I bet you’ve heard that Singapore is expensive, right? It’s true, and some of the prices may come as a shock after you’ve toured the rest of Southeast Asia. While you won’t find US$5 beds or US$1 beers, there are ways to keep your spending down. If you’re willing to rough it out, you can enjoy some things in Singapore for free. You don’t have to do that, though, to spend less than US$50 over two days.
This post is going to lay out a cunning plan for a cheap-and-rough overnight stay; if you want to spend more time in Singapore, you may want to look at my two-week itinerary for ideas.
(As of 1 May 2018, US$1.00 = S$1.33)
Getting in and out of Singapore
There are several ways one might visit Singapore for a short time. For instance, you may want to have a look around the city on a layover without staying overnight, in which case I hope you’re reading this before you book your flights. Changi Airport offers transiting passengers free city tours if they have at least six hours to spare. If you want to do this, check the tour schedule on the website and book your flights accordingly.
If you can’t join the tour and have at least four hours, take a ride on the public bus. Take No. 36 from Terminal 2 or Terminal 4 and sit on the left-hand side. It will take you through the Marine Parade neighbourhood, the city and Orchard Road before looping back to Terminals 3 and 1. Note that it runs only from 6 a.m. to 10.50 p.m.
Exploring on your own or staying overnight? Or taking a one-way flight and a coach to/from Malaysia? Read on.
Sleeping in Singapore for free – is it worthwhile?
Given that a dorm bed is available from as little as S$12 a night in Singapore (yes, I know it’s still more than wherever you stayed on Khao San Road), you have to be desperate to resort to sleeping rough. You won’t even have to read the next section on public shower facilities.
If you don’t want to pay for a bed, your options are limited to naps in 24-hour laundromats, McDonald’s and Starbucks outlets, and you won’t be lying flat in these places. Order a drink, and the staff will be unlikely to make a fuss. You can try Couchsurfing but, in Singapore, your chances of crashing at a stranger’s place are slim.
Willing to take your chances with the weather? While camping on Sentosa is not permitted, if there’s a beach party on a Saturday, it’s not uncommon for people to sleep on the sand until public transport starts running again in the morning. You can try blending in but remember to use insect repellent.
That said, if you have no baggage to claim or check-in and your flight arrives after 11 p.m. or departs before 8 a.m., you can sleep there. The transit side is preferable, and there are plenty of rest areas. You can also rest on the land side, but you’re more likely to be woken up by security officers on their rounds. They will ask to see a boarding pass too, but they’ll be polite about it.
Where to shower for free in Singapore
Unlike in Europe, the public toilets in our malls and MRT stations are mostly free, and even the paid ones in some markets ask for only 20 cents at most. I’m not aware of any hostels or hotels that let non-guests use a shower for a fee; however, there is one place close to the city where you can freshen up for nothing.
You can visit the Singapore Sports Hub (nearest MRT station: Stadium) which has changing rooms that are free, even if you’re not using the facilities. It would be a shame to not go for a swim in the Aquatic Centre (from S$2.60) or float on the lazy river on the roof of Kallang Wave Mall (S$2) after making the journey, though. While you’ll need only your towel and toiletries, here’s the catch: the shower stalls are too small to take your bags in without getting wet, and there’s nothing to dry your wet stuff.
There are free changing rooms and shower stalls on the beaches of Sentosa and East Coast Park too but trust me when I say you don’t want to deal with wet sand.
Cheap luggage storage in Singapore
If you can’t store your luggage at a local friend’s place or wherever you came from, there is only one place in downtown Singapore where you can do so. The InnCrowd hostel (nearest MRT station: Rochor) has a limited number of paid lockers for checked and cabin baggage. They are accessible between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. If it’s full or you’re miserly, you will be taking your stuff everywhere you go in the heat, so pack light. (Note: This is not an advertisement for the said hostel)
This tip is useful only if you’re not staying overnight. Beyond that, a dorm bed becomes more economical.
Free food and drinks
Did you think I would advise you to buy something before sleeping in Starbucks, then tell you where to eat for free? Meals from hawker stalls are cheap (a couple even have Michelin stars and are still as little as S$2.50). Some temples (look them up) serve a free vegetarian lunch, but they are not in the city centre. The return bus fare would negate any savings. The one thing I’ll endorse is drinking the tap water – it’s safe, and it’s greener than buying bottled water.
Free sights and getting around
Public transport gets you from the airport to downtown Singapore in as little as 35 minutes, but you will need a fare card. You can get either a standard ticket from any MRT station (pay-as-you-use and good for six trips) or a Singapore Tourist Pass from some of them (check the link for locations; unlimited rides for one to three days).
If you arrive via coach, you will probably alight at Golden Mile Tower. Check out this Google Map for walking directions to Nicoll Highway MRT station (five minutes) and Kampung Glam (a further ten minutes). Walks around that neighbourhood, the city, Marina Bay, Chinatown and Little India are free, and there are plenty of air-conditioned shops and malls to cool off. Thinking of that roof-top pool at the Marina Bay Sands? You can’t swim in it without being a guest, though you can share the view by splurging at Spago. Otherwise, if you’re miserly there’s the Lazy River.
To access the Internet through a free Wireless@SG hotspot, read this page. Make sure you have roaming activated so that you can receive the password via text message. You may even want to download the Wireless@SG app before you arrive.
The cheapest alcoholic drinks are in the convenience stores and supermarkets, but sales end at 10.30 p.m. daily – the same time that drinking in places that aren’t pubs becomes illegal. It’s worth remembering if you choose to sleep rough. If you arrive via the airport (and your flight didn’t originate from Malaysia), the duty-free alcohol is even cheaper. There is no such allowance for tobacco, however.
What’s the damage?
- One night in the cheapest dorm (or storing one large bag for two days): S$12
- Six hawker centre meals: S$20
- Unlimited public transport rides for two days: S$16 (plus a refundable S$10 deposit)
- Access to the web: Free
- Total: S$48 (US$36)
There, that’s how you take US$50 to Singapore for two days and have change left over!