Thai food is everywhere Singapore. Visit any shopping mall and hawker center and you can find an array of restaurants and stalls selling your usual selection of Pad Thai and Tom Yam. But speaking from a Thai person’s perspective, good Thai food is rare and hard to come by in the Republic.
One trusted location that most Thais turn to for authentic, affordable Thai food is the Golden Mile Complex, a commercial and residential building on Beach Road, also known as Little Thailand. The building itself – built in the early 70s – is notorious for being an eyesore and is, perhaps worthy of discussion at a later date. But in this Untapped article, we’ll look more at what’s on offer inside the complex.
There are approximately 40,000 Thais living in Singapore, 80% of whom work in low-skilled jobs such as construction and cleaning. This may help to explain why Golden Mile has the look and feel of a Thai provincial train station rather than the cosmopolitan Bangkok – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Visit the complex and you can find CD shops stocked with Thai country music, Thai magazine stands and even some Thai Discos (although the latter is not for the faint-hearted). It is also one of the few places Singapore that sell vital ingredients for Thai cooking such as Thai eggplants and Tamarind pastes.
Then there’s the food – unashamedly spicy and fragrant. You can find the most unusual Thai dishes and regional delicacies such as the Northeastern Tom Sap (a spicier cousin of the Tom Yam) and the Northern Khao Soi (crispy egg noodles in curry broth). The Thai snacks and desserts here are also worth a try – look for the popular mango and sticky rice and Luk Choop – colorful mung bean candies molded into the shape of fruits and vegetables.
So if you’re looking for (literally) a taste of Thailand here in Singapore, pay the Golden Mile Complex a visit. Even better, go on an empty stomach.
When traveling to Thailand, most people pick the obvious destinations: Bangkok for city life, Phuket for beach or Chiang Mai for some temple seeing. But venture out of these areas and unexpected gems may be waiting.
Take, for example, Pai, a small town in Northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province. Pai is by no means an unknown destination – it’s been a popular backpacker hangout for over a decade and has also become a tranquil retreat for Thai tourists, spurred by some popular Thai movies. Nevertheless, because the journey to Pai still requires some effort – a 3-hour drive on a scenic but winding road from Chiang Mai – “mainstream” tourists (most notably, tour groups) are still kept at bay.
Pai offers a rare mix of country-charm and modern amenities. Here, beautiful rolling hills and cool fresh air are as easy to find as a comfortable hotel room and a good cup of coffee. On my own visit, I even managed to devour one of the best pizzas I’ve ever tasted in Thailand.
Visitors to Pai can choose to explore the hill tribe villages, hot springs and waterfalls or spend the day in town in a cute coffee shop and enjoy a good book. Either way, most people return to Pai’s walking street at sundown, when the lazy town transforms into a bustling night market.
This is really the highlight of Pai where you can savor some good street food and purchase an array of souvenirs. There are also a few rowdy bars offering affordable drinks – helping to ensure that you end the night with your belly full and a little tipsy.
Herbal drinks served in bamboo cups that you can keep:
Dogs are a common fixture of the Pai night market:
With only around 700 square kilometers of space, farmland is scarce in Singapore and most of the fruits and vegetables that feed this city-state must be imported from neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. However, one of the key attractions of the Dempsey Road area is the Loewen Garden’s Farmers’ Market. With my keen interest in local food, I’d hoped that this market would be a source for some rare freshly grown local fruits and vegetables. What was presented was something a little different. The market, which is held once a month, only hosted two vegetable stands, both of them selling imported produce like baby carrots, ripe avocadoes and tomatoes flown in from the US and Australia.
Nevertheless, although this was not the “local” produce market that I had hoped for, the market does have a quaint charming feel of an English village fair, another rarity in Singapore. Most of the patrons here are expatriates who are drawn by the concept of a Farmer’s market and also the location (the Dempsey area is popular amongst the foreign community). As the result, the products sold here seem to cater to this market.
In the end, although I didn’t find the fresh local vegetables I was looking for, I did manage to get myself a sugary, freshly baked piece of cake. While this may not be a hub for the local food movement but if you are looking for a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning and some delicious pastries, the Loewen Garden’s Farmers’ Market may be your destination. The Farmers’ Market is held on the 1st Saturday of each month at Loewen’s Garden. The Pantry Cookery School has also started running a market at 60 Robertson Quay. For more information on dates and location here.
Tucked away in a little corner of Eastern Singapore, near a highway and some HDB condos, stands Singapore’s last village – Kampong Lorong Buangkok. Hundreds of these clusters of small houses used to dot Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s, but since the country’s big developmental facelift, their numbers have been rapidly dwindling, until now there’s only one left.
Back in 2009, news of this lone village’s demise started to spread, to as far as New York (well, the New York Times to be exact). It was reported that the land had been “slated by the government demolition and redevelopment” . Now, two years has passed and the village remains – but no one knows for how long.
So before this last rustic village is no more, I decided to pay it a visit. Truth be told, I also wanted to see for myself what a traditional Singaporean “village” looks like. Turns out it looks like a quiet rustic nook. With dirt roads, rusty post boxes, fruit trees and the sound of some neighbor’s TV drifting into the air, the area, which houses 28 families, feels like a place you would find in rural Malaysia or Indonesia. There were also some surreal spots here and there – a carpet laid down in the middle of the road, a wicker swing hanging from a branch, a Buddha statue sitting under a tree…
With only a handful of houses, you could walk around the whole place in about 15 minutes. But once in a while, I think it is fun to imagine what Singapore was like in 1954 (the year this village was built). People here pay between $6.50 to $30 (!) a month for rent, keep their doors open when they are home, don’t use air conditioning and have their mail delivered once a day by a postman on a motorcycle. It is hard to imagine that these few inhabitants, with their wicker swings and their sitting Buddha, are sitting on a pot of gold”¦ land that is worth an estimated 33 million dollars. With that much in value riding on this village, you’ve got to wonder how much nostalgia is worth.
Kampong Lorong Buangkok
Most taxi drivers will not know how to get to the Kampong
Best is to find St. Vincent De Paul Church on Yio Chu Kang Road. Cross the road to the petrol station, go down the stairs and cross the bridge. The village should be on your left.