I think it’s pretty clear, by now, that I am not an objective source when it comes to Bangkok. In many ways, it’s my favorite city in the world.
On the other hand, I’m able and willing to use facts to back-up my feelings, and it’s no different for Thailand’s “City of Angels.” If you read my recent post comparing Bangkok with Kuala Lumpur, you’ll hopefully appreciate my ability to do this.
Today, I’m going to expand that concept a bit to the southeast, and delve into the Bangkok vs Singapore debate. While you can probably guess where I’m going to come down, I ask you to trust me: I will give Singapore a fair shake.
Why I Love Both Bangkok and Singapore
Bangkok was my first love in Southeast Asia. It’s a place I’ve called home on three occasions, where I launched my career as a travel blogger and the place I head whenever I need to hit a reset button on my life. And that’s just because of the city’s energy. It also happens to be a tourism powerhouse, whether because of countless ancient temples, or just as many ultra-modern shopping malls.
Singapore is a city I initially came to know the same year I first touched down in Bangkok. It was 2010 and, in spite of being a backpacker at the time, I happened to be visiting a friend whose mother happened to win a stay at the much-vaunted Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which was new at the time. As I’ve gotten older (and ever so slightly wealthier), I’ve come to appreciate the finer things of traveling in Singapore, and see it as something of a respite.
How to Compare Bangkok With Singapore
Level of development
When I first visited both cities, it was clear that Singapore was an outpost of the first-world in developing Southeast Asia, while Bangkok was, at best, aiming to get there. While it’s true that outlying districts of Bangkok remain poorer and less put-together than the rest of the city, central Bangkok can go toe-to-toe with almost anywhere in Singapore.
Things to do
This is another area where it’s somewhat harder to choose between Bangkok or Singapore, at least qualitatively. Whereas Bangkok is home to the Grand Palace, Lumphini Park and a dozen amazing shopping malls, Singapore offers the Merlion statue, Gardens by the Bay and its own Orchard Road shopping district. I want to say Bangkok’s attractions are more Thai than Singapore’s are Singaporean, but that isn’t quite right.
You won’t go hungry in either of these cities. In Bangkok street food stalls dot almost every corner, while epicureans in Singapore need to head to dedicated “hawker” centres. Both places are home to plenty of high-end sit-down restaurants. International offerings notwithstanding, you face a choice: The singular deliciousness of Thai cuisine, or the diversity of the Chinese, Indian and Muslim cuisines Singapore claims as indigenous.
One thing you won’t find in either Singapore or Bangkok is Uber. That’s because you need to download the Grab app to hail a car from your phone in Southeast Asia. This is a better option in Singapore than it is in Bangkok, which is home to some of the world’s worst traffic. Both cities have reasonably useful urban rail systems: Bangkok’s BTS SkyTrain, MRT underground and Airport Rail Link; Singapore’s multi-line MRT.
The cost of travel
Just as Bangkok was much less developed than Singapore back in the day, so too was it much cheaper. While this discrepancy still persists—just look at the price of a mid-range hotel like The Scarlet in Singapore, compared to the five-star The Standard Mahanakhon in Bangkok—Bangkok has become a lot more expensive in recent years. You can expect Bangkok to be more affordable than Singapore, of course, but not by an order of magnitude.
How Many Days Do You Need in Singapore? What About Bangkok?
Singapore is technically a country, but it’s more of a city as far as travelers are concerned. In my experience, 2-3 days is really all you need there, although that varies somewhat, depending on what else you’re doing in Southeast Asia. I recently planned a trip for some travelers, who wanted to do a stopover in Singapore after two weeks in Malaysia, and ended up considering the best of Singapore into two full days for them.
With Bangkok, it’s a bit different, namely because the city isn’t an island. While day trip opportunities from Singapore are limited, Bangkok offers floating markets, ancient cities, giant Buddhas and a whole lot more. While you could probably get a feel for central Bangkok in 2-3 days, staying a week ensures you can discover the greater Bangkok region. Then again, I know from experience that even a year or longer still isn’t really “enough”!
Other FAQ About Singapore and Bangkok
Is Bangkok or Singapore better?
Bangkok is a better city if you’re looking for an eclectic, exotic Southeast Asian experience, complete with ancient culture, cheap street eats and countless experiences you can only have in Thailand. Singapore is unique, too, but is more of a fusion of east and west, of old and new, of a holiday destination and a place you might want to live.
Which is better to visit, Singapore or Thailand?
As a country, Thailand offers an order of magnitude more travel destinations and experiences than Singapore—which, in spite of technically being a “country,” is a city as far as travelers are concerned. The win is less clear when comparing Bangkok to Singapore, although I still think the former edges the latter out.
Is the air quality better in Singapore or Bangkok?
While Singapore certainly has stricter emissions standards and environmental laws than Thailand, plenty of smog floats over from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. With this being said, Bangkok experiences far worse pollution overall, with the worst period being between about February and April each year, when utterly hazardous quantities of PM 2.5 particulates cloud the air.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to Bangkok vs Singapore, there’s no easy “yes” or “no.” These cities stimulate different parts of my personality as a traveler; I almost don’t consider them comparable. While Bangkok is an evergreen destination I can visit several times per year and always and soothe my soul, Singapore is a futuristic wonderland where I touch down for a few days, a few times per decade, mostly to recharge my batteries. Obviously, if you have a chance to visit both of these cities, I highly recommend that you do so. Want more personalized advice for your next Southeast Asia trip? Consider hiring me to plan it!