When you think of Southeast Asia, what do you typically think of? Backpackers, hippie pants and hostels, no doubt.
Singapore, the island country on the tip of peninsular Malaysia is a southeastern Asian country that does not fit this stereotype. Quite the opposite in fact. Singapore is considered a major financial hub and a popular destination for globetrotting jet-setters.
As you can imagine, Singapore is not cheap. Many of its tourist attractions can be quite expensive.
But visiting Singapore does not mean breaking the bank. There are still many things you can do in Singapore for free or cheap. And often, you can get a more authentic experience by taking the off beaten track.
1Take in the views from the top of Marina Bay Sands
You haven’t been to Singapore unless you’ve been to the top of the Marina Bay Sands. This futuristic looking building is home to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino and it costs a pretty penny to spend a night here.
But you don’t have to be a hotel guest to get to the rooftop. You don’t even have to pay to get up to the Observation Deck.
Simply head to the Flight Bar and Lounge on the 57th floor. Entrance is free before 6pm and there is no drink minimum. The bar overlooks the marina and is next to the famous rooftop pool (which by the way, is way more crowded than the bar).
Exit the bar and you’ll get a great view from the other side which overlooks Gardens by the Bay.
So there you have it, 360 degree views from the top of the Marina Bay Sands, without even having to buy a drink.
But you can still tell your friends that it was VIP only.
2See the Ten Courts of Hell at Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa is an entertaining theme park and it is absolutely free. But there is a catch – it’s an educational theme park. And the lesson you’ll receive is a schooling in Chinese and Buddhist mythology, folklore and moral values.
Also known as Tiger Balm Gardens, it was built in 1937 by the creators of Tiger Balm medicinal cream. The park contains over 1,000 statues and scenes from different Chinese legends and folklore. Colorful, large-scale dioramas present different moral lessons and idioms. The Ten Courts of Hell illustrates the Buddhist notions of the afterlife.
Haw Par Villa is undoubtedly bizarre, but it represents a unique piece of Singaporean culture and history.
3Stroll through Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is Singapore’s sprawling garden oasis in the heart of the city. Over 200 acres of trees, flowers and plants provide a playground to explore nature.
Although it costs money to access the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest, and OCBC Skywalk at the Supertree Grove, the rest of the gardens are free.
The surrounding gardens showcase different types of plant and flower species.
Three Heritage Gardens are dedicated to the Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures that represent Singapore’s citizens. There is also a playground for children, sculptures and animal topiary to enjoy.
Gardens by the Bay also has several walking trails and it is a popular destination for joggers.
4View the architecture in Little India
Little India features several unique structures. Along Serangoon Road, the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is a popular Hindu temple. Visitors are welcome to enter and view the colorful statues of deities.
Also in Little India is Singapore’s most colorful building, the House of Tan Teng Niah. Though it’s not Indian, this unique house is one of the last Chinese villas in the neighborhood. Today it is a shopfront and popular photo spot.
While you’re in the neighborhood, grab a roti or dosa at one of the many Indian eateries lining the streets.
5People watching around Marina Bay
The area around Marina Bay is home to a mix of commercial, entertainment and residential developments that comprise central Singapore. The entire area embodies the mantra of ‘live-work-play’. On the southeast, the Downtown Core is packed with skyscrapers and banks’ logos light the sky. The north side of the marina contains two of Singapore’s most unique structures: the Esplanade Theater, composed of two durian-shaped buildings and the world’s largest floating stage and sports stadium. And of course, the east side of the marina is reserved for the Marina Bay Sands, the signature hotel and casino with a ‘floating’ roof top pool.
These are just a few of the attractions around Marina Bay. It is buzzing with energy and activity at all times of the day. Locals and tourists flock to its shores to dine, drink, shop and exercise.
Grab a bite at one of the cute snack shops along the marina and sit at one of the benches and simply people-watch. You’ll see joggers circling the marina as office workers head out for drinks. Fashionable young women walk by showcasing the best of Singaporean style. And there is no shortage of tourists taking selfies with the Merlion statue.
When the sun sets, the cameras come out to capture the sun sparkling against the backdrop of the Singaporean skyline.
6(Almost) See Buddha’s Tooth in Chinatown
Singapore’s Chinatown is located not far from the Central Business District. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, is a multilevel Buddhist temple in the heart of Chinatown. The first floor contains several Buddha figurines around the room with a giant Buddha Maitreya (a future Buddha) in the center.
If you are wondering about the name of the temple, it’s because this temple holds the famed, Buddha tooth relic, exactly as it sounds. The fourth floor of the temple contains the Sacred Buddha Tooth in a gold-domed stupa.
Behind the temple are alleys filled with stalls selling souvenirs and cheap street food.
7Wander through the rainforest
In the Singapore Botanic Gardens, you can walk through a miniature (well, 6 hectares worth) of untouched rainforest. The rainforest has over 300 species of plants and trees reaching over 50 meters in height.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also the world’s first tropical garden to get the designation. The park spans over 183 acres and contains 47 heritage trees, a healing garden, museum and two lakes. It is a great place to spend a few hours or have a picnic by Symphony Lake and catch a free concert.
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