Where to shop in Singapore?

So you are in Singapore, where the national past-times are allegedly shopping and eating (I disagree of course, but I digress). Where do you go?

This post is seriously going to read like some sort of Tourism Board advertisement, why doesn’t the Singapore Tourism Board pay me for this, could use the money 😉

Well fine, they didn’t ask for it.

Still… 😛

A recent survey by Time Out London noted that Singapore came in second from bottom out of 32 countries in terms of how exciting the place is – i.e. Singapore is boring. Prompting a sassy response from the tourism board.

One things for sure though, growing up in the 1990s, Singapore was boring. Not that we had much time for fun, studying in Singapore then (as is now, I reckon) as now was time consuming. The commitments on time engulf your time, yYou didn’t have too much time for relaxation after school, you didn’t have time for fun, you dodn’t have time to think – at least that was my feeling. While I did not have enrichment classes or tuition, I did have after school co-curricular activities and other school activities to take part in.  But if you were able to spend time in Singapore in the 1990s, the one place that you had to visit was the mecca of shopping in the region – Orchard Road.

Orchard Road then housed the largest boutiques and brands that could be found throughout the region. Tourists from all over Southeast Asia visited to see what shopping in the new age was. Orchard Road was the place to be.

Named after the many orchards and plantations that used to occupy the land, Orchard Road emerged as a shopping district without government planning – rare in highly planned Singapore. This was because Orchard Road was already the place to be even before Singapore gained independence. Plantations were cleared and retail commercial buildings were built originally to cater to the residents of the surrounding areas (such as Scotts Road, Tanglin Road and Emerald Hill) were the home to the colonials and wealthy locals. The district therefore had an elite vibe and carried that connotation till at least the 1990s.

It’s broad connotation as the main shopping district (because of the concentration of malls in the area) has remained through to this day. It is still featured on tourism guides, there are still funky buildings, and the place is still a church to capitalism as seen by the really nice buildings and futuristic concepts.

But the crowd has disappeared. Many attempts have been made to try and bring the crowd back, from pedestrianizing the streets to holding night festivals, almost all have failed.

I wouldn’t bet against it, but I wouldn’t bet on the Orchard Road star returning anytime soon. It’s star has fallen because many new churches (malls all over the island, with at least one in every district) and a new cathedral of capitalism have been risen in the city and the devotees now have many more places to flocked to for their weekly worship; through in the rise of online shopping, large fancy shopping malls all over southeast Asia and a desire for more authentic tourism (experiential tourism) and the future of Orchard Road looks bleak.

For the customer, there is something good that has come out of this, lesser crowds therefore lesser stress while shopping and ideally more persnalised attention at stalls. The Business Assocation will definitely try to make the old dame popular again, who knows how successful it would be? Now, the population of Singapore has only increased over the years, so if the people are not at Orchard Road, where else do they go to shop?

For the hipsters who want their shot at local, indie fashion there is the must go at Haji Lane, Haji Lane and the whole Kampong Glam district is also popular for street art.

Despite occupying a small side street next to the malay historical district of Kampong Glam-Bugis, you know that you are in Haji Lane because of the vibe of the place – a certain amount of controlled coolness. I’ll let people who know more about fashion describe Haji Lane – I’m closer to being a fashion disaster than a fashion diva.

The prices Haji Lane are for the socially intelligent and hip, these aren’t bargain basement prices. Makes sense, these aren’t top labels just yet, and you are getting limited edition items. I’ve only ever tried their selfie cafe in the lane with a group of friends.

If you are looking for more budget hunting, then a short 15 minute walk away from Haji Lane is Bugis Street. Bugis Street was named for the Bugis people in the 19th century, who used to ride up to a river in this area from their hometown to hawk wares, trade and eventually call this home. From the 1950s to 1980s (i.e. Vietnam War/Cold War era) the street was (in)famous for being dirty but having great food and was renowned for being a transvestite walking street serving soldiers from the British, American and Australian Armed Forces*. Oh did I mention that all this happened almost adjacent to one of the most religious parts of town (three catholic churches, a jewish synagogue, a hindu temple and a buddhist temple were all located a stones throw away.

Today however, Bugis Street is a mall where young women go and get trinkets and clothes at bargain basement prices.

You’ll probably notice the same thing that I notice, shopping caters mostly to women – well, not that that’s any surprise. Okay, apparently there’s stuff for guys too, didn’t know that (I didn’t watch these fashion videos to be honest, I just know the channels and expect their content to be relatively on point).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, is the Shoppes at Marina Bay, this is the new cathedral of shopping in Singapore. There is nothing in this mall this is cheap or normal, everything is a brand, everything is gaudy, everything is expensive – Trump would be pleased, we should actually bring him here if he ever comes to Singapore on a state visit #justsayin.

They even have a personal butler service – although they feels like a lot of pressure, what if you don’t buy anything, like I regularly do?

So what’s your shopping style?

ON THE MAP (Orchard Road)

ON THE MAP (Haji Lane)

ON THE MAP (Bugis Street)

ON THE MAP (Shoppes at Marina Bay)

*Some explanation is needed here. The height of the Vietnam War during the 1970s saw many young Americans based in Singapore. For many of these men, this was their first time in Asia and probably their last. Not because they would go back home but because they had no idea if they would ever make it out of the Vietnamese jungles alive. This was also the hippy period and many of these soldiers were young man who were drafted into service – many barely out of their teens. All things considered their fascination with Bugis Street is very understandable.


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