Singapore – From cheap to luxury

A friend of mine just told me he wants to visit Singapore this month, and I realized I haven’t written anything about this piece of heaven, even though I’ve been there numerous times. But in the end I haven’t written anything yet about 99% of the places I’ve been, so no surprise here 🙂 ( New Fiscal Year resolution, as us corporate people would say : write faster and more frequent haha).

IMAG1251So, Singapore … a city-state, in S-E Asia , with a population of about 5.5 million people, a very cosmopolite country, with 4 official languages ( English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil) ,and called among other things : “easiest place to do business” , “4th largest financial center” and “2nd most competitive country”. Saying that, you can imagine you will not visit this country in search of untouched nature and animals, even though to be honest they have the best parks and best zoos I’ve seen in the whole world. But you do want to visit this place to see how a multitude of nations can live together in peace and harmony, with equal rights and opportunities (debatable, will talk more about that), not forgetting their roots, and building together a better world to live in.

There are so many things to say about this small country. Read first Wikipedia before proceeding 🙂 , and I can comment on what I’ve seen with my own eyes. The first thing you will notice: How clean and organized everything is, and how new and futuristic everything looks. They have strict laws that are enforced at every step, and I believe people “happily” follow these rules, being aware that because of them the country is how it is. I think everyone saw at least a poster or a magnet with the famous “Singapore is a fine city”, referring to the huge fines you pay for things like throwing gum in the street, litter, smoking where not allowed (there are designated smoking areas even on the streets, with a yellow mark on the pavement), eating in a public transport, and so on. But rules like these keeps this city so clean and so safe.

IMAG1261_1The second thing you will notice are the prices, Singapore is an expensive city, very expensive. Well, actually, Singapore is a city of inequalities. The inequality gap is really big, even though it has one of the highest per capita income in the world. It is supposed to be a country with equal rights and opportunities, but in reality I’ve personally noticed 2 distinct types of people : on one hand the “professionals”, with careers in multinational companies, banks, oil, etc, that have good salaries, and a high quality of life( best schools, a car – pretty big deal in Singapore; good restaurants, babysitters and cleaning ladies at their disposal) ; and on the other hand the “workers” , poor working people brought from the neighborhood countries to work for a petty salary 6 and a half days a week, sometimes as actual slaves ( there were numerous examples in the press of such workers complaining about incorrect treatments from their “owners”, from not getting paid, not having time off, to even having their passport taken and not being able to leave). These people come to work for salaries of couple of hundreds of dollars, while the “first class” has over 10k. Saying Singapore is heaven for everyone would be wrong. Of course not all is black or white, but I think you got the picture.

But, out of this inequality, there is a good outcome for visitors (you know, seeing only the things that interest you :)) Singapore can be as a cheap of a place as you want it to be. Of course you have hotels for 500 dollars a night, but you can also find hostels for 20 dollars a night. You have mediocre restaurants where the cheapest lunch (a salad and a water) can be 45 dollars, while you can eat in one of the food courts (especially in the Chinese district) for 2-4 dollars. You have amazing places which you can visit for free, or you have places with a 40-60 dollars entrance fee. I was lucky enough to see both sides of this world, I’ve once visited Singapore by myself, while backpacking in Asia, stayed at a nice hostel called Five Stones Hostel, and eaten at the Chinese food-courts every day, and I’ve also been there numerous times with work, staying at hotels like Hilton, Shangri La and Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel , and going at all the restaurants and nice bars in the Clarke Quay area.

IMAG1268Another thing you will notice is how cosmopolite the city is and that everyone speaks English. This small country managed to attract people from all nations of this world. Even though officially around 75% have Chinese descend, I did not get that feeling walking around, except within the Chinese district of course :).  But I did see that everyone, and I mean everyone speaks English, and that’s because their main official language is English. At school, everything is taught in English, with the exception of the “mother tongue”, which is compulsory, and can be either Malay, Mandarin or Tamil, but is compulsory to learn, according to your father’s descend. A big deal for visitors, right? 🙂

A thing that affected me the most, and will probably affect you as a visitor as well: traffic. During rush hours it’s horrible, you can easily spend 1 hour for a 5 minute drive. But the good news is that their public transport is really good, the subway and the buses are clean, fast, and reliable, but don’t expect to pay 50 cents for them unfortunately 🙂 Outside rush hours, you can easily take a cab, and they are not that expensive, and safe. Fun fact : since Singapore is a really small country, owning a car is really expensive , taxes are around 150% of the value of the car, plus you need a permit that gets renewed every 10 years, which can cost more than 100k dollars (just the permit). I don’t know what the status of renting cars is, but I am pretty sure it’s not worth it, being such a small area, with such a traffic. Plus I prefer seeing a city walking around and getting lost 🙂

Now, let’s talk a bit about what you can visit. Of course just walking around the city is a great experience, seeing the different neighborhoods, and the amazing parks and lots of trees and flowers and green, but there are so many places to see that you’d better have a good plan in place, not like me, even after a couple of visits, I still haven’t seen all Singapore has to offer. I’ll mention only the ones I did visit, for the rest please check the World Wide Web :).

If you are an animal lover, or if you just want to be amazed of the nicest zoo’s you’ll see, go and see Singapore Zoo, take a Night Safari, and visit Jurong Bird Park. Tickets for all of these can be bought here, sometimes getting a nice price for a package of 2-3 sites.

If you are a nature lover, definitely spend some time in the parks Singapore has to offer, none of them will disappoint you: Hort Park, Labrador Park, Esplanade Park and Fort Canning Park (with a nice Spice Garden), and also Merlion Park, which is actually not a park, rather a landmark, but still nice to visit :). I’ve been to all, and they are definitely worth it. But my preferred chill out place is definitely the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay, an amazing place, where you can take a cool in one of the covered areas, with air conditioning, a nice tree and a book, or just wander around amazed by the multitude of plants and flowers.

In terms of temples, surprisingly I haven’t seen that many like in other Asian countries, but I did see 2 that I really liked: Sri Thendayuthapani Temple and Yueh Hai Ching Temple (Temple of love), nothing to spend a lot of time seeing, but nice to pass near them and take some photos at least.

If you have a day to spare, go to Sentosa Island, where you can definitely spend an entire day, visiting the Universal Studios and Underwater World, and all other numerous attractions. Unfortunately I went there in the afternoon, quite tired, so the only energy left I saved it on the beach :). You can use the cable car to get there, costs around 29 dollars, but I thought it was too much, so I actually walked using Sentosa Boardwalk from VivoCity Shopping mall.

Of course you can’t leave without seeing the Marina Bay Sands hotel, from afar but also visit it. I must warn you is more of a sight to see rather than a hotel, and wouldn’t recommend to book a room there (in case you want to throw away some money), because it’s crowded and hectic and loud. The only nice thing of it is the actual shape, and the pool and bar/restaurant on top of it, definitely worth visiting (I think you can only get up there either if you are a customer of the hotel, or if you pay a fee for the bar entrance, but I wouldn’t know as you know how Romanians solve things: they beg or bribe the guard until they get in – in my case begging and short shorts were enough 🙂 ). An amazing feeling to be in that infinity pool, overlooking the city, and have a drink during the night seeing all the pretty lights of the city. Also right next to the hotel there is the ArtScience Museum, interesting building and even more interesting inside, and the Singapore Flyer (which I never used).

Unfortunately I quit shopping as a hobby in the last years, so I can’t really recommend places to find nice bargains, but I can say you have everything, from luxury shops in Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and on Orchard Road, to cheap Chinese shops in the Chinese neighborhood.

IMAG1249Evenings in Singapore are amazing, and the best place to go is Clarke Quay area, filled with restaurants, bars, and roof top bars/clubs , or you can take a River Cruise and have a “floating-dinner”( pretty romantic so don’t adventure yourself as a solo traveler haha). I’ve been to the famous 1-Altitude bar/club, which has some really nice views, its only problem being the loud loud music, so I don’t really recommend it, maybe just outside club hours. If you decide to go, be ready to pay an entrance fee of 50$.

All in All, Singapore is amazing. You can visit it 15 times, and still have new things to see every time. It’s one of my top countries I would like to live in, and I will always come back with pleasure when possible. So, see you soon Singapore!

OH, and I almost forgot : Singapore Airport : AMAZING! Not only because for a smoker it’s heaven, with an outside garden and bar where you can smoke ( I think it is on 3rd floor, next to KFC) , but you actually have an outside pool within the airport in T1, that you can use ( for a fee if you are not staying at one of the airport hotels)!!! Beat that, any other airport in the world!!

P.S. – Almost all pictures from Singapore are 11.000 km away from me, but I promise to add some on Facebook when I’m back 🙂

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