Saturday, September 10, 2011


Do you see what I did there?

When I was travelling down the Malay Peninsula through Southern Thailand and Malaysia and the conversation topic of Singapore reared its ugly, lionesque head (on a fish body - how long would that creature last before devouring itself?) people would invariably complain about how expensive this place is.

Singapore likes to cultivate this affluent image, with its flashy malls and Filipino maids serving every loveless household (too harsh?) But unless you buy all your liquid sustenance from the needlessly extravagant Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel or insist on staying in the most luxurious and eye-catching hotels (and thus have a worse view than the people in cheaper hotels who can actually see your building - suckers), it's very easy to live cheaply in Singapore. It's not too far behind Malaysia, or even Thailand.

And with higher quality of life, well-behaved traffic and plenty of free attractions, you're getting considerably better value for money. Well, sometimes.

Cheap accommodation

Standard barracks

Accommodation is proportionally more expensive in Singapore than somewhere like Malaysia, but by downgrading a little you won't have to spend any extra - you can easily find shared dorms for the same price as a private bungalow in cheaper countries, and end up spending the same (unless you were really slumming it in the rest of Asia. I had a room in Jerantut that cost £1.63 per night and was worth exactly that).

Hostels in the area between Little India and Kallang are generally the cheapest, and just a short trip from the city centre (a few minutes on the MRT or a half-hour walk - depending if you've been here long enough yet that you've forgotten how to actually use your legs).

You can get a decent, clean and comfy dorm bed with breakfast for less than S$20, or if you're lucky enough to meet a nice girl, a private room for S$50 that's equally cramped (but remember you'll need money left over to pay the nice girl. Oh, whoops - if only there were some way to edit this).

Booking ahead can be important though - especially for weekends. Just don't expect anyone to honour that 10% deposit you pay online. That would be too fair.

Cheap food

Sounds sexy

I haven't tried all the cuisines of the world yet (though when I end up in Korea, I think I'll pass on the sannakji - check it out), but I'm pretty confident that Singapore will end up somewhere around the top of the culinary list. There are just so many options here - and all available so cheaply and so plentifully in shopping mall food courts and hawker centres.

Most of these are very approachable for Westerners, as even if you aren't familiar with the names of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, there are handy pictures to give you at least some idea. By contrast, I usually had to resort to arbitrary pointing at mysterious symbols when eating out in Taiwan.

Chicken feet at Berseh Food Centre.
As tasty as they look. As tasty as you would expect bird's feet to be

Other food courts can be a little less internationally focused, and target a more refined crowd - the type who like to eat crocodiles, pig trotters and assorted organs. You can rely on the Chinese staff to be rude to the point of offence, which is always fun.

Cheap books

Bras Basah Complex

They are, aren't they - right lads? Actually, I'm talking about a different kind of Bras - a popular book market near City Hall that spans three floors, and the best place to buy second hand books in Singapore. Possibly in the whole of South East Asia.

This ramshackle, converted car park of a market hall is a great place to find all types of unusual and fascinating books dropped off by travellers, ex-pats and learners of the English language who chose damn weird tomes to perfect their craft. But weird is right up my street. It's the polar opposite of that awful place I found in Malacca.

The best shop is Book Point on the third floor, where you can find a treasure trove of books roughly categorised (sometimes even semi-accurately). The thrifty owner will pay peanuts for your second hand goodies, or offer slightly less insulting trade-in value against his stock.

All the classics of the canon

The best prices are downstairs though, where the Evernew Book Store (which ironically only sells books that are at least 18 years old - they've got the Beezer Annual 1993, even I don't remember Beezer) sells greatly reduced items of high calibre, with deals like 2 or 3 books for S$5.

I even found an obscure Carl Sagan book I hadn't read before - a real science book, imagine that! Not one about your dog's chakras or how Islam caused global warming or whatever. I could live here for a long time if it wasn't for the damn heat.

Free books

More literary greats

If $5 for 3 books seems a bit steep (damn, you make even me look profligate), head to the nearby National Library at Bugis where you can sit and read or rent books - get this - FOR FREE. I know, it sounds like something out of a nostalgic British childhood, circa 2010 (satire!)

It's not the best stocked library in the world, and I question any categorising system that places James May's Car Fever next to The Essays of Francis Bacon as if there's any kind of overlap on the Venn diagram of their readership, but it's impressive enough - especially considering English is a second language for most people here. And there are plenty of trade paperbacks of comics too. I mean, graphic novels. I mean, sequential art texts... how do I have to gift-wrap this to convince literary snobs to read Alan Moore?

Annoyingly (but probably correctly), they don't let you sign up for membership unless you have a student or working visa or something, but sitting in the library is pleasant enough if you ignore the unpleasantly snoring old men. GO HOME.

Free music

No, I'm not talking about buskers, who are thin on the ground here (both in that there are few of them and that they look malnourished lying there). Singapore stages live music every Friday night at the Esplanade overlooking the harbour, which is popular with locals and tourists, but not too popular - so there are always plenty of spare seats around the clamshell.

Accompanying these performances, and in fact every night, there's also a light and water show (special guest: fire!) in front of the Marina Bay hotel, which is worth seeing. Especially for the fire. This is the sort of thing you usually pay too much for at Sentosa, Giza and other places with architecture interesting enough to have coloured lights dancing all over it. Okay, so it's only the stupid Merlion again, but it's free.

Free monkeys

This isn't a rallying battle cry to release all caged monkeys... although what the hell, do that too. There are plenty of places to hang out with local macaques in Singapore's greener and more remote areas if you don't fancy paying for the zoo - mainly in the North and East but also in places like Kent Ridge Park, which is part of the nature walk that runs roughly from Jurong in the East to the city centre. Please don't feed them though. Or give them Coke cans.

So it's not as good as the Sacred Monkey Forest on Bali, but then what is?

Free Wi-Fi

There's no nationwide free-for-all wireless network yet (how hard could that be?), but Singapore is so much better for Wi-Fi than most other countries in the region.

I'm used to uploading these blogs and doing my work (in order of importance) on a strictly rationed internet café diet in the jungles and islands of Malaysia and Indonesia, but it's nice not to have to worry about availability or speed and be able to illegally download new episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Breaking Bad at my leisure.

All accommodation should have free Wi-Fi, and probably a shared computer or two. It's annoying that you can't use public Wi-Fi in the library and other places without having a local mobile phone number though. I don't even have a phone.

Free water

This is the only country in South East Asia where the tap water is safe and perfectly acceptable to drink. Well, unless you're an affluence-conscious Singaporean who needs to keep up appearances by drinking needlessly expensive bottled water in their own home. Bless.

I just hope they teach their maids to teach this attitude to their beloved kids, who they can't see because they're out earning big buxx to pay for their predetermined futures. Singapore's bargains must be kept confidential at all costs.

Free love

N.B. This has nothing to do with Singapore


  1. Hahahah! I love the post about Singapore, although it's really expensive to live there but if you want to save all you have to do is know where to get the cheapest best deals. I lived and worked there for 3 months and I miss my friends there, other than that. I miss Thailand and Vietnam better. :D

  2. I love to see your article u have shared great knowledge and u choose great spot to sharing the best ever knowledge.
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  3. Aww, shucks - I bet you say that to all the blog authors whose posts you deface with your desperate ads.

    Still, as a former copywriter I'm impressed at how seamlessly you integrated that link into your conversation. One tip though - don't make it too subtle, or people might not spot it.

  4. What I think would be a good idea with posts like Mike's is to search for the phrase he's desperately trying to spam for, find a competitor and then change his link to that site and publish it.

    Of course, that could lead to a cunning game of cat and mouse where in the future the spammers put in their competitors' links hoping that you'll randomly choose their site to change it to. Interesting times indeed.

  5. The worst thing is, I don't know how to edit other people's comments (beyond deleting them), and I was actually impressed that he got a link in as I didn't know you could HTML these up. I'm learning from mike.

    I bought some of his products though, whatever they are, and they were rubbish, so get your online shopping elsewhere.