OK, Singapore is expensive. There’s really no way round that. Even sleeping in a hostel and eating at a hawker centre is going to cost more than a hotel and a restaurant in most of the rest of Asia. After visiting Raffles, the zoo and the night safari (a nocturnal zoo! Genius! Why aren’t there more of these?) I was running a little low on funds so I started looking for free things to do.
The first free thing that was recommended to me (after i had made rude faces at the idea of dusty museums) was MacRitchie reservoir. This is a big park nestled among the skyscrapers with a boating lake and a running
track trail and, up in the trees, a canopy walk. This involves a short climb up a hill, a bridge through the trees and back down again. All in all about 2km I think. What I didn’t bank on was the bus dropping me at the other side of the park, which meant I had to hike uphill for over an hour to get to the start of the trail. I think I did about 11km in stupidly hot weather. I was not smiling on the inside.
The local tourist office does free walking tours on alternate days in Little India and Chinatown. Here is where I would give a nice review of the tour if I had taken it. You can blame the bus to MacRitchie for that. Chinatown tour had already left by the time I arrived. Bah. But I did have good ribs for lunch, and wandered around looking at tourist tat. (I’m sure the tour would show you more interesting things.) I also found a Tamil temple for some reason.
I’m not sure why this is in Chinatown and not Little India. If anyone successfully takes the tour please feel free to tell me.
The Merlion. Yes, really, part lion, part fish. I think this may be the official symbol of Singapore…which probably says a lot about the inhabitants. When Lauren told me she had been to the Merlion I asked if she had climbed to the top and she looked at me like I was nuts. So apparently there are two here – one in another area of Singapore (Sentosa island) which is considerably bigger and you can climb the stairs inside it for a fee, or this one in Marina Bay which is only about 8 foot, so probably less impressive, but free to gawp at at least. Unless you try to climb it anyway in which case, knowing Singapore, there will be a fine.
I also went on a walking tour around Kampong Glam with Original Singapore Walks, which is decidedly not free, but did come as one of the options on the Singapore attractions card so it felt free if I allowed myself to conveniently forget that I had already paid for it.
Kampong Glam is the district occupied by the the original Malay settlers, or roughly speaking, the Muslim quarter. It’s also one small part of the city where graffiti is allowed, according to our guide ‘to stop people exploding’.
We learned about Stamford Raffles cheating the Malaysians out of their island as we walked around the Muslim shops and mosques and the old unmarked graves where they speculate that the old Malay princes may be buried. It was a very enjoyable walk, and I’m not just saying that because the guide gave me a free mini bottle of perfume for correctly guessing the difference in Muslim perfume (no alcohol)
My favourite story was about the local mosque, which was paid for with donations from all the wealthy Muslims. The poor Muslims of the community wanted to donate as well, but since they had no money to spare they collected soy sauce bottles, which could be recycled for a few cents each. The architect was so touched by their dedication that he commemorated it by decorating the dome with the bottom of bottles.
Aaaaand, I suppose if you’re still running out of stuff to do you could walk along Orchard Road. It’s just one long line of luxury shopping malls so not exactly budget friendly (particularly if you have become brand addicted to something which is expensive and difficult to find out of the UK, damn you Lush solid shampoo bars), but you can check out all the Christmas lights for free.
As far as I can tell, Christmas in Singapore means eating so much chocolate that you cease to worry about the sparkly alien egg sacs hanging from the trees. Ho ho ho.