I have been itching to write about Singapore and look back on my pictures from our trip there last summer. I keep spending my spare time checking out travel posts, particularly ones that feature water and Italy, and for some reason those posts keep bringing my mind back to Singapore.
I am an island fanatic. From the calendars on my children bedroom wall to discovering islands for sale on the internet in college, I have long loved the idea of beautiful places completely surrounded by water. From the largest island in the world to the tiniest of islands, I love them all. There’s something enchanting about visiting an island, and Singapore is no exception.
Unique in being a city-state – a country and a city (and an island!), Singapore feels compact and decided. I’m curious to know the history, but from my impressions it seems like a planned city. It’s Western, very modern, and incredibly…. safe. And clean! Not many cities can boast all of those things.
It’s kid-friendly, traveler-friendly, female-friendly, and just overall incredibly friendly. Last summer was my first time traveling in Asia and I was taken aback at my ease in integrating into the culture. It’s an introvert, reserved-person paradise. Coupled with its cleanliness and efficiency, Singapore is, from what I can tell, the best place on the planet for quiet, calm travelers who love order. It’s even better for people who love all of those things AND love adventure, fun, beauty, and the outdoors.
To reiterate, Singapore is a fantastic place to travel as a solo traveler, if you’re young, or if you’re bringing the kids. It’s fantastically easy to get around, communicate, and essentially have a smooth, safe, fun trip.
LAY OF THE LAND
The first thing you should do, once you’ve decided to go to Singapore, is look at a map. Fortunately, maps of the city are incredibly – you shouldn’t be surprised by now – easy to understand. So, download a map and open Google Maps to get a lay of the land, begin to understand the city, and start planning your itinerary.
The first map I have pictured here shows most of the main attractions in Singapore. The airport is east, the business district (downtown city area) is south, and there are lots of parks in the middle. Also note the huge man-made island of fun, Sensota, just south of the main island. The second map shows you that most of the activity is concentrated in the south.
I find that as I’m looking at a map, it’s also helpful to look at the metro map to figure out how to group my activities together in smartest way. The second map does a pretty good job of connecting the two, but I also shared the metro map as you will want to reference it separately.
If you’ve already jumped to Google Maps, you will see that anywhere you want to go in Singapore is not very far. From coast to furthest coast it’s about a thirty minute drive. This is a good thing because there are myriad things to do in this city, and the proximity of all of them to each other enables you to maximize your experience.
Next, pinpoint the airport so you know where you’ll be arriving from. When calculating your time in each place, trust me on this one and give yourself about an hour (or more!) extra at the airport each way, because you’ll love walking around and exploring the most beautiful, comfortable airport in the world. There are tons of Asian and American restaurants, shops, gardens, and even an outdoor pool (pay per hour)!
If you have a delayed flight, you can easily find a peaceful spot to rest and/or charge your phone before heading out. If you’re leaving early in the morning or arriving late at night, I highly recommend the pay-by-the-hour Aerotel in-airport hotel. It’s calm, clean, modern, and comes with breakfast and access to the pool.
The Changi airport is large and challenging to navigate until you understand it. This was the one place in Singapore that seemed more concerned with appearances than efficiency – sometimes finding an escalator or elevator took a few minutes because they were hidden among the decorations and not on the main path. Pick up a map to help you find your gate or to look at restaurant options. You can also use the interactive electronic screens to double check your location, but I like seeing everything at once on the paper map.
Different from how most airports are coded, their terminals are labeled numerically (1,2,3) with the concourses by letter (a,b,c) and do not correspond one-to-one. For example, instead of finding Gate C3 in Terminal C as you would in most airports, you would find gate C13 in Terminal 1 Concourse C. The main thing to keep in mind when traversing Changi is whether you need to go to Terminal 1, 2, or 3.
Pro Tip: When traveling through upscale Asian airports, take advantage of the free carts you can use to haul your stuff around while you’re in the airport! Note that in Singapore, you can’t take the carts up the escalators, so you will have to either find an elevator, or carry your items upstairs and find another cart at the top.
Note: Some things on the airport map are actually outside of security – *cough Nando’s cough*. You can only access these after leaving the airport (if you are entering Singapore) or before entering the airport (if you are leaving Singapore).
American citizens do NOT need a visa to enter Singapore. Yay!!
Tons of languages are spoken in Singapore, because it’s a big melting pot for many of the nearby countries. Fortunately, somewhere along the way English became important enough to this country that it’s one of the main languages. Every word won’t be in English, every person’s English won’t be perfectly fluent, and some of the translations aren’t stellar, but there’s more than enough English in the country to get around with no worries.
Singapore uses the Singapore Dollar, noted SGD. You can use USD in the airport, and possibly some other places, but otherwise you will need SGD. Exchanging money at the airport is fast and easy, and you can ask questions to the staff if needed. If you run out, you can withdraw more from an ATM.
As I’m writing this (April 2017), the exchange rate is 1USD to 1.4SGD. Prices in Singapore are comparable to American prices, so with the exchange rate in your favor your cash will take you a little further than you’re used to, which is a nice treat!
Being near the equator, Singapore is super hot, humid, and sunny, so pack accordingly. It is also tropical, so be ready for rain. Keep this in mind when planning your itinerary as well – heat wears you out faster, so be sure to plan a bit more time than you usually do for sight-seeing, allow yourself time to rest, and carry a foldable rain jacket in your backpack.
The metro will be your best friend. It’s reliable, clean, easy to follow, and outrageously efficient. I wish all metro systems were as simple and coherent as the Singapore metro. The metro is called the MRT, which stands for Mass Rapid Transit. It goes pretty much everywhere; plus, the city is so small that you can walk from almost any metro stop to your destination. In addition, buses are just as easy to take, though not as fast and slightly more confusing; and taxis are plentiful though more expensive.
If you get the Singapore Tourist Pass, which I highly recommend, you can hop on and off the metro AND the bus system, which is super convenient. Buy it at the airport (the line was suuuper slow when I was there), and return it at the end of your trip to get your 10SGD deposit back.
FYI – They drive on the left 😉
Note: Eating and drinking (or chewing gum!) is NOT permitted on the metro or in the metro stations. There is a fine for violators, so be respectful and keep the metros clean.
It seems as if everything in Singapore is open all hours of the day and night. If you want to go to the Gardens by the Bay at midnight, why not? Many attractions are open until 2am, and some are specifically targeted for the late-night crowd. You should have no worries taking public transit late at night either. Exercise caution as you usually would, but rest at ease knowing there’s really nothing to fear.
Note: Though a lot of places are open late at night, the metro closes early (around midnight). Be sure to check the schedule before you get kicked off in the middle of a transfer and get stuck trying to figure out how to take a taxi at 12am.
You’re in an Asian city close to tons of other Asian countries – China, Japan, Thailand, etc. The Asian food will be really good, and really cheap. Of course, being a Western country you will also have the opportunity (for a little more money) to dine on your favorite American and European burgers, pizzas, pancakes, and wings.
Singapore is a big city, but it’s also known as the Garden City; make sure that at least some of your time is spent appreciating the beauty of Singapore’s cherished flora and fauna. There are natural beaches, manmade beaches, conservatories, outdoor gardens, parks, and zoos. Everything we saw was positively stunning, and I urge you to take in not only the skyscrapers, malls, and architecture, but the natural beauty as well.
WORLD FAMOUS LANDMARKS
Tons of stuff in Singapore is world-winning and renown. The Gardens by the Bay offer world-class conservatories and the highest indoor waterfall in the world, and the Marina Bay Sands is the craziest skyscraper hotel outside of Dubai. Put these on your to-see list!
To see what it’s like to live as a local, find an airbnb in a prime location with a host who speaks English. Enjoy riding up a skyscraper apartment tower, relax with a dip in the pool at night, and get a cheap room with a sweet view for much less than the price of a hotel. Just make sure to get the wifi code before you arrive in case your host isn’t home when you get there. 😉
I hope that was helpful! When I was planning my trip, I relied primarily on the Visit Singapore tourism website. It’s extremely user-friendly and had all the information I needed for my short trip there. I recommend checking it out to check facts and get more ideas about what to do in the city.
Have a great trip!!