Singapore is one of the most tourist-populated countries. Although it was not one of my dream destinations (because I know it’s very easy to reach it because of its proximity to my country if I got the means), I was more than pleased with my experience in this very trusting, clean, and organized country. In fact, I quite regret that we spent only two days here and would have loved to visit it again for more days. I know there’s more to the “Merlion City.” Nonetheless, with our hectic itineraries, we were able to check out the most “go-to” places in the city. This post I hope can help those who are planning to travel there this 2013 or in the near future with the updated locations, appearance of the locations, and average expenses.
My cousin and I toured Singapore on May 15 and 19. (The in-between days were spent in Malaysia, which I will share about in a separate post). We left on the night of the 14th via Cebu Pacific (a budget airline from the Philippines). I booked the flight way ahead, December 25 (making it a sort-of Christmas present for myself), and the total cost for 2 adults was PHP13, 260.60 (USD316.19). This excludes the travel tax, which is PHP1, 620, and the terminal fee, which is PHP550. All the months after that I spent planning, reading blogs, working extra, and saving to make the trip a success. Last year, when we traveled to Thailand, we were on guided tours, but this time, we decided to do it our own way, avoiding tours that would take us to a souvenir shop each time.
The only places included in our original itineraries (planning stage) that we weren’t able to go to because of the lack of time were the Marina Bay Observation Deck and Chinatown. Since I was the one in-charge of reaching the places, I readied all printed pages of locations and directions (my cousin though was better at remembering the places and exact locations in our return trips). Although not all of them took us smoothly to our destinations, they were a great help nonetheless, assisting us not to totally get lost and waste time in being so. Another big help was our “kababayans” (fellow Filipinos) who were very kind in helping us with the locations every time we asked. At the moment we arrived at the airport waiting for our shuttle, a Filipina working there, sitting beside us, chatted with us and was already telling us what to visit without us even asking. Even non-Filipinos were also generous in sharing information about the locations despite the language difficulties. And so, you will never really get lost in this country even if you go there not with a travel agency, but of course, you should be open to challenging yourself. Our travel was a combination of physical and mental exercise, and we can say we are glad we did it our way.
So, what would fit in the two days touring Singapore on a budget? Would it still be “quality”? For us, I’m happy the answer is yes.
I had booked online a budget hotel months ahead via Agoda. Despite complaints against this company, I was fully satisfied with their service. Maybe, the early booking did it. Fragrance Hotel-Pearl in the Geylang area (one night, 2 persons: PHP2,309.22/USD54.83) was cozy and good enough considering our quick stay (we got there at 1 AM and left at 7 AM; fast check-in and check-out; friendly staff; with complimentary coffee and water but no soaps). We got there from the airport through the airport shuttle (SD9/PHP297.12) in around 40 minutes. For the shuttle, just approach the Ground Transport Desk; way cheaper than a taxi that would cost around SD20-30/PHP600-900).
We left our luggage after checking-out for our day tour (no fee). There were no restaurants just beside the hotel so we had to walk 8-10 minutes to look for an affordable place to have our breakfast. A few blocks ahead, there were a series of Chinese food stalls. We had a set similar to the staple Filipino breakfast: fried rice, spam, and egg, plus coffee (SD3/PHP100). Their coffee was not with cream, but with milk. It was my first time to drink up a glassful of coffee (I’m a half-a-glass-of-coffee-a-day type). It wasn’t in our itineraries, but walking around the area served as the first thing in it because we feasted our eyes with a street of adorable Chinese houses and temples.
After charging ourselves with food that we hoped to last until dinner, we set our feet again for the MRT station. It took us around 10-15 minutes looking for it dropping by a 7-11 store to buy some biscuits and water (SD4/PHP133). My research correctly took us to Aljunied Station. From there, we got a stored-value ticket (first top-up: SD7/PHP233), asked for some directions (we were also given a mini MRT map), and read our way to our first stop: cable ride. Their train system was in colors representing each line. The lines were interconnected, so if the destination is off the line, there was no need to go out of the station and swipe the ticket anew, but just transfer to another line by just following signs. Easy to navigate. My cousin said she could already be a tour guide here because in just one day, via the MRT system, we were already very knowledgeable of the city. One difference of the MRT here and in our country was that there were no inspections of bags and baggage here. Maybe it was because of a lot of closely monitored CCTV. Or their very trusting quality.
From Aljunied Station (Green Line), we alighted at Outram Park Station and transferred to another train (Purple Line) going to Harbour Front, one station away, our destination, where Sentosa was.
It was my first time to ride a cable car (SD23/PHP764.55), although it wasn’t my first being suspended feet away from the ground (zipline experience), and this wasn’t scary at all. I just had to enjoy the scenery below us, all that our eyes could reach, and the feeling being up on the air. One thing though: I don’t know why the cable wasn’t air-conditioned. Imagine the heat.
The cable brought us to Sentosa. After some freshening up because we were all sweaty with all the walking and the heat inside the cable, we started to locate Universal Studios. We learned it was nowhere near and waited for the free shuttle going around the Sentosa area. We were also looking for the entrance where SENTOSA was written (for photo op, of course), and hopped off on a beach part where there were colorful letters standing spelling the name of the place. It turned out it was Siloso Point. We took our pictures anyways. Exploring Sentosa wasn’t really in our plan, so we just hopped on the bus again to finally head to Universal Studios.
After the bus stopped at a parking lot, we read some signs and found the escalator going up to where Universal was. And so, we saw the great blue, round landmark.
After being fully satisfied taking our photos in that huge globe, we headed to the main entrance of the park. It was 10 AM and it was getting crowded already. Families, friends, students, different nationalities, colorful people– another thing I like about traveling. There were cute little kindergarten kids who were very disciplined walking hand in hand while being guided by their teachers. I opted not to post my shot here.
We didn’t have to fall in line since I pre-booked our tickets online. Using MasterCard, I got a discount and paid SD63/PHP2, 094 (one person) instead of the original SD74/PHP2, 460 price. Also, there was a SD5/PHP167 meal voucher with that ticket.
The above is a panoramic view of one part of the park.
Due to time constraints and the lack of an adventurous spirit that day, we did not ride the death-defying attractions and contented ourselves with the kiddie rides. And I still enjoyed them.
We loved this colorful bus. A lot of souvenir stalls shaped like some famous vehicles, characters, and stuff from popular Hollywood movies were all over the place. Sights to behold, but we had to hold our pockets :).
Spaghetti Space Chase: a colorful and crisscross train ride inside.
The old-civilization part of the park was one of my favorites. Sphinxes, libraries, mummy heads, statues of great philosophers, and that “ancient feel.”
One of the things I looked forward to was The Kingdom of Far, Far Away and meeting my favorite ogre, Shrek.
We walked inside the castle, but there was no Shrek yet.
My most favorite part of our day here was the 4D movie (my first time) inside Shrek’s dungeon. Dizzied, wet, and spooked. It was great being part of Shrek’s world for 30 minutes.
But Shrek was nowhere still when we got out of the dungeon. Instead, there was this grouchy Pinocchio.
I wasn’t able to meet Shrek. Maybe, he already passed the area and we missed him. 😦 Next time.
But hey, there was Marilyn. I heard her saying to us when we approached her “dressed for the occasion.” I didn’t get the entire part of it. She’s cool.
Our initial plan was not to take lunch anymore since we had full breakfast and we were not really hungry, but we had to use our meal vouchers, so we went inside this cafe and had this simple meal (we added SD8/PHP267 each).
When we left Universal Studios, the entrance girl told us to mark our wrist in case we decide to come back later that afternoon. We declined because we knew we wouldn’t be able to anymore. To get your money’s worth though, spend an entire day here.
Around 1 PM, we left and readied ourselves again for finding our next planned stop: The Marina Bay Sands Observation Deck. We took our return cable ride to Harbour Front Station. But we took the wrong MRT line after and spent almost an hour in the ride, so we decided to just proceed to the Singapore Flyer. Since we took the Yellow Circle Line, we alighted at Promenade Station and just followed the signs to the Flyer, not a difficult thing to spot even if you’re far. The only challenge was what street to cross, but asking here and there, we didn’t have much difficulty, too.
Those weird yet amazing white structures were Gardens by the Bay’s. What’s inside them, you can see at the Day 2 part of this post.
The Flyer (SD33/PHP1, 102) was similar to the cable ride experience as it gave us a splendid view of the city. Only that, it was a wider view this time and more scenic spots to marvel at. It was 30-40 minutes experience, and we satisfied taking pictures of ourselves with different poses and angles and areas inside the spherical container. We were with a couple, so imagine how I imagined being romantic, too, with my Ethan Hawke or James Franco or Ted Mosby (Richard Gere, for my cousin).
The only thing we regretted about not going to the Marina Bay Deck was the view of their infinity pool. Again, next time (hopeful!).
We walked some blocks after and reached a river cruise station. It was a weekday, so there were not a lot of tourists cruising. We were only two pairs in our boat.
We had all the space to ourselves. The 20-30 minutes cruise (SD22/PHP735) was the city at eye level. The river was not clear blue or green but didn’t have a stinky smell. There was no actual tour guide but a taped commentary that we could hardly hear and we didn’t care listening to anyways. The boat guy, who was incidentally a fellow Pinoy, was the one giving us a chit-chat about the city. He was also recommending some places to visit at night and we just said we might but didn’t anymore expound that we were leaving Singapore in the evening. I think an overnight stay would really be nice, too, but we had already booked our exit train tickets.
At this time, my digital camera already died (Nikon’s S8200’s battery life has failed me; I always fully charge it but it doesn’t last the whole day). I was taking pictures using my cousin’s Canon digicam.
These statues of kids jumping into the river were very realistic.
We weren’t able to go by foot to the famous Merlion landmark, but the river passed by there. There were lots of people that late afternoon thinking of what crazy pose to have with the Merlion in their background. As for us, we timidly pose with it behind us hoping the boat would go much slower so our smile could be picture-perfect.
With the mini-cruise, we also got to see other popular landmarks: the Fullerton Hotel, Clark Quay, Marina Bay, and other amazing structures in the city.
At dusk, we were ready to go back to the hotel to pick our luggage and clean up a little. We asked the boat to drop us off at the Bayfront station. From there, we walked 10-15 minutes to get to the MRT station.
We were proud of ourselves because our first Singapore day was successful despite the busyness of it. But the story changed that evening when we headed to the train station leaving the country (separate post).
We arrived from Malaysia at 7 AM on the fifth day of our travel. (By the way, we already had a newly topped up stored value ticket at this point). From the train station/Woodlands Checkpoint, we took a taxi (SD4/PHP134) to the Woodlands MRT Station (Red line) to get to Changi airport (Green line). From Woodlands, we alighted at City Hall Station, then transferred to the Green line. Although Changi was also Green, those who were headed there had to alight at Tanah Merah (Green). Two stations away, it was already Changi. The trip was around an hour in total.
We planned to leave our luggage at the airport and avail of the shower facilities there. Unfortunately, the shower facilities were only available after checking in at the departure area, but we still have two places in mind to tour: Gardens by the Bay, pre-booked (SD28/PHP942: two conservatories already), and Chinatown, hoping to buy cheaper souvenirs. We left the luggage (9SD/PHP300), but we just made use of the toilet to clean ourselves up; unfortunately, no shower.
After getting ready but with no breakfast, we took a taxi (13SD/PHP434) to Gardens upon learning that the airport shuttle didn’t have a ride to that destination. It was a good thing though since we didn’t have to sweat it up finding the place via MRT.
Since we had booked our tickets online, we didn’t have to go through the long lines (it was Sunday). Inside the first conservatory, the Flower Dome, it was a refreshing change of atmosphere. Outside, it was really hot. Here, no wonder all the flowers and trees were very beautiful. They were pampered with an air-conditioned facility. (I’ll have a separate post on the flowers of Gardens).
We no longer bought tickets to the top of the trees (OCBC SkyWay) because of the lack of time again and we thought it would just be the same feel. They say the Tower Trees were even more stunning at night. Our flight was at 6 PM that day. Once again, next time.
An arc of greens.
The second conservatory: the Cloud Forest.
More rainforest-like trees, elevated/tall pathways, nature-oriented films. The main difference from the Flower Dome: the falls. I like this conservatory more because of the artificial waterfalls.
After we had our refreshing time at Gardens, we were very hungry that I was already dreaming of hot soup while on the train, no kidding. After buying some items in their souvenir shop, we decided to have our breakfast/lunch, but all the restaurants inside the place were jam-packed. What worsened the hunger was the long walk to the MRT station.
On the positive side, we got to pass areas that were also interesting and that Singapore is known for.
Another weird structure. Cool, nonetheless, and awesome background. I’ve no idea what this is and didn’t exert any more effort to know its name.
Some meters ahead, this street Art Museum was to be found.
Inside the Marina Bay Mall. We wanted to eat here already, but finding the station was more important at that point. Needless to say, going to Chinatown was not anymore a priority.
After a total of 30-40 minutes walk from Gardens by the Bay, including the stops at the spots I’ve mentioned, we finally found the MRT Station. From the Marina Bay Station (Yellow line), we took the train and alighted at Paya Lebar. We transferred to the Green line going to Tanah Merah, and then to Changi Airport station.
Our second train ticket top-up was worth 10SD/PHP334, and before leaving Singapore, we still had 8SD/PHP267 left in it. I thought of not returning the ticket but changed my mind eventually thinking that I still could use the amount for souvenir items.
At the airport, we planned exhausting all our remaining money for food because of our hunger. The nearest we saw (and familiar to us) was McDonald’s. Although we were craving for rice, we were satisfied enough with food worth SD30/PHP1, 002. Surprisingly, we had some more amount left. We happily spent it buying souvenir items for our friends and families back home. We joked we were so rich that we would be beggars when we go back to reality.
We left Singapore with a joyful heart thanking it for providing us a temporary relief from our usual ways. We would be glad to come back for a longer stay. Although the cost of goods and services are really high, the kind of life it offers compensates it.
If you’re a working-class citizen touring like me, you have to save up for at least P10, 000 (excluding airfare) to accommodate most of the spots and activities the country is known for.
From my plane’s seat, I had a nostalgic final glimpse of the city country which opened another window to the world that’s just there waiting to be explored more.