Posts by simonwong:

When in London, and you think hippy, trendy and stylish, one may think Neal’s Yard or Portobello Market. When in Frisco, one may think Polk or some of the quirky parts of Mission.

Singapore puts forward its own claim to hippydom with the trendy Haji Lane and Arab Street  area.

Haji Lane, formerly a lane of old warehouses leading down to the beach, land reclamation and gentrification now sees the funky urban lane far inland and lined with home grown fashion outlets, antique shops, cafes and shisha bars.
Wandering into the alleyways off and along the lane itself, you’ll find a cluster of shisha bars to aid some serious chilling. As you wander closer to the North Bridge Road end, Going Om  is another trendy venue for new musical talent to showcase their work. Its upstairs is a loafy open floor area where you can sink into giant beanbags under a whirring ceiling fan, while enjoying some tasty light refreshments.

Shisha pipes line the streets – definitely worth a try:

One of the lane’s earlier independent retailers PLUCK, opened in July 2006 in what was then a run down slightly decrepit back alley in this outlying lane of Singapore’s Muslim quarter. PLUCK attracts patrons with its mini fashion and apparel emporium styled with a distinct vintage flavor, and has incorporated an ice-cream parlor serving homemade desserts as well.

Budding local designers often establish themselves in Haji lane:

The area has certainly become a sweet spot in Singapore and its proximity to Arab Street adds to the cool vibes of the neighborhood.

Just over the road and opposite the Grand Mosque at the reputable Zam Zam’s, a frothy local tea called Teh Tarik will certainly satiate tea lovers. This traditional, super sweet ‘pulled tea’ is made by a long pouring action from cup to cup, resulting in a frothy mixture with a unique taste, that is served alongside Prata, a fresh thin bread that comes with a curry dip.

If you’re backpacking through this extremely modern city-state, this is one of the few areas where you’ll find homely digs away from the high rises. Walk down the pedestrianized Bussorah Street leading to the mosque and you’ll find Sleepy Sam’s, a bed and breakfast, in a shophouse to one side.

Nearby is the Children Little Museumwhere you can learn about the games and things that previous generations of Singaporeans used to pass their time and play with before the throngs of videogames and iPads. The museum’s second floor provides a glimpse of life prior to Singapore’s wash of modernization, where Kampongs, the local Malay term for villages, spotted the shorelines around the city-state.

A close who friend grew up in the nearby Kallang River area, in a Kampong of stilt huts amongst marsh, tells of a 70s childhood wading in the blue seas teeming with tropical fish and live coral. Of course that world no longer exists as land reclamation and highways soon brought an end to that way of life but for an entry fee of just $2 at the Children Little Museum, it’s worth basking in a bit of nostalgia.

Of the many eclectic and home brewed businesses lining Haji Lane, we draw your attention to one such establishment, A Thousand Tales, for its cool urban theme.

A unique multi-concept store set inside a well renovated shophouse, the premise boasts not only tasteful furniture and art pieces, but also a cafe and bar on its top floor when you need to a liquid escape from Singapore’s sweltering heat and humidity.

The lovely café is furnished with the gallery’s own designer pieces and the bar boasts over one hundred cocktails, which are personalized to the individual taste of the drinker. Grab yourself a sandwich, burger or salad while stuffing your new apartment with designer furniture and original art!

You’ll also find art pieces by Japanese Artist Sumio Suzuki, and new furniture inspired by mid-century Scandinavian lines. Alongside Suzuki’s work, you can spot trendy poster prints by Brit Steve Lawler aka Mojoko.

And why the name A Thousand Tales? Apparently whenever the owners voyage beyond the shores of Singapore, thery have the tendency to always bring back something of interest from the numerous travels. These curios contribute to the flavor of the store’s collection, as well as provide inspiration for the creation of new pieces.

The high-quality fabrics used for the furniture are sourced and spotted from their world travels. Upon request, the store can tailor make pieces to harmonize with their customers’ existing living space, as it specialises in bespoke designs.

This type of concept-store is a rare find in Singapore and definitely worth a visit, if not for the furniture, then maybe a cocktail can lure you?

Vang Vieng – is a place you’ll love or hate. But you’re likely to love it by getting away from the main street, and heading west over the river past the Malina Guest House and walk right inside a real life Chinese watercolour painting. The karst hills all around Vang Vieng are incredible, reminiscent of China’s Guilin or Vietnam’s Halong Bay, but as you head deeper into the Laotian countryside, despite the very real smiles from the village people you pass, one gets a sense this is a place that won’t remain ‘undiscovered’ for much longer.

It doesn’t help that it’s tough to get to – travel in Laos is not friendly and you’d expect an uncomfortable experience and very, very long bus rides over well dodgy roads. Getting into the capital Vietienne was a 27 hour torture sat in a tiny seat on a local bus, heading in via Danang in Vietnam.

The littering of UXO (unexploded ordinance) across the country, especially the north, by massive American bombing during the ‘Secret War’ in Laos in 1961-1975, has left the country almost completely undevelopable, and thus not able to move much further than the stone age in terms of infrastructure. The Laotian countryside therefore remains pristine, unpolluted by modern industries and dotted with traditional H’mong villages – but it’s not recommended to stray away from well-worn tracks of this idyllic scene, or you may risk becoming the next ‘bombie’ victim (one of the many types of highly volatile explosives littering the country).

At Vang Vieng, there is a great sense of relief and adventure as you’re able to safely explore. Hire yourself an ATV (at approx USD15 per day), head over the river and take the west loop – along the way you’ll find a multitude of caves, villages, the most awesome scenery and a spattering of stoned hippies as they make their way back from tubing (sitting in an old rubber tyre and floating down a river, while gulping beer at stations along the way).

Take a scarf against the dust and a camera for the views – and come back with stories of smiling H’mong children, ancient Buddha Caves and hidden Blue Lagoons.

Getting away from crowded civilization in Singapore is not the easiest thing to do. It is clearly quite a challenge in a city where the population’s activities are centred in the central built up areas – and of course, wherever there’s air conditioning! In the usual 35 degrees of heat, people generally avoid the outdoors.

However, evenings tend to be cooler and there are some great spots in the National Parks’ Park Connector network which aims to link Singapore’s remaining green bits together into one large interconnected pan-island park.

I visited Sengkang Riverside Park recently, a more remote spot near Farmway LRT station near Punggol in the north part of Singapore, which on the map looked like an isolated, relatively unbuilt area next to a river.

Arriving in the evening as the sun was setting over the water, the stillness and lack of commotion on a weekend gave the feeling of being somewhere quiet and secluded, perhaps nearby across the causeway in Malaysia.

Upon arriving at Sengkang Riverside Park, closely situated were the ubiquitous conveniences of a community centre. I grabbed a couple of beers from the 7-11 and strolled down to the riverside where there were plenty spaces to loaf. A timber decked platform, a series of long boardwalks snaking across the river, and quiet grassland on the other side are nicely lit up at night.

After the darkness had set in, I found a quiet spot of solitude overlooking a small island of reeds outside the restaurant on the opposite bank. Observing the scene, a few cyclists stopped by at the end of their ride to drink a few beers to the sounds of the Beatles, a few runners pass by and the occasional lone walker strolls through.

If you’re after a few hours of contemplation or some quiet time with nature, take the light rail to Farmway, walk the couple of minutes down to Sengkang Riverside Park, turn off your phone and step away from civilization.