Singapore… it was on the list, its location fitted in perfectly with our planned travel route but did it fit in with out planned budget??? In a nutshell… NO!!! Being a shoppers paradise, a tourist Mecca and an entertainment hotspot, how the heck was a backpacking family of 6 on a very tight budget going to manage this. We have both visited Singapore before and we knew that we had to at least give the kids a small taste of this little Oriental gem. FAST… that was our only option. We had to get in, do the business and get out again as soon as possible. Not our regular style but we knew we could do this. Scoring an amazing find on Agoda, I booked a family room in the Lai Ming Hotel, which was a budget friendly hostel close to a train station and not far from where all the action was. Coming in at well under $100 NZ a night, we were already onto a winning plan.
Having already spent 2 months negotiating the chaos, clutter and sometimes grubbiness of South East Asia, we had warned the kids out and told them to expect nothing but a clean, fresh and orderly city. I’m pretty sure they thought we were crazy and just telling them positive stories to get them excited (which we may or may not have done in the past).
Arriving at Changi Airport after our flight from Hanoi, Vietnam, we decided that using the train for our time in Singapore was going to be our best option. Heading down to the MRT station with our 6 backpacks, I could already see that the kids were impressed. Taking our time in the station, figuring out our destination and how to get tickets actually went really smoothly. We figured that we could buy a MRT tourist card which would give us unlimited train rides for a period of 3 days. We were lucky and got 2 free cards for the little boys as they were under 8 and then paid for 1 child and 3 adult cards. Grabbing a map of the system and jumping on board we headed for our accommodation. Our room was in a hostel located in the Geylang area. Some would say this was not the best area for a family (being the red light district) but we had no worries. After all, this was Singapore, very tame, very unassuming and very safe. Having found this room at approx 1/4 of the price of anything else remotely similar, I was a little nervous about the state of it. Getting off the train and only having a short 2 block walk to the hotel, I was already singing its praises to the rest of the tribe. We were well use to budget, guesthouse accommodation so as always we had pretty low expectations. By Singapore standards most would say that our place was an absolute dump but to us it was a small step up from our usual abodes. A large, cleanish room with 6 beds and our own bathroom greeted us and having a ‘free to use’ washing machine in the lobby was an absolute bonus. So armed with cheap accommodation, unlimited train tickets and clean clothes, Singapore on a budget was off to a flying start.
With our hard and fast approach, there was no time to waste. Up early to drink a quick cup of crap coffee and eat cereal from our 2 tiny plastic bowls using our 2 recently acquired (stolen from a previous Air Bnb) spoons and we were off out the door. Already the kids were impressed, Singapore was clean, it was tidy and it was orderly just like Mum and Dad had said. Our train tickets (or our Wonka Golden Tickets, as our littlest like to call them) were definitely going to get a good work out. The glittering designer shops of Orchid Road was our first destination. Even in our previous life of actually being able to afford clothes, shopping is not our thing. But nevertheless we enjoyed wandering around the downtown area where no so surprisingly we ended up at “Toy R Us” and spent at least an hour getting a toy fix with all the different toys they had on display.
We had heard on the grapevine (aka.. other travel family blogs) that Chinatown had the best hawker center in Singapore so that was our next destination just in time for lunch. Apparently everyone in Singapore had the same idea as us and the place was crowded. So a little tip for first time users of the hawker center… if there is a free table which has small packets of tissues on it… its not actually a free table!!! How it works is you go in and find a table, then you place a packet of tissues on said table then you can walk around and select your food and bring it back to your ‘saved’ table. So when you walk in and think… Oh look there’s a free table and the locals have even given us tissues to wipe our hands on… best to just keeping walking and find a table that doesn’t actually have tissues on it!!! We did this the next day!!!
For parents its a big scary money sucking monster, for kids its a fun entertainment paradise. Sentosa Island, Singapore’s home of Universal Studios, Kidzania, water parks, huge resorts, the Skyline Luge and a whole lot more super fun (did I mention expensive) family attractions. Taking the monorail from the mainland to Sentosa Island with the plan to just walk around, check it out and play at the free beach was our intention. I had a cousin from New Zealand working at the Skyline Luge so after contacting him, we made plans to meet up for a coffee. Unfortunately, as things often do, it all turned to custard on his end and he had to race back to the mainland to take care of some important business. Disappointment that we couldn’t catch up with him soon turned into great fun as the staff at the luge gathered us up and treated the kids like royalty. For the next hour we all raced, sped and roared down the luge and had a brilliant afternoon. Although the kids said it was kind of tame compared to the Rotorua Luge back in NZ, there was lots of construction going on, building new faster tracks and improving the facilities. We look forward to visiting again one day to try the bigger tracks out.
Being a curry loving bunch we decided that the Little India hawker center was going to be our stop for dinner. The Naans were huge and the curries were hot so thank goodness they also made ice cold Mango Lassis to cool our insides. Stopping at Gardens By The Bay on our way home to watch the Supergroove light show and catch a glimpse of the Singapore evening city scape rounded off our first, fast and furious day in Singas.
Day 2 was much of the same. We would say that Gardens By The Bay is Singapore’s piece la resistance when it comes to free entertainment in the city. A huge splash park, a very cool jungle themed playground, plants, gardens, walkways, shaded areas, cafes and even a McDonalds are all on offer. They also run constantly changing exhibitions and shows throughout the year. We just happened to visit during a Dinosaur exhibition which of course was perfect for our bunch of prehistoric cave children. There is 2 huge garden displays which you have to pay to enter. The Cloud Forest and The Flower Dome are both encased in huge glass domes and are very popular attractions. Deciding that the boys would not really value the experience, Kasha and I returned to Singapore from Malaysia to visit The Cloud Forest a few days later. We did spent many hours enjoying the splash park and playground as a family though. It was Chinatown again for lunch and this time we didn’t steal anyone’s ‘saved’ table then a walk to Merlion Park and Marina Bay Sands. Then as requested by the kids it was back to Little India for Dinner and Mango Lassis. The Marina Bay Sands light and music show which is on every night is not to be missed, so getting a great spot on the opposite side of the harbour, we settled in and enjoyed our final night in Singas.
With unlimited time and unlimited cash, Singapore would be an amazing family destination but we can quite honestly report that with limited time and very limited cash Singapore is still an amazing family destination!!! So although “Singapore” and “budget” are not a widely used combination, “Singapore” and “kind of budget” works great together and we can’t wait to put this combination to the test again one day.
72 Hours in Singapore… Fast, Furious and Fabulous!!!
Impossible is Nothing xxx