You say job, I say jump!

Winter. Whose idea was that? If you’re already daydreaming about next summer, I bring you the gift of inspiration. If you’ve ever taken or considered a gap year you’ve probably seen those itineraries that take in every continent. While the summer break is generous, I’d recommend spending more time in fewer countries. Save the Americas or Africa for a later date and devote three months next summer to the ultimate backpacking trip: Australia via Singapore, followed by New Zealand and Fiji. Now is the best time in your life to go, I promise; ten years from now you’ll be too rational to bungy-jump, surf with sharks or go white-water rafting. A monster summer adventure like this one takes a little planning and budgeting though, so here is the first of a series of articles to help you do just that.

You’ll probably think of Oz as the main event in any trip to that part of the world, but the flight is longer than reading War and Peace so do yourself a favour and take advantage of stopping over in Singapore. The island is peanut-sized compared to Down Under, but this makes it easy to get around the sights. If you’re still stressed out from exams when you arrive then the thirty degree heat should inspire you to take it easy .

As far as practicalities go, it’s easy as pie to get a shuttle bus from the airport to your hostel and the gorgeous exchange rate means this journey will only cost you about £5. The exchange rate isn’t as sparkling as it was when I went in 2009, but you can still get $2 for £1. You have to change train once, but the Singapore subway system is one of the easiest to use in the world; if you can handle a degree at Warwick then you’ll have no problems negotiating with their ticket machines.

Singapore is so cheap you might decide to stay in a hotel, but if you’re strangling the pennies in anticipation of Oz and New Zealand, then try the Inn Crowd hostel. There are actually two buildings, one spanking new and the other recently renovated, so either way you can’t go wrong. For £10 you get a bed, a locker, breakfast and internet. The only downsides would be unisex bathrooms and the strange policy of having to leave your shoes downstairs. In theory it keeps the floors cleaner, but not if Average Joe or Jane pops off his/her flipflops revealing the soles of their feet are black and stroll on upstairs!

Dining at a food court in Singapore is cheaper than a coffee from Starbucks (they have those too), so try kaya toast for breakfast – coconut jam on toast, roti prata bread from the Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant for lunch and shrimp laksa for dinner. I’d be shocked if this all cost you more than $10/£5. Zam Zam is in Little Arabia, near the hostel, but if you’re female it’s worth covering up when ordering in there. The manager isn’t fussed about who gets served, but the old boy on the till objects to vest tops and shorts in what is ostensibly a Muslim establishment.

Now what to do? The colonial district and quayside area has got the most attractions including the extensive Asian Civilisations Museum by the water, the National Museum of Singapore and Singapore Art Museum. If you like museums rather than love them then visit the last two at certain times during the week when entry is free. Also in this area you’ll find the Asian London Eye, called the Singapore Flyer and the famous Raffles Hotel. Raffles and its signature cocktail the Singapore Sling are over a hundred years old, and this building has seen the likes of Ernest Hemingway sitting at the bar sipping them in the past.

Meanwhile, over in Chinatown, the biggest draws are the Thian Hock Keng Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. You need to cover up to go inside the latter, and then once in you might find yourself adopted by a Singaporean family like I did, who then take you to the basement for free vegetarian food and talk to you in broken English. Or perhaps not.
Lastly, Orchard Road has to be seen to be believed. If you like to shop then here on one street is more shopping malls than you can imagine. Historic Fort Canning Park is at one end of Orchard Road if you want to take a timeout for a picnic before returning to do more damage to your wallet. There’s something here for every budget.

As far as value for money goes, I would avoid Sentosa. As fascinating as a giant statue of a Merlion and a few beaches are, I struggled to fill a day on the island. Mixed reviews were heard about Singapore Night Safari ranging from “amazing” to “I’m not convinced the animals were real…” Assuming you’re there in July unless you can get away from exams earlier, then you can hop along to the Singapore Food Festival where Clarke Quay becomes a ‘food street’ for a week. I didn’t get to experience it myself, but it inspires much happier feedback than Sentosa and the Night Safari.

If you’ve got more time and want to explore further away, then you’ll probably end up in Malaysia, but I headed straight to Sydney. Even though there are plenty of air-conditioned buildings to duck into, a few days of humidity was enough for me. I swapped a tropical downpour for a rather cold and windy downpour next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. More on that next time. For now I hope this has given you fuel for thoughts about faraway places next summer.
My last tips for Singapore would be take insect repellent, don’t take chewing gum (it really is illegal) and don’t eat and drink on public transport. If you’re pale and blond you’ll likely be quite popular, especially if you’re eating roti for some reason. If you want the attention then it might be more convenient just to write your phone number on your forehead!


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