Singapore | Budget Crushing But Worth It

Travelling around Southeast Asia for an extended period of time was certain to involve passing through Singapore’s busy Changi airport at some point, and I was overwhelmed with nostalgia when that time finally came for us. It was here the that I got my first passport stamps nearly 30 years ago, igniting a life-long travel bug. My dad was living there at the time on a long term contract, so my brother and I made many long-haul trips there from the US in our teenage years. Singapore thus became a rather familiar place for us to spend long periods of time, making it all the more special to return again with a kid of my own. Upon arrival, we quickly set out for a stroll along the Singapore River and had a blast recreating some pics from back in the ’90s. The iconic Merlion and Raffles statues we thankfully still there!

But much of the city had changed over the last few decades, including some incredible new architectural wonders like Marina Bay Sands and Gardens By The Bay. Both were strong additions to the waterfront and skyline – complete with LED and laser light shows every night. The SkyBridge in the Supertree Grove exceeded all expectations, we still can’t believe those towers are all covered in actual live plants!

Perhaps the strongest memories I’d had of Singapore from previous trips revolved around food- to this day I struggle to think of a more delicious city (Kuala Lumpur comes close though). Having recently emerged from my regrettable picky-eater childhood years, my dad was thrilled to sample Singapore’s famous hawker stalls with me. One stand in particular, selling a $2 bowl of pork dumpling soup, was enough to get me excited as kid about all of  those 30+ hour transit days over the Pacific! We thus wasted no time getting back to the hawkers upon returning in 2023. From delicious bowls of Zha Jiang Mian, to truffle dumplings, to mouth watering satay- we were in foodie heaven. Even the chain restaurant near our hotel (Tim Ho Wan) had incredible noodle and dumpling offerings. And as an added bonus, Singapore is super clean with drinkable tap water – so it was safe to order from just about any tasty-looking stall.

But all of that eye candy and tasty food comes at a cost. Singapore’s hotels were about 5x as much as we’d gotten accustomed to for similar places in Malaysia and Thailand! The island is famous for massive land reclamation projects,  with most of the currently available land being super expensive and built up vertically to make the most out of it. Our hotel room at the Citadines Connect City Center was a classic example of this, with limited floor space but an upstairs loft! Thankfully it came with a nice rooftop pool to escape the sweltering mid-day heat.

The high price tag associated with spending time in Singapore is somewhat balanced out with tons of freebies and green spaces like the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden. Andy was a good sport here about doing some more pic recreations and couldn’t get enough of the numerous playgrounds, tree-houses, and zip line. Another outdoor freebie we really loved was the Southern Ridges hike, full of scenic overlooks, cool bridges, and lush jungle all along the way.

If we had to pick one recommendation for parents of young kids in Singapore? Hands down, the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo. Andy consistently tells us that his favorite thing we did over multiple months of travel was walking along those dark paths and finding cool animals everywhere. We were all really impressed with the experience, being able to see all kinds of nocturnal critters active for a change (as opposed to the typical daylight zoo day where everything is asleep). Many of the resident animals are native to Southeast Asia, such as the binturong below that we tried (and mostly failed) to take a picture of in the dark. One positive of realizing that our photos probably wouldn’t come out at all was that we could focus on soaking it all in instead. There were loose monkeys everywhere, lions roaring (that actually scared both Tara and Andy), huge exhibits full of adorable Tasmanian Devils standing up like prairie dogs, and Andy’s favorite – the dancing porcupines. We even got to walk around an open-air civet enclosure (the cat-like animal that poops out coffee beans for overpriced Kopi Luwak) and get within a foot of one eating!

On this trip, we were also fortunate to be in town for a dry run of the National Day festivities. During the day, supersonic warplanes made regular passes over downtown, helicopters towed giant Singapore flags along the river, and the Victoria Concert Hall was lit up with colors to match the day. All of this culminated with one of the most impressive firework displays I’ve ever seen – and this was just a practice for the real thing in a couple of weeks!

When it was finally time to catch our flight to Bali, we budgeted some time in Changi airport to explore the oft-touted air-side amenities. And let’s just say if we have to suck up a layover down the road, I hope it’ll be here! There’s a free butterfly garden, and giant circular waterfall, a rain forest, and an ungodly amount of delicious restaurants to try. With so much to do, see, and eat – here’s to hoping it won’t be another 30 years till we come back!

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  • JoanneSeptember 27, 2023 - 3:19 am

    Wow!! You all are having a ball!! The pics are great and Andy is a verified traveler now! Looks like he is comfortable and enjoying the sites!! Glad that your living the life and I am living it all vicariously through you!! Miss you all !! Keep us updated!! GoGo! 💕😘❤️🤗ReplyCancel

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