A Singapore Sojourn

5 December 2013

Singapore, the modern land of tantalizing cuisine, diversity and clean streets, promises the adventurous traveller so much. It is without doubt, however, that Singapore is a country for the wealthy, especially if you are holidaying there. The cost of living is rising all the time and the materialistic culture is evident everywhere you look in the windows of Louis Vuitton and Prada stores, with the queues of eager shoppers waiting outside.

Backpacking, certainly, is not quite as affordable as it is in other south-east Asian countries. Transport, food, accommodation and entertainment are all rather expensive. And many say that besides dining, shopping and going to the cinema, there is not much to do in this city state. Don't believe them. You can do many things on a budget, no shopping or movies included at all.

Take a leisurely walk along the water at Marina Bay and pop into the mall to do a little window shopping while enjoying the relief of the air conditioner.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

The Botanic Gardens are a visual and sensual treat for any nature lover. The grounds are exquisitely designed and there is certainly something for everyone, from healing and children's gardens to the well-known National Orchid Garden. But one could simply spend the day on the beautiful lawns with a picnic and a frisbee.

Dress up (or don't) and visit the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel, home to the original Singapore Sling cocktail and well-known for the tradition of throwing peanut shells to the floor. The Sling is very expensive for a backpacker or someone on a budget but one can certainly eat one's weight in roasted peanuts which could be seen as a big plus.

 The Singapore Zoo is a most impressive place and well worth the entry price. Those who worry about how animals are treated in zoos may be pleasantly surprised at the system in place. Animals are given as much freedom as possible, it seems, and the grounds are clean and well-maintained. One can see animals, insects, reptiles and bird life from all corners of the globe and learn a lot about conservation and the prevention of some species' extinction at the same time.

Singapore Sling at Raffles Singapore Sling at Raffles

 For many, food is Singapore's biggest attraction. Because it is a country of such diversity, one can find culinary delights from all over the world. You'll find the best value for money at hawkers markets. Lau Pa Sat Festival Market in Raffles Square offers nearly every kind of international cuisine at affordable prices.

Don't forget Sentosa Island, a big and expensive tourist attraction where you can see the aquarium and a pink dolphin show. You can even swim with the beautiful creatures if you are willing to pay the price. China and India Town are areas of remarkable culture and ethnic diversity, red lanterns, hawker shops, familiar food smells and Tiger Beer umbrellas. Arab Street boasts the magnificent Sultan Mosque and lovely little streets lined with several fantastic eateries.

 It must be said that not all Singaporeans live a life of luxury. Like any big Asian cities, one moves from modesty to extravagance in just a few subway stops, one travels through areas of grimy buildings to business centres with glass skyscrapers towering above, one sees "ordinary-looking" people in the streets and then suddenly there are supermodels walking past.

One thing to be careful of when planning your trip to Singapore is choosing your accommodation well. Even if you are backpacking, don't go for the cheapest hostel option, as you might just end up staying in a rather strange area or the red light district even. It might be worthwhile to spend a little extra and find a hostel or budget hotel with good reviews and ratings.

Singapore certainly lives up to its reputation of a rule-driven state. There are fines for so many actions acceptable in other countries, from eating and drinking in train stations or chewing gum in public to carrying the durian fruit (which has a most pungent smell). But all these rules and regulations maintain the safety, security, organisation and cleanliness of the country. Do be careful to be aware of the rules, so you do not end up paying a $500 fine for taking a sip of water on a train platform, for example.

Whatever your travel expectations and budget, Singapore has much to offer in culture, history and experience and is well worth a visit.

 No visa is necessary for South Africans for up to 30 days.

Philippa Francis

Over the last few years, I have fallen in love with travel and I am not sure I will be able to stop, except for my other great love; writing. After studying journalism at Rhodes and Stellenbosch Universities, I wanted to get a taste of the bigger world. I have worked all sorts of jobs and I have saved. I have ‘bused’ around Europe and backpacked around south-east Asia. I have seen magical sights and met wonderful people from all walks of life.