Indie Guide to Partying in Singapore as a Student
Indie Guide to Singapore.. Kind Of
I can't say that Singapore gives off the ideal impression if you're into adventure, chaos and cheap good times, so this post won't be very long. I hated it after we flew in from 2 weeks of intense ass mountain climbing in Papua New Guinea. Singapore clean borders on hospital sterile. When walking down the streets you wouldn't even know that you were in Asia. As a traveller it then begs the question, what's the point?
For me as a newly minted 23 year old, leaving behind the occident to start adulting, what tickles my heart strings most about Southeast Asia comes in its bustling ambiance and carefree attitude to entropy — tiny alleys redolent of skewers and fish sauce, funky coloured chariots called Tuk tuks and Bajais Mario Carting through streets at top speeds, small enterprise everywhere with old grandpas fixing watches and sewing clothes that can roll away at any minute. I can't help but think of Dr. Malcolm's simple philosophy in the deeply philosophical film Jurassic Park, "Life..finds a way."
In Singapore's neighbouring countries, life is unadulterated. It grows as it must. One look at a mobile Mango cart lady fearlessly weaving in the opposite direction of traffic to cross Sukhumvit is clear that the rules bend to fit the people, not the other way around like Singapore where gum and spitting is banned and neighbours serve as police agents to make sure the rules are kept.
Here, the city reminds me of a the tourist playground Orlando—contrived and plotted like a funhouse ride you were never naive enough to enjoy. The tourist party area, Clarke Quay, with its psychedelic take on the War of the Worlds like towers has all the tact of outdoor walking street of Las Vegas.
Even Chinatown is tame and something out of Disney World—a bad copy of the real thing. There are no smells and ambiance. It is clean and calm. Some try to compare Singapore to Hong Kong as another uber developed financial capital in Asia, but no way. While prices are comparable, Hong Kong is gritty and full of secrets. As a student or young 20 something, go there for sure.
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.
Update: This list is old and have deleted some.
The Exchange: Get free drinks on Wednesday because of your vagina. The city favours ladies and this place is no exception. It's where banker bros attempt to pick up girls drunk on sugary drinks. Not my vibe but in a city where drinks cost a minimum of 15 sgd, I would have definitely been convinced if I were a student out here.
Clarke Quay: 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.
Also, be careful where you urinate. True story, someone I was with (not saying who) bypassed the toilet lines and went outside in the parking lot instead. After 20 mins alone I went to look for him and found him with security guards next to him supervising him as he used a bucket of water to wipe his own piss off the wall. They be serious yo.
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. On Sundays it does channel some India vibes, 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.
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. 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. Cool alternative shopping, lots of indie designers, not expensive. 90% of the clothing is for girls though. Sounds awe-some.
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.
The city is notoriously green, with many buildings putting efforts into making green roofs. I can see it as a good reprieve from chaos and pollution of Bangkok or Jakarta. And it feels nice to feel safe because people aren't out to rip you off (no constant bargaining with taxi drivers or tuk tuks!).
My initial point remains- don't go here for a crazy Southeast Asia experience on a budget. I think it can be a lot of fun if you are ballin' out of control and have more than a UN intern stipend of $300/month. It is classy and has a lot of cool bars and restos to try out. Regardless of money, I doubt I will ever love this place though.
i have been living in singapore for 6 months as a student....ReplyDelete
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,
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.ReplyDelete
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!!!).ReplyDelete
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:
@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,..ReplyDelete
@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,
i'll be back in Paris in April, we'll definitely party it up at le gymnase. merci pour les tipsReplyDelete
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, 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.ReplyDelete
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.
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! hahaReplyDelete
yo, it's nathan again. fel asked, so a very quick update on what to do:ReplyDelete
- 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!
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.ReplyDelete
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.
shit thanks man, always nice to have an insider's perspective.ReplyDelete
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
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 thoughReplyDelete
@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.
I have TD right now and its kicking my ass...so pick up Imodium eh? thanks for the suggestionReplyDelete
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.comReplyDelete
@lil'fel i hope you don't mind i'll be linking back to your blog too!
that's wicked, look forward to it!ReplyDelete