Every so often, you get a call from friends living overseas who excitedly tell you that they’re coming to Singapore and have appointed you as their guide! Yippee. That means you’re going to have to spend a ton of money taking them to the Night Safari, Universal Studios and finally C La Vi for an overpriced drink.
No, you don’t have to pretend you need to attend a wake or are out of town whenever your overseas friends come to visit. Just make sure you stay away from goddamn Sentosa. Here are some ways to show them a good time without spending a ton of money on the same tired old tourist attractions.
Sample local street food
While you might feel pressured to take your friends to a fancy restaurant to show just how modern and cosmopolitan Singapore is, resist the urge.
Most visitors aren’t really interested in eating pasta or burgers—at least not here in Singapore. They’re much more curious about the local food—and lucky for you, what passes for local cuisine is usually street food, ie. you have an excuse to head to a hawker centre.
Of course, taking your friends to a generic-looking Kopitiam chain can seem a little underwhelming, so head to one of the big, famous open air hawker centres like Chomp Chomp, Maxwell Food Centre or Lau Pa Sat. If you are really desperate, I guess you could always go to Newton Food Centre but seriously, going to a tourist trap within your own country is just really stupid.
Visiting friends love it when you load up on oyster omelette, satay and Tiger Beer, and the entire night usually costs everyone no more than $10 or $15.
Capitalise on Singapore’s tropical vegetation
When Singaporeans show their guests around, they tend to focus on glamorous places like Marina Bay Sands and Orchard Road.
Little do they know that to many tourists, it’s Singapore’s tropical environment that’s exotic and exciting. A European visitor once told me he was amazed when he saw a coconut tree for the first time.
Even if you have never bothered to go on your own due to a characteristic Singaporean fear of heat and mosquitoes, taking your guests on a hike of Bukit Timah Hill or the HSBC Treetop Walk makes for a cheap day out.
Take them to parks and gardens
Singapore’s parks and gardens are quite a sight to behold, so head on down to the Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay for a free afternoon or evening out.
Most visitors are flabbergasted at the supertrees and find the Botanic Gardens welcome respite from the skyscrapers and shopping malls.
Go for durian
The legendary “rotting meat” smell of durian has become so well-known that going to Geylang for a durian feast is, to many visitors, a bit like attending a much-anticipated freak show.
If you’re a true Singaporean you will of course not understand what all the fuss is about since durians smell perfectly pleasant to you.
If you’re not familiar with the prices you should be paying please don’t get fleeced and consult a more knowledgeable friend. You should not be paying more than $15 per head.
Enjoy views over the city without the pricetag
Thanks to all the skyscrapers and the concrete jungle, Singapore looks pretty amazing from above. While many hosts of first-timers here head straight to Ce La Vi and One Altitude, paying $20 for a drink as a result, you know better.
Grab a bottle of beer and head to the rooftop garden at Orchard Central or pay $5 to access the Pinnacle @ Duxton, which in my opinion offers the best views of Singapore.
Head to the ethnic enclaves
Many visitors here don’t want to spend their holidays in shopping malls. They want to see “authentic” Asian culture, and that means temples, street food and historic shophouses.
That works out fine for you as a host, because it’s way cheaper to take your guests on a walk in Chinatown, Little India or Kampong Glam followed by an “ethnic” meal at a food centre or small local restaurant than it is to accompany them on a shopping spree and hotel buffet on Orchard Road. And it definitely shows them way more of Singapore than camping around Orchard Road will.
Where do you usually take friends who are visiting from overseas? Tell us in the comments!
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