Famous as Singapore’s previously dodgy district, Bugis continues to distinguish itself from the other districts of the city. Crammed with history and interesting buildings, it attracts an interesting mix of people. Temples and churches draw the crowds, generating business in veggie food and flowers. The ‘uth’ come to gather and worship the joys of being with less years and less cares; gaming, immersing in the fantasy that is Manga, and hanging, playing pool and any of the many joints along Middle Rd.
The principal of independence thrives in this place. More variety is here then elsewhere in the the mondo-condo new car shopping mall grind. Instead of the homogeneous dullness of mall land Vivocity-style, you can get lost in a pleasing way. Forget time amongst the vintage and new looks in the small lanes of Bugis Street Market.
As a geographical area it is not easily defined. So instead we looked for Bugis in spirit, admittedly this looseness in definition has allowed us to stick a whole load of recommendations in here that we just love regardless of where they are. But nothing is more than a 15 minute walk from Bugis MRT, so why not spend some time getting to know this ancient playground a little better?
Make yourself more interesting
In just a few streets worth of land you can learn everything from piano improvisation to ballet.On Victoria Street above the cafe’s of Bugis Village you can learn to get tunes out of your fingers worthy of a smoky, dark bar and with a sultry singer. Then you can head to the Stamford Arts Center for Chinese Aerobics Classes at the Practice Performing Arts School. If you’re in need of some help with that new play you wrote head to The Theatre Oasis, 42 Waterloo Street.
Both the modern and the traditional are on offer. At Objectifs you can learn the art of photography and filmmaking, www.objectifs.com.sg. The Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society was set up by Bhaskar who’s been developing Indian performing arts in Singapore for over 50 years. They are based at the Stamford Arts Center and have a range of courses on offer.
A visit to the Gods
A multitude of world religions are represented in the heart of Bugis; the Catholics have two crumbling beauties – St. Josephs and St Peter’s and Paul’s on Waterloo Street. The Jews are next door in the Maghain Aboth Synagogue. Head off down the street to hang out with the Hindu’s at the Sri Krishnan Temple. Chinese Buddhism spills out of the Kwam Im Thong Hood Temple on to the streets and surrounding shops with all you could need to make your own shrines and enough offering material to guarantee all the worlds prosperity and good fortune. Finally head north of the MRT up Victoria Street to the old sanctity of the Muslim Cemetery.
Shopping – because this is Singapore
Shopping can be somewhat lacking in variety on this small island. You could be anywhere really, a bit of marble and touch of glass, another branch of the Levi Stores. If you fancy more difference in your life then you’ll be making progress in Bugis.
With many more small operators selling their own brand of something, there are naturally more choices. It can be as cheap as you like too. Bugis Street is the main crowd puller, many coming to find bargains or just to meet up with friends.
The lone symbol of the erotic is in here too, one of the few but ever growing number of sex shops. So you can stock up on some toys before heading home.
If all that makes you hungry, thinking about sex can have that effect, the finger food selection is succulent (no euphemisms in use here). Juices and things on sticks provide refreshment for shoppers, and if you combine something with wheat grass with something deep-fried you can convince yourself you’re being healthy.
Over at North Bridge Road there’s Icon Shopping Centre, a similar idea to Bugis Street, embarrassing the concept of small, independent retailers. Check this out for new designers, ideas and plenty of pretty things to fill your wardrobes with.
For comics, and anime DVD’s, including the rare stuff you’ve been searching for, it’s got to be Sunshine Plaza on Middle Road. If you’re into making like a Manga star, join your fellow costume lovers here for dress up sessions on the weekends.
Food – because we all have to eat
If you fancy a bit of home cooking, get all you need for a Korean banquet at Shine on Bencoolen Street. Or you can do fusion; check out the dry provision stores for herbal soup packs and other goodies to experiment with.
If you’re feeling a bit delicate after festive overindulgence, do your colon a favour with some wholesome vegetarian grub at the Fortune Center on Waterloo Street. As well as the impersonating meat dishes you can get whole meal pau buns filled with pumpkin and mushroom. There’s meat in here too, the lip licking smell of garlic wafts over from the noodle and laksa stall as you enter.
A bustling hawker center sits off Waterloo Street; with a variety of stalls you should find plenty to try. For the more sterile food center experience there is the basement at Bugis Junction. The usual suspects are easy to find in the area, with TCC, Starbucks, KFC and McDonalds all represented. For truly junky junk there’s a Mos Burger too! For meat content of a higher percentage, there’s a Steak restaurant on Liang Seah along with various dingy bars with cheap drinks promos that go down nicely on the wallet.
The coffee houses on North Bridge and Liang Seah are always busy with all the usual favourites being served with the chat. Just out the area are the such gems as First Thai Food on Pervis Street and the Rocher Bean Curd stalls.
Find some serenity in words
Now it seems a bit odd, but the Library is a great place to be. Not only an interesting piece of eye candy, this huge glass homage to the written word attracts large crowds. Take some time to be quite in the company of others. See how many nodding heads you can find, watch them as they start to snore and snuggle up to the stranger next to them. Find that special someone, exchange coy glances over the top of some fantastical story. Whisk them upstairs to share the views or share some peace in the garden.
Soak it all up
For an aroma full potter, take a start off at the Kwam Im Thong Temple Waterloo Street. The straw-hatted ladies will sell you some blooms. Fill your head with a woozy haze of incense as you watch the fervent crowds pass in and out. Across the street dry provision stalls offer another element to the potpourri in your nasal passages. The mixture of dried shrimp, sea cucumber, scallop and mushroom can develop an interesting pungency especially on a steamy hot day. Freshen yourself up with the smells of fruit, sweet durian and mango. Then head into the hawker’s center for that drool inspiring whiff of garlic, fish and fat. You’re not going to be able to leave here with out satiating that new desire so find your favourite and chow down.
Having expanded several sizes you may need to invest in some new togs. Skip across the road into Bugis Street and you can get lost in the sensory overload until you burn off those calories and rediscover hunger again. Finally cut though Bugis Junction – it’s not really worth stopping – head over North Bridge Road to the Ritz Strudel shop where creamy durian strudel will give you a sweet finish to a lovely afternoon.
The shopping continues along with the worship. Elsewhere though people begin to congregate for some good old-fashioned Singapore noshing and banter. Head to Liang Seah Street and Beach Road for some spicy Steamboat. This ever-popular phenomena is delivered by a variety of vendors, so you can pick it the way you like it. As one of the most tasty and sociable type of eating this is a great option for a night out with friends, taking time to consume as much as possible. And it’s always light on the wallet, making it a particular favourite with us.
There are desserts old and new-fashioned. The brightly coloured Tong Shui Cafe is popular with the more youthful crowd who slurp cups of hot coke with ginger and other bizarre concoctions. This Hong Kong-style outfit has a number of branches, all distinguishable by their eye-scalding decor. The hot pink is best viewed at night, bringing liveliness to the building. For the more discerning, steaming bowls of black sesame with a bit of traditional kitsch on the side head to Ah Chew Desserts on the same street.
You can’t go home yet, after a long hard night of beers and rather too lively dancing what better way to chill but with a teh tarik and some roti prata. Head to the Al-Jilani Restaurant, Bencoolen Street – people watch as the hours tick by and Singapore’s late nightlife stops off and meets up. If after the long night, you’re too tired to catch a cab home, pop in the the Hawaii Hostel just next door and enjoy a cheap sleep in a friendly place.