City trips in South East Asia: Bangkok VS Kuala-Lumpur VS Singapour
This post is also available in: French
As you may know it already, our “Business visa” status is pushing us a bit (a lot) to travel out of India. To change from the not so different (compare to India) Sri Lanka, we have also used extensively the low-cost airlines connecting Bangalore to South East Asia and notably the 3 capital cities, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
We could have done a post for each of them but we finally decided to organize a non-mercy match between those three big cities, evaluating them on completely subjective criterias.
So here are our TOPS by themes between Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore!
TOP STREET FOOD
1. BANGKOK : Chinatown (Yaowarat) where, when it’s getting dark, it’s the whole street (and the small streets around) which are becoming an endless open-air canteen with infinite food stalls of every kind. Exhilarating!
2. SINGAPORE : Maxwell Road Hawker center which doesn’t entirely qualify as “street food” as it’s a food court (hawker center as they say in Singapore). So you choose what you want to eat from the different shops and you seat wherever you want or can as it’s pretty popular. Very casual with a lively atmosphere coming as a good change in the usually serious Singapore.
3. KUALA LUMPUR : Jalan Alor is an entire street hosting plastic chairs and tables in front of restaurants serving everything in Chinese, Thai, Malaisians or even Indian specialities. It deceptively lacks of character and it’s difficult to understand differences between one restaurant to an other. Still, it’s open really late and it’s a great way to have food in the open-air right in KL’s center.
TOP ROOFTOP BAR
1. KUALA LUMPUR : Helibar is, as its name suggests, an helipad at the top of one of the city’s sckycrapers transformed in a bar! There are no physical fences on the edges of the platform giving you a bit of vertigo. But more than that, it’s opening a clear and majestic view on all the buildings in the surrounding, including the famous Petronas twin towers. The atmosphere is really quiet (noises from the streets aren’t reaching) and the live acoustic band is adding a good note. Only drawback, the fact that you have to ensure of a certain amount spent before being able to reach it, which isn’t exactly the best welcome.
2. SINGAPORE : Marina Bay Sands Hotel? ok, we didn’t have (or take) the time to climb to the top of this famous rooftop bar. As we find the concept of the swimming pool with the view pretty impressive, we’re still ranking it in the second spot.
3. BANGKOK : Vertigo (Banyan Tree hotel) is quite thin and at the top of one of the biggest building in Bangkok (more than 60 storeys). So you really feel that you’re above everything else around you. Also, the atmosphere is surprisingly pretty casual and there is no minimum to spend.
1. BANGKOK : Wat Arun that we have discovered only during our second stay in the city, has a surprising architecture and gives great views over Bangkok. The visit sometimes looks like more of a climbing and it’s pretty fun!
2. KUALA LUMPUR : Jama Masjid for its subtle and minimal architecture even if the concrete can be unattractive to some.
3. SINGAPORE : Pagoda Chinatown because we didn’t find anything better in this fully-modern city. It’s still pretty impressive inside with a nice repetition of Buddha statues.
1. BANGKOK : The streets of Chinatown are bustling with all sort of activities, with wholesale shops, delivery men here and there, strange wharehouses and street food by night. Full of life!
2. KUALA LUMPUR : Even if quite sterilized, the backstreets are a trove of hidden authentic Chinese street food stalls.
3. SINGAPORE :
Ok so here, we’re more into a fake touristic attraction with a street full of souvenirs shops, than a real messy Chinatown. At least there are a few hawkers centers bringing a little bit of authenticity here.
TOP LOCAL DISH
1. BANGKOK : The Pad Thai of course. Difficult to compete with Thai food anyway. Concerning the pad thai, the national dish, you really have to taste it at Thip Samai. They serve it in a kind of omlet and it’s really delicious. You’ll feel you’re finally eating it for the first time.
2. KUALA LUMPUR : Laksa, a noodles soup with a coco milk and curry broth. We loved it at the Old China Café with its pretty authentic decor.
3. SINGAPORE : Chicken Rice, the unmissable national dish in Singapore. This originally hainanese specialty can seem a bit boring at first sight. It’s made of chicken, steam cooked, along with rice. It’s actually better than it looks even if it can stay quite bland… (specially if you have an Indian palate).
1. BANGKOK : Chatuchak market is where you’ll find everything from local designer clothes to gizmos or decoration objects. The whole at a very affordable rate. It’s huge and full on week-ends (it’s opened only on week-ends).
2. SINGAPORE : Sim Lim Square for everything hi-tech (specially photo gear). We didn’t buy anything there but it has a great reputation for cheap prices and an extensive choice. It’s better to have checked the price in advance to make sure not get cheated and bargain accordingly.
3. KUALA LUMPUR : Central Market for souvenirs and because the architecture retains a certain Art Deco charm.
1. KUALA LUMPUR : Ice-Coffee to go sold in plastic bags that you can hang anywhere you feel like.
2. BANGKOK : Utility Vespas in Chinatown, crazy!
3. SINGAPORE : Bamboos at the windows to hang the washed clothes. Refreshing to see a bit of mess in this too tidy city.
1. KUALA LUMPUR : The Petronas twin towers because you have to admit that their facades made of steel and glass aranged with muslim art symbols are really standing our of everything else, specially by night.
2. SINGAPORE : Hotel Marina Bay Sands, because even if quite strange and not very gracious, this is a striking building and it’s even more interesting inside as it’s almost completely empty.
3. BANGKOK : We don’t have a particular building in mind when thinking about Bangkok or else it’s nothing special…
1. BANGKOK : Tuk-Tuk, canal-river boats, taxi motorcycles, pink taxis, there are many ways to enjoy riding Bangkok !
2. KUALA LUMPUR : Our friends’ car! Ok, we didn’t try out anything else…
3. SINGAPORE : Buses as subway stations are not that many finally (they are building some more). We found funnier ways to ride in a city…
1. SINGAPORE : Haw Par Villa park, built by Tiger Balm’s founder is dotted with strange (bloody or embarrassing) statues presenting Chinese myths to “educate” children. Quite fun 🙂
2. BANGKOK : The infamous Ping-Pong show. Yes, we gave it a try… it’s really gloomy even if quite funny at the same time.
3. KUALA LUMPUR : Back-streets in the center are sometimes hosting brothels entrance or equivalent (from what we were able to guess).
TOP CITIES (3 points for every first, 2 for second and 1 for last in every TOP)
1.BANGKOK (24 points)
2. KUALA LUMPUR (20 points)
3. SINGAPORE (16 points)
Ok, so not a big surprise as it was, of course, what we were feeling after visiting those 3 cities. Bangkok is the one we prefer by far because we love its great mix of authenticity, mess and modernity, all at the same time! Kuala Lumpur is sometimes a bit too much of a “highway city” but it hides some charms more subtles if you dare to dig. Concerning Singapore, we didn’t really got it, a bit too “perfect” for us even if you can’t help a bit of admiration in front of its success.