i’m starting a new series called First Timer where i’ll jot down things that might be useful for someone who, like me, will visit a place for the first time. inaugural edition? Singapore. there’s not much to say since it’s really straightforward (i think), but just some tips:
taxis have a surcharge of 50% between midnight and 5:59 AM (when you get in the cab is what affects pricing for the whole trip), and 25% between 6 AM and 9:30 AM Monday-Friday and 6 PM to midnight every day and all day public holidays. there are different levels of cab fanciness and the fancier you get, the more it costs. at the airport the taxi stand guy directed me to a Chrysler with leather seats, which ended up being the highest level of service. the cost from the airport to my airbnb in Robertson Quay was around S$34 including the 6 to 9 25% surcharge. in comparison, i hailed a regular cab (they were plentiful) at 6 AM for the ride back to the airport and the total cost was somewhere around S$20, maybe even S$18. note that you can preorder a cab via phone, sms, or app, but they charge you for that. more information here.
there are road tolls (called ERP) collected throughout the city and that charge is passed on to you as a taxi customer; there’s a little display on the toll tag that shows how much you’ve run up. toll prices change throughout the day (there’s an electronic sign on each tollgate that tell you how much) based on time and one good thing about early morning taxi rides is that there’s no ERP.
the MRT (subway) is not the only form of public transportation and in fact leaves many areas (such as where i stayed) a good (and hot) walk away. the bus system is extensive and efficient, and uses the same contactless transit passes. enter at the front of the bus and tap on, exit at the rear door and tap off. there is a sign on the exit that says to tap “ONLY” when you exit, but that doesn’t seem right. i tapped getting on and getting off and i think things worked out. the google maps app with transit is your friend for schedules and directions. for the most part it was correct with address locations but it wouldn’t hurt to use satellite view to do a sanity check (like i had to do with my airbnb — it had me get off one stop after with a slightly longer walk time, i think).
the UOB bank stand at the airport sells StarHub SIM cards; there is a data-only SIM card with 2 GB of data per day for 5 days for S$18. there are also options with voice, but i didn’t need any of those. note that the card only comes in standard and micro sizes; luckily i brought a SIM cutter (available on Amazon) to cut it down to nano size for my iphone 5S. it was a snug fit but worked just fine. the lady warned me that if i used a credit card it would be charged as a cash advance(!) so i just went to the plentiful ATMs and took out more cash. the rival bank stand next to it sells SingTel cards; i didn’t look at their rates. note that StarHub service was 3G-only on my 5S but reception was spotty. i always had bars but didn’t always have a connection. a local tells me that M1 is the best in terms of service, but none are that great. (i would have done a “Local SIM”-type blog entry but i don’t know if i got a good deal or not, so i don’t want to sound too much like an authority.)
you won’t have a hard time finding a place to spend your hard-earned cash. i just wanted to point out that there’s a “Louis Vuitton Island Maison” at the Sands (that building that has the flower-looking thingy in front of it — it’s a museum). despite appearances, they’ll let anyone in, even me all sweaty and gross, in my shorts and t-shirt. i don’t think i got any funny looks, although i thought about pulling a Pretty Woman “big mistake” but didn’t since i really have no use for anything Louis. the underground walkway from the mall to the island hosts an art exhibit and may just be cooler than seeing all the travel trunks they have for sale.
try some kaya toast (there are toast places all over) and don’t be afraid of hawker stalls. as always, long lines are a pretty certain indicator of quality food.