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How to travel Singapore on a student budget

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The island city-state Singapore has earned a reputation for being lavish and expensive. Most recently featured as the setting for Crazy Rich Asians and known as the kind of destination where it is easy to splash out a few hundred Singapore dollars on a meal in a Michelin-starred restaurant, many students assume that it is impossible to travel Singapore on a budget. Since moving to Singapore six months ago, I have discovered that this assessment is wholly wrong.

While it involves some trial and error, exploring Singapore on a student budget is possible if you know how.

Image credit: designerpoint on Pixabay

Transport

If one thing is for certain, the Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) is a student's best friend. The MRT is clean, reliable and, best of all, cheap as chips.

MRT trains require you to purchase an EZ-Link card for roughly $12. However, $5 of this price is a refundable deposit and the remainder is your credit usable for transit. $7 goes a surprisingly long way since journeys lasting approximately one hour often cost only $1.80.

The MRT system is extremely extensive so it can take you almost anywhere in the city. Just make sure you do not drink or eat on the trains, or you will face a big fine.

Image credit: cegoh on Pixabay

Taxis in Singapore are fairly expensive but they can be useful for returning home following a boozy night out in the city or as a mode of transportation from the airport to a hotel. If, like me, you prefer not to spend two hours on the MRT after a 14-hour flight from the UK, taxis are an ideal option. Since Singapore is relatively small, taxis can take you from one end of the island to the other in approximately 40 to 50 minutes.

The only problem with taxi companies in Singapore is the surcharge which is levied after midnight especially in prominent locations like Marina Bay Sands or Changi Airport. This is why I recommend using Grab, Singapore’s version of Uber, which is a good deal cheaper. The Grab app will tell you the exact fare and it lets you track the nearest rides.

Tourist activities

Popular tourist activities in Singapore include the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest in Gardens by the Bay, in addition to the theme park Universal Studios.

These top attractions are generally more expensive, so it may suit students to make the most of free activities too.

Walking around Gardens by the Bay is free, as are the daily lightshows at 7.45pm and 8.45pm. The Marina Bay Sands lightshows are also free, running between 8 and 9pm Sunday to Thursday and at intervals of 8pm, 9pm and 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Other free attractions include the Marina Barrage dam, the Botanic Gardens, and the iconic Merlion statue. For an active day out, the MacRitchie TreeTop Walk gives views of monkeys or you may prefer a leisurely stroll in Fort Canning Park or the Chinese and Japanese gardens. On a sunny day, head to the Sentosa beaches: Palawan, Siloso and Tanjong. Prepare for expensive food by bringing your own.

Chinatown. Image credit: Daniel Clark

There are certain attractions such as the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and the National Gallery which offer significant discounts for foreign students. The ACM cuts the price by 50% and the National Gallery by 25%. Local exchange students, if they have a valid student pass, get in free.

You can also visit the cultural hubs of Singapore including Chinatown, Arab Street and Little India for free. These streets offer authentic experiences in their respective cultures, offering a vast array of cheap and tasty food.

For club nights, ladies can make the most of free entry and drinks on Wednesday nights.

Food

Singapore’s culinary reputation is globally recognised due to its huge variety of very cheap but delicious food. Singapore is renowned for chilli crab, chicken rice, Laksa, Satay and too many other dishes to name.

Image credit: Sharonang on Pixabay

To keep things cheap, avoid restaurants and head to your nearest Hawker Centre. Effectively a large canteen offering a range of different dishes from all around Asia, the Hawker Centres are hubs of culinary and social activity.

Some of my personal favourite Hawker Centres include Lau Pa Sat, Maxwell, Old Airport Road, Chinatown complex, Tiong Bahru and Chomp Chomp. In terms of the food on offer, you simply need to follow the queues to get the best grub. The bigger the queue, the better the food.

Food prices range from $2.50 to $10, significantly cheaper than food purchased in most restaurants.

Singapore is also home to the cheapest Michelin-starred meal on the planet, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, endorsed by Anthony Bourdain. The dish costs only $3.50, but be prepared to wait for a while.

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