I recently returned home from a very memorable 4.5 months in Singapore.
I've been to many places, met amazing people, and learned so much during my internship at the Acoustic Research Laboratory at NUS. I've also learned to become a bit more careful with my finances, which was all the more important given the constraints of my S$1000/month stipend. As I figured out during the course of my time in Singapore, this stipend doesn't go very far in covering more than basic expenses. Nevertheless, there's still plenty you can see on Singapore on a budget.
If you're going to stay in Singapore for any longer than three days, buying an EZLink transport card is well worth the S$5 investment. EZLink cards work in all of Singapore's modes of public transport and it's much more efficient and cheaper than buying a ticket for every trip. CityMapper and SingaBus (iOS and Android) are your best friends when it comes to planning the best combination of buses and MRT lines islandwide. In my experience, the buses were much slower than the MRT (especially during peak traffic hours), but they are far more comfortable with ample seats and powerful aircon. It is also a good idea to check the EZLink trip transfer rules which can save you a lot of money if you plan in advance.
All the below places are either free or can be done for less than S$15 per person.
Sungei Boloh Wetlands
One of the many monitor lizards we saw that day
The Wetlands is a pretty interesting place located in North Singapore. It's so close to Malaysia that you can easily catch a glimpse of Johor Bahru from the boardwalk. Unlike Singapore's other parks, the Wetlands is an unfiltered experience. On a good day, you can easily expect to see several animals ambling about the forested area. We saw five monitor lizards, a number of mudskippers, schools of needle fish, an uncountable number of birds, a cobra (!), and even a wild crocodile lying just out of sight. It makes for a great day trip if the weather cooperates and the only thing you'll need to spend here is your time.
The famous Henderson Waves Bridge
The Southern Ridges is a trail running through five parks, from Mount Faber (near VivoCity) to Labrador Nature Reserve (near the NUS campus). It's an amazing 10km walk and I loved the views from the Henderson Waves bridge and the Canopy Walk - only then do you realise how green Singapore is! As an aside, I tried making an 8km evening run from Mount Faber till Science Park, but I quickly got worn out by all the steps and elevation. Walking through the park is definitely more enjoyable.
A spectacular view from the Barrage
If you're into ships, the Marina Barrage can offer quite a spectacular view. The Barrage is located near Marina Bay Sands/Shoppes. It feels very communal at the top of the Barrage, with several families setting up picnics and children flying kites. Unlike the Southern Ridges (which is breathtakingly beautiful, but far too strenuous for a run), this can be a part of a fantastic 10km running trail, starting from the Merlion Park to the Marina South Pier MRT Station via the Marina Barrage.
View of Chek Jawa from the Jejawi Tower
This is one of the more exciting parts of Singapore. Pulau Ubin is an island, located in the North-West part of Singapore, accessible by a S$3 (March 2019) boat ride from Changi Village. Like the Sungei Boloh Wetlands, the island is geographically close to Malaysia. It's so close that I noticed that my cellphone shifted to receiving signals from MyMaxis Malaysia instead of StarHub Singapore!
Cycling Trail at Pulau Ubin
Pulau Ubin is by no means devoid of artificial development, but I got the feeling that NParks went to great lengths to make it traversable while still preserving the natural beauty of the island. Speaking of traversal, the best way to get around Pulau Ubin is by mountain bike, which can be rented near the jetty for S$10-15 for the entire day. The Chek Jawa wetlands is similar to Sungei Boloh (though we didn't see half as many wild animals when we went). The Ketam Mountain Bike Park in the west part of Pulau Ubin can be quite a challenge. The Blue Trails are moderately difficult with rough paths and small slopes, while the Black Diamond and Double Black Diamond trails are utterly brutal. Attempting the Black trails with the Reebok bike I rented was out of the question.
We spent nearly six hours cycling around Pulau Ubin. Carrying food and water is recommended, though there are plenty of vending machines dotted about the island. Sunscreen is also a must.
St. John Island
Singapore's Skyline from the ferry
This is another island adventure, located towards the southern part of Singapore. The ferry ride to the island is wonderful - it was fun to watch the Singapore coastline go by - from the sweeping skylines of the Marina Bay Financial Centre to the HDBs in Jurong. Unlike Pulau Ubin, carrying supplies for St. John Island is imperative. There is no drinking water on the island, nor is there any food to be found. At my insistence, we went to see the Tropical Marine Science Institute's research lab. Of interest is Lazarus Island which is a nice place to relax.
We spent half an hour skipping stones here!
The same ferry ticket also includes a stop at Kusu Island, which looked lovely, but I can't offer any suggestions on, for we had beat a hasty retreat to Singapore after completely running through whatever little supplies we had brought with us.
MacRitchie Reservoir/TreeTop Walk
TreeTop Walk Suspension Bridge
These two places together are ideal for a very enjoyable day trip. I suggest starting from Windsor Park to go to the TreeTop Walk and then MacRitchie Reservoir via the well-manicured Golf Link. TreeTop Walk does exactly what it says on the tin - it takes you between the tops of trees using a very unique suspension bridge originally constructed for ecologists to study the ecosystems of the tree canopies. The suspension bridge is one-way and is quite narrow. I went alone on a weekday and I loved having the entire bridge to myself.
MacRitchie's Art Pavillion
MacRitchie has good running trails, boardwalks, and some much needed eating options once you finish the trail. Of note was the Leaning Tree in the middle of the boardwalk. The boardwalk was specifically redesigned in a section to accommodate this tree and this really exemplifies the pains which Singapore takes to maintain its natural beauty!
There are many places which I also loved but didn't make it to this list. Honorable mentions go to:
- Gardens By the Bay
- S.E.A. Aquarium
- East Coast Park
- Chinese Garden/Japanese Garden
- Jewel (Changi Airport)
- Woodlands Waterfront Park
I can't recommended Singapore enough for a short-term visit or an internship. It's a beautiful city with plenty to do, cheap and delicious food, and efficient public transport. What's not to love?