Navigating Singapore

11 08 2012

This is mostly dedicated to my exchange friends who’ve just arrived in Singapore. Singapore is a fairly large city and unlike some other places, isn’t nicely built as a grid. It’s evolved very fast over the years and as a foreigner, you might find it confusing. So here is a big picture overview, so you have a rough idea and I don’t take the fun out of exploring. On one hand, if you stay here long enough, you will figure this out. On the other hand, this will take the guesswork out of travelling so you can focus on actually having fun. So here it goes.

  1. Ez-link card. This is a contact-less card you can tap on card readers to pay for your transport. These days, a number of shops and food outlets accept these as payment too so it’s a necessity. If you choose to pay by cash for your bus and train travel, you will need a lot of coins (buses don’t give change)  and you will end up playing slightly more. Singapore uses distance based fares so if you transfer a bus or train within a certain time limit  (about 30 – 45mins) you can get a discount on your next journey. Not so significant if you are here for a few days, but essential if you are staying for a semester. You can buy these at train stations and 7-11 stores. They cost five dollars plus the value that you want. More information here.
  2. Trains. The train maps are straightforward. Singapore has four major train lines which all intersect at various points so it’s rather well connected. On every line there are trains going in two opposite directions from one side to the other. The SMRT site has a good interactive map which helps you plan a route. Be wary that the trains run till roughly midnight except on special occasions, the time might be extended till about 1am. On the website, you can click on the station to find out what time the last train leaves from the station. There are also pocket maps available at all the stations. Your Singaporean friends might ask to meet you at the Control Station or Customer Service Counter or something similar. This is usually the place where you tap your card to enter the station proper. There is usually a counter there with one of the train employees.  As a standard, stations have many exits and a single station may be an interchange for many lines, so you should be specific when given or giving directions. As a rule, most of the station exits will be labelled with a landmark or major road nearest to it (eg Exit E Farrer Road). Once you are leaving the station, you will find a regional map somewhere near the control station or the exits.
    So, there’s one other thing. There is a website in Singapore called “STOMP”. It’s run by one of the major newspapers and it is marketed as a “citizen journalism” website. It’s turned out to be more of a tabloid so if you want instant fame in Singapore, you just need to do something crazy on the train. Someone will probably snap a picture or a video of you and upload it on the site.
  3. Buses. Ok, buses can be a bit tricky. They go in circles all over the place because, well, everyone needs to take a bus. I often use a combination of the Google Maps application on my phone together with the bus information at the bus stop to plan my trips. You will find the numbers of the buses which stop there mounted on the pole and you can find information about the buses on a detailed information chart behind the benches where people sit as in the picture below.
  4. Taxis. Singaporean taxi drivers, like most others around the world, are rather opinionated and have a perspective on everything. Some force it on you, some let you in on it if you have some rapport and some just keep their mouths shut and drive. Sometimes an empty cab will pass by you without stopping, sometimes they’ll stop and ask you where you want to go and then decided to take you on. I don’t really know if they’re allowed to  do that but they will. One taxi driver says he doesn’t take caucasians because he often can’t understand where they want to go. It might help to have your address written down somewhere so you don’t have to know how to pronounce it properly. There are also peak hours, where due to road traffic conditions, there is an extra charge. Often it is also difficult to get taxis in the mornings and evenings when people are going to and from work, and on rainy days.  When you get on the taxi, they will often ask you which route to take (“You want to go by which way?”). If you know the route, let the driver, if not, tell him (usually), you don’t know.  TripAdvisor has a good overview too and enterSingapore has more detailed information. (FYI, PGP is on Exit 8 off the Ayer Rajah Expressway, AYE and UTown is off Exit 9)
  5. Cycling. I won’t lie to you, Singapore isn’t fantastic when it comes to cycling. There isn’t a lot of culture here and most drivers, though they may be law abiding and generally not jerks, may not be too comfortable sharing the road with cyclists. I do know a couple of friends who cycle regularly on the roads, but I am personally, not too comfortable. Nonetheless, the pavements here are usually sloped and the vast majority can accommodate cyclists as well as pedestrians. You will however, either have to compromise on speed or pick an empty pavement, which you may be able to find if you live in a place long enough. Also note that when you cross the road, you’re expected to dismount and push your cycle along.
  6. Walking/Running. Most Singaporeans only walk short distances, because the weather is rather hot, if you have not already noticed ;). Walking is usually done in between bus stops and train stations, and in the park. As mentioned, train stations usually have detailed regional maps and the passenger service officers are pretty helpful. In some densely populated areas (like in Town, Clarke Quay etc) it is a lot easier to just walk to where you need to go.
  7. Putting it together. I personally use a hell lot of online tools. I wouldn’t be able to survive without the Google Maps application on my phone. Sometimes, it only gives you one option for the bus you can take when there may be more. As mentioned above, it helps to take a look at the bus information chart at the bus stops. If I’m at home, I might check for a second opinion. These days, I also use an application called SBSNextBus, what that allows you to do is to figure out when your desired bus is coming to the stop near you. Helpful if I’m running late and I need to figure out if it’s worth waiting for the bus I need or taking an alternative.

That’s kind of roughly what you will need.