Singapore is not what comes to mind when one thinks about budget travel destinations. It is a wealthy country with a per capita GDP of $51,855.08 USD in 2015 (411 percent of the world’s average) and the high rise financial district to match. If you want to there is nothing stopping you from spending thousands of dollars a day in Singapore, just visit the stores in Marina Bay Sands to understand. There’s no way a backpacker could visit Singapore on a budget, right? Wrong. All you need to do is be a little adventurous and explore the other side of Singapore, the side with less Gucci stores and more red lights.
That’s right, the more budget backpacker friendly accommodation is located in the Red Light District of Singapore, but it’s honestly a great place to stay. Singapore is world famous for their strict enforcement of laws ($500 USD fines for gum chewing) so it follows that it is a very safe country, red light district included. We spent a week based out of Hotel 81 Geylang and I never felt unsafe, even when we were walking back after dark. We paid $66 USD per night for a large double room with air con and while that is not budget compared to Southeast Asia it is about as cheap as you will find in Singapore.
The great thing about staying in the Red Light District if you are on a budget is the fact that it puts you within walking distance of a large variety of cheap eats from around the world. We frequented many different food stalls, but our favorite was an Indian corner stall conveniently located just down the street from our hotel. We ate at least one meal a day here and loved that we could get a two person sized heaping of biryani with meat and vegetables for less than $10 Singaporean Dollars. A tea or coffee will only set you back about 90 Singaporean cents so don’t be afraid to indulge your caffeine addiction. A couple stops down the metro line is Little India, another great place to walk around and fill your belly from one of the many food stalls. While you can get Indian food in the Red Light District (as seen above) Little India is the place to go if you want a larger variety of Indian food from mouth watering curries to comforting, deep fried samosas.
Outside of Little India and the Red Light District costs do go up, but we managed to keep them down by rarely eating outside of our home base and limiting the amount of tourist attractions we went to. In one week the only tourist attraction we paid for was the Singapore Zoo, which was a fairly steep $30 entry, but worth it for a full day of entertainment. Another option for a full day’s entertainment are the Botanical Gardens, they are free to enter and I spent a lovely afternoon reading, walking through the well-kept gardens, and people watching. Last but certainly not least there is every budget traveler’s mainstay of free entertainment, walking around exploring the city. On one of our long walks we found the more touristy, but still entertaining Arab Street and China Town. China Town is very touristy, there are mostly a lot of people selling mass produced gimmicks, but the reason to come here is the food. The reason to go to any of these areas of Singapore is the food, but I digress.
When in China Town you have to try Hawker Chan’s Hong Kong Soya Chicken and Noodles. We were skeptical at first when we saw the sign The World’s First Michelin-starred Street Food Stall, but a quick google search proved the claim true. In 2016 a critic who was in Singapore to assess other more traditional Michelin star material got told from a friend that he just had to try this guy’s soya chicken in China Town. Turns out that the $2 soya chicken blew the other expensive food out of the water and the critic was so impressed that he bestowed a Michelin star on the humble food stall. These days Hawker Chan has expanded his business and now owns a small restaurant just outside the food stall market where his original stall is still located. The prices have increased slightly, now a soya chicken and noodles will run you $4.50 USD from the restaurant, but if you are willing to wait longer the old price is still available at his original food stall. The prices are still entirely reasonable, making this the cheapest Michelin starred meal around.
Singapore is a fascinating country that should be on everyone’s Asia list. It is filled with more diversity than imaginable in such as small space. You will hear more languages than you can identify being spoken on the metro and you can take a food tour of Asia by hopping on the metro for a few minutes. Many people think of Singapore as only its wealthy, expensive side, but the good news for all budget travelers out there is that, to me, the true beauty of Singapore lies in its plethora of different faces, from the grittier Red Light District to the manicured Botanical Gardens. The one thing you probably won’t indulge in as a budget traveler in Singapore is the famous Singapore Sling, alcohol is just too heavily taxed to be affordable for those of us on a budget.