Our money went more than twice as far in Malacca City, Malaysia, than in Singapore. We expected Singapore to be expensive, so we were ready with our usual cost-saving measures to keep things manageable.
The 3-day (and 4-night) Singapore tally
Our rental was super basic, but also super comfortable. Unlike some of our Airbnb rentals with a view and other amenities, this apartment was a small studio with an attached private bathroom over a family restaurant. It had a comfy bed, TV, hot water, portable WiFi, air conditioner, fridge, kettle, and the place was located a short walk to a major bus line, and a 15-minute walk to the metro.
All of that — plus the usual Airbnb fees – for $53 a night. An incredible steal for a place like Singapore. We technically were there four nights, even though we checked in at 4:00 a.m. after our flight landed in the middle of the night.
In Singapore, we skipped the rooftop bars and restaurants, and enjoyed a dinner on the water instead. We tried out some ‘hawker’ stands to keep the cost of food down without a kitchen. We stocked up our fridge with essentials – some fruit, milk, bread etc., for breakfast, lunch and snacks. (See this post here to give you an idea on the price of beer.)
We walked a lot – all over the bay many times, and we used Grab for the first time, which we found it to be relatively inexpensive compared to taxis. We bought transportation tickets for the metro and buses as needed.
Other than these money-savers — a cheaper apartment rental, skipping expensive restaurants marketed to tourists, and walking or using cheaper transportation methods, there was no other way to really save money on a short visit to Singapore.
The Singapore breakdown for three days (and four nights):
- Housing: $212
- Groceries: $90
- Restaurants: $68 (two restaurants, one hawker stand)
- Local travel: $72
- Supplies: $10 (DEET mosquito spray and body lotion – two necessary items)
Thanks for the memories, Singapore! It was awesome!
(Bus tickets to our next stop, Malacca City, Malaysia, were $15 each, and that cost is not included in this comparison. Read about this border crossing by bus here.)
The 7-day Malacca tally
Our Airbnb rental was a typical one-bedroom apartment with portable wifi (kind of a cool feature I could get used to), fridge, a kick-ass view of the Malacca Strait, a pool on the complex, air conditioner, and the unit within walking distance to the major sites around town.
Including the Airbnb fees, our rental for seven nights cost $22.50. Another great deal – the place was like a vacation complex with the pools, attached restaurant and bar with entertainment every night, and other amenities we didn’t even use.
In Malacca, we had heaping piles of food at reasonably priced restaurants throughout the city – including on the river.
Again, we walked a lot and took Grab a few times. We never took a public bus and there was no metro.
We didn’t try to save money or cut corners at all.
The Malacca breakdown (for seven days and seven nights):
- Housing: $179
- Groceries: $87
- Restaurants: $123 (six restaurants)
- Local travel: $5
- Supplies: $11 (adapters to charge our devices in Asia, a coin purse to replace the one pickpockets stole from us in Athens, and a small mirror)
Wow! What a difference: $452 for three nights in Singapore on the cheap, or $405 for seven nights in Malacca City without cutting any corners.
None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows anything about Singapore. What might be impressive is how relatively little money we spent in Singapore — definitely not a budget traveler’s mecca.
Our actual total in Malacca was higher than $405, because we had two extra categories we did not have in Singapore: excursions (anything touristy – sightseeing fees, museum tickets, etc.) and clothes.
Add $10 for our entrance fees to several museums, which came with a free guided tour of the main history museum. (The free guided tours are offered with the price of admission on Sundays, at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.)
Now we’re up to $415 — still below what three days in Singapore cost. So, like a good wife, I went clothes shopping to even the score!
Add $58 for clothes. I got a new sneakers, two new pants to cover my legs from mosquitoes, two new tank tops that are a lighter material for this crazy heat, and some new under garments — my first in a year! (Yes, I went to the – gasp – mall.)
With these two additional categories, our total for Malacca City now stands at $473 — and now, finally, the total for Malacca adds up to more than what we spent in Singapore.
Thanks for the memories, Malacca City! It was awesome!
Side note on Singapore’s sanitized vibe
We would go to Singapore again if we had to for another great flight flight, but I am not in a rush to go back. Aside from being expensive, I have to admit, it felt so sanitized to me.
Maybe it was somewhat shocking to see such a clean city after spending a month in Athens, which is covered in graffiti. Cameras are everywhere in Singapore – and people will be fined for eating or drinking on public transportation, graffiti, littering, etc. Basically, as I understand it, the police will appear. Yet, we hardly saw any officers during our three-day visit. It’s as if everyone knows Big Brother is watching, and so they are always on their best behavior.
Sure, that can be a good thing. After all, the city is squeaky clean – in the parts where tourists go, anyway. And, I can hear some people I know saying things like: “What does it matter if there are cameras everywhere? If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.”
I was curious, so I asked a local: do all of these cameras make you nervous? Do they make you feel like you’re not really free? His answer: “You can be recorded anywhere and not realize it. So, all I can say is: (his eyes dart around) Tokyo is very clean, and they don’t have all these cameras.”
You can’t even buy gum in Singapore — because the government doesn’t want it to end up on the sidewalk or on the subway platform.
When we did see litter, we were stunned. It was so out of place.
Singapore imports almost all its goods. It’s building a new “megaport” and it’s got to pay the workers who clean the city every day. (Although one day, robots will clean it.) Plus, all of that surveillance equipment upkeep costs money. So it’s no wonder prices are sky high in this city with a unique skyline. (For an interesting read on Singapore’s squeaky clean image, and how it may effect the super-low crime rate, read this BBC article.)
As long-term budget travelers, we’re not in any rush to return to Singapore – even though it’s clean, and even though it’s one of the safest cities in the world. There’s still so much more of Southeast Asia to experience before we might return.