A visit to a new and exotic travel destination like Singapore can be a thrilling prospect. But with a sultry and demanding climate, strict law enforcement, and endless ways to part with those precious travel dollars, it’s always good to have a few tips in mind to know what to avoid and look out for. As a result, we’ve compiled the top 10 Singapore Travel Tips to keep you in the know, in order to ensure a fun and safe vacation in the great city-state of Singapore.
1. Come Prepared, Dress for the Weather!
First things first, when packing your bags for Singapore, make sure you understand what ‘tropical climate’ entails. Leave the mittens and scarfs at home folks, considering the equatorial location, it’s no surprise that Singapore gets hot (always). The great Lion City has tropical weather all year-round, with the average high hovering around the mid to low 30s and average lows dipping to the mid to high 20s. Perpetually humid and a little muggy, it’s best to come prepared when packing your bags. Protective hats, sunglasses, shorts/T-shirts, lightweight fabric, and reflective clothing are all great ways to keep cool. In addition, you can find a plethora of unique inventions to beat the heat. These include: portable mini-fans that hang like a necklace, cooling gels that you can stick on the back of your neck, and mist spray that can cool to -9 degrees on skin contact (and the list goes on).
Anticipating weather conditions ahead of time (i.e. the beginning of the city’s two monsoon seasons), will also prevent you from getting caught in the rain every day of your vacation.
December is typically the rainiest month of the year and January, February, March, as well as September, October, and November follow shortly behind in terms of precipitation.
In addition, you’ll want to stay hydrated in the muggy conditions. This doesn’t just mean water, it means ionized water with the right salt content that’ll hydrate you right off the bat (regular H20 requires the right salt balance in the body otherwise you’ll be needing to use the bathroom and still end up dehydrated). This simple but important Singapore travel tip will make the most of your vacation, we guarantee it!
More info about when to go to Singapore here: Best time to visit Singapore.
2. English is A-O.K.!
When traveling the world, not being able to understand what the other person is saying can be irritating at best and extremely problematic at worst. Fortunately, the great Merlion state of Singapore has four official languages: Malay (the designated language of the country due to the Malay peoples who are often considered indigenous to the land), Chinese, Tamil, and English (phew!).
While you’re bound to hear a hodgepodge of different languages during your travels across the city, many people will be able to speak English—broken and fluent alike. Interestingly enough, many Singaporeans speak a mix of Hokkien (a Chinese dialect), Malay, and English, often referred to as Singlish.
Singapore truly is a melting pot of cultures, languages, and peoples. To know that you don’t have to worry about other people understanding just what kind of noodles you want, can save you a lot of time and energy better spent exploring. During your stay, don’t be afraid to learn a phrase or two (thank you and hello are always beneficial); it might help greatly in some situations and the locals really appreciate the effort!
3. No Chewing Gum?
We’ve all heard the stories of Singapore’s seemingly authoritative and out of place law which states that all chewing gum is illegal in the country. While it is true that chewing gum is uniformly banned in the city-state, it’s not as severe as people make it out to be. Originally put into place due to hooligans messing with train sensors in public trains and causing them to malfunction. The general litter it produced in public areas/parks, as well as the money it consequently required to clean it up, resulted in the infamous ban being introduced to counteract these measures.
Recently though, the US came to a trade agreement with Singapore, and the gum ban has been temporarily lifted under certain conditions. This measure was implemented in order to facilitate the import of gum used for therapeutic means, i.e. nicotine gum that helps smokers ease off their nicotine addiction, as well as under a dentist note for medical reasons.
While you may get a few sternly-addressed looks from authorities at the airport and might even be asked to spit it out while transiting through customs. It’s safe to say that (at the time of publishing), the Singaporean police will not be knocking down your hotel door if you need to have that stick of gum instead of a cigarette. Just make sure you’re carrying all the right papers with you at all times (in addition, it is best to check if the enforcement of this law has changed in anyway recently).
4. When in Singapore, Follow the Rules!
Even if you have to leave your gum at home, Singapore can be a lot of fun. While you’re bound to have a great time, with lots of amazing attractions, museums, hotels, restaurants and the like, as a general Singapore travel tip, it’s best to keep your wits about you at all times. As always, this is especially true when drinking late at night. As there are strict rules and laws that have to be adhered by, lest you run into trouble with the authorities.
In addition to general decency regulations, there are laws in place for things that may not even be considered a faux-pas in your home country. Singapore is known for its strict enforcement of rules; some sentences even include the penalty of capital punishment including public whipping. Drugs/ anything lingering in the grey area is definitely a no-no. If you’re uncertain if a certain prescription is legal or safe to bring, it’s best to check ahead of your arrival.
Seemingly odd laws like feeding pigeons, singing in public, connecting to another person’s WiFi, smoking in public, homosexuality and even forgetting to flush the toilet when using a public restroom all carry a hefty fine at best, at worst, time in prison. While it may seem like there are a lot of rules to adhere by, being generally aware of your surroundings as well as courteous and attentive to those around you, will ensure you’ll be in the clear. You know the age-old saying, when in Rome, do as the Romans do—in this case as the Singaporeans!
For more info about the Lion City, feel free to also read this blog post: Singapore Facts.
5. Save Money, Take the Bus and MRT
The Mass Rapid Transit system, better known as the MRT is Singapore’s primary people mover, and a great, cost-effective way to get from point A to point B. Of course, you can always hop in a taxi. But, for those wishing to travel to the city’s major hubs and sites (and even more remote areas), the MRT and bus are the way to go.
While the taxi option is always on the table, some drivers prefer not to drive to certain areas and the frequency of service can be spotty in residential neighborhoods. Although relying on services like Uber or GrabTaxi can be handy, they’re not always the most reliable (as anyone who has had their driver text them “where are you?” might know).
Skip the taxi or UBER, save a few bucks and utilize Singapore’s great transportation public systems. Safe, affordable and reliable, the MRT and bus system are rated as the best in the world by several international rankings based on numerous criteria. You can even purchase an EZ Link card that can be used during the entire length of your vacation and can be recharged online, or at any one of the MRT stations dotted throughout the city. For more info on how to purchase an EZ Link card and how to get on the MRT in the first place, check out our complete Singapore Transport Guide.
One thing to note is that most bus stations do not offer WiFi. If you need to plan your trip on the go, as well as check out bus times/schedules and general information, it’s always a great idea to have pocket WiFi to streamline your transportation experience. Check out this link to book your very own pocket WiFi (which you can pick up right at the airport upon your arrival). From just $8 US a day, it’s a great way to know exactly where and when you’re going!
You can also check out Singapore City Pass for a premium no hassle experience on a hop-on hop-off bus pass, which includes 2 attraction entrance tickets for some of the city’s top sights including Gardens by the Bay, and the Singapore Zoo.
6. Grab a Singapore Sling During your Stay
During your stay in Singapore, you’re likely to hear talk about the infamous Singapore Sling. A drink originally concocted by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese restauranteur over a century ago. At the time Ngiam Tong Boon was working as a bartender at the famed Raffles Hotel’s Long Bar.
This signature cocktail consists of gin, cherry liqueur, Cointreau, Benedictine, Grenadine, sweet pineapple juice/various fruit juices, a hint of lime and bitters; although innumerable variations are available each with its own unique bent. It’s often considered by locals to be the perfect drink for typical non-drinkers to get a little-tipsy, because, after all, you’re on vacation!
While it may fetch a little bit of a price tag (usually around $30 Singaporean dollars) per drink, locals and tourists alike consider the beverage a rite of passage. And rightly so, as many savor the cherry, pineapple, fruity flavoring along with the exotic, local atmosphere that harks back to the hustling 1920s; all while getting a little tipsy in the process. If you’re interested in this historic and classic drink, head on down to the Long Bar and knock one down yourself. This is an only-in Singapore travel tip that is a must-try for the full Singaporean experience. While you’re enjoying a drink, you can munch on some all-you-can-eat peanuts on the house!
7. Beware the ‘Sin’ Tax!
Although Singapore is a great place to party, those who wish to indulge in a little drink or two should be aware of Singapore’s infamous ‘sin’ tax (which is a tax that consumers pick up when buying and consuming alcohol). Even when grabbing a pint of beer at a pub or a glass of wine at dinner, the ‘sin’ tax is in full effect. Typically, the tax per liter of beer is a whopping 60 Singaporean dollars. That usually equals out to about $5-10 per drink depending on where you are (thus the expensive Singapore Sling).
If you’re aching for a beer or just looking to have a few drinks out with family and friends, it’s best to head out to a local Hawker center. With the unrelenting humidity and severe heat, you can save money and enjoy a nice cold beer at the end of the day. Not all Hawker stalls sell alcohol, some do and they will allow you to cut costs overall with cheaper prices (which can sneak up on you after a night of drinking and leave you with an unpleasant feeling in the pit of your stomach). To boot, the stalls that serve alcohol usually serve bottles in a bucket full of ice, which goes great with food. Although alcohol is only slightly cheaper at Hawker centers, expect to fetch a hefty price tag when eating out at posh cafés and restaurants.
8. Head to the Hawker Centers
Singapore is well-known for its upscale, high-end restaurants and cafés, but for those seeking to save a few dollars, it only makes sense to head to one of the countless Hawker centers dotted throughout the island state. If you have an itch for authentic Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, and International flavors, the hundreds of stalls that fill these government-designated centers offer traditional dishes and unique tastes and flavors of their own.
Avoid the unnecessarily long queues, ditch the reservations, grab a seat and order away. You might even find yourself rubbing shoulders with Singapore’s top CEOs and businessmen.
In terms of cost, typical meals range from 4 to 6 Singaporean dollars excluding a drink which usually costs another 2-3 on top. Pick your favorite dish from the wide colorful Singaporean culinary rainbow including: savory chicken rice, curry chicken head, Laksa, Hokkien Mee, Bak Kut Teh, Satay and everything in between. Hawker centers are always easy on the wallet in addition to being great places to refuel on your favorite dish during your travels. With all that money you’re saving, you’ll have a few extra bucks to wet the whistle with another one of those famed Singapore Slings!
9. Don’t be Shy, Eat Away
Singapore is a country known for its food. Often considered as a national pastime, the locals are serious about eating. Don’t miss out on the endless dishes and cuisine that simmered through the centuries of immigration and intermingling of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian populations.
Try the staple Hainanese dishes, including sumptuous cooked chicken steeped in a hearty broth over warm rice; maybe you are more inclined to have Singapore’s famed chili crab, which consists of a savory crab cooked in a rich gravy sauce and sautéed in a tomato chili base.
Maybe you would prefer the Laksa; rice noodles in a spicy coconut curry sauce topped off with fresh eggs, fish cakes, juicy chicken and garnished with fresh cilantro and green onion. The options truly are innumerable, so make sure to try as much as you can. And with the advent of Hawker centers sprawling out of every corner of Singapore, it’s easy to eat great, delicious food on a budget at almost any time of day.
More info about local food here: Singapore Food.
10. Check Out A Day/Night Market
While you may be able to find all of the latest fashions in high-brow, high-end shopping districts including Orchard Road or Marina Bay Sands’ extensive shopping arcade. Some of the city’s best finds can only be purchased at Singapore’s colorful and entertaining markets.
Perhaps the city’s most famous is Chinatown’s Street Market, open from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. daily. The market offers a wide range of fashion antiques, souvenirs and unique electronics. In addition, the market caters to foodies of all types by offering singular eats that can only be found here and nowhere else. It is here that Singaporean classics such as stingray and Hainanese chicken over rice were first concocted in the Singapore style.
The Bugis Street Market is said to be the biggest, cheapest and most visited in the entire city. Many unique souvenirs like post cards, stationary, key chains and clothes go for as little as $1 SDG. While it may not be the cutting-edge of fashion, you are sure to find bargains that are hard to beat anywhere else. This includes $10 jeans, T-shirts for $3, and shoes as low as $10. The Bugis Market is open from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Next, China Square Central Flea Market is a bohemian paradise. Open Saturdays and Sunday, this quaint flea market has a long history in the city. Expect to find vintage Chinese decorative items, jewelry, and one-off fashion gems, as well as rare books, comic books and retro toys. The market is opened 9:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.
Finally, Little India Arcade opens from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and is one of two markets that focus on South Asian products of the Indian sub-continent. Here you can find fresh flower reefs that will fill your senses with a blissful aroma, dried herbs and spices, aromatic incense, rare essential oils, uniquely colorful artwork as well as Indian and Arabian clothing and accessories, and finally sweet shops.
The other market is Little India’s Tekka Center. While it may not be city’s most glamorous market, Tekka Center offers great food options. The specialty that attracts locals and tourist alike is the $8 Biryani, which is said to be the market’s must-try. Tekka Center is opened daily from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
And there you have it, these Singapore travel tips will have you covered—from your arrival, to transportation, to what not to do, and better yet, what to eat and drink while you’re visiting this fabulous destination. If you have any other Singapore travel tips let us know in the comments!
And if you are looking for the best places to visit in Singapore, read this blog post: Visit Singapore.