JOIN ME IN AN INTERVIEW WITH JEVGENIA ŠABANOVA FROM SINGAPORE!
An Estonian with a Russian ethnic background, Ženja, as she likes to call herself, lives with her Danish partner in Singapore. She has a background in life sciences and music, but currently she is exploring less familiar endeavors and believes that it’s never too late to try new things. Ženja is the author of Bearly Here travel blog and an avid traveler herself. She loves spending time in nature, hiking, trying local food, watching sunrises and meeting new people. In Singapore since 2015, she loves exploring the city and showing around to her guests!
Where to get the best exchange rates in Singapore?
Personally, I don’t use money exchange when I travel – I prefer to withdraw money from ATM. In Singapore, it’s quite safe to do it, and there are plenty of AMTs around the city. However, if you prefer to exchange money, do not do that at the airport. Travel to the city center and visit The Arcade at Raffles Place or Mustafa Center (the latter can be quite overwhelming for a first-time visitor).
What are the different modes of transport available from airport to city? Which taxi apps do the locals use mostly?
Singapore’s public transportation is great and easy to use. While cabs and car sharing services are available and affordable, do not hesitate to use public transport – it will get you wherever you need. For those who head from the airport to the city center, MRT would be a great option. MRT stands for Mass Rapid Transit and it’s Singapore’s version of subway that is being constantly renewed. At this moment, there is only one line that goes to and from the airport (green, or East West Line), but depending on your destination, it’s quite easy to change to other lines. For a ticket, I would suggest buying ez-link card, which you can use both in MRT and buses. If you return it within 5 days after the purchase, you will get your deposit back. Another option, if you plan to travel a lot for 1-3 days, is a tourist pass.
Getting taxi or a shared ride is relatively cheap and simple in Singapore. You can wave down taxis on almost any street. Uber in Singapore has been bought by Grab, so if you love using apps, the best ones to choose would be Grab, Ryde, Tada or ComfortDelGro. Be aware that when it rains, especially during peak hours, it can be very hard to find a car – both online and on the street.
Tip: if you are taking a taxi from the airport, make sure you get a standard taxi. Some cars waiting there are premium taxis, and while your ride might be more luxurious, you’ll pay accordingly. Staff in the queue will help you with that – they are generally understanding and considerate.
Without putting a dent in one’s budget which is the best area to stay in Singapore for easy access to tourist sites, with abundant shopping and restaurant places around?
Singapore is famous for being expensive, and hotels/hostels are no exception. Unless you are using CouchSurfing or staying at the friend’s place, prepare to pay, even for hostels. As of now, Singapore has laws against short-term rentals under 3 months, so for those using AirBnB, be aware that it might be illegal for your host.
While many people prefer to stay close to Marina Bay area or in Chinatown, one of my favorite areas to stay as a tourist is Arab Quarters (Kampong Glam). There are plenty of restaurants and bars, both affordable and expensive, some very special places for shopping and it’s close to the city center. Backpackers love staying in Little India, but if you are into high-end shopping, being in proximity to Orchard Road could be a benefit! If you can afford to stay in a hotel, Civic District is a great place to be for those who love that colonial feel.
Where to find the best eating options, cafés and bars in Singapore?
Singapore’s abundance of eating places is incredible. From 4-dollar meals to ridiculously expensive restaurants – you can find it all.
For those on a budget: try local hawker centers. This is where we often prefer to eat – the variety of dishes is great, and so is the taste. Some of hawker centers even have Michelin-listed stalls! And the best thing is it’s cheap and that’s where locals eat. Our favorite hawker centers include Waterloo&Albert Center and Chinatown Food Complex. For more upscale hawker experience, try Lau Pa Sat or Newton. Tip: there might be 20 different chicken rice stalls in the same food court, and rule of thumb is that the best one has the longest line!
For fine dining: there is a myriad of high-end restaurants in Singapore. You can find different settings, areas and cuisines. If you would like to include a great view of the city in your dining experience– try Level 33 at Marina Boulevard.
Café culture in Singapore is growing strong, and sometimes it feels like for every café that is closing down, two new ones pop up. Some of our favorite western-type places include Common Man Coffee Roasters, Baker and Cook and P.S. Café. But if you are looking for local experience – visit Ya Kun Kaya or Toast Box and get your kaya toast with egg and Te/Kopi of your choice.
Alcohol, as many other things, is expensive in Singapore. So, if you are having a lunch at hawker center and would like a beer – that would be the cheapest place to grab it. For parties and live music head to Haji Lane/Bali Lane or Boat Quay/Clarke Quay. For a pricy drink with a great view, consider the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands or Mr Stork.
Tip: many restaurants, cafes and bars in Singapore will add tax (7%) and service charge (10%) to your bill, so expect to pay more stated in the menu.
Is Singapore vegetarian/vegan friendly?
There are plenty of vegetarian/vegan options in Singapore, and I would recommend exploring hawker centers for that. Many mainstreams restaurants, like The Living Café, have plenty of vegan options; but if you’re aiming for vegan-only, try Loving Hut or Afterglow.
Which is the best way to purchase tickets to popular attractions in Singapore, pre-booking or buying them on the spot?
Most attractions don’t need pre-booking, but I would suggest buying your tickets online for the Night Safari. It’s both cheaper and is valid for the entrance at the specific times. Consider pre-booking your Universal Studio ticket and fast pass as well, since waiting in a queue can be daunting. You might get a small discount while booking online for the Zoo, River Safari and Bird Park, and you can get them as a bundle. For the rest – you’ll be safe buying ticket on the place. You can also use Klook app for discounts but read the conditions first as they might vary depending on the attraction.
Which are the top 3 places in Singapore, which tourists generally overlook but should be visited?
Living close to Botanic Gardens, I personally love it. It’s such a huge change to the busy city life, and if you go there in the morning, you’ll see elderly doing Tai Chi, people exercising, dogs walking and there are often concerts in the weekends. I would recommend spending a few hours in Botanic Gardens – it’s a stunning place and free of charge, except of the National Orchid Garden entry fee.
Another area that I always recommend people to check out is Little India/Arab Quarters. These two are located very close to each other, and they contain so much color, special vibes and culture. Besides, food there is simply amazing!
And last, but not the least: Singapore National Museum. It’s not the most famous museum in Singapore, and next to the ArtScience Museum, National Gallery or Asian Civilizations Museum, it might not be tourists’ favorite. However, if you have time to go there, read the information and truly take it in, you might get an inside not only on Singapore’s history, but also on why it is the way it is.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Singapore?
Singapore is a city-state, and also quite a small island, but it does have some getaway options. Some of the famous places for relaxing are Indonesian islands Bintan and Batam, but that is better for a weekend getaway. Great day trip can be arranged to Pulau Ubin, where you can rent a bike, drive it across the island and get some delicious seafood for lunch. For beaches, consider a combo of St John’s, Kusu and Lazarus islands. And, of course, for fun/dining/beach/bar combo, Sentosa is the answer!
The easiest way to arrange trip to islands is by yourself; you go to the marina in the morning and simply buy your tickets. However, be aware that some islands don’t have restaurants and shops, so bring snacks and plenty of water. To get to Sentosa you can use either cable car, taxi, Sentosa Express, or just.. walk. I suggest taking a beautiful walk to Sentosa in the morning, and later, when you are tired and ready to go home, enjoy the ride in a gondola over a stunning view of Singapore at night.
Do you recommend any walking tours or travel photography tours to the visitors?
For Singapore, I think the best way you can explore it is to have a walk with a local person. I’ve seen many tours in Chinatown, but the place is simply so crowded that it doesn’t make sense to me. You can join free walking tours to find out more about history and culture of Singapore. If you are interested in particular region, you can always find walking tours in that area – for example, Little India Walking Tour or Foodie Walking Tour. If you are tired, but still want to enjoy the opportunity to explore, consider taking a boat tour – it’s a great simple introduction to the city.
Would you recommend any special show to music, dance and drama lovers visiting Singapore?
Singapore has a lot of tours and artists who are coming for guest performances, so the best thing is to check what’s on right before you visit. You might be able to catch some great performances by local artists at the Esplanade or a new musical at Sands Theatre of Marina Bay Sands. For less popular venues, find out what’s on in Victoria Theatre and NAFA Studio Theatre. There is also plenty of comedy shows in town, and make sure you stop for a music and light shows at Gardens By The Bay and Marina Bay area.
Which is the best place to visit in Singapore for art lovers? Can you suggest where one should go to spot street art?
There are quite a few galleries in Singapore, ranging from small temporary exhibitions to big museums. A to-go for an art lover in Singapore would be National Gallery and Singapore Art Museum, and of course, ArtScience Museum for mixed art installations. If you want to move a bit further from tourist crowds, consider visiting Gillman Barracks.
I love street art in Singapore, and often you can spot it in smaller neighborhoods. While Haji Lane is a popular place for street art Instagram photos, there’s also plenty of it in Little India. If you are in a mood to hunt for a very cool murals – head to Tiong Bahru neighborhood. Amoy Street also offer great selection of panels depicting Singapore’s every day.
How safe is Singapore? What time does the city sleeps?
I would say that Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world. Crime rate is low, and Singapore is famous for its strict rules concerning drugs. I haven’t heard of any terror attacks either, and while the city is not as dynamic as New York, Shanghai or London, it is definitely considered secure. This, however, doesn’t mean that you should leave your bags and wallets around and believe everything people tell you. As in all countries, there are also some thieves and crooks in Singapore.
There is plenty of nightlife in Singapore, but it’s not crazy Bangkok city, so after a certain point at night it will be hard to find a party place, unless you know a specific one.
Do you want to give any helpful tip to the visitors coming to Singapore?
Don’t bring chewing gum 😊. But on the more serious note, most people who come to Singapore, only spend here a few days on the way to more “exciting” destinations. But I truly believe that Singapore deserves a longer stop than just visiting Marina Bay Sands, Gardens By The Bay and Sentosa Island. Singapore’s exciting history and its culture is a mix of so many things that it’s often very hard to begin to understand, unless you spend here a little longer.