A Student’s guide to Singapore
How to make the most of your time abroad in Singapore
Singapore is a small red dot on the map where cultures collide and your taste buds are overwhelmed by choice. Located at the southern tip of Malaysia, Singapore established its independence in 1965 from Malaysia. The country consists of three main cultures- Chinese, Malay and Indian. As a result, the food scene is what Singaporeans pride themselves in and individuals can enjoy a wide range of food no matter its origin. Due to its relatively small size and lack of natural resources Singapore relies on high academic standards, innovation and trade to maintain the economy. Because of the focus on high academic standards the competitiveness in some Singaporean universities can come as a shock to exchange students. Upon completion of this guide you should feel prepared to make the most of your time in Singapore rather than just seeing it as a jumping off platform to other South East Asian countries.
What to See:
• Gardens By the Bay: The Gardens by the Bay is a network of gardens located beside Marina Bay sands. They include those avatar-like trees that you’ve most likely seen in photos called the Supertree Grove. It can get very h0t during the day so make sure you bring a drink bottle. The gardens are best seen during the week when crowds are smaller. Don’t miss out on the Light Show that happens each night in the Supertree Grove. Shows run at 7:45pm and 8:45pm.
• Marina Bay Sands: This is the place where exchange students can benefit by being in large groups. The only way to access the famous 57th floor infinity pool at the top of the hotel is by booking a hotel room. Trick the system by booking a budget room in a group of exchange students and take turns of accessing the pool. A drink at one of the rooftop bars is also recommended. A room booking is not needed to access the bars.
• Botanical Gardens: A UNESCO world heritage site the Singapore Botanic Gardens are beautiful and home to a wide range of plants. Spend a day getting lost here or pack a picnic with friends. Look out for the free outdoor concerts at the botanic gardens that occur on a regular basis. Make sure to flash your student card to get a discount in to the Orchid Gardens.
• Sentosa: Sentosa is Singapore’s answer to a tropical getaway. Sentosa is a small resort island connected by a bridge to Singapore, it is also considered the southern most point of continental Asia. There are many attractions here such as Universal Studios, Underwater World and Adventure Cove Waterpark however if you’re wanting to save money the man-made beaches are still a nice place to relax for free. You can even start up a game of beach volleyball with other students.
• Ion Sky and Orchard Road: Be wowed by the glitz and money in Orchard Road. Orchard Road is home to a number of malls that house all the top-end brands. Do some window shopping and enjoy getting lost in all the underpasses and huge malls. Ion sky is a free viewing floor that gives you views from the 56th floor over Orchard Road. It is located in the Ion Orchard Mall.
• Pulau Ubin: One way to experience the old Singapore is by making a trip on the ferry across to Pulau Ubin. This is an easy day trip and you can hire a bike to peddle around the small island. Look out for the monkeys, lizards and various types of birds who are residents of the island.
• Haji Lane: Here the walls are covered in colourful street art that leave you feeling like you’re in somewhere like Berlin as opposed to Singapore. You can find many alty cafes, shops and bars in this narrow street. Be sure to look out for their street party that attracts people from all ages and backgrounds.
• Bay East Garden: A sneaky spot not known to many tourists this is one of the best places to watch sunset. Simply pass through Gardens By the Bay and when you reach Marina Barrage cross over the bridge in to Bay East Gardens. From here you can watch the sun set through the skyscrapers that surround Marina Bay.
Fun for free:
• Southern Ridges Trail: A winding trail that leads you over hills, bridges and amazing views of the city; the Southern Ridges Trail is a popular one for exchange students. Starting at Kent Ridge you will pass through four parks and finish at Harbourfront. Harbourfront is home to one of Singapore’s largest malls- Vivo city which is a great place to finish up a walk. The recommended time for this walk is in the evening and the whole track is well lit.
• Macritchie Reservoir: Here you can try out kayaking or simply walk or run around some of the trails surrounding the reservoir. Be sure to pass over the treetop walk which leaves you feeling like a monkey high above the jungle floor. The recommended time of day for this walk is early morning. At this time you can get some nice photos over the glassy water and avoid the heat as much is possible in Singapore.
• Little India: Experience the smells and chaos of Little India. Here you can watch how some of the Indian Singapore residents go about their daily lives. Try eating curry with the locals and look out for festivals.
• Chinatown: One of the main tourist areas of Singapore you can stock up on souvenirs here for friends and family back home. However you don’t need to buy something to enjoy walking through the narrow streets of Chinatown. If you are in Singapore during Chinese New Year it is a must to come here in the weeks leading up to the celebration.
What to Eat:
• Paddy Hills: Paddy Hills will have your inner foodie rejoicing. This hipster cafe is for when you feel like treating yourself. It is not exactly wallet-friendly compared to other Singapore eats but the quality of the food makes up for it. Be sure to try there Berry Ricotta Hotcakes.
• Fat Boys: Missing a good burger like what you’re used to at home? Fat Boys is your answer to this. Located in the trendy area of Holland Village enjoy chomping down on one of the many options on the menu or you can even create your own.
• Lau Po Sat: Located in Raffles Place Lau Po Sat is a huge bustling Hawker Centre where you not only go there for the food but for the experience. This is a must for exchange students and you’ll probably return after your first visit. There are delicacies from a huge number of different countries and you can get lost in the maze of stalls. Just make sure to pick a spot to meet your friends after getting the food you want or you may end up eating alone.
• Chicken Rice: The famous Hainanese Chicken Rice. Singapore has claimed this as one of their national dishes and it’s easy to see why. A simple dish of rice cooked in chicken stock served with either roasted or boiled chicken you’ll be suprised by how good it all tastes. You can find this dish in many hawkers and restuarants around Singapore.
• Roti Prata: Originating in India prata is a delicious yet simple staple food. Prata is a fried flour-based pancake that is commonly dipped in to curries. You can also have cheese, egg, onion or even chocolate-banana stuffed prata.
• Durian: You most likely won’t enjoy it but it’s a must try when living in Singapore. Block your nose and dive in to this pungent smelling fruit.
I’m sorry boys but the ladies are firmly at an advantage in this department for Singapore. Let me introduce you to Ladies Night… Every Wednesday or Thursday a large number of clubs run “ladies nights”. Here women are treated to free entry, free drinks and even free massages or make up in some clubs. The guys however don’t miss out completely with many clubs offering free entry for males. Look out for all the facebook posts from clubs for upcoming events. If you want a nice drink and view over the city try out 1-altitude, Empire Bar or Ce La Vi. The best clubs for ladies nights and students are Bang Bang, Attica and Refuge. If you want just a casual drink with friends this is possible in Hawker Centres or try out the Purple Turtle (most commonly known as Jimmys) in Boat Quay. Clarke Quay and Boat Quay are a nice place to just walk around in the evening and be in awe of the place you now call home.
• MRT and public transportation: The public transport system is very well established in Singapore. It can generally get you to every corner of the country you need to go to. The MRT is the Mass Rapid Transport system. It currently consists of 6 lines however they are continually expanding it. For when you are seeking further out spots the buses have a huge range of routes. Make sure you get an Ezilink card when you first arrive in Singapore. These cards can be topped up at all the MRT stations and are used for the MRT and buses as well as some other attractions. The only downside to the Singapore Public Transport is it stops around 1am each night.
• Uber or Grabcar: Uber and Grabcar become useful when you’re having a late night out or when you’re just feeling lazy. They are much cheaper than the local taxis who add surcharges after midnight. Nearly all exchange students use uber so it is easy to do fare splits through the app when taking one as a group. Sometimes if you’re going to and from the airport on public transport it can take up to an hour, by taking an uber or grabcar it can halve this time.
• As an exchange student it’s important to experience a Hawker Centre before you leave. They make for great cheap meals. On the tables in the Hawker Centre if you see a pack of tissues do not sit here. This is Singapore’s system for reserving seats.
• Always aim to pick the longest line or busiest restaurant. That way you know the food is good and that it will also be freshly prepared.
• It is forbidden to drink or eat on all public transportation in Singapore. Many shops offer carry bags for drinks so make the most of this and save them for when you get home.
Have you been to Singapore? What activities would you recommend to other exchange students? Feel free to share your thoughts below.