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Your Guide To A Quick Trip To Singapore

Posted by Emily Henkel on 1/5/24 9:57 AM

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If you're dreaming of a magical little island with indoor waterfalls, super trees that glow in the dark, and some of the best food markets around, you're ready for a trip to Singapore. 

I'm all about seeing as much as you can while you're traveling around this part of Asia. There's so much to see, it can be hard to decide exactly where to spend your vacation. Luckily, as an ILP volunteer, you have a pretty sweet set up! We have a program in Thailand where you're teaching English as a part-time teacher, with every weekend off, then vacation time to jet off to more places on your wish list. It’s going to be a tricky decision because there’s so much to see in and around Thailand but don’t rule out the tiny island of Singapore just yet!

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 I lived here for a while as a nanny, and when I first arrived, I didn't think I'd be able to spend a lot of time exploring because this place was so little. Singapore is sometimes called the "Little Red Dot" because if you were to put a dot on a map, you'd likely cover up the entire island! I know ILP volunteers aren't going to be able to spend months exploring, so I've narrowed down my tips of what to see and do when you come visit (with some help from some ILP alumni). 

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Things To Do And See 

As a heads up, this is a pricier vacation option, but there are ways to save a few dollars if you think ahead. ILP alumni recommend planning out your itinerary and booking tickets in advance where you can (it saves a dollar or two) and traveling with your student ID if you have one for more discounts. Past groups mentioned that prices are similar to the US which can be a shock when you're used to prices in Thailand and Vietnam, just as a head's up. 

The Supergrove Trees + The Gardens By The Bay 

If you only have time to do one thing in Singapore, I'd suggest visiting the Gardens By The Bay to see the Supergrove Trees. You'll get this idea pretty quickly, but Singapore is an incredible fusion of architecture and nature. The entire island country is dominated by shopping centers filled with very colorful and historic neighborhoods and sprawling parks. To go alone with the mega-malls and towering skyscrapers, I suppose Singapore needed some electric trees to go along with all the lush forests you see when walking down the street. 

The Supergrove Trees are towering structures, twirled with live greenery that will eventually reach the purple "branches" at the top. They are gorgeous in the daytime but light up at night which is even more impressive. 
The real highlight is the free concert and light show that happens under these electric trees. Twice a night, everyone finds a spot and lies down on the pavement below for the most magical concert I've ever been to. It's free to visit. 

Getting Here: The trees are found in the Gardens By The Bay which is a huge park full of some impressive highlights. It's easily reached via public transport:  Exit at Bayfront MRT, take Exit B and cross the Dragonfly Bridge or the Meadow Bridge to get to the trees. 

If you're walking, find the Helix Bridge (also a recommended spot to admire) towards the Art Science Museum and follow the footpath that leads under the East Coast Parkway (ECP). You'll be taken directly to the Bay South Garden. Get more directions here

Concert Times: 7:45 PM and 8:45 PM, nightly — Arrive early for the show to get a good seat — it gets crowded.  You can pay a small fee ($8) to walk the walkway suspended between a few of the trees for a better view from above — open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Again, this is more magical at night when things are all lit up. 

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Visit The Cloud Forest

Found in the same Garden as the Supergrove Trees, the Cloud Forest is an indoor rainforest, complete with a vertical garden and a towering waterfall that swirls the greenery and orchids with mist. The entire garden is encapsulated in this futuristic dome that covers the area and traps in all the sunlight and humidity to create a lush ecosystem, with around 90% humidity. The waterfall in the middle is another attraction, coming in at over 100 feet — it's one of the tallest indoor waterfalls in the world. 

You'll see a variety of plants growing towards the sunlight, along with some artistic installations. When I was there, one section of the Cloud Forest was a garden made of Lego. Other sections are dedicated to carnivorous plants, like the pitcher plant and Venus Flytrap. There may be events happening to plan your visit around (check here)

Hours: The forest is open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM.   Be sure to go during one of the Misting Hours: 10:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM, 4:00 PM, 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM. The forest is open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM. 
Cost: Tickets are around $53 Singapore dollars and are well worth it.
Getting Here: Look for the white, curved, skeletal building across from the Supergrove Trees.

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Wandering The Neighborhoods

This island has pockets of every culture which means you can spend an afternoon feeling like you just visited 5 different countries.  If you're short on time, you may want to visit the 1-2 which catch your eye, but here are a few of my favorite areas in Singapore if you'd like to visit all of them. 

Little India

I definitely recommend going to Little India and getting really good Indian food for lunch before visiting the Sri Veeramakaliam temple. It's a bright and colorful landmark in the bright and colorful neighborhood, featuring detailed architecture and dozens of dozens of Hindu deities. There are also colorful buildings like the one below if you're in the mood for a mini photoshoot if you have the time to just wander around. 

The Tekka Centre is the place to grab a quick lunch (it's a hawker center crammed full of tasty local and Indian dishes), which is an event to visit in and of itself. It feels chaotic but it's worth battling the crowds for plates of creamy curries and fluffy flatbread from the row of stalls. If you're into a lighter snack, you can also get floral garlands and whole coconuts to sip as you walk to the massive shopping center Mustafas, which sells anything and everything (I found a fake Christmas tree there right before the holidays). 

Get Here: MRT stop Little India or Farrar Park. 

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Arab Street + Haji Lane 

A hotspot for fashion, stylish cafes and bistros and other eateries plus picturesque alleys carefully painted with beautiful and provoking murals is what you will find along Haji Lane; it parallels Arab Street with is like a peek into the Middle East, where tapestries and rugs plus some of the best Falafel can be found. Don't miss listening to the Call To Prayer blaring from the nearby Sultan Mosque, complete with golden domes and framed with palm trees. This is a small and quieter section of Singapore that only takes a bit of time to visit. 

Get Here: Find Arab Street by getting off at the MRT stop Bugis, and going to Exit B. Turn right towards Raffles Hospital. Pass the hospital and keep walking until you see the mosque. 

Orchard Road

It's not a neighborhood but if you're into shopping or window-shopping at glitzy malls and pricey outlets like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, Orchard Road is the place for you! The architecture here is incredible, a winding glass creation is the entrance of the main ION mall, but the whole road is filled with other shops, outlets, and stores. You can find a few brands that fit your budget, but the main pull are the designer boutiques that are all clustered here. If you're in the mood for a local snack, you can find ice cream vendors on Orchard Road selling blocks of ice cream that is either served sandwiched between two wafers, or around a slice of rainbow bread. It's a local snack to get the ice cream in a slice of bread which I was a little hesitant about, but ended up loving it! 

Get Here: MRT stop Orchard Road will put you right underneath the huge mall ION. 

Tiong Bahru

Trendy cafes, artsy bookstores, gelato stands with unique flavors and hip street art is what you'll find in this neighborhood. I recommend grabbing a traditional Sing breakfast (Kaya toast, a hot Milo and coddled eggs) in the Tiong Bahru Food CentreThe rest of the time in Tiong Bahru is up to you! I found it to be a lovely spot full of charming cafes and tea shops, little stores and markets, along with plant-filled bookstores. It's an easy place to wander around for an afternoon. 

Get Here: MRT Stop Tiong Bahru, take Exit A to get you in the right area. Then you can use specific addresses to get you where you want to go. 


Visit the huge Buddha Tooth Relic Museum for the chance to admire Buddhist relics and see the city above from the rooftop garden, or just see this impressively massive building from the outside. I also really liked just perusing the countless shops selling some goodies I just can't get enough of while in Chinatown. The trinkets here are overpriced, but if you'll be in town around Chinese New Year (January), you'll see the area exploding full of fruit (given as gifts) and red-lidded tubs of New Years Cookies, like a tasty shortbread topped with a center of Pineapple Jam. Yum. 

Get Here: MRT stop Chinatown. 

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See The Mermaid-Lion + The Marina Bay Sands

Probably the most famous landmark in Singapore is the Merlion-  “mer”, meaning the sea and “lion” meaning…you guessed it, lion. Singapore gets its name from Sang Nila Utama who founded the island and named it “Singapura” after thinking he saw a Malaysian tiger here (Singapura roughly translates to Lion City in Malay). Though tigers are not native to Singapore the name stuck and the country is commonly known as “The Lion City”. 

You can also see one of the most famous hotels in the world right in this bay, the Marina Bay Sands. If you have the budget you can pay to access the observations which gives you an ah-mazing view of the bay and buildings behind it. Sitting 56 stories up, you can see the  Gardens by the Bay, the Supertree Grove and other landmarks of the city. Get info here, but tickets are about $32 Singapore dollars, more for concessions if you'd like them up top. 

Getting Here: You can actually walk from the Merlion Statue to the Gardens By The Bay to see the Supergrove Trees and the Cloud Forest; Walk across the Helix Bridge which is to the left of the Marina Bay Sands Hotels and follow the walking instructions from the above section. 

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As if living on an island isn't enough, you can also spend time on Sentosa, Singapore's getaway island. It's a manmade island that was built in the 1970s and now features the Universal Studios theme parks as well as sprawling hotels and homes. There are a couple of beaches too, if you want to check those out. Siloso Beach is home to a whole host of high-adventure sports to try out (like zip lining) or you can relax a little bit at Palawan Beach. Get more info on the beaches of Sentosa, here.  

But can I share my two cents about Sentosa? I never went. Instead, I headed to the nearby beaches in Bali, Thailand, or Vietnam instead of hanging out at a crowded resort on a manmade beach, which just doesn't hold a candle to the beaches in Thailand or Indonesia which are just a cheap flight away. I also spent my money on "only Singapore" adventures like the Cloud Forest, the observation deck on the Marina Bay Sands, and other things instead of an entry ticket at Universal Studios. There have been ILP groups who have loved visiting but if you're here for just a short time, know that others thought Sentosa was overpriced and overcrowded. 

Getting Here: There's a bus, Express Line, or cable car to get you over to the island. Check out options and prices here.

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What Foods Do I Have To Try?

Singapore really is a foodie city. It seems like you can find a hawker center (basically a huge food court filled with food stalls) at every metro and/or bus stop. My absolute favorite Hawker center is Maxwell's, in China Town. Depending on the neighborhood, you may have more Chinese options or Indian dishes, but these are the Singapore classics I recommend:

  • Carrot Cake (not cake but a delicious omelette) 
  • Chicken & Rice (Tian Tian's stall at the Maxwell Hawker Center is the best) 
  • Hokkien Mee (A yummy noodle dish). 
  • Kaya Toast and Soft Boiled Eggs 
  • Laksa (Sort of like a curry soup - it's delicious) 
  • Ramen (My favorite place is Tsuta, by Orchard Road:  9 Scotts Road, #01-01, Pacific Plaza) 
  • Avocado shakes - I'm addicted
  • Milo Drinks (a malted chocolate milk. You can buy it premade as a drink or the powder to make it yourself). 
  • All the juices: sugarcane, the lime juice here and the soursop or lycée. 

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How Much Time Should I Spend Here?

Singapore is a classic layover city; it's very tiny and very easy to get around, so you don't need tons and tons of time here. Even if you have 6-10 hours to spend in the city, you could see the highlight reel. Maybe think about booking a long layover before your vacation to Bali and seeing the city?

At most, I'd recommend 2-3 days tops; longer time would let you take a day trip to the MacRitchie Nature Reserve, a preserved rainforest hiding in the busy metropolis, complete with a suspension bridge. There are also several museums to visit if you have the time (here are a few of my favorites: The National Gallery, The Art Science Museum, The National Museum of Singapore, The Asian Civilizations Museum, etc.  There are several others if you want to spend your time in them all!) 

Again, there are several more things to see and do in Singapore. This blog post is just a highlight of what typical ILP volunteers like to see and do while on the island during a shorter trip.

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Where Should I Stay? 

Singapore is on the pricier side of things, but you can still find a hostel or Airbnb that fits your budget (as well as about a thousand others with a much higher price tag).

If you're looking for recommendations, ILP groups have stayed here in the past, which is a fun restored 1920 shop house, about a 15-minute walk to an MRT station. Another group stayed here, which was closer to an MRT stop if that's more of what you're looking for. Other groups stayed at the Rucksack Inn, which has a couple of locations in Singapore, along with a handful of other countries. 

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Tips For Getting Around 

The MRT (metro) is the easiest way to get around. Download the Metroman App for a subway guide that lets you type in your metro stop and the one you're trying to get to for the cost of your ride, how long it will take, and which transfers are involved. Download the app and select the country "Singapore". 

Free on IOS here 
Free on Android here

Hiring cars is also very easy to do in Singapore. Both Uber and Grab are very popular. 

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Come truly explore this part of Asia.

If living in Thailand and taking vacations to Singapore sounds like something you'd like to do, come check out ILP's volunteer program. Discover Thailand

Topics: Asia

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We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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