Monday, August 2, 2010

Indie Guide to Singapore

Indie Guide to Singapore.. Kind Of

Contents
intro
partying
shopping
sightseeing
lodging
conclusion

Introduction
(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.

Partying

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)
Attika
Double o
Amnesia
Zirca 

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:
http://www.openingceremony.us/entry.asp?pid=3131

Sightseeing
Big 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 Stay
There 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.

Conclusion
The 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!

15 comments:

  1. i have been living in singapore for 6 months as a student....

    For your next stop in SG:

    I think you missed a nice place for shopping : "Haji Lane" it is a street near the raffles hospital.
    It is a lovely and little street that I would compare to "Le marais" in Paris. They are many little shop with alternative cothes, and nice bars. It is one of the only streets where you can hang out without being in a Mall :)

    In little india, you should definitely go to "Mustafa's center", which is an open crazy indian mall 365/365 24h/24, you can find everything from vintage casios, to indian classic outfits.

    To conclude, i would say that as you said Singapore has nothing to do with the rest of SE Asia, but it is a crazy place for studying, living, and TRAVELLING. You can travel around for very cheap.

    Good luck for your trip,

    Alex

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  2. Thanks for the advice Alex, I've included it in the guide. Haji Lane sounds amazing, I wish I knew about it before! I'm glad you had a rad time during ur studies there. I'm afraid I was a bit too critical of Singapore but I'm sure I'll find more and more the underground scene when I go through again.

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  3. I think Singapore would be amazing if you are a brand new millionaire and looking for money to spend on cool stuff, or a 12 year old kid wanting to go to one of the biggest accumulation of theme parks in the world (that we didn't go to... but next time, i'm not missing the BSG RIDE!!!).

    In the end, I really think Singapore is hiding much more to offer than what we've experienced and i have a sense that living there and scratching a bit deeper above the surface would unravel über cool secrets.

    Our partying there reminded me of the good times you can have in Asia... :nostalgic:

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  4. @Felicia thanks for adding my contribution to your article, i could talk about Sg for hours but regarding shopping and asia, that was the two things I thought after reading your article:) would also add a detail : Singapore is really affordable for the poor student : 1€ = 2SGD isn't ? of course for travelling it is not the same as thailand, malaysia, indonesia,..

    @Paul It seems that i am not the only one who miss Asia  SG is really awesome for parties (like HK) and the Zuk is just one of the numerous club you have : attika, double o, amnesia, the bar of swisshotel (one party on the hellipad every monthes), zirca, etc…

    Camille told me about you two travelling…But we may meet soon, as i am the new roommate living in Le Gymnase up to the end of September

    Keep writing and rocking the world,
    Alex

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  5. i'll be back in Paris in April, we'll definitely party it up at le gymnase. merci pour les tips

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  6. ok fel!
    I did check out alex's tips, so here goes:

    1. haji lane is definitely cool. not exactly like le marais, the shops made me feel more new york-ey. it's 90% for girls, it's not expensive...it's indie-designers, really cute clothes and accessories.

    2. he's also right about mustafa: great indian food, cheap.... just singapore.

    3. i found an AMAZING alcohol shop. it's half the price of seven eleven; i paid 38 bucks for an absolut when it was 80 at the 7 eleven. the lady is an old chinese gal, and she has the most amazing collection of bottles i have ever seen. she showed me bottles from all over the planet.
    next time i'll write down the address and take pictures for you, so you'll have more details and u can update your post.

    see ya round

    nathan

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  7. Nathan, merci mec pour the advice. I'm going to integrate it. that would be super sweet if you could send me a pic of some of the clothing in Haji lane. i'm thinking one cool pic of you or someone in any of the clothing they bought there, or a pic or something you liked there.

    um...the address for the alcohol shop would be the best place ever ?!??! Exactly what this poor student's guide needs.

    thanks again man, you can help make this page one of the best for singapore travel while living there. start a blog dude, seriously.

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  8. got any updates on singapore or bali. a buddy and I are heading out there in a couple weeks. This blog is unreal. thanks for the info. and wheres that cheap alcohol shop! haha

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  9. yo, it's nathan again. fel asked, so a very quick update on what to do:

    - for great food, my personnal advice would be little india. try out banana leaves restaurants in chander road, for example after taking a walk in the neighbourhood to fill up your appetite. 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. or left hand. can't remember, but one of them is offensive to use for anything else than wiping your ass.
    there are some awesome food tips here: http://www.openingceremony.us/entry.asp?pid=3131

    -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 graffitis, 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.

    -new club which is pretty good would be home club. they have some local artists, sometimes it's not the best sometimes you'll be amazed. 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.
    good events are often posted here: http://www.juice.com.sg/events/

    as for bali, i'm sure you heard 1000x times: STAY OFF THE BEATEN TRACK!

    nathan

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  10. and a second comment to address the more general picture, about trying to enjoy singapore even though it's clean, safe, and you won't have 8 days of dhiarrea for eating rice.

    what's true about fel's post:
    - the city is clean as a hospital, that's true. If you're looking for jakarta or bangkok dirt, you're not going to find it. the city has absolutely no indie or hip feeling whatsoever.
    - if you're on a SE asia budget, you're going to have a harder time in Singapore. clean timely subway and stuff like that doesn't come without higher prices. keep in mind that the city is still less than half as expensive as paris or ny for example.
    - if you don't look for anything good and just go wherever the city wants tourists to go, you're going to have a shit-time. malls, theme parks, and subsidized bars are singapore's worst.

    but then again
    - when you come to singapore as part of your trip to indonesia/thailand/SEasia, keep in mind that it's your only few days of comfy city, taxis that wont rip you off, food that wont give you diarrhea, leaving your camera on a restaurant table for an hour without anyone stealing it, going to a "normal" theatre or cinema, speaking english with anyone, etc...

    - really try and experience singapore's food. i believe i'm being honest when saying there is no better place for food in asia. litteraly. They have food from every single corner of the continent, it's insanely convenient, you'll never struggle with the menus, and it's cheap.

    anyway. singapore is hated by thousands of shoestring travellers from around the globe who are expecting i-dont-know-what when landing here. it's likely you'll just stay for a few days, so sit back, eat plenty of awesome food, have drinks in cool bars around the city, enjoy what seems to be a the only non-chaotic city in southeast asia and then head off to crazy palawan or phuket

    as for the HK-SG rivalry, I could comment on it forever :-) so i'm not gona start here.

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  11. shit thanks man, always nice to have an insider's perspective.
    All we have been reading is how singapore isnt the best place to go in SE asia on a trip but we have free accommodations with some family so it was an easy choice for us. is there any must do cheesy touristy things to do in Singapore, as much as this goes against the morals of this blog..
    We havent really got a place to stay in Bali, and we're pretty easy going as to where abouts we stay for the week we are there. any suggestions for places to go explore there? we were thinking of surfing for a couple days too. whats this about the beaten track? havent heard anything about that.
    glad I found this blog, so hard to find a good travel guide that isnt full of the obvious shit to do. thanks again. cheers

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  12. hey justin, I'm not sure if you saw but here is some mega cheap accom in Bali (in the young surfer area, kuta). i stayed at the more expensive of the two but the quality really isn't bad. In regards to surfing i know people rent motorbikes and find wicked spots, but unfortunately it's not my forte so i can't guide you. i can ask around though

    http://lilfelrockstheworld.blogspot.com/2011/01/indie-guide-kuta-bali-cheap-living.html

    @nathan: eat with your right, wipe with your left! regarding my harsh judgment of SNG, I mean.. as long as your expectations are right, one can like the place. For me, I had went thinking it was going to be the crazy debauchery of SE Asia and was just disappointed. When you can afford it though, it must be nice to have a reprieve of the scheming hectic chaos of the rest of the sub continent. most expats in jakarta use it as a stopping ground for visa runs though.

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  13. I have TD right now and its kicking my ass...so pick up Imodium eh? thanks for the suggestion

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  14. if anyone wants an indepth guide to singapore clubbing+eating+culture, i'll be doing a guide in addition to the reviews that are on my site. Http://athingcalledlove.wordpress.com
    @lil'fel i hope you don't mind i'll be linking back to your blog too!

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  15. that's wicked, look forward to it!

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