Since the launch of flights from Perth by Singapore Airlines' low-cost subsidiary Scoot, the price of visiting the Lion City has become a whole lot cheaper. And with a travel time of just over five hours, the trip is certainly appealing. But how far will your money go? And is a holiday to Singapore likely to rival that Perth favourite, Bali?
We couldn't resist Scoot's Boxing Day sale and snapped up seats for our family of four for $938. The price includes 7kg of hand luggage and 15kg hold luggage each. You can purchase a host of extras to enhance your journey but, given we are only going to be on the plane for five hours and 10 minutes, we decide a couple of books will be all the entertainment we need. Having eaten dinner before we board, we take along a snack for the flight.
While Scoot is touted as a no-frills carrier, the service is excellent, the legroom feels the same as any other 777-200 I've travelled on and the flight takes off and arrives on time. If an airline ticks these boxes on a short-haul journey, it gets my vote.
We had pre-booked a Duck/ Hippo tour before we left. This is not a trip to a wildlife park, as the name might suggest, but a one- hour city and river tour and a two-day, hop-on-hop-off open-top bus tour on three routes around the city. The ticket costs $S69 ($61) for adults and $S49 for children. When we collect our tickets at the booth outside Suntec City Mall, we discover it also includes a complimentary Singapore River cruise which is a great bonus - to book it separately would cost $S60 for the four of us.
We climb aboard Darcy the Duck, a World War II amphibious four-wheeled vehicle which can travel by road and water. We are welcomed by our guide Ann-Lee. While the commentary on the Hippo buses is pre-recorded, the Duck tours have live guides who give detailed information about the sights, tips on where to eat and what to visit, and are happy to answer questions during the tour.
As we head off, we pass the Fountain of Wealth, recorded as the world's largest fountain in the Guinness Book of Records. The bronze structure, inspired by the Hindu mandala, is symbolic of the harmony between the races in Singapore - Chinese, Malay, Indian and other minorities.
In Chinese culture, water symbolises wealth and the inward flow of the water signifies the retention of wealth. The larger part of the fountain is switched off several times a day, giving visitors access to the mini-fountain below. It is believed that if you touch the water while walking around it three times, you'll have good luck.
On our way to the river, we get spectacular views of the city skyline, the Singapore Flyer observation wheel and Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, known affectionately by Singaporeans as the Durian because of its resemblance to the spiky-skinned fruit favoured by locals.
We are told to hold on tight as we drive into the river. There is a moment of doubt when Darcy takes to the water and my daughters look nervous until they realise we are definitely floating and the propeller has kicked in.
We admire the Flower Domes and Super Trees of Gardens by the Bay, an impressive 101ha park constructed on reclaimed land. The girls point out the funky lotus flower-shaped Artscience Museum, while the Marina Bay Sands hotel is on show at nearly every turn. And of course, the statue of the Singaporean mascot, the Merlion, its fish tail representing the island's origins as a fishing village and its head from "singa", the Malay word for lion (Singapore's name is derived from the Malay "Singapura", meaning "lion city".)
Water gushes from the statue's mouth and Ann-Lee tells us that if a local has gastro, they will say they are vomiting like a merlion.
We enjoy the views from the river as the mix of new Singapore blends with the colonial-style buildings such as the Fullerton Hotel. Back on land, we are treated to more colonial architecture as we travel through the Civic District. According to Ann-Lee, the Civilian War Memorial is known as the Chopsticks by locals, the four, 70m-high pillars honouring members of the races of Singapore killed during World War II.
Ann-Lee is also a fount of culinary knowledge and recommends three local dishes we must try. I can vouch for her breakfast suggestion of a cup of tea and kaya toast ($S4), a spread made with coconut, eggs, sugar and pandan leaves - similar in texture to lemon curd, it has a buttery coconut flavour.
For a bargain lunch, try fried carrot cake ($S4). Nothing like the sweet confection we are used to, it contains cubes of steamed rice flour and white radish, fried in egg and garnished with spring onions. Similar to a Spanish tortilla, it's delicious with chilli sauce.
And, to finish your day without breaking the bank, chicken rice ($S5) is a must. More exciting than it sounds - tender steamed chicken served with rice cooked in chicken broth, fragrant with pandan leaves and ginger, and a hit of chilli sauce - it's my dish of the holiday. Add a side of stir-fried greens ($S4) and your day's eating will cost less than a main meal in most Perth restaurants.
However, it's my typical Scottish husband who finds the bargain of the day, with his dinner of "economical bee hoon", a noodle dish, coming in at $S2.50. You'll find inexpensive food at the hawker's markets or the shopping mall food courts all over the city.
We depart the Duck and hop aboard our first Hippo - the Red Heritage Route. This tour takes in Little India and Kampong Glam, home to the Malay Heritage Centre which showcases the culture and history of Singapore's Malay population. We alight and are shown around by a delightful and informative guide. Back on the bus, we travel through the Civic District where we pass colonial favourites the Raffles Hotel, Singapore Cricket Club, the Supreme Court and St Andrew's Cathedral before visiting Boat Quay and Chinatown.
The rest of the route passes the Marina Bay area which we have already covered on the Duck tour, so we take a walk around colourful Chinatown. My daughter Nina is delighted when she snaps up a bargain of five purses for $S2.
The following day, the Yellow City Route again takes us past the Marina Bay area. There is a bit of repetition on all four tours and now each time someone mentions the Flyer, my seven-year-old daughter Anya quotes: "The Singapore Flyer is the largest observation wheel in the world, it is 165m tall and on a clear day you can see Malaysia and, if you are lucky, some Indonesian islands".
We see the brightly coloured shophouses of Clarke Quay on the way to the Botanic Gardens. I'm sure Anya could also tell you that 85 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing as we pass tower blocks containing hundreds of apartments. Of the remaining 15 per cent, only the very lucky or very rich can afford the beautiful white bungalows set in lush gardens, which we see on the way to the Botanic Gardens.
The gardens are well worth a visit. There is a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stop so, if you don't want to take the Hippo down the famous shopping street of Orchard Road as the tour heads back to the Suntec City hub, a $S2.20 ticket for the metro will get you to the city centre in no time.
The Original Tour route takes in some of the sights from the red and yellow routes and we decide we've seen enough by bus, so that evening we board the Singapore River Cruise boat in Clarke Quay. It takes in many landmarks covered by the earlier tours but it's a lovely way to see the city and I'd recommend it at night, when you'll enjoy Singapore lit up in all its splendour. If you time it right, you will also see the light show which takes place outside Marina Bay Sands from 8pm each evening. All in all, the Duck and Hippo tour is excellent value for money.
I would love to tell you about the bargain hotel we stayed in, but while I like a good deal, I don't do budget accommodation. Our six- night stay in the five-star Swissotel Stamford cost $S260 plus taxes per night. And while not cheap, our room has two double beds which accommodates two adults and two children comfortably. Its ideal location within Raffles City Mall, beside City Hall MRT and minutes from some of Singapore's historical buildings, makes it the perfect base.
Singapore is a different kind of holiday to Bali. You could laze by the pool all day but there's just too much to see and do. Most of the shop and restaurant prices are comparable to Perth but if you are savvy about it, you can find value for money.
But while it may not be the new Bali, Singapore has become my new favourite holiday destination.
Scoot flights to Singapore depart from Perth at 7.30pm, arriving at 12.40am, Thursday-Monday. Return flights depart Singapore at 12.50pm, arriving in Perth at 6.20pm. flyscoot.com.
swissotel.com/ hotels/singapore- stamford