Singapore – the nicest city in SE Asia!

We only spent 3 days in Singapore as it is expensive to stay there relative to other destinations in SE Asia. We stopped over for one day on our way to Manado (Indonesia), which we mostly spent shopping for important items that we had either overlooked or run out of during our first month travelling (in particular, I needed a replacement pair of sandals – I bought Keens in Singapore which have worked out much better than the cheaper version I got in London). We also spent two days on our way back from Manado, which was particularly useful as we needed to find somewhere to pick up a Japan Rail Pass (which needs to be bought outside of Japan). That time we also visited Marina Bay Sands (mainly the mall and the observation deck on the roof), but didn’t have time for much more as we got sick from something we picked up during our last day or two in Indonesia. So, mostly we saw shopping malls and the very modern, well-ordered, western-looking parts of the city – although the area of our hotel near Paya Lebar station was a little more colourful.

Some people, often those from Singapore, describe it as “sterile”, although I think that in some ways this is wrong and in others it could actually be a compliment! After travelling nearly a month in Thailand, it was nice to turn up somewhere that was clean, orderly, well looked after and with all the facilities you expect in a western city. Efficient trains from the airport and a metro/subway service to get around. Practically crime-free and it doesn’t stink! So, we sort of craved somewhere a bit more sterile and a bit less… infected! Also, I think there are areas around the city with much variety and a more asian flavour, such as Little India and Chinatown. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit these places, but they would be on the list next time we go back (as would a stay at the Marina Bay Sands hotel – if we can afford it!). The only disadvantage is that it’s relatively expensive (maybe a little cheaper than London, perhaps a similar cost to US cities outside of New York), but I think for a short stopover that the extra is worth paying.

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To top it off, Changi Airport is the most efficient and well-run airport we have ever used. We never had to wait in line for anything for more than 1-2 minutes. This takes so much hassle out of flying, if we had to do a stopover in Asia, we would always choose Singapore now – and for certain if the choice was Singapore vs Bangkok we would always take Singapore for a connection or stopover.

1 night in Singapore

We spent one night in Singapore when on our way to Manado (Indonesia). We had intended to take the train from Southern Thailand down through Malaysia, stopping in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, but in the end we were enjoying our time in Thailand too much and needed the extra days to complete some of the “must-do” activities such as Khao Sok National Park. So we flew from Phuket to Singapore and stayed one night in the cheapest hotel that we could find that was within 30 mins MRT ride from the airport (Hotel 81 Classic near Paya Lebar MRT station).

We arrived early afternoon and were impressed from the start by the efficiency, cleanliness, safe environment and ease of travel in Singapore. I’ve never been through immigration and retrieved checked luggage faster than this anywhere in the world – I think we got to our hotel around an hour after we touched down. This was helpful as it gave us some time to go shopping to replenish some supplies of essentials like bio-degradeable bodywash and in particular I needed to replace my cheap Keen-like sandals with some real Keens that wouldn’t ruin my feet. We found these at Novena Square shopping centre where there are a few outdoors/sports shops, but it wasn’t cheap to buy stuff there – I paid 142 SGD/ 112 USD for the Keens.

The relatively high cost of living (compared with other places in SE Asia) is the one major disadvantage and why we will only spend 2 night in total in Singapore. Staying there is, I think, around the same cost as in London – cheapest hotel outside of the centre of the city costs 109 SGD / 71 GBP, and of course the rooms are very small just like they would be in London. Things like beer are very expensive (8-12 SGD), although public transport is relatively cheap (MRT rides cost 1-2 SGD – significantly cheaper than using the tube in London).

We’re looking forward to stopping there again on our return leg from Indonesia, and to explore more in the centre of the city, as we only had time for shopping this time!