is to do with their travel mindset often mixed with previous misconceptions passed on from like travellers. Admittedly Singapore wasn’t on my priority list when first arriving in Asia but now, after 10 years travelling and now living in Southeast Asia, Singapore has grown on me (not only for my food obsession). I’ve only been to Singapore a handful of times yet it continues to entice me and this goes the same for many ASEAN travellers who would much rather escape to Singapore for a weekend than bash through rural Laos on the back of a Tuk-Tuk. Try for yourself, tell a backpacker that “Singapore’s the best city in Asia” and watch the back go up. Anyway, here are some of the reasons why travellers hate Singapore.
1. It’s too Expensive
The obvious pain for backpackers is the budget, and prices in Singapore are often double that of their neighbours. For travellers Singapore is merely on the tick list, get in, do the guidebook attractions, get out again. No time to immerse or enjoy the city itself. There is often a dislike for Singapore before even getting there, dictated by their wallet, and this attitude of course sticks throughout. If you put aside the price difference between Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia I feel there would be a different attitude towards the city (For budget travel in Singapore check our Singapore Smash and Grab).
2. It’s not Real Asia
Most travellers come to Southeast Asia for cliched postcard pics, the rice fields, hidden temples, triangle hats, none of which exist beneath the flash, urban setting of Singapore. In fact the city’s identity often goes unnoticed by the passing eye, hidden behind its shiny new facade. In parts this is understandable as Singapore does bring a hodgepodge of ethnicity but culture is no doubt diverse, dynamic and ultimately fascinating. Singapore may not be picture-book Asia but it is in no doubt Asia and given time to explore backstreets you will soon find the same.
3. Its Lack of Transport
In Singapore you have to pay crazy money just to have permission to own a car (Certificate of Entitlement). While this does kill traffic congestion it also takes away that much-loved street bustle and manic charm of other Southeast Asian cities. No tuk-tuks, rickshaws, cyclos or backpacking escapades through smoke ridden streets. As expected taxi prices are high and the only feasible mode of transfer for many is the MRT and rail system. In fairness Singapore is small, smaller even than Phuket (Thailand), so walking the city isn’t a hard feat.
4. It’s too Clean Cut
I quite like the clean, lawful utopia idea but despite Singapore’s nanny state reputation it isn’t all true. Take a walk through the evening streets of Geylang (daytime even) and this perception will quickly evaporate. Singapore, as with all cities, has its underbelly and while lawlessness may not fare in comparison to other Southeast Asian neighbours I again don’t see this as a bad thing. Rules and regulations of Singapore are far from overbearing, or even noticeable to the passerby (I’ve even walked Orchard Road chewing gum like a total rebel) so if you’re a relatively normal human-being you should get by without a hitch.
5. It’s too Artificial?
So Singapore has swayed (completely) from it’s humble Malay origins which again is not wholly a bad thing. There’s a whole lot of Malay stuff in Malaysia, just a quick border crossing away. But Singapore does preserve what’s left of culture and heritage and what it does now do best is showcase its new image, Uniquely Singapore. The city is like no other and it continues to push the boundaries of architecture, attractions, cuisine… etc. Singapore is a breath of fresh air in Southeast Asia and instead of scrooging about its lack of authenticity why not embrace its creativeness? “But it’s too expensive…..”.
16 thoughts on “Why Backpackers Hate Singapore?”
I have to admit that I didn’t really like it, but we were only there for three days and sometimes places grow on me. For me, thing I didn’t really like was that nearly everywhere we went seemed so sterile. There’s something about Singapore that I can’t really explain, but it just doesn’t feel right to me. There are many towns in Europe that are clean, but they also have some sort of character. Singapore just seemed so artificial, almost like someone designed it with all the right elements, but somehow it doesn’t work.
I much prefer places like Hong Kong and Seoul. They somehow seem to have more heart than Singapore.
I might give it another go though. It’s not all bad.
Thanks Manf. I do hear Singapore compared more with Hong Kong and East Asian cities which I can understand. This maybe to do with the local culture with majority Chinese population which I feel works in its favour as a Southeast Asian city. It sets itself out as completely unique and also with large chunks of local Malay and of course Indian its a mishmash of South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia. The dimensions to explore are quite fascinating but it takes time, which few have, to get out of centre. There is similar makeup in some of my other favourite cities on that coast, Georgetown and KL. I don’t really want to compare with Hong Kong because I love both for different reasons, but I did always prefer the Singapore skyline views which I felt were more close-up and intimate.
Love your post. I agree that people come to Singapore with a certain mindset and get disappointed with what they deem as ‘sterility’ and lack of traditional/ancient attractions. Seeing Singapore like a local and getting out of the central tourist attractions/malls would change this.
One of the things I dislike the most about Singapore is the absolutely, disgustingly, appalling climate. How can ANYBODY (human) live in that heat?! The heat is 24hrs/day, 365 per year. You can’t escape unless you live in aircon. When you’re outside you’re clothes are forever wet with sweat. The climate, regardless of anything else about singapore, destroys the city. It doesn’t matter what they build, what attractions they have, food etc, the climate ruins everything. Not for me, not now or ever.
Hey Changa. Thanks for the comment. I have to agree that the heat can get too much and I think it’s similar all over SE Asia. I’ve lived in Bangkok 3 years so have come used to it. So much that I barely notice it. It tends to be from one air-conned building to the next in daily life, travelling by taxi, which isn’t really easy to do in Singapore I’m sure (high prices). I generally make the most of mornings and evenings when the days are cooler. Exploring in midday heats is too much for me.
I can’t agree. Is nothing bad i the climate here, everything is about people. If you’re always hiding as Singaporeans then’s your fault.
Please travel around Asia a bit more to really know what the weather is like. Singapore, does have a one weather syndrome but it’s more than bearable. It’s humid and warm but that’s it. Visit Bangkok/KL and you will see, due to pollution, crazy amount of street vehicles and badly planned city, it’s far far far more unbearable.
Go a bit further to India and face the wrath. I just came back from my hometown Kolkata and the temperature was touching 40 I think!
Go down south or around Delhi and u might die out of sun stroke!
Yes, again, it does not have the luxury of different seasons… but I certainly think heat is not a concern comparing to other countries around.
I’ve been to Yangon and Bagan, Myanmar, last. When I asked the location of a place, the people I’d met told me the way to get there, even it looked so hard for them to tell that in English. But they (like) gave their “best effort” to make me understand. In the next week, I’ve been to Singapore. Everybody can speak English. But when I ask something, I feel they’d like to say “it’s not my business”. 🙁
Agree. And most of them dont even know the directions.
If you think the heat is different to other Asian cities you are an idiot.
If you think the heat of all Asian cities is the same, you are a super idiot.
I agree, I had more fun in Vietnam and Cambodia. Singapore is too predictable.
Hey Quilliam. Sounds good. We’re out in Thailand these days but might take you up on the offer next time we pass through. A.
The price is number one! :))
I agree. As a traveller, when I asked a stranger for direction, their first expression is usually a frown.
AFTER GETTING A JOB IN SINGA.POOR I WAS DUMBFOUNDED TO FIND HARSH REALITY, EVEN MY PARENTS AFTER VISITING ME 3 TIMES, THEY DECIDED NEVER TO BUY SINGAPOOR PROPERTY THOUGH NOW INCREASED BY DOUBLE… BUT MY PARENTS PROPERTY INCREASED BY 30X OR 3000%. BEAT THAT SINGAPOOR