Unlike its neighbor countries, Singapore–my current adopted country–can be a lot more expensive if you factor in the currency exchange.
If you’re on a stopover here heading to Thailand/Indonesia and do not want to break your budget holiday streak, here’s a list of 5 touristy things you can do for free on this sunny island.
When I say touristy, I don’t mean it in a negative way such as “This is not what a local would do so it’s not an authentic experience.” I actually wish more people would get around and do some of the stuff because travelling doesn’t only mean getting away.
While the locals have the excuse “There will always be time for it”, you probably don’t so let’s get going. I’ve also included a local food tip with each location because I love to eat.
Pose with Merlion
I can’t think of a faker “national icon” than the Merlion. Nowhere in the historical text is there a creature that was the spawn of a lion and a fish. It was actually designed for the Singapore Tourism Board in 1964, so much for ancient myths.
Still, it’s a “symbol of Singapore” and as a
tourist traveller, you are obliged to take photographs with one. There are two Merlions (Mama and baby) at the mouth of the Singapore river, right opposite The Fullerton Hotel.
Why do I know it’s a Mama Merlion? Because it is perpetually having morning sickness and puking water. Near the foot of Mama is Baby Merlion which is a split image of its mother and spits clear water too.
Most usual poses with the Merlion is with the subject standing stiffly in front and getting drizzled. Other poses (if you are near enough) can have the subject: 1. Catching the spit water with his/her mouth; 2. Blocking the sprout of water
If you want to take something like the one I have above, you’ll need to get to the rooftop of the Esplanade (yes you can get there!) and start posing.
How to get there: Nearest MRT stop: Raffles Place MRT or Esplanade MRT.
Food tip: Lau Pa Sat, a touristy hawker center is within walking distance. Or you can checkout Makansutra Gluttons Bay which is next to Esplanade.
Visit Haw Par Villa
[Read the full review of Haw Par Villa.]
When I was studying at NUS, I always passed by Haw Par Villa on the bus to the city. It looked like an interesting place from the outside.
I asked around my local friends what’s good there and no one ever gave it a positive review. I decided to visit it one light rainy day. I might have been the only person among the sad statues with their peeling paint.
I went back to Haw Par Villa at the end of last year. I was surprised that there was quite a lot of tourists alighting at Haw Par Villa Station, had Lonely Planet included it in their guidebook?
You can expect statues based on Chinese mythology there. Even I as a Malaysian-Chinese couldn’t figure out a lot of the stories behind the strange statues. Especially the one with acrobatic mermaids.
There’s also the 10 courts hell where I mapped which levels I would be visiting and contemplate whether it’s worth sinning while I live or be punished when I die.
I found a family of hypocritical parents and grandparents who threatened the poor kid that he must respect his elders/not cheat in exam. Or he will be boiled in oil, stabbed in the stomach with intestines gorged out when he goes to hell. Don’t they know that lying would be punished by the pulling out of tongue?
Local papers TODAYOnline has an interesting video about the 10 Courts of Hell, if you are interested.
How to get here: Circle Line MRT stop at CC25 Haw Par Villa
Food tip: Since you are already in the area, I recommend that you visit Chilli Padi Nonya Café at Heng Mui Keng Terrace. I’ve been to another branch (which has since closed down) and the Peranakan food is quite good.
How to get there: Google Map suggests taking bus 183, stop at The Alpha and walk into Heng Mui Keng Terrace.
See people’s laundry
I don’t think you get to see other people’s laundry in most countries because they use dryers. We love our sun and the smell of sun-dried blankets!
You’ll most likely see this on a sunny day. It’s quite fun looking up to check out what’s in fashion.
It’s not fun when laundry water drips on your face. Or a bag of trash nearly hits the ground you were at 5 seconds ago (true story).
How to get there: Most residential estates would have a scene like this. The photo was taken at the HDB near Outram Park.
Food tip: Most HDBs would have hawker center==authentic eating experience.
Visit places of worship
I’d say that not many of my Singaporean friends have visited temples of other religions. I admit that I didn’t when I was in Malaysia because it’s just strange to do so.
If your bucket list includes “Visit places of worship for every religion on earth”, you’ll be able to cross out quite a few in Singapore.
I had the chance to visit the Armenian Church at 60 Hill Street, which my friend said is her favorite. The church is quite cute and tiny. There are also graves in a plot.
Hindu temples are always so cheerfully colored. I go to Buddhist, Taoist temples when I have a favor to ask the gods. ;) Mosques are really tranquil but be sure to dress appropriately–a sundress equals being half naked!
How to get there: Too many places of worship in Singapore, drop by any.
Visit the casino
Since Singaporeans (and permanent residents) need to pay S$100 gambling tax before they even set foot into the casino, you can be assured that by visiting the smoke filled parlors you will either meet tourists, hard core gamblers or tourists who are hard core gamblers.
There are currently two casinos, one on Sentosa Island at Resorts World Sentosa and the other at Marina Bay Sands.
Please be reminded that the casinos are one of the few places where indoor smoking is allowed. Your lungs have been warned.
How to get there: Harbourfront Station then to Sentosa for Resorts World and Marina Bay Station for Marina Bay Sands.
Post script: I’m hoping I’m able to come up with a series of travel local posts for Singapore. If you have any travel related questions regarding the island, drop me a message and I will see how I can help you.