24 Hours in Singapore
Cultural indulgence on a budget.
Singapore might have replaced Tokyo as the most expensive city to live in last year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, but it’s not impossible to immerse yourself in its culture and heritage while on a tight budget. Get a Singapore Tourist Pass (US$8) at Changi Airport MRT (Singapore’s subway system) station, and you’re good to go for a day of unlimited train and bus rides across the city.
Avoid the early-morning rush-hour crowd and begin your day at Ya Kun Toast with a kaya (coconut jam) toast set. As you collect your breakfast — which comes with two half-boiled eggs and a hot cup of kopi (black coffee with sugar) or teh (milk tea) — don’t be afraid to say, “Thank you, aunty/uncle.” (In Singapore, we affectionately call middle-aged men and women “uncle” and “aunty,” even though we’re not related.)
Head to the bus interchange, located on the same floor of NEX Mall, to hop aboard bus 103 until the stop right after St. Vincent de Paul Church. Walk to Kampung Bangkok nearby — the only village left in mainland Singapore — for a glimpse of what life was like here five decades back. Talk to the residents, many of who are willing to share their experiences of village life.
Backtrack to the Serangoon MRT station and take the train to Little India. Not far from the station sits Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, one of the oldest temples in Singapore, built by Tamil laborers who came here in the 1800s. The temple’s most notable feature is the gopuram — a monumental tower of Hindu deity sculptures that’s common in South Indian temple architecture. (Tip: Take off your shoes before venturing in.)
Afterward, wander around the neighborhood famous for its goldsmiths,
traditional Indian clothing and other collectibles, working up an appetite for lunch.
Just a short walk from the temple is Albert Centre, a hawker center offering cheap but tasty food. Try kway chap, a Teochew dish of flat, broad rice noodles in a dark soy sauce soup base that’s served with a plate of pig skin and intestines, braised duck meat, different types of bean curds, preserved salted vegetables and braised hard-boiled eggs. If that sounds a little too exotic for you, Hainanese chicken rice — where the rice is usually cooked in chicken broth and pandan leaves — is your next best option.
Just a stone’s throw away from the center lies the Masjid Sultan, a national monument and one of the biggest
religious structures in Singapore. While the two large golden-yellow domes form its most striking features, the domes’ bases — constructed from glass bottles donated by devotees — are also noteworthy.
After visiting the mosque, head over to Haji Lane — a string of pre–World War II shophouses that now create a paradise for fashionistas and vintage-find appreciators.
Take the MRT to Bayfront station on the Downtown Line for a walk along the Gardens by the Bay. Be awed by the Supertrees — solar-powered vertical gardens standing 25 to 50 meters tall — and then continue to the Marina Bay waterfront, a 3.5-kilometer stretch offering panoramic views of Singapore’s central business district.
Prepare your camera as you walk past the Merlion at Merlion Park, Esplanade (a.k.a. “The Durian”), the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands (where the famous Sky Park is located), and The Helix — a spiraling steel structure that resembles a strand of DNA.
Indulge in local cuisine at Makansutra Gluttons Bay (just beside Esplanade), enjoying dishes from chili crab and orh luah (oyster omelet) to chai tow kway (a Teochew dish of stir-fried radish cake) and sambal (chili paste) stingray. Order a cup of sugarcane or starfruit juice to pair with your meal, which should cost an average of $8 or less.
Enjoy some night shopping at Chinatown Night Market, where you can find traditional items like Chinese fans and calligraphy, opera masks, and other souvenirs. If you’re in the mood for some post-dinner finger food, head over to Chinatown Food Street and treat yourself to ngoh hiang (a five-spice, minced pork roll) and some coconut water, which aids digestion and lowers blood pressure.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling up for more sightseeing, head over to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple nearby. Although it closes at 7 p.m., the four-story temple shines as a nighttime landmark in the heart of Chinatown.
End the night at Clarke Quay, a historic riverside pier that presents a kaleidoscope of colors come sundown. Dance the hours away at one of the many nightclubs housed inside its 19th-century cargo warehouses, or relish the gentle Singapore River breeze with a Singapore Sling (a fruity gin cocktail). Either way, you can celebrate 24 hours of budget-conscious cultural indulgence.