This Cheap Singapore Sightseeing Bus Tour on #36 Costs Only $2

To get a sense of a city, take its public transport. You get to see some places that aren’t on tourist maps, all sorts of people – schoolchildren, salarymen, pensioners, migrant workers and more – and how they interact with the services. Singapore is no different in this regard, and you can see it all on a cheap-as-chips sightseeing public bus ride.

The No. 36 bus service runs in a loop from the airport to the downtown area and the shopping district of Orchard Road and back. Consider this option if you’re on a layover in Singapore and the free transit tour from Changi Airport just doesn’t seem “real” enough for you (I still recommend the Heritage Tour, so try it on your flight home).

view of singapore from benjamin sheares bridge
The view of Marina Bay from the Benjamin Sheares Bridge

Important info about the cheap Singapore sightseeing bus tour

Before I describe what you’ll see, here’s the nitty-gritty.

How much does it cost?

S$2.60 as of June 2019 (no change is given on the bus) for the full loop. If you choose to alight halfway through the journey, use the Transitlink guide to find out how much each leg of your journey costs. If you somehow have a CEPAS card, the bus fare is a bit cheaper ($2.06). Tap the card when you board the bus and do it again when you exit.

What is the frequency of the No. 36 bus service?

The first bus leaves Changi Airport at 6 a.m. and the last at 10.50 p.m. The buses leave approximately every 10 minutes. Get a wifi voucher for internet access, then send ‘95129 36’ to Bus Uncle on Facebook via Messenger to check when the next bus leaves from Terminal 2. For the subsequent buses, send ‘next’.

The buses may be green or white and purple but that doesn’t matter because the digital board above the windshield tells you the service number and destination. Don’t take 36A, however, because it will not return to the airport!

Where to board Bus No. 36 at Changi Airport?

It’s best to take the No. 36 bus from Terminal 2, even though it calls at Terminals 1 and 3 too. Every time the bus enters a terminal, it needs to stop for a security check. If you’re already in Terminal 2, go to Basement 2 and follow the signs to buses to the city; otherwise, to get to Terminal 2:

  • From Terminal 1, take the SkyTrain from the land side on Level 2 (Departures)
  • From Terminal 3, use the link bridge in Basement 2.
  • From Terminal 4, just go to the bus stop outside and take No. 36 when it arrives. There is no need to go to Terminal 2.

How much time do I need?

Give yourself at least 2.5 hours to complete the ride. Add an hour before and after to clear immigration and buy something to obtain loose change; add even more time if your flight departs from Terminal 4 because you need to catch the shuttle bus from Terminal 2. On a normal day, five hours between flights should be safe.

The route is subject to change due to road closures for events such as the Singapore Grand Prix, the National Day Parade, the New Year’s Eve countdown and other reasons. Ask ahead on online forums about the road closure situation.

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The DIY cheap Singapore sightseeing bus tour route

There’s no colour commentary from the driver on your journey. What else do you expect for US$2? Just take a seat by the left-side windows and use the info below to spot the landmarks that you’ll pass.

East Coast Parkway (ECP)

We plant a s***load of trees in Singapore, and nowhere else is this more apparent than along our roads and motorways. Keen botanists might think these rain trees and yellow flames look a little funny. They’re right because we also prune the hell out of them. It keeps them out of the way of traffic until heavy rain topples them. Through the trees, you might see bits of the shoreline and cargo ships in the Singapore Strait.

Marine Parade

The bus turns off the motorway and enters the Marine Parade district. If the apartments seem quaint but lovely, well, they’re old condominiums that are out of the reach of most Singaporeans. There’s a lot of construction work going on at the moment for a new underground metro line. It’s not until you pass Victoria Junior College that you see the Housing Board flats that the majority of the population live in. They’re decent and well-maintained for the most part, though, and it’s not uncommon for the middle class to live in public housing here. Why wouldn’t they choose to, when there are schools, a public library and a neighbourhood shopping mall (Parkway Parade) close by?

Marina Bay

The bus route rejoins the ECP – yay, more trees! Keep your eyes peeled after the first flyover; this is where you get your first glimpse of Marina Bay on the left. Arrive at dusk and you’ll see the Flyer, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands and all the skyscrapers lit up.

The bus will exit the bridge and enter the Suntec City complex, passing the Fountain of Wealth on the right. The fountain and the five towers are arranged to resemble a hand, per Feng Shui principles. The route then turns left onto Raffles Boulevard, which forms the back straight on the Singapore Grand Prix circuit. It then does a double-right turn onto Raffles Avenue, where you can glimpse Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Flyer and the Raffles Place business district again. You will also pass the spiked domes of the Esplanade Theatres, although you’ll need to strain your neck to see the top.

Most of the things you’ve seen in Marina Bay so far are on reclaimed land and no more than 30 years old. Esplanade Drive marks the original Singapore shoreline, though, and this is where we see several old buildings in quick succession: the Singapore Recreation Club (1883), St Andrews Cathedral (1861) and Capitol Theatre (1930).

Dhoby Ghaut/Penang Road

This area is named for the linen washers (dhobi) who used to work by the Stamford Canal, which today is mostly covered up. After the bus makes a right turn and follows the left-hand bend, you’ll pass the National Museum of Singapore, the YMCA building (the current building replaces the one that served as the Japanese secret police HQ during World War II), and the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. The squat Chinese-looking building on your left is the House of Tan Yeok Nee, a 19th-Century Teochew tycoon. Today, it’s a private school campus and a national monument.

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Somerset Road/Orchard Boulevard

There’s not much here other than the back of some of the shopping malls and hotels along Orchard Road on the right. It’s no less crowded or devoid of shopwindow advertising, though. The bus will pass some swanky condominiums on your left before doing a double-right turn on Tomlinson Road. This marks the start of the return leg.

Orchard Road

Singapore’s version of a High Street may have lost some lustre due to online shopping but it’s still a temple to consumerism. Two general phenomena worth noting: It’s specially lit up in the lead-up to Christmas, and on Sundays, it’s a popular hangout for Filipina domestic helpers. Just in case you’re looking out for Orchard Towers, it’s the drab building near the start of the street plastered with booze ads.

Among all these buildings is a patch of dense greenery on your left surrounded by a spiked iron fence. That’s the Istana, where the President of Singapore lives and the Prime Minister’s office is located. You won’t see the actual buildings because they are very far from the road; only the guards are visible. A hundred yards down the road, the MacDonald House was the site of the last terrorist attack in Singapore back in 1965. Let’s hope it stays that way.

After MacDonald House, look out for The Cathay. This was Singapore’s first skyscraper and air-conditioned building. In 2000, the building was redeveloped and only the Art Deco facade remains.

Museum District

The bus passes a few colonial-era monuments as it trundles down Bras Basah Road. You see the Singapore Art Museum first. It was formerly a Catholic boys’ school, hence the wings that resemble Bernini’s colonnade in St Peter’s Square. The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is across the street from the SAM. It’s followed by CHIJMES, the scene of the wedding in the Crazy Rich Asians film. The former convent now houses plenty of watering holes and restaurants within its walls.

Switching back to your left, you won’t see the Raffles Hotel’s entrance but its shopping arcade. The Grand Old Dame is undergoing extensive renovations at the moment so a visit is off the cards. Those four “chopsticks” on the right form the Civilian War Memorial. Non-combatant victims are commemorated here, especially on the anniversary of the Fall of Singapore (15 February).

Look straight ahead and you’ll see the Flyer in the gap between the malls. The bus will turn left on Temasek Boulevard, passing the Fountain of Wealth once more before retracing the route back to Changi Airport via Marine Parade. That pretty much marks the end of this cheap Singapore sightseeing bus ride.

As you approach the airport, look out for any planes crossing the motorway overhead on their way to departure. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it won’t be yours! Alight at Terminal 3 (the first terminal) and take the Skytrain/shuttle bus to the terminal that your flight departs from.