Singapore, the city-state in Southeast Asia
Wow! I’m used to live comfortably with not that much money in Southeast Asia. Either in Laos, Vietnam or Indonesia, I just need a few euros to sleep, eat, do activities and have a beer! But it was without counting Singapore, the city state of Southeast Asia. Everything is extremely expensive compared to the neighboring countries! In fact, even for a Westerner, Singapore is expensive. We’re not in Asia here but in Europe! The cost of living is as high as in Paris!!!
Therefore I decided to spend just a few days in Singapore, before heading to Indonesia. And I realized all the travelers I met were doing the same : they were coming from Malaysia, they were spending a few days in Singapore, before going to Indonesia. Or the other way around.
High prices in Singapore
I arrived in Singapore in the afternoon from Malacca, Malaysia. I decided to have a walk in the area surrounding my hostel and at the end of the day, to eat something and have a beer (yeah by myself…). And then… I saw the menu. 15 Singapore dollars (9.50€!!!) for a beer!!!??? You fucking kidding me!? I paid five times less the day before in Malaysia! Apparently there’s a special tax imposed on alcohol in Singapore, drinking is viewed as a sin, but still! Holy shit, now that’s for sure, I will not hang around here for too long, and I’m gonna turn the stingy mode on until I leave the country!
History of Singapore
Singapore is actually a city state. Basically, it means a whole territory is ruled by a single city (in this case Singapore…). They’re not numerous, but there are a few other city states in the world, I’m thinking about Monaco and Vatican City. Singapore was part of Malaysia, but became a sovereign nation in 1965. With South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Singapore is one of the four asian tigers. Indeed, those four countries experience an exponential growth from the early 1960s to the 1990s, and Singapore became a large financial centre in Asia. This explains why the standard of living is a lot higher here than in the neighboring countries.
As I said, Singapore was part of Malaysia and the same communities live here : mostly Chinese but also Malays and Indians. Once again, I was quite surprised by all the Indians there! Yeah I was staying in Little India but still, there’s a big Indian community in Singapore. Oh and of course all the Westerners who live here, mostly to make money and to boost their careers. Cause yeah, in case you didn’t know, Singapore has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires. Careerists, mercenaries, gold diggers, you know where to go!
You get it, I mostly spent my time walking around in the streets of Singapore, everything is so expensive! Several times I asked myself “Is Singapore in Asia?” Yes it’s in Asia, in spite of the prices. I noticed there are many massage parlors. But also plenty of bicycles, and they all look abandoned. Clean, but abandoned. I found out why afterwards… Those are bicycles you can rent for one hour or a full day. Unlike most cities, those bicycles are not attached to a docking point. You need a bicycle and you spot one in the street? Download the app, scan the QR code on the bicycle with your smartphone and that’s it, the bicycle is unlocked! When you’re done, just leave it on the sidewalk (no need to find a docking point), and the bicycle will lock itself automatically. Long live technology!
Cleanliness of Singapore
People told me Singapore is very clean, and it’s true. But I have to say I didn’t totally agree at first. I was staying in Little India, and without being dirty, I didn’t find the area particularly clean. But a local told me later that Little India is known for being dirty. Dirty? No (according to our standards), but not extremely clean either. The law has something to do with it. Littering, throwing cigarettes butts on the floor are fined 1000 dollars!
Odd laws in Singapore
While we’re at it, let’s talk about the laws in Singapore, this expensive city state! As I said littering is forbidden, you cannot pee in an elevator, selling chewing gums is not allowed in the country (it brings cleanliness issues, people spit them on the floor), you cannot spit on the floor, not flushing public toilets is fined 150 dollars and you cannot paint graffiti on the wall. Seems like they love cleanliness. But that’s not all!
Porn movies are banned (like Uzbekistan!), same-sex relations are forbidden, apparently you cannot walk in the nude at home, you cannot feed pigeons, do not sing or play an instrument in public (it annoys other people), don’t fly a kite that interferes with public traffic, it’s forbidden to connect to another user’s WiFi but most importantly it’s forbidden to do drugs, even just before getting in the country. You have to get there completely clean!
Wow, that’s a lot of rules we have to follow! I also noticed people were really civilized there : they wait for the green light for pedestrians to cross the street, and they do so on the crosswalk, even when they have turn left or right afterwards. A bit like Munich, and definitely not like the uncivilized people we are in Paris. And again, I found out there’s another law for those tempted to cross the street illegally. You have to wait for the green light, and use the crosswalk… I guess I was lucky, I’m pretty sure I didn’t always comply with the law…
Singapore is at the leading edge of technology
I’m still walking around in Singapore, doing my best to comply with the law! I saw a lot of men and women, over 70, still working. It surprised me! I reached the financial district, people were literally all the same : guys were wearing darted pants and a white or blue shirt, ladies were all wearing a suit. It reminded me of la Défense in Paris, our financial district. I don’t miss it at all… I spotted a few free WiFi areas, it reminded me this is where I have to go to use the internet without being an outlaw!
The city is clean, there’s obviously money here, and the cars all look brand new. Actually, people who live in Singapore cannot drive a 10+ years old car. Theorically they can, but if the car is too old, they’re heavily taxed and it’s not worth it. This explains why they all look very clean and new (like Ashgabat in Turkmenistan!).
Oh and of course, I can’t forget the plague hitting the population all over the world, a plague that you will inevitably notice in Singapore : the addiction to smartphones. They all have their eyes glued to their phones, and most of them walk around in the street with their smartphone and their powerbank. It’s crazy! I already noticed that in Asia in general, they like their smartphones but here, they really look addicted! Take the subway in Singapore and you’ll understand!
Singapore, a rich city-state
Yep, there’s money here! The GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world, and even though there are plenty of millionaires, most of the locals cannot afford to own their own place. That’s why 80% of families live together in stacked public housing. In each building, the government implements quotas for each community. They say it’s a way to favor people mingling with one another, otherwise the communities don’t mix. For instance, out of 10 apartments, the government will put 6 Chinese families, 3 Malay families, and one Indian one (to match the demographics of the country, there are mostly Chinese, then Malay, and finally Indians living in Singapore).
Something else struck me. There are malls everywhere! This is what I call overconsumption, literally, unlike the neighboring Asian countries. Just on Orchard Road, there are at least six different malls! Yes, I said malls, with several floors and dozens of shops! I didn’t miss it at all…
They speak Singlish in Singapore
I “visited” two of them, then I didn’t see myself going to the other ones, it was always the same thing. I sat on a bench in one of the malls, just to have a break before exploring Singapore again. A group of teenagers sat next to me, and I can hear them talking. From what I hear they speak English, but I don’t understand everything. It’s weird, I’ve been speaking English only for months now, and I’m used to hear English daily. And the problem is not their accent.
I did my research. Officially, Singapore has four languages : English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil. In fact, the locals mostly speak English their way, we call it Singlish (Singapore + English). That’s why I didn’t understand everything. Basically they often say “lah” at the end of a sentence. Or they use “can-can” or “can-not” to say yes or no. We’re getting used to it…
And I finally found a place where I can have good food for a cheap price! You have to go to Chinatown, in Maxwell Food Center exactly. It’s like five bucks (3.30€) for a dish. Talking about food, you can try a chilli crab, that’s Singapore’s signature dish. It’s fried crab with a tomato and chilli based sauce, and actually not that spicy. I’m not gonna lie, I love to try local food but I didn’t taste chilli crab…
What to do in Singapore, the city state?
Head to Gardens by the Bay, a wonderful park you cannot miss in Singapore. A huge green space spanning 101 hectares you have to see. One of the most famous places in the garden is the supertree grove, 18 metal structures forming trees covered with vegetation. There’s also OCBC Skyway, an elevated walkway 20 meters above ground, linking a few supertrees between them (it’s like a bridge). Finally, there are two domes : Flower Dome housing several varieties of flowers and Cloud Forest, which replicates the climate in tropical forest in altitude. Getting in Gardens by the Bay is free, but you’ll have to pay to get in the domes and OCBC Skyway (8 dollars for the skyway, 28 dollars to get in the domes).
From Gardens by the Bay, you can see the very famous Marina Bay Sands. What’s that? A luxury hotel famous all over the world, mostly for its infinity pool with its 180 degrees view of Singapore and a nice view of Gardens by the Bay. In Marina Bay Sands, you’ll find (among other facilities) three 55-floors towers, more than 2000 rooms, an exhibition center, a museum, two theaters, seven restaurants, two skating rinks. If, like me, you don’t have enough cash to stay there, you can get to the rooftop of the hotel at the Cé La Vi bar, to have a view of Singapore.
Again, from Gardens by the Bay, you can spot Singapore Flyer, a giant Ferris wheel! At first, I thought it was just a Ferris wheel like all the other ones we can see all over the world. But apparently, there are also shops, restaurants and a few activities to do there. In fact, it’s because each capsule can accommodate 28 passengers. It’s 33 dollars (21 euros) to get in one of the capseules.
In the same area, there’s the ArtScience museum, hosting mostly touring exhibitions. The fee to get in goes from 17 to 38 dollars, depending on the exhibitions you want to see. And in the same area, there’s the official mascot of Singapore, Merlion. It’s a mythical creature with a lion’s head and the body of a fish. Unfortunately, during my stay, the Merlion was under maintenance, so I couldn’t take a proper picture…
I had to see the replica of Merlion elsewhere in Singapore, Sentosa. Sentosa is an island located in the south of Singapore. It’s a tourist destination where you spend the day with friends or family, and there are many attractions and things to do there : Universal Studios, Madame Tussaud, Sea Aquarium, restaurants and bars, hotels, a casino… You can easily spend several days there. There’s even the beach in Sentosa : Palawan Beach but also Siloso Beach, Tanjong Beach… Oh and of course a replica of the “real” Merlion. To get to Sentosa, take the subwat and get off at Harbour Front. When you get there, all the employees guide the passengers towards Sentosa Express, where you’ll pay 4 dollars (2.50€) your one-way ticket. Don’t listen to them, just leave the station and take the Sentosa Boardwalk. It’s a free shuttle!
As I said earlier, you can go to Chinatown to eat cheap food. In Chinatown, there’s the Chinatown Heritage Centre, recounting the history of Chinese immigration in the 19th century, and the daily life in Chinatown in the 1950s. It’s 15 dollars (9.50€) to get in. There’s also the China complex, it’s like a big Chinese bazaar.
Otherwise, as I said, you can go to Orchard Road if you wanna go shopping, you can have a walk in the wonderful botanical garden (it’s huge!), and you can visit the Sri Mariamman temple. It’s a Hindu temple but unfortunately I couldn’t get in, I was wearing shorts… You can also head to Chijmes, a former Catholic convent turned into a place with shops, restaurants, a movie theater, a theater… Finally, if you wanna have a drink, go to Clarke Quay, a quay with many bars along the Singapore river. It’s nice at the end of the day!
If you’re traveling in Southeast Asia and you wanna see Singapore, think about budgeting for your trip. The prices have nothing to do with the neighboring countries. The country is modern, clean, and there are beautiful places to see. But it costs money. I was lucky enough to spend some time with a very nice local girl I met in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I went to places I wouldn’t have found by myself. However, I won’t keep a good memory of Singapore, and I don’t know if I’m gonna go back one day. Indeed, racism in Singapore does exist…
Info to visit Singapore
- Wanna go to Singapore? Check the visa policy here. Most Westerners can stay up to 90 days visa-free in Singapore.
- You can of course get there by plane, but in my case I went there by bus from Malacca. I paid 25 ringgit (5 euros) and it’s a 5-hours ride.
- Do not go to Singapore without a travel insurance!
- Take some time to read the laws I talked about in the article, it’d be a shame to be fined stupidly!
- Find your accommodation on HotelsCombined.
- If needed, get a Singapore travel guide.
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