The Singapore Visa Run
Well, that was the original intention but things didn’t quite work out that way. I now know that the Thai Embassy, in Singapore, doesn’t do retirement visas. It looks as though a visit to the Immigration Bureau, in Chaeng Wattana, will be in order when I’m back in Bangkok. As a matter of interest, for those considering getting their non-immigrant visa in Singapore, current prices for ‘O’ category visas (marriage only) are as follows: one year multi-entry = SD 250, three year multi-entry = SD 500.
What follows is some helpful info – much of it Thai related – for those who might be venturing down to Singapore for a short break/visa turn around etc. Not too much about the bar, or P4P, scene as there’s really nothing in Singapore, in that regard, which is better, or cheaper, than in Thailand.
The easiest way, of course, is to hop on a plane. Plenty of flights each day with departure times to suit individual needs or schedules. A two hour flight from Suvarnabhumi will have you arriving in the ‘Lion City’ in no time at all. I tried getting a last minute flight with Thai but to no avail; most flights were fully booked within a 24 hour departure time. The Bangkok – Singapore route is probably one of the few flights, with Thai, where the airfare is cheaper than its main competitor – SIA – on the same route; Singapore Airlines was 500 Baht more than a flight with Thai. In the end though the 500 Baht extra was nothing when comparing the standard of the aircraft used by both airline services. Take it as a given, SIA’s planes are newer and provide far better in flight services; a modern, interactive viewing screen for every passenger being an obvious difference. My only complaint being that the relatively short flying time – around two hours – isn’t quite enough to take in a full movie. Also, the primary, in-flight language with SIA is English.
Where to stay:
With a good range of hotels available getting a bed for a night, or two, isn’t a problem. As most, who’ve been to Singapore, will attest the price of accommodation, when compared to prices in the LOS, is significantly higher. For an average room at the Holiday Inn you won’t get much change out of SD 350 for a night. At the bottom end of the price range you’ve got the Hotel 81 Group.
These are scattered right throughout Singapore and prices generally range between SD 90 – SD 150 per night. Be warned though as you need to be careful about which location you choose to stay in. Some of these hotels see significant short
time use from locals picking up street walkers in suburban areas. A few years ago I made the mistake of booking into a Hotel 81 down on Lorong 18, Geylang. As soon as the taxi dropped me off at the hotel entrance I knew I’d made a mistake;
it was dusk and there were street walkers everywhere. Most of them were mainland Chinese servicing local taxi drivers and prices were as low as SD 100 for a bit of short time action (normally an hour). I had the misfortune of getting a room near
the lift well and ended up with a patchy night’s sleep as the lift went up and down, fairly constantly, into the wee hours of the morning. If you’re prepared to pay a bit more and want medium range accommodation (three stars) at
a quiet location, but within a few minutes from Orchard Road, then I’d recommend the VIP Hotel. If you’re planning staying for 2 – 3 nights
they’ll always give you a discount. I got one of their executive rooms for SD 164 including taxes. A basic breakfast is also included in the room rate. A number of local companies, involved in the offshore oil and gas industry, often use
the VIP to accommodate their employees prior to going offshore. A few years ago many of these guys would end up in the pool, with their barfines from Orchard Towers, to continue their drunken revelry. These days things are a lot tamer with most
of the guys preferring to stay away from the Towers (AKA the four floors of whores in offshore parlance) and save their hard earned cash. Located in Balmoral Crescent, the VIP is situated in an up-market area of Singapore and nestles
in amongst some fairly swank condo high rises. It’s the only hotel in the area and offers a quiet stay but, at the same time, is only a few minutes in a taxi from the hustle and bustle of Orchard Road. A few years ago, when I was a bit
fitter, I’d walk up to Orchard Road in about 25 minutes; a taxi will get you to the Orchard Towers taxi stand in about seven minutes.
Where to eat:
There’s plenty of good quality food all over Singapore. The best value can be found at the food courts where a plate of Chinese, rice and a juice will come in at about SD 12. The food court in the basement of Orchard Towers offers a great range of local Singaporean cuisine and is a good option if you aren’t in the mood for Thai. If you’re like me and you go looking for Thai food – even when you’re outside Thailand – then the best value for money, authentic Thai food can be found at Orchard Towers and the Golden Mile shopping Plaza. There are four or five small Thai restaurants in Orchard Towers which cater mainly to the ladies freelancing at the bars and clubs spread throughout the building. I’ve eaten at three of them and the food is authentic Thai – and as good as anything you’ll eat in Thailand – because each restaurant employs Thai cooks. A recent meal consisting of Tom Yum Talay, Pad Pla, stir fried veges and rice was around SD 30. Admittedly not cheap, when compared to prices you pay back in Thailand, but still inexpensive by Singaporean standards. The Golden Mile shopping mall probably offers the best Thai food available in Singapore. The meal below was SD 53 and even though, once again, more expensive than similar fare back in Thailand, the food tasted as good as any Thai food I’ve eaten.
The entire mall has become completely Thai centric and could be considered as “little Thailand” within Singapore. The main attraction, for the expat Thais who congregate there, is the wide choice of Thai eateries in the mall. I had a meal at the Chang Mai Seafood Restaurant and right next to that was the Udon Thani Restaurant which obviously specializes in all that spicy stuff from Isarn. Besides the restaurants there’s Thai karaoke bars, supermarkets, bookstores, travel agencies, money transfer services and even a night club. For those on a limited travel budget there are daily bus services departing from the Golden Mile to Had Yai. I didn’t enquire about prices as long distance bus trips are something I don’t have any particular fondness for but the lady in a travel agency informed me that it’s an overnight trip that terminates in Had Yai and normally takes about twenty hours. For those Thais wishing to make merit there’s also a spirit house right out front of the Golden Mile.
Things to do:
My first visit to Singapore was 35 years ago. I spent a week there and did all the things that tourists normally do; visited Tiger balm Gardens, Jurong Bird Park, the Zoo, Bugis Street and Sentosa Island. Since that initial visit my enthusiasm for ‘seeing the sights’ waned somewhat as I usually had a pre-determined reason for going there – a visa turnaround – and spent most of my time entertaining myself at P4P venues. The current prices that the ladies are asking for a liaison, when compared with Thailand, has seen my interest in those nocturnal activities dissipate somewhat. This latest visit saw me spending a good deal of my evening time having a look around the spectacular Marina Bay development. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino is an impressive structure. The three towers are topped by an observation deck which is constructed in the shape of a boat. There is also the Singapore Flyer, also in the Marina Bay area, which is the largest Ferris wheel in the Asian region.
I made two trips to the Marina Bay development on successive evenings. On both forays I started with a meal, early evening, at the food court in the basement of Orchard Towers and then took the #170 bus down to China Town. A SD 1.30 fare, and a 20 minute travelling time, will have you getting down at a location near the Big Dragon. With the Chinese New Year celebrations fast approaching (the year of the Dragon) the preparations, in China Town, were well under way. There are plenty of restaurants, and cafe’s, in the area if you feel like a meal or want to relax over a beer. The Dragon is quite an imposing site at the entrance to what is officially the main area of China Town.
After a coffee, at one of the side street cafe’s, I then embarked on the easy, but fairly lengthy amble, over to Marina Bay. The first Night I walked to the Flyer and this was probably no less than a 5 kilometer hike. The first half of my walk took me straight down Cross Street before veering left onto the Marina Boulevard and working my across to the Marina Bay Hotel and further onto the Flyer. Once you are on the Marina Bay Boulevard area it’s all walkways and foot traffic only. I had to pass the Marina Bay Sands Hotel to get to the Flyer. The flyer gives a revolving view of the area and takes approximately 40 minutes to do a full rotation. It’s a SD 30 entry fee and the viewing cabins are air-conditioned and constructed of high tensile steel and reinforced Perspex. The cabins are actually quite large and can accommodate the 10-passenger maximum very easily. The only downside, if you’re into photography, is that there are no open viewing ports; all your shots must be done through the Perspex.
The second evening was basically the same routine but a shorter distance as the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is at least a kilometers’ walk less than the Flyer. The observation deck is called the Sky Park and, if you don’t arrive at the front entrance, it can be a bit of a patience test when entering the building from the rear, bay side as I did. The shopping center, that you pass through to get to the Hotel, is a list of who’s who in the world of luxury goods. I think the Marina Bay area might be the only place in the world where Lois Vuitton has its own private shop on the water.
On the way to the Sky Park I passed the casino. I was tempted have a look inside but thought better of it; I’ve been in casinos before and have always figured that the people who spend time in them just enjoy losing money. A SD 20 entry fee will see you into the lift and fifty seven floors up to the observation deck. The night views are impressive and compare very well with the views one can enjoy at the Lebua State Tower. The closing time is 10 PM so keep that in mind if you’re planning a late visit.
The prices for items such as laptops, mobile phones and cameras, in Singapore, aren’t actually that much different to what you’ll find at Pantip Plaza or Fortune Town. The only advantage of buying such items in Singapore is that there is normally a greater range of models available in the particular category you’re looking at. I bought my latest laptop – a Toshiba Portégé with SSD – at the Funan Center, a couple of years ago, after enquiries at various outlets around Bangkok came back with the answer that I’d possibly waiting three weeks after ordering it. There was also a significant difference in the price tag; it was 20K baht cheaper in Singapore. One of the best things about shopping in Singapore is that you can buy stuff that’s not available in Thailand or, if it is available, it’s difficult to locate. I bought myself another pair of MBT shoes
on this latest trip as there are no distributors here in Thailand. If you do a lot of walking but have knee problems, or lower back pain, these shoes are brilliant for alleviating those conditions. Not cheap, @ 6000 Baht, but the last pair I had were
good for 5 years. For any fellow Kiwis reading this; if you’re missing your Manuka Honey the Cold Storage Supermarket chain has plenty of it in stock.
Last, but not least, the Nightlife:
For most single male expats living in Singapore, or guys passing through, nightlife in Singapore is mainly about the ladies of the night and this, pretty much, means two locations; Orchard Towers and Brix Night Club at the Hyatt on Scotts Road. Over the years I’ve had a number of visits to both locations and it almost always ends up the same way; too much alcohol consumed and a bout of largely forgettable sex with a lady from the South-East Asian region.
I had my first visit to Orchard Towers 20 years ago. I’d arrived in Singapore after completing my first overseas contract – sixty days offshore Borneo – and was looking to do some serious drinking and get laid. In those days the Towers wasn’t as developed for the nightlife scene as it is now, and there were less venues in the building. Back then the main bar/nightclubs were the 392, which was situated on the ground floor near the lifts, and the Ginnivy Country and Western Bar which was located in the building behind (the Ginnivy bar is still there). The 392 had taken over as primary P4P venue, in Singapore, after the ‘Tropicana’ finally closed its doors in the late eighties. For old Asia hands, Singapore aficionados and the offshore crew the Tropicana was hooker central for years.
I got my induction to P4P in Asia at the Tropicana, during my first visit, 35 years ago. I bumped into a group of Kiwi army guys, based in Singapore, and they wasted no time in introducing to me to the delights of the ladies down at the Tropicana. I still remember that first liaison with a Thai hooker; her name was Song, she was about 30 and her fee was SD 40 for the night. Ahh, the good old days; no HIV and no condoms required. How times change. Sadly?
Anyway, my first visit to the Towers, and the 392, was a bit of a wake-up call in regards to what a female is and what a female isn’t. I’d been putting away a few beers and was getting really chummy with a beautiful, tall Thai bird with an enormous set of knockers. I had serious intentions of taking her back to the hotel with me when one of the guys I’d been offshore with, an Aussie surveyor, put me straight. He’d probably got a laugh out of watching a naïve kiwi making a fool of himself but finally had the decency to let me know the score – “watch it mate, that’s a bloke.” Needless to say, I backpedaled out of there immediately. There are still plenty of Thai katoeys plying their trade at the towers but these days it’s almost instant recognition.
During the day the Towers looks almost normal with the standard type businesses being more recognizable; electronics goods and tailors shops predominating. Some of the Thai restaurants are also open from midday if you’re looking for khao pad gai for lunch. Over the past few years, probably since the early 2000s, the ubiquitous Thai massage shop has sprung up, in numbers, throughout the building. An hour’s oil massage will set you back SD 65 but you are also told, within seconds of entering the shop, that additional extras are available for a further negotiated fee.
These days the most popular venues/bars to meet ‘working girls’ tend to be the Ipanema Bar and the Country and Western Bar, on the first floor, and the Top Five bar on the third floor. The girls are from all over the Asian region with Thai, Pilipino, Vietnamese and mainland Chinese predominating. I’ve also met girls from Cambodia, Columbia and, of course, Russia. Prices for the Asian girls are still around SD 200 for a short time and SD 300 for an all-nighter. Most of them won’t be interested in an all-nighter until after 1 – 2 AM when they’ve at least done a short time as well. The Russian birds, which hang out in the Ipanema Bar, are asking crazy money; SD 500 for a short time and SD 800 for an all-nighter. Most of their clientele tends to be cashed up local Asians who are looking for something different. On the odd occasion I’ve bumped into birds that I’ve seen at Spasso and they weren’t too keen on accepting my offer of a Thai price. They’ll be friendly enough, and have a drink with you, but it really is all about the money, money, money…. Nah, I’ve got better things to do with my time, and money, these days.
Very nice report. Singapore is a good place for a break away if you want a few modern "Western" comforts, although obviously a few days away in Sing will set you back a bit more than any of the other neighbouring countries.