Indie Guide to Singapore.. Kind Of
(Photo Credit: Andre Saraiva's blog)
I can't say that Singapore gives off the ideal impression if you're into adventure, chaos and cheap good times, so frankly this post won't be very long. It is a completely clean and almost sterile city. When walking down the streets you wouldn't even know that you were in Asia. For me, the best part of SE Asia is the bustling and bordelique ambiance. In fact, most of the city looks like Orlando, Florida and even though that was my home for a bit, that is not meant as a compliment. The main party area looks like Universal Studios City Walk in Orlando or like something in the gambling centres of Las Vegas. Even Chinatown is tame and something out of Disney World- a bad copy of the real thing. The most unforgivable thing is that the prices aren't even Asian! Some might say it's like Hong Kong, uber developed financial capital in Asia, but honestly guys, HK has much more ambiance, culture, and identity and if you're looking for a sophisticated city to spend Western like prices, I'd say go to HK over SG any day. Anyways, here is a couple of things I picked up while here. Since I'll be living in Jakarta for the next 6 months I will probably be passing through here again and this list might grow.
Night and Day: Right after dinner at Little India, head out to Night and Day, a cool bar with a cosy indie atmosphere. It's further down the road on Selegie. Walls are covered with graffiti, you can also contribute (perhaps the only place in Singapore where you wont be canned for doing it). When there's not too much people you can choose the music, the bartenders are friendly. Also, from 7to9 its 1 for 1 so get there early to get drunk if you're on a budget. (Merci à Nathan. French friend doing his third year abroad here.)
Home Club: New club which is pretty good would be home club. they have some local artists sometimes but sometimes its not the best. Cover entrance is always cheap compared to the rest of the city, but as always, Zouk gets most good international DJs, so always check their website if you're coming to see if they have anyone good. (Credit: Nathan again..)
Clarke Quai: Pronounced Clarkey by the locals, this is the kitch, Disney like clubbing area of the city. There are giant not-so-abstract penis statues lining the 'streets' and all sorts of tourists to accompany them. Good thing is that this seems to be where the locals go as well. Most places have major cover charges around 25 Singapore Dollars. Walk around and see what interests you from the food court of clubs. Can't say that it seems to indie and cool but it's def a good time if you go there drunk with amigos and don't care about quality of music or trying to pick up hotties.
New Asian Bar-Swissotel: Recently opened rooftop bar located on one of the highest buildings in Singapore. As soon as we walked in they were playing Ace of Base (um awesome?). Music is popular dance stuff. What makes this place worth it is the cool ambiance and great view of the city. Apparently they have a party on the helipad once a month! Reminded me of New York Bar in Tokyo but more trendy and less classy. Secondly, the restaurant is highly recommended. After eating the left overs of my friend's mega expensive Wagyu beef burger and experiencing the burger almost just melt in your mouth, I'd have to confirm that. Problem is that the food is super expensive and there is normally a 25 SD cover charge (includes 2 drinks) however I found out tonight that if you go around 11:30 pm you do not have to pay to enter since it closes at 1 am. Good ghetto student tip to get into once cool ass bar for FREE, yee-haw!
Zouk: This is the one bar I wish some indie guide could have told me before I went partying in Singapore. This is where international DJ's usually go, for example Surkin was there last night. Found out too late! According to DJmag it was voted in and around the Top 10 clubs in the world.
Other clubs that are supposed to be rad and recommended by a cool friend of friend who had lived there for 6 months (thanks again Alex) are:
La Maison (check Kitsune blog pics, here)
Lastly, recommended by a Singaporean friend I studied with at Sciences Po is Dempsy road area or Holland village. I only found this after I was leaving so I didn't get to test it out but hopefully it's less horrible than Clarke Quai!
Tips: Sunday nights are known as 'Guys night out' meaning it's gay night on the town. It's pretty awesome if that's your scene however if it's not it is quite difficult to find something a bit more straight. Thus was our dilemma tonight since Sunday was our only night to really party in Singapore and our guy friends wanted to mac some ladies. Nonetheless we found some live music in Clarke Quai with a ladyboy main singer and it was loads of fun to dance and go crazy to.
Also, be careful where you urinate. The rumours are true, these guys are very strict about it. True story, someone I was with (not saying who) got caught and was forced to find paper towels and mop up his own piss.
Useful Website: good events are often posted here: http://www.juice.com.sg/events/
Shopping and Eating
Little India vs China Town
Skip China town in this place because as I said it's an expensive and fake version of the real thing. I recommend Little India. It is actually my favourite part of the city (not a brown bias) and the only place that showed some charm and character. It truly felt like India, but cleaner. The prices are good and if you're a girl you MUST go to a beauty salon and get your eyebrows threaded. What that means is that instead of using wax to remove your hair, Indians use this much more accurate technique with a thread. I do it religiously in Toronto and after climbing a mountain for 2 weeks in Papua New Guinea it was a must to get rid of my chubaka eyebrows. I paid 8 SD. Careful though, they don't always do quite a good job as in North America so if they missed some stray hairs don't hesitate to tell them.
Electronics were all cheaper than China Town. For example, a Canon camera in LI was 299 SD + 8G memory card and they won't include tax. This is before any bargaining. The same camera and memory card in CT was 350 SD. Go to Mustafa's Centre as recommended by Alex below. This is the Indian mall where I found the cheap electronic stuff and it also has everything from vintage Casios to jewelery and Indian clothing.
Eating really depends on what you're down with. I, suffering horribly from Chocolate Rain (see How to Survive Travelers' Diarrhea) and could not bare the thought of eating spicy Indian food. However if you are doing Meat-Free Mardi ( being a veggie for one day a week in order to decrease your unethical meat consumption) there are veggie restos galore in Little India. If you find yourself in LI you have to try the Samosas. They are better than anything I ever had in the India away from India ie Scarborough. Because of the chocolate rain situation we did end up eating in the food court of China town. Everything looked pretty delicious and the plates were around 5 SD.
Haji Lane: This is recommended by the readers below and unfortunately we missed out. It's a mix between the Marais in Paris (see A Day in Paris for an idea) but with a more New York vibe. Cool alternative shopping, lots of indie designers, not expensive. 90% of the clothing is for girls though. Sounds awe-some.
Banana leaves restaurants: On Chander road in Little India. You can eat awesome biryanis with your bare hands, on banana leaves and have your stomach full for 3US$. Don't forget: eat with your right hand because you're left is for wiping your arse. (Credit: Nathan from the recommendations below.)
awesome food tips here:
SightseeingBig surprise and not that indie, the only thing I tried was the National Museum. It was hella impressive (recently re-opened after renovations for 3 years) and the best part was that a large part of it was FREE. Apparently the arts are highly sponsored by the gov', it's too bad in our short 2 day tour we didn't get to discover more of that. There's also a theme park that has a..geek alert.. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA RIDE. Amour and I were obsessed this summer with the series and were going to go but for whatever reason we didn't make it. Hope you do though!
Lodging: Where Not to StayThere are so many hotels in Singapore that there is very little chance of you staying at the same one I did. But just in case here is my advice. For 180 SD/night definitely do not stay at Strand Hotel on Bencoolen road. After that damn mountain we climbed all we wanted was to pay a bit more for some comfort, but unfortunately that didn't happen. The showers were not hot, the beds and pillows were hard and the service definitely didn't compensate for any of these defaults.
ConclusionThe cool part about this city is that it's kind of a food court of several cultures in one city. Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, you can find it all here. The food is good and everything is clean and orderly. Lastly the city is extremely green with most of the business buildings hosting trees and greenery on their roofs. It really is a good break if you are looking for some rest from the chaos and pollution of Bangkok or Jakarta. It feels good because you can really let your guard down and relax because people aren't out to rip you off (no constant bargaining with taxi drivers or tuk tuks!). However, don't go here for a crazy Asian experience. To give this city some more credit, I think it can be a lot of fun if you are ballin' out of control. It is classy and has a lot of cool bars and restos to try out. As for the student experience.. I have a friend studying here for the year so hopefully he'll be able to give me some more insight as the year goes on. As always, your input is what this blog is about so don't hesitate to share your wisdom!