Singapore, Travel Tips

The lowdown on staying at backpacker hostels

So, you want to save money and stay at a backpacker hotel. After all, you reason out — you are a seasoned traveler, there is nothing that will faze you and you will not part with your travel fund to pay for an overpriced hotel you’ll only be staying in to sleep.

This is my exact train of thought as I scour the hotel booking sites for an affordable place to stay in Singapore. It’s common knowledge that booking a place to stay in Singapore is not cheap, especially when you are a group of six trying to save a few bucks.

After a bit of searching in the internet, we finally agreed that we’d rather book in a back packer hostel. After all, we really didn’t have much requirements in a place: as long as it has a nice flushing toilet, it’s safe and relatively clean — we are all set. After much searching, we ended up booking Footprints Hostel, located in a quiet neighborhood in the fringes of Little India and about a ten minute walk to Bugis Junction.I obsessively read the reviews at Trip Advisor and concluded that the stay can’t be that bad since good reviews heavily out weight the bad reviews. The fact that a six-person room is going for SGD20 (PHP750) per person as opposed to the usual SGD160 for a 4 person bed in a 3-star hotel convinced us.

Booking the room was effortless and we only paid 10% deposit, with the rest to be settled in cash as soon as we arrived (read more on my TripAdvisor review).

The living room at Footprints Hostel -- all sots of peeps, you are not entitled to be snooty

The living room at Footprints Hostel — all sots of peeps, you are not entitled to be snooty

Anyway, after a four day staff at a backpacker hostel, I realized a few things:

1. Staying in a back packer hostel is best done when you are with friends, not with family – Friends, the type who loves traveling and is the no-frills-type, who will appreciate the all-nighter drinking sessions or the fact that you will be in close proximity with other travelers. It is the young types who will enjoy meeting new friends or likely acquaintances. Never bring two senior citizens who cower with the sight of various nationalities in a place where the United Nations is aptly represented.

2. Manage your expectations – the fact that you are paying SGD20 for a bed to sleep in a country where the same amount is expected to buy you a full meal at McDs means you shouldn’t expect service of the Ritz. Expect to find dust when you reach for your shoes under the bed, expect to find a bleary-eyed foreigner slumped on the ground floor terrace clearly with too much to drink, you will find used tissues on the edge of the toilet instead of the trash can. Looking for things that are clearly not in the horizon will only make your stay miserable – don’t look for TV in your rooms, don’t look for super clean areas and do not look for the ambience because it is not existent.

3. Open your mind – there’s a big chance that you’ll see an old man with his foot up the table, together with his half-eaten bowl of cereal while two peeps (who seemed not to have taken a bath in a very long time) huddled on the couch plotting their next trip, you will share your breakfast with a lot of people that will not look similar to how you look. If you are not comfortable dealing with people that are very different from you, I suggest you save money and book a nice hotel where you will have less opportunity to interact with other people. Or maybe, you can save your money and NOT travel at all.

4. Use the net to look for the best choice – Trip Advisor is helpful to find out if the hostels are good and safe. Remember, no amount of money saved is worth the bed bug bite.

So, will I stay again at a backpacker hostel? Definitely. I might even go back to Footprints. I guess the secret really i keeping an open mind and enjoying the experience.

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Singapore, Traveling on a Budget

Challenge: Singapore on a shoe-string budget

credit belongs to owner

credit belongs to owner

I know – Singapore and shoe-string budget are two words that doesn’t usually appear next to each other.

But what can I do? I was given marching orders by the family to prepare a family trip to Singapore with just a budget of PHP10,000 per person, exclusive of plane tickets and lodging.

The plane tickets and lodging — my sister and I paid for. We were able to get round trip tickets to Singapore via JetStar for PHP5,000 per pax all inclusive (minus the usual airport fees 😦 ) For lodging, we were able to book a family room on a guesthouse located in Perak Road at the boundary of Little India and Bugis. The guesthouse, Footprints Hostel enjoys nice reviews at Trip Advisor and we were able to score a family room for SGD120 per night (PHP4,200 on a SGD1=PHP35 exchange rate) or roughly PHP700 per person per night. Our four day night stay came to less than PHP18,000 — a feat, considering that hotels in Singapore are not exactly known for low fees.

So, the PHP10,000 or roughly SGD285 roughly accounts for the per person budget, I have to make sure that my mom and dad’s first trip to the beautiful Red Dot will be worth it. Mum is celebrating her 59th birthday while we are in Singapore so I am already looking for simple yet enjoyable activities that will make my beloved Senior Citizens happy. Non-negotiables of course is the trip to Universal Studios and Sentosa, along with a visit to the Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion at Marina Bay. Other than that, I do not exactly plan on spending on attractions that my parents will not fully appreciate.

Let me share something with you, my parents are simple people. The mere fact that they were able to go to a foreign country (something they didn’t even thought to be wildly possible) is enough cause of happiness for them. This early, they already requested to see the Merlion, Sentosa and Universal Studios — those were the non-negotiables. My mum and dad are both kids at heart and would revel on seeings sights they used to see on TV will be conversation-fodder that would last weeks.

The first time we told them that we bought tickets for the whole family going to Singapore, they–especially my mum–were ecstatic. I don’t know if it’s right to share this with you, but the week after – they started saving money for it. My dad already has 80% of his personal budget in my safekeeping and my mum already filled two piggy banks with her savings. Last I heard, she even managed to top the personal budget and she kept on saving because she wanted to buy souvenirs for her friends.

Unlike our Hong Kong Family Trip last year where I was confident that we will be able to survive HK with a measly budget of about PHP8,000 per person, I am more wary with the Singapore trip. In order to limit the expenses to SGD 285 or SGD300 at most, I have already came up with the following ground rules:

1. We are not paying premium Singapore dollars for attractions that will easily bore the men in the family who all had short attention spans (i.e. dad, the hubby and the baby brother) – i.e. entrance to the Gardens by the Bay Conservation areas. We’d rather take pictures outside with the gigantic Supertrees in the background.

2. We will spend our budget on attractions that everyone will enjoy – For example, everyone will have fun swimming and trying out the water attractions of the Water Adventure Park but not everyone will enjoy Night Safari. This is actually a dilemma — between Night Safari and gallivanting around Sentosa, which is more enjoyable?

3. Spend money discovering the food. Let the parents discover hawker center and ice cream sandwiches!

4. Enjoy public transpo especially Singapore’s efficient MRT system.

5. Don’t be afraid to look for attractions or activities that are fun but cost less or are even FREE.

I will definitely let you know if I will be successful with this new challenge. But you know me, I thrive on making trips happen in spite impossibly restricting budgets. Wish me luck though, and feel free to drop me a note if you have suggestions!

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Singapore, Traveling on a Budget

Next destination: Singapore

photo not my property

photo not my property

We’re returning to our favorite fine (pun unintended) city in three months time to celebrate my mum’s big 5-9. Apparently, after celebrating her birthday in Hong Kong last year, our parents have grown a taste for travel. As much as it is expensive because my sister and I pay for our family travels, we have come to make it our goal to have our parents see as many countries as they can and as we can afford. I guess I have mentioned in my earlier posts about how both our parents grew up with really less in life and it is only now when they are older that they got to taste the little pleasures of life. My sister and I also vowed to spend as much as we can for them since we are aware that not everyone is blessed to still have their parents with them.

Sure, traveling with our oldies is not the easiest thing to do (they can be fussy sometimes) but seeing the joy in their faces (very apparent in HK last year) was worth every damn penny.

So, yep — I still owe a expenses breakdown of last March’s Taipei trip on this blog as well as more posts on that trip and yet I am already busy looking for a really good accommodation for the whole fam for “Operation: Mum’s SG Birthday.” After all, it is not exactly a secret that Singapore is expensive so I am racking my brains on where we should stay. We already have a few leads — a toss up on Bugis (where we stayed last 2011) or in Chinatown where our parents would enjoy the stalls and the tiny attractions here and there. If you have any suggestions, feel free to drop me a note!

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Asia, Singapore, Travel Diaries

Taking the first steps towards a lifelong love of travel

I glanced furtively on the white paper labelled “Disembarkation Sheet” as the pretty yet uptight airline stewardess from JetStar handed two pieces for my sister and I. My sister, sensing my discomfort, said “You will have to fill that out. We will submit it once we enter Singapore immigration”. 

It was June 2007, I was also 27 years old and traveling out of the country for the first time. A few months before, my 24-year old sister scored super cheap tickets from Manila to Singapore, for about PHP6,000 each (that was considered cheap then) and asked me to join her. I was simply elated that I booked a ticket that same night. The same night, we also found a hostel through the internet but were skeptical with the address. Later on, we learned why we were iffy with the accommodations booked for us.

After carefully copying details from my newly minted passport (encased in a yellow, plastic Winnie the Pooh passport cover – don’t ask me why), I leaned on the cramped seat while glancing beyond the airline windows. I couldn’t see anything outside except for rows and rows of fluffy white clouds. I closed my eyes –the pilot just announced that we will be landing in a few minutes.

SINGAPORE! I couldn’t believe it. I have no idea what to expect–except that, based on my research–the country is gloriously clean and that it is a bit hot and humid just like the Philippines. Then it hit me, I was traveling out of the country for the first time, with ten thousand pesos in my pocket and a new suitcase which I had to check through the gate. Inside were clothes and shoes good enough for a two week stay.We were staying for just four days

breeze through immigration

2007 – I was still thin and had black hair. Just breezed through immigration

I breezed through Immigration and was given the 30-day stamp. I was simply elated and couldn’t believe that I was a thousand miles away from the family and the (then) boy friend. My sister and I took the MRT out of the airport and hopped on the cab at the Tanah Merah station for Farrer Park where we booked a room on a local boarding house. Inside the cab, I noticed that credit cards were being accepted for paying the cab. Immediately, I was beyond impressed.

cabs accept travelers cards

no need to worry about cash. these cabs accept cards

I remember that I kept saying to my sister, “Imagine they accept credit cards! And the cabs — the cabs were of the Mercedes Benz variety!” My sister was amused of how I managed to find something to say just about everything. For someone like me who never went anywhere but the familiar streets of Makati and the idyll of the various Philippine provinces I’ve been to, the cleanliness, the clockwork efficiency and the(then) newness of Singapore was simply too much.

We found the boarding house and was surprised that it was a dormitory housing college students. This was our first lesson learned when booking accommodations via the net. The place was a mess, with a smell that seemed to permeate the nose. Rooms open to reveal half-naked college boys eating noodles and playing on their PC. In the room assigned to us, the beds were thrown haphazardly, empty candy wrappers and soda bottles littering the floor. In one corner of the room, someone’s worn underwear was crumpled in a heap. My sister and I looked at each other and plotted redemption. There was no way we are staying in this house.

Redemption came in the form of K, one of my sister’s dearest friends who lived and worked in Singapore. One look on the chaos surrounding my sister and I — and she announced that we will be staying with her on her apartment in Tampines. We spent four days sharing the room with her and her two Filipina room mates.

lost in Singapore

Getting lost in Singapore, circa 2007

We managed to get the money we deposited on that God-forsaken dormitory, but we were also charged for one day’s stay, in spite the fact that they deceived us with the details of the accommodation. This incident made me OC with booking accommodations over the net, to the point of emailing contact persons repeatedly for confirmation, obsessively checking and rechecking room details and reviews over the net and my innate love of TripAdvisor.com.

love of travel

Unniechan, my travel angel — the one who encouraged my love of travel

Four days passed by like a blur. I did the usual touristy things: posed for pictures with the Merlion, had a trip to Sentosa to watch the Pink Dolphins and see the fishes at the Singapore Ocean Park (there was still no Universal Studios back then), prayed on the Fountain of Wealth for abundance, shopped like there’s no tomorrow (or for whatever my minuscule budget afforded me) and simply enjoyed the sights, sounds and taste of Singapore.

traveling young

we were so young

sentosa cable car

On our way to Sentosa onboard the cable car

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

Singapore Zoo

Do I measure up?

Siloso Beach

Sitting in the famous Siloso Beach Sign

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

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