Singapore can be a love-it-or-hate-it place.
It’s highly developed, spotlessly clean, and meticulously planned and architected — a far cry from the congestion, noise, and erratic development seen in many other Asian capitals.
But while many backpackers and cultural travelers bemoan a lack of ‘soul’, if you approach Singapore from a different angle it can be a fascinating destination — not to mention very easy and hassle-free.
I’ve been to Singapore a few times, usually on a 1- or 2-day layover. I also once stayed for a week to visit a friend, which gave me some more time to look around. If you’re trying to decide whether to visit Singapore, here are what I’d consider its different pros and cons.
Plan your trip in Singapore
Singapore is maybe NOT worth visiting if…
You are on a shorter trip in Asia
Many people visit Singapore on a stopover to somewhere else, thanks to its well-connected airport and central location in Asia.
But if you’re, say, heading to Bali for two weeks (with a hop via Singapore), you might just want to put all your days into Bali instead of splitting your time. In this case, Bali is surely the main act that you came to see — and so it’s probably better to skip right to it.
You want a chaotic place like Bangkok
Singapore is utterly civilized, controlled, and predictable. That can make it a breath of fresh air or a disappointment, depending on your perspective.
If you can accept that Singapore is not a chaotic place, it can be very interesting in ways that are different from other Southeast Asian capitals, as we’ll get into later.
You’re on a tight budget
Singapore is an expensive place — and it’s best enjoyed with a wallet to match. At least USD $100 per day per person is a good estimate to use if you want to enjoy it to its full potential.
It can be hard to be Singa-poor in Singapore, though transportation and food are luckily very cheap, so even a backpacker can survive just fine (and on a much smaller daily budget). These top hostels in Singapore let you save money on accommodation too.
You can definitely visit on a tight budget and get around cheaply and easily and eat very well. It’s just that you might miss out on certain aspects if you’re doing Singapore on the cheap.
You crave cheap and rowdy nightlife
In this respect, Singapore also isn’t like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. The city is much more about polite cocktails than all-night ragers. Keep in mind that alcohol is taxed heavily in Singapore, which has a way of restraining the bar scene.
But there is still plenty of nightlife in Singapore if you seek it. Clarke Quay is one of the main nightlife areas.
I once ended up at a karaoke bar at 6 a.m. singing Eye of the Tiger while surrounded by a group of off-duty flair bartenders we’d met throwing bottles around our booth. But crazy nights are definitely more of a thing in other Asian cities.
You don’t like humidity
On a bad day, Singapore can be more humid than a steam bath. Since it’s located in an equatorial climate, you should be prepared for it to get sticky sometimes.
Singapore IS worth visiting if…
You want an easy place to start an Asia trip
Thanks to its amazing airport as well as being so safe, well-organized, and mostly English-speaking, Singapore makes for a perfect launching pad into Southeast Asia.
If you’re on a first-time Southeast Asia trip, starting in Singapore will let you gently ease into things. Major capitals like Manila and Jakarta are not hugely inviting, at least as a first stop in Asia, due to the endless traffic, their size, and other factors. Even Bangkok doesn’t always win many fans among those for whom it’s their first taste of the region. Singapore, on the other hand, is a low-stress place to get started.
You love street food (but wish to be cautious)
About Singapore being such a great introduction to Asia… a huge part of this is the food.
While Singapore banned street food vendors many decades ago, they gave them officially sanctioned places (known as hawker centers) to continue their business.
At hawker centers you can sample dishes from all over Asia at very affordable prices. The permanent stalls are essentially like street food places, except with seating areas and actual hygiene standards. They’re perfect for diving headfirst into Asian cuisine.
You appreciate the futuristic urban design and parks
Singapore is sometimes accused of being overly sanitized. With its major financial center and meticulously kept spaces that can certainly be the case.
However, Singapore often succeeds in being very creative with its parks and public spaces. You can easily appreciate Singapore for the architectural and urban design wonder that it truly is.
The city-state has some very eye-catching architecture, including the Marina Bay Sands, the PARKROYAL hotel which looks like a high-tech garden, and the Butternut Hotel, with its wooden inner pavilion. Singapore also has some spectacular urban parks, most notably the Gardens by the Bay.
Singapore is the third most densely populated country and yet, quite miraculously, it doesn’t feel like that at all.
But space is at such a premium that sometimes they’ll straight up tear a bunch of perfectly fine buildings down just because they’ve figured a better use. Seeing how perfectly configured Singapore has become out of pure necessity is one of the interesting aspects of exploring it.
You have some money to spend
While it’s possible to enjoy Singapore on a budget, it’s a much better experience if you can splurge. The city not so much about slumming it in the dorms and more about sipping Singapore Slings by the infinity pool.
If you’re into a hotel/drink/eat type of stay, you’ll surely love Singapore more than those traveling on a tight budget.
You want commercial/family entertainment
With a very large zoo, the resort island of Sentosa, several golf courses, and a Universal Studios park, there are all sorts of family outings you can plan. This type of leisure and entertainment can be harder to find in less developed parts of Southeast Asia.
You’re on a layover
If you’re passing through Singapore anyway, and especially if you’re on a longer Asia trip with a bit of time to spare, then it makes it less of a worry whether or not you should check out Singapore. In this case, it’d be a shame not to see it.
Singapore is perfect for a layover, too. Changi Airport just keeps winning awards for the best airport in the world. It’s so good that it’s truly a bit of a destination in itself.
Oh, and this botanical butterfly garden inside a greenhouse in Singapore is really cool too.
Psych! This is the airport.
Yep, the airport literally has a butterfly garden. And a giant indoor waterfall. And a cinema. And a sculpture exhibit. Changi is honestly the kind of airport where you’d almost want your flight to be delayed.
My take on Singapore
The first time I ever visited Singapore I was on a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. I was honestly a bit disappointed and had the instant superficial response of ‘this place is too developed and sanitized *BZZZZttt* I don’t like it’.
I had enjoyed spending time in less developed places in Asia and I guess I wanted things to just continue along the same lines.
My views became more nuanced on subsequent visits. I believe that if you visit with an open mind, Singapore will be very interesting and enjoyable. When I revisited Singapore, my focus was so much more on how futuristic it feels and how that’s so cool (and much less so on how it’s not like other Southeast Asian cities).
If Hong Kong is cyberpunk, then Singapore is Star Trek. The feeling is often that of walking along a promenade at Starfleet Headquarters.
Above: a very “deck 2 on the habitat ring” kinda mood.
Even the shopping malls are a bit of an experience if you focus on the futuristic architecture.
It’s very interesting to think about how Singapore came to be what it is today and how it was able to be so prosperous.
But heritage, color, and culture can also be found. I’m quite a fan of the ethnic neighborhoods of Chinatown, Kampong Glam (the Arab quarter), and Little India.
Haji Lane is a colorful and cute section of town that is a joy to stroll around (albeit a brief stroll). The Chinatown Street Market is also fun to wander around.
Like the food in the Hawker Market, Singapore itself is quite multi-cultural, with Chinese, Malay, Indian, and other ethnicities represented.
Singapore is a bit of an oasis of ‘Western’ comforts in Southeast Asia. When I visited following several months of wild adventuring through countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, it was a relief to arrive in modern Singapore.
It made for the perfect pit stop: a few travel buddies and I used our time to go to the cinema, play some games at a board game cafe, and just enjoy being in a calm and organized city for a while.
Is Singapore worth visiting? My answer is ‘yes, definitely’, but it’s good to know what to expect. History buffs, voracious culture vultures, or those seeking outdoor adventures may be more enticed by other places. But if you’re curious about the elements that make Singapore the city (and country) that it is, it’ll be highly worth spending at least a couple of days.
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