Singapore stopover

The last country we visited on our 2012 five month world tour was Singapore (5-9 December). Singapore makes an excellent stopover for anyone heading in or out of Australia: not only is Changi the best airport I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, Singapore has just enough great attractions for you to comfortably see in about four days. We spent a few days in Singapore on our way out of Australia in 2010 and were keen to come back on the return journey. Visiting at the start and end made Singapore feel like neat bookends to the stories of our 2.5 years away from home.

ArtScience Museum

Accommodation

The budget traveller will find accommodation frightfully expensive in Singapore. Anything under SGD$150 is likely to land you in a dodgy budget hotel and the decent ones only start at around SGD$200. There are quite a few hostels with funky modern interiors which look nice and are cheaper than hotels but they seem to specialise in enormous dorms of 20+ beds (our personal limit is 6).

My current favourite source of accommodation, Airbnb, provided us with the perfect solution for Singapore. Sarah’s apartment is located right above the Chinatown MRT stop and has three rooms available to travellers. The facilities are excellent, the price is reasonable and Sarah is a very accommodating host. And check out the view!

Chinatown

Top 10 things to do in Singapore

  1. Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. If you want to get there by public transport take the MRT to a nearby station then a bus. When you exit the MRT touts will try to get you to take one of their private minivans, but you’ll save money (and feel triumphant) if you can find the local bus.
  2. Singapore Botanic Gardens. Free to visit (except for the orchid section) and a beautiful place to spend some time over a picnic lunch or with a good book.
  3. Chinese and Japanese Gardens. These two themed gardens are right next to each other and also very nice to explore, although they are a bit more exposed than the Botanic Gardens so try to avoid them at the hottest part of the day. You can also visit The Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum in the of the Chinese Gardens.
  4. ArtScience Museum. An excellent new museum that features an interesting program of exhibitions fusing elements of art, science and design. While you’re in the area you can also walk across the distinctive Helix Bridge which offers excellent views of the museum as well as the famous Marina Bay Sands building.
  5. Marina Bay Sands SkyPark Observation Deck. The view from the top of this famous building is impressive but pricey at SGD$20 per person. I felt it was only worth doing if the weather was really nice, which unfortunately it wasn’t when we were there. Visit the website for info about ArtScience Museum combo tickets and the free guided tours available.
  6. Vivo City. Singapore has many mega malls but Vivo City is the biggest. You could happily while away an afternoon here if you need some relief from the heat.
  7. Sentosa Island. From Vivo City you can take the to Sentosa Island. It features a whole host of attractions but you don’t have to spend a lot of money if you don’t want to. There’s plenty to see just wandering around and it also has the closest thing Singapore has to a beach (well, it is a beach, but it’s man-made).
  8. Little India. Take a stroll around the streets to witness lots of local character with colourful sights and sounds. You can also visit Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple and the big 24 hour Mustafa shopping centre.
  9. Cycling tour. Bike Mike told us about the tours he was planning to start in Singapore when we met in him in Copenhagen earlier this year. Unfortunately the tours hadn’t started by the time we got to Singapore but they seem to be running now. The price is rather steep but I think it would be a great way to see the city, and Mike is quite a character.
  10. Clarke Quay. Worth a wander in the evening for some people-watching and night photography, but avoid the multitude of bars and restaurants which are touristy and expensive.

ArtScience Museum

Good eats

Singapore is more expensive than Malaysia but food can still cheap by most European, and certainly Australian, standards. For the most authentic experience immerse yourself in its hawker-style food courts.

  • The one at the base of the People’s Park Centre in Chinatown was the cheapest and least busy one we visited (make sure you go inside the sheltered area, not just around the outside which can get quite crowded).
  • There’s a popular one near Bugis which gets pretty packed (be prepared to swoop on and defend a seat) but if you don’t mind the crowd the food is good and the stalls offer a little bit of everything.
  • Lau Pa Sat is nice but costs a little bit more than the two above.
  • The food court at Newton Circus is well known but quite touristy and touty as a result.

Make sure you try chicken rice, any combination of pork and/or duck meat with rice (my favourite ♥), char kway teow and a good laksa.

Also, Ananda Bhavan in Little India (I believe they have other locations too) is a superb vegetarian restaurant where you can sample south Indian cuisine as well as the more well-known northern dishes. Try going there for a hearty Indian breakfast that will keep you going for most of the day!

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, Little India

[more photos 2010 / more photos 2012]

My 10 favourite European hostels

(And other budget accommodation.)

Where you stay in a town or city has a huge impact on your enjoyment of that destination. I loved the top three places on this list so much I’d recommend visiting just so you can stay there!

10. Hostel Room, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
(Availability and prices at Hostel World or Hostel Bookers)

The best part of Hostel Room is its colourful and relaxed common area which doubles as a cafe/bar also open to the public. They run different theme nights most nights of the week, the staff are friendly and helpful, and they have a cool resident dog called Lexie. :)

9. Residence Rooms, Sarajevo, Bosnia
(Availability and prices at Hostel World or Hostel Bookers)

Cheap rooms in a beautiful, grand building. The communal lounge area is spacious with high ceilings and is filled with big couches and even a grand piano! I believe it’s family run, but either way you end up feeling like a welcome guest in someone’s plush home.

8. Hotel Des Abassadeurs, Toulouse, France
(Availability and prices at Hostel World or Hostel Bookers)

Ambassadeurs is definitely family run, and it’s the best thing about this little budget hotel. The staff are welcoming, funny and incredibly helpful. We didn’t know what to expect from Toulouse but we left wanting more thanks to the excellent recommendations given to us during our stay.

7. Seven Hostel, Sant’Agnello, Italy
(Availability and prices at Hostel World or Hostel Bookers)

Seven Hostel feels like someone just finished building a fancy hotel then decided to fill it with bunk beds. The rooms are clean and airy and the hostel has its own bar/restaurant attached which serves great food (with a discount for guests). We used it as a base to visit Sorrento (within walking distance) and Pompeii (accessible by train).

6. Old Town Hostel, Split, Croatia
(Availability and prices at Hostel World or Hostel Bookers)

Located right in the heart of Split’s old town we had a really lovely time at this hostel. It has a colourful little common room with couches and a big TV hooked up to a stack of movies and it just had a really nice, relaxed vibe, we enjoyed just hanging out. It’s also a stone’s throw away from a wonderful little restaurant (we loved it so much we ate there twice).

5. Kolega Guesthouse, Zadar, Croatia
(Availability and prices at Hostel World)

A beautiful little guesthouse with just three bedrooms run by a nice and helpful guy called Marin. The shared kitchen/lounge area is lovely and we were sad that we were only staying for one night. I think we’ll be back!

4. Het Colettientje B&B, Bruges, Belgium
(Availability and prices at Hostel World)

While a B&B Het Colettientje is cheaper than some of the hostels we stayed in (hello Amsterdam, hello Rome) and Maria is one of the most fantastic B&B hosts we’ve ever had. She prepared fabulous breakfasts for us and and we had a lot of fun brushing up on our patchy Italian in conversation. (Maria was born in The Netherlands but spent much of her life in Italy.) She also gave us lots of great recommendations about what to do and see in town and where to eat delicious food sans tourist prices. Also: incredibly comfortable beds!

3. Lavender Circus, Budapest, Hungary
(Availability and prices at Hostel World or Hostel Bookers)

A great place and a fantastic atmosphere for a super cheap. The hostel sprawls across the top floor of a fabulous old building and the walls, ceiling and shelves are covered in paintings, pictures and knick-knacks. The staff are very friendly and helpful and on arrival they make sure you are armed with a map covered in dozens of recommendations for things to do in town. It might not be for everyone because it feels a little bit like living in a cool share house, but we loved it. The area is quite cool too and the main street nearby has some very cool arty shops.

2. Yes! Hostel, Lisbon, Portugal
(Availability and prices at Hostel World)

Until we stayed at hostel number 1 on this list this was the BEST hostel we’d ever stayed at. Great location, very cool design, excellent facilities, super friendly staff and lovely rooms with big beds including every possible convenience: a sink in the corner, big lockers for your luggage, a privacy curtain around each bunk, a reading light and powerpoint for every bed, even a little shelf to rest your phone/camera on while it’s charging. To top it all off, they host a fantastic €8 home cooked dinner every night. This is a great way to meet other travellers and you get incredible value for money: it includes soup, bread, a main, dessert and three alcoholic drinks. For 8 euro!

1. Hostel Majdas, Mostar, Bosnia
(Availability and prices at Hostel World or Hostel Bookers)

Quite simply The. Best. Hostel. you will ever stay at. Majda is wonderfully welcoming from the moment she picks you up from the station, to offering you coffee and treats while recommending the best things to do in Mostar, to the amazing home cooked breakfasts we didn’t even expect. Her brother Bata is crazy and heaps of fun: his world famous tour is as life changing as all the reviews say. DO IT! Plan to spend much longer than you expect here because you’ll find yourself not wanting to leave. The walls are plastered with letters and drawings from previous guests proclaiming their love for Majda’s and my favourite was one that had a ticket stuck to it with a message that said something like: “This is the ticket I originally had to leave Mostar. Here I am 31 32 33 days later, definitely leaving this time, but I wish I could stay longer!”

A special mention goes to Montenegro Hostel, Kotor, Montenegro. (Availability and prices at Hostel World or Hostel Bookers.) There’s not much choice for hostels in Kotor and to be honest this place probably had the dirtiest shower I’ve ever seen, but it’s right in the heart of the old town, super cheap, and it seemed to be really conducive to making new friends: we travelled on with some of the people we met at Montenegro Hostel and we’re still friends with them now. They also have a great deal with a local cafe for cheap eats and they run a fantastic all day tour of Montenegro which I highly recommend. They have lots of other tour options too (including a day trip to Albania) but if you can only pick one do the Montenegro one: you’ll see the best of the whole country in a single (very full) day.