Ah, Singapore. Everyone told me how boring and expensive you were, and I found you to be neither. (Well, OK, you are a bit expensive. I'm just clearly brainwashed from living in The Most Expensive City Ever, aka San Francisco.)
I arrived on a flight to The Most Beautiful Airport in the World, aka Changi International on a flight on The World's Best Airline (Singapore Air) from Hanoi. Can I just take a minute here to talk about one thing that upsets me (yes, only one right now) and that is how basically every airport in the WORLD is nicer than JFK. Here we have people arriving from all over the planet, many of them for the very first time to visit the United States, land of the free and the brave, one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world, and our introduction to the U.S. is: "It sucks here." Yes, there are some terminals at JFK that are nicer than others, but when I flew to NYC last January, I arrived at Terminal 7, wandered through rundown dirty hallways trying to find a bathroom before waiting on the absurdly cold, absurdly unsheltered LIRR platform to head into the city. Everything looks like it hasn't been cleaned since the '70s, although the big bathroom was closed for cleaning. I finally found another tiny bathroom past baggage claim that had two toilets blocked off for cleaning, surly airport worker ladies shouting at everyone and each other, all manner of toilet paper and other trash all over the floor, and of course a queue of women waiting to use the one available toilet. One German woman came out of the lone toilet with a look of fear in her eyes and I wanted to say, "Yes, I feel you. I have been to the airports at Hamburg and Munich and Frankfurt. I get it. It will be OK. The rest of the country isn't like this. Just the subway. And the streets of New York City before trash day. But I promise, it gets better. Kind of."
It's literally such a disgrace to have this be a first intro to our country; by contrast, arriving at the airports in Bangkok or Hanoi or Hong Kong, you think, wow these countries are making it! I can find what I need! The bathrooms are spic and span! The airport workers aren't cursing at people for waiting in a line for the only toilet within a 3-mile radius! The airport in Singapore is even nicer than all three of those other airports, there's fancy waterfalls and a million stores and basically everything you need to live, even a swirling slide ride for kids. I would have lived at the airport in Singapore if they'd let me, but I had booked a hostel in town, so I reluctantly found my way to their rail system and made my way in. Having been jumping out of the way of motorbikes for a month in Vietnam, I found the ability to travel around by subway liberating. If you're familiar with the beautiful, modern subways of Germany, that's the level of standards we're talking here. Everything runs on time, everything is impeccably clean, everything is thoughtful and considered, like the lines painted on the platform to let you know where to queue, and the glass enclosement blocking people from falling into the tracks and, more practically, trap the ice cold air-conditioned air inside the station.
I didn't do tons in Singapore on my first day; I arrived by 5pm or so to the hostel and stepped out to get food at a nearby food court (Singapore's solution to street food was to house them all in food courts). The next day, I met a French girl at my hostel and we ventured out to see the sights, taking in the Colonial District, Chinatown, Little India and the Arab Quarter (which was conveniently where our hostel was located). The next day, I hopped on the subway and went to the Singapore Botanical Gardens and took my time going through the entire park. Which is free! I did pay S$5 ($3.70 US) to go into the Orchid Garden, which was well worth it. That night, I met up with a friend and his wife for dinner for Hunanaese food.
The next day, I had a late breakfast, then went to the Peranakan Museum, which again cost about S$5 and was extremely interesting and provided me a nice air-conditioned place to spend a few hours learning about the descendants of the Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay Straights from the 15th-17th centuries. I did some shopping, then met up with a friend from UCSB and her husband that night for dinner.
Alas, the next day my sweet Singapore sojourn came to a close, as I hopped a bus for Malacca, Malaysia. While I didn't keep exact records of my spending in Singapore, the subway rides were between S$1 - S$2 ($.74 - $1.48) . My meals averaged $6 - $15 (breakfast was included at my hotel). Yes, it's an expensive city if you're going out drinking a lot (no more than SF or NYC though), but other than that, the expensiveness can be managed if you're mindful of it.
Where I Stayed
Singapore: Shophouse The Social Hostel I liked and didn't like this place. I loved that it was affordable. I loved that it was clean. I loved that they had rules posted about being quiet after certain hours. I was in an all-female dorm for the first three nights, then had to move to a mixed-dorm. I didn't really love the bathrooms, but they were pretty typical of everything I've encountered so far (the whole shower-toilet room), minus when I've stayed at hotels where they have a legit bathroom-toilet divide. There was a nice rooftop and a decent breakfast (just cereal and milk, which was actually a welcome change after endless eggs in Vietnam). I loved the location (one block from super trendy Haji Lane and very central/accessible to everything). I loved that the room itself had nice features, like a locker big enough to actually hold my bag, and each bed was equipped with its own electrical outlet and lamp. I did not love that the girl sleeping across from me had a job she needed to get to in uniform by 7 am, meaning she'd wake up around 5:45 am and leave her light on while going about her getting ready routine, which seemed to take about an hour and involved leaving the room to shower while leaving her stupid light on. I did not love that they didn't mention the price difference for my fourth night when I booked it at the front desk. I did not love that when they asked for a deposit for lending me an electric adapter, it turned out I was actually renting it. I did not love that the staff just leaves at 10 pm, meaning that the entire hostel is just "on its own" to sort out anything that arises. I asked about this and was told "there are signs telling people the rules." Well, what if someone breaks the rules? This was met with a blank stare. Thankfully, besides a loud group of Indonesian women smoking on an outside set of stairs where they weren't supposed to, there wasn't a ton of rule-breaking going on. (I guess I am just a paranoid American who is convinced all hell will break loose and some kind of Lord of the Rings scenario is going to take over a hostel in Singapore. Either that, or just a girl with a very over active imagination.) Anyway, a solid B for Shophouse the Social Hostel. ($15/night for my first three nights, $20 for my fourth)