First Time in Singapore

Gardens by the Bay

So you want to visit Singapore? Don’t change your plan just because you heard it was an expensive city for backpackers. There are plenty of fun and almost free things you can do in SG. And yes, even if you’re traveling solo. I know because I just went there last August.

Singapore was my come-back overseas trip. This time, I wasn’t traveling to search for a job abroad, I had just decided (on a whim) to fly to Singapore for a visa stamp on my new passport. They say that “travel history” is a deciding factor when you’re applying for a visa to other countries.

Neil‘s February trip to Singapore gave me more confidence that the city would be pretty easy to explore by myself. My friends also said the same thing: “Singapore is small. You can see the best sights in just a few days.”

Air Asia helped solidify my plan. When I checked its website, I found cheap flights to SG. So, I set out on a quick journey to the Lion City thinking, what could go wrong? I was going to explore one of Asia’s smartest nations!

10 Fun (and Mostly Free) Things to Do Alone in Singapore

1. Hop on and off Singapore’s train.

During your first hour in Singapore, you would want to do five things: (1) pass through the immigration (easier than the Philippines so don’t worry) (2) find the nearest rest room (3) change your money (4) connect to free airport WiFi and (5) look for the best (cheapest and fastest) transport from the airport to your hotel. Fortunately, you can accomplish all these tasks without breaking a sweat. Great, right?

If you want to save some money on transportation and you know very well where you’re going, buy a Singapore Tourist Pass as soon as you arrive at Changi Airport. Look for the Transit Link Ticket Office (open from 08:00 am – 09:00 pm every day) at the airport. Pay only S$10 for 1-Day pass, S$16 for a 2-Day pass and S$20 for a 3-Day pass (source). With my SG Tourist Pass, I managed to get around without hailing a cab even once. On board SG’s clean, not-so-crowded MRT and LRT, zip through the city in no time and enjoy one of Asia’s modern transportation systems.

2. Take a picture with Mulan at the Chinese Gardens.

Singapore Chinese GardenWhen you buy an SG Tourist Pass, you’ll get one of those brochures that gives you an idea of SG’s train stations, connecting lines, and bus stops. I can say that the train rides are painless. On the train map, I saw the Chinese Gardens and found that it was just a few steps away from a train station. It was an easy choice.

Built in 1975 by JTC Corporation and the Taiwanese architect, Prof. Yuen-chen Yu, SG’s Chinese Gardens stayed true to the design traditions of ancient parks in China. You’d be welcomed by statues of two lions at the garden’s entrance, a stunning pagoda, symbolic decorations, and famous Chinese figures such as Confucius, some war generals and my favorite, Mulan. If I were a Disney character, I’d be her. I didn’t miss the chance to take a photograph beside her – I looked foolish but I didn’t care!

3. Brave the heat with a visit at the Bonsai Garden.

SG Bonsai GardenA Bonsai Garden is not the first picture that pops in your head at the mention of Singapore. For someone who’s not into big shopping malls, this garden filled with various types of bonsai plants is a unique SG experience. These bonsais are surrounded by Japanese architectures, lovely landscape works (picture small waterfalls, streams, ponds and more), and great views of the white bridge and residential buildings from afar. If you’re not visiting during Chinese festivals, you’ll have the garden to yourself (awesome for introverts).

It’s funny how much I complained about the heat in SG. I’m from a tropical country so I experience more summer days than rainy ones. In Singapore, however, the heat is deceptive. After walking around the bonsai garden, my backpack was wet with sweat from my plain white t-shirt. Anyway, I digress. If there’s any takeaway from this, wear comfortable clothes and leave the heavy bag (if you can) in your hotel.

4. Put a Chinese pagoda on the palm of your hand.

I admit I decided to visit the Chinese Gardens after seeing pictures of its three pagodas. Never mind that the garden is located a little far from the city proper. I wanted to get a glimpse of the famous structures. Find an angle where you can put the pagoda on the palm of your hand. I know you can, and you will.

5. Listen to the Garden Rhapsody and look up at Singapore’s Supertrees.

Gardens by the BayDon’t leave Singapore without watching the supertrees perform at Gardens by the Bay. It’s a spectacle. It’s glorious. And it doesn’t feel like you’re alone because there’s certainly a crowd waiting for the same show. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found out that anyone can witness this special show for free. Just alight at Bayfront MRT Station and follow the signs that lead up to the Gardens by the Bay.

The fabulous fake trees dance with the changing lights, shimmering in the night, they’d be so easy to spot.

You might also want to read: Where I Stayed in Singapore: Hotel 81 Geylang Review 

6. Ask hi-tech machines to take your order at fast-food chains.

I welcome new food but when I’m pressed for time or I’m worried about food poisoning, I stick with fast food. In Singapore, fast food chains such as McDo and Burger King have put up machines to take orders automatically. You press a button or two to enter your meal selection and then you’ll get a reference number confirming your order. With plenty of old people working in fast food restaurants in Singapore, this simplifies their task. Even if you’re not ordering anything at all, you can still press the buttons for a test run (and cancel, of course) – just for fun. 🙂

7. Go ogle some of the rarest orchids at the Botanic Gardens.

Orchids Garden in SingaporeFor more than a decade and a half, Singapore has preserved its Botanic Gardens. Small wonder why it’s the first and only botanic gardens to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Meet joggers, local residents, and squirrels while strolling through the 74-hectare nature park. If you’re a bit frightened to explore the tropical rainforest alone, focus on finding the orchidarium and ogle the wonderful selection of orchids up close. You can’t take a bad picture of orchids inside this garden. Entrance at the Botanic Gardens is free but the orchidarium charges a minimal fee of S$5, a bargain if you’ve managed to snap photos of all the orchids within.

8. Sample noodle soup and other dishes at street-side diners in Geylang.

When exploring any new place alone, I eat what locals eat. I realize that I contradicted my earlier statement but I got out of my hotel room hungry. That’s why street-side diners are a welcome sight to me. In Geylang, a residential area a few train stations away from the airport, I found plenty of places where Singaporeans eat. I looked at the menu and decided I’d have what the other customers were having: a simple noodle soup with seafood! Any food tastes great when you’re hungry. So, yes, I emptied my bowl of noodle soup.

9. Soak up some art, history, and culture.

If you think Singapore was built overnight, you need to stroll through the downtown area to unravel the city’s humble beginnings. Get off at the City Hall MRT station, walk around and search for well-preserved museums, significant buildings, and sculptures. Keep your eyes peeled while roaming around the city center and you’ll find plenty of iconic sights including the National Museum of Singapore, Peranakan Museum, the National Gallery of Singapore, the Armenian Church of Saint Gregory, The Arts House at the Old Parliament, the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, and more. Read signposts for the complete heritage trail list. If you have time and if you’re burning with curiosity, check out each of these treasures at your own pace. Not a fan of museums? Hit up pockets of greens (public parks) within the area and have fun people-watching.

10. Follow the crowd searching for the Merlion Park.

Merlion SingaporeWhy bother visiting the lion mermaid? Like many great things, Singapore’s mascot symbolizes the nation’s humble origins and the meaning of its Malay name, Singapura (lion city). The statue is 8.6-meter-high and spouts a fountain of water through its mouth. I didn’t have an itinerary while visiting the downtown so I simply watched where most people went. Eavesdropping, I wasn’t surprised to learn they were looking for the Merlion. They all stopped after spotting the star of Singapore. So did I. Because once you’ve reached the Merlion Park, you’ve arrived at the official welcome hall of the country. This is where Singapore showcases its most ambitious, forward-looking structures – a feast to everyone’s eyes.

I didn’t book any tours and I stayed away from shopping malls. I thought they looked similar to our malls here in the Philippines. What about you? What do you look forward doing or seeing in Singapore? Let me know in the comments below.

P.S. If you’re searching for a cheap room in SG, you can book via Agoda via blog. Thank you in advance! (If you’re wondering where I stayed in SG, check out this review of Hotel 81 Geylang.)

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