Flying to Singapore in 3 days. I want an adventure!
January 27, 2011 3:32 AM   Subscribe

At the last minute, I'm going to Singapore (+Indonesia/Malaysia?). Not too excited, even though I should be. I don't "do" vacation. Help me plan a worthwhile 7 days!

I'm an expat currently living in Vietnam. My plans for Tết (Chinese New Year) holidays fell through (I was supposed to volunteer at an orphanage in northern Cambodia), and now that it's so last minute, the only affordable flights out of Vietnam are to Singapore ($145 RT, not bad!). But Singapore is so... clean, and shiny, and way too developed for my liking. I'm going to pick up some much needed domestic items at Ikea (YAY IKEA!!), and probably visit Starbucks a few times (mmm... how I've missed it!), but I'll be there from this Sunday until next Saturday... I need to fill my time!

While I appreciate museums, beaches, zoos, and shopping, those are things I do in my day-to-day life, not on holiday. I don't want to see tourist exhibits, or pay entrance fees for anything. (donations to religious sites excluded). To give some perspective, my two favorite "holidays" were when I volunteered in a slum in Cairo, and the time I spent in dirty, wonderful Hebron and Ramallah, West Bank.

I need to fly into Singapore, but can travel away from there. I'm mildly interested in seeing Little India, Kampong Glam, and China Town. I'm highly interested in venturing into Malaysia and/or Indonesia (it's like a $25 VOA for Canadians, correct?). I briefly considered going directly to Banda Aceh and spending my whole time there, as I'm fascinated by Sharia law, but the more I read about it, the less conservative it sounds.

I'd love to hang out in some of the more down-trodden areas of said countries, wander back alleys, etc. I'll probably do some photography as well, but I love to just observe. I usually always volunteer (11 years and running), but this holiday, it just didn't work out.

My budget for the week is around $800 (including Ikea, but I plan on staying in hostels and eating street food). And I don't mind waiting at borders, in lines, at customs/immigration, etc. That's part of the joy of traveling for me.

So, any ideas on how I can make this week an adventure?
posted by hasna to Travel & Transportation around Singapore (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tioman Island on East Coast of Malaysian Peninsula is an easy trip from Singapore either by boat, or by bus and shorter boat ride. Different villages have everything from semi-luxury to basic cottages/ bungalows for few dollars a night.

Taman Negra national park on the Malaysian side is also relatively easy to get. Overnight jungle hikes can be fun with wild animal stakeouts. Very unlikely to see elephants or anything else big, but was interesting none the less.
posted by zeikka at 5:10 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

You do know that you'll be going there during the height of the monsoon season, right?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:15 AM on January 27, 2011

rain is fun! It's no issue, and I'm no stranger to torrential rains. But thanks for letting me know!
posted by hasna at 5:17 AM on January 27, 2011

Singaporean here, and I'd say you chose the right time to come over. No, we aren't that boring. Really.

The Chinese New Year is coming, so there's a lot of festivities here. If you are in Singapore on the night of the 2nd of February, that's when the Chinese New Year Eve is. Chinatown will be flooded with people celebrating, and it's an experience. It's like mosh-pitting, except a lot more crowded.

The day after that (3rd Feb) is the first day of the Chinese New Year proper, and most Chinese will be out visiting. Most shops, save essential services like public transport and medical services, will be closed. Be prepared to pay a very high premium for Chinese food, so I'd recommend you go for Indian cuisine or something. Since most shopping is closed on this day and probably the next, I'd recommend you go to Ikea, which should be open.

Street food here is pretty cheap compared to most Western European cities, though not compared to Vietnam. There aren't that many street stalls now, as most "street" food is now sold in hawker centres (open air food courts), and will typically run you about S$3-5 for a really decent meal.

There're two Ikeas here, the larger of which is in Tampines, which is accessible by public transport (via train), then by a shuttle bus in.

You will be arriving dead smack in the middle of the monsoon season, but just carry an umbrella and dress casually (think slippers or sandals) and you'll be fine.

Transport to Malaysia can either be by rail (highly recommended for the romanticism), bus (definitely not very comfortable) or by air (which is not cheap). Alternatively if you have a driving license, you can try looking for a car rental company to drive up, which is fun in itself if you take the necessary precautions. If you like your food, try Penang, which is a foodie's haven.

If you want more information, MeMail me and I'll see how I can help.
posted by titantoppler at 5:18 AM on January 27, 2011

Seconding Taman Negara. Getting eaten by leeches and having the scars and photos to brag about sounds like just your speed. The guide might take a chunk out of your budget but it's totally worth it to take rickety boats to even more rickety docks and hike on the moving leechy rainforest floor.
posted by jetsetlag at 5:35 AM on January 27, 2011

As titantoppler mentioned, next week is a holiday here too. I do recommend Chinatown, as it is festive & busy this time of year. Visit at night when it is lit up (after 7pm, I think).

Also, if you do travel out to Malaysia or Indonesia, I'd recommend you book returns in advance, as lots of people are travelling next week, so buses/boats/planes should be pretty full. You don't want to get stuck without a seat back to Singapore, if you have a return flight to catch.

When I first arrived in Singapore (I'm not Singaporean, but I've lived here about 5 years), and had time to just explore, I'd jump on a random bus and see where it would take me. Look for a double decker and sit up front for a nice view. It's cheap, and and you can't get too lost, as Singapore simply isn't that big. Get off the bus when you feel like it, and explore on foot. Warning: this is the opposite of touristy, since if you're really choosing a random bus, you'll likely end up in some residential or industrial areas. But it's a good way to get a sense of the country, and perhaps find serendipitous photography opportunities. To retrace your route, just look for the same numbered bus going in the opposite direction.
posted by blue mustard at 5:47 AM on January 27, 2011

One thing worth bearing in mind is that Indonesia is much, much cheaper than Malaysia.

Personally, I'd fly to Bali, then Lombok (next Island along) and do the Mt Rinjani trek which takes 3-4 days and is one of the most beautiful treks in SE Asia. I'd then spend a few days on the beaches on the Gili Islands. Alternatively, Bali is a great place to spend a week, or you could go to Eastern Java, Sulawesi or even Komodo. I've holidayed extensively in Indonesia and Malaysia so feel free to drop me an MeFi mail.

In a week, I wouldn't try and visit too many places as they are both pretty big countries, esp Indonesia.
posted by rhymer at 6:48 AM on January 27, 2011

Another thought: have you already purchased the ticket? Because you know, Laos is a hop, skip and a jump away, will have better climate this time of year, should be sufficiently "off-the-beaten-path" for your desires, be cheap-as-hell, and offer plenty of opportunities for adventure or relaxation (depending what you're seeking).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:57 AM on January 27, 2011

doh. When visitors ask about Singapore, I always recommend the museums, the zoo, and shopping (and the local food, yay!). I've lived here all my life, and I know my back alleys and indie gritty places, but if you're really up for an adventure, there are so many other places in the region for that.
posted by hellopanda at 8:24 AM on January 27, 2011

This food blogger spends quite a lot of time in Singapore and Malaysia. She has really made me want to visit. There are several different tags that might interest you.
posted by Duffington at 11:29 AM on January 27, 2011

uuhhhh, so I just read that they do random drug tests at the Singapore airport. There will be substances in my system from recent partying. How can I avoid the death penalty?? (I know... they don't test everyone. But it scares the fucking shit out of me now that I've heard about it!!!). If I dress in business casual clothes, will it help?
posted by hasna at 2:31 AM on January 28, 2011

Obviously, do not bring any drugs to Singapore. Customs will search random luggage on arrival (happens to me less than 5% of the time).

Yeah, the law permits immigration or the police to require urinalysis, but only if there is reasonable suspicion of consumption. They do not pull random travellers aside at the airport to take drug tests. What you wear shouldn't make any difference whatsoever. I imagine you'd need to be very visibly under the influence to prompt the sort of attention that might lead to a drug test.

(And if you're not a Singapore resident, I think worst case for flunking urinalysis would be deportation. Death penalty applies if you possess a certain threshold of drugs, not for consumption. So again, do not bring any drugs to Singapore.)

I am not a lawyer, etc., but I think you should relax and enjoy your trip.
posted by blue mustard at 8:16 AM on January 28, 2011

Only citizens and permanent residents get penalised for consuming drugs overseas. Do as blue mustard says, and just make sure you look clean and sober, and don't have any drugs on you. And hope the police dogs don't detect anything on your clothes or luggage; it'll save you from much hassle.
posted by hellopanda at 9:36 AM on January 28, 2011

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