The Seedy Side of Singapore

(pic - Story) Sleazy Singapore - Title

When one thinks of Singapore the image of a clean city where there are no cigarette butts on the ground and chewing gum is illegal. Parks, gardens, and super trees also come to mind, as well as a fairly conservative life style. No wonder my cousin, who had the option of either going to Hong Kong or Singapore chose Hong Kong – in his mind Hong Kong was the place to party, where are Singapore was a place to raise a family. I guess that comment had sort of given me the wrong impression of the place, that is until I visited the city-state in 2015 to discover that it was not what I expected – particularly since Singapore also has its fair share of decent night life.

Well, when I was wandering through one of the hawker food courts, I discovered one of the many craft beer stalls that unless you know somebody in the know, or spend your time exploring as much as possible, you will completely miss. Well, while I was ordering my beer I struck up a conversation with a couple of the people nearby, who assured me that Singapore was actually quite boring and the only things to do here was to drink, and to eat. Well, I’m not surprised about the eating part of Singapore because it is certainly a foodies paradise, and as for drinking, well there is much more on ofter here than just Tiger and Heiniken.

(pic - Story) Sleazy Singapore - 3rd Culture Brewing

Yet, you may be asking what about this comment about Singapore being sleazy? Surely this place can’t be sleazy? Well, not quite, because there are sleazy sides to pretty much every city – some of them are pretty out in the open (such as Bangkok), while others are tucked away, known only to those who are in the know. Mind you, if you know what you are looking for, you pretty much know where to go, and what to look for, and in the end you don’t need me to tell you anything. If you don’t know, well, you won’t be learning too much here, except from what I’ve discovered.


For those of us in the west, the idea of Karaoke doesn’t come across as sleazy, that is unless you have been to parts of China, and Hong Kong. Sure, there are the innocent bars about where groups of friends go to sing (and sing badly at that), however there is another aspect to it. I discovered this in Hong Kong, when wandered into a nightclub only to discover that it wasn’t the same thing as a night club in Australia. In fact as you wander around parts of Kowloon, you’ll discover these bars where men go and rent women to sing to. I believe these types of bars are also referred to as KTV.

What is interesting is that whoever wrote the wikipedia article was quite condemning of the places. Yet, when I read the post, I do somewhat agree with what was said, namely that they tend to promote the exploitation of women. Personally, I’ve never actually walked into one of these places, namely because I simply can’t sing, and am a little too self-conscious to make a fool out of myself (though I do sing in Church, but then again that is a different story because nobody can actually hear me, except for maybe the person standing next to me).

Yet I discovered quite a few of them as I wandered down one of the streets in Singapore – in fact there was one almost every few metres on both sides of the road. Some seemed to be hostess bars (more on them in a second), while most of them were advertising themselves as being these KTV bars. A part of me was tempted to go and check one out, but since getting to that particular road was a little tricky, I decided that I would simply not bother, since I have better things to do with my time than singing out of tune.

Before I continue

Before I get go on I probably better tell you about the little story that happened to me when I was in Singapore last. Basically I was doing what I normally do when I am about and about, and that is look for some bars that I haven’t visited previously, and go in and have a drink. Well, I made my way down to Chinatown, or at least a part of Chinatown that I hadn’t visited, and checked out a couple of bars. I wandered into a rather innocuous place, and suddenly discovered that it was full of women.

Well, I suspect that there are bars that the ladies like to frequent, so I went and ordered myself a drink and sat down. Before I knew it a young lady approached me and started talking with me. Well, that normally doesn’t happen so I pretty quickly clued on to where I was and basically waited for the inevitable ‘will you buy me a drink’. Okay, if I was in Australia, then that probably would just be part and parcel of going out for a night on the town (though once again that rarely happens to me), however this was Singapore.

(pic - Story) Sleazy Singapore - Night 03

Actually, I didn’t expect that Singapore would be any different to Australia, that is until I discovered that there were two different menus, one for the guy (I was wondering why the beer was so cheap here, particularly since this does happen to be Singapore) and one for the girl. Well, needless to say the girl-beer was pretty expensive, like $50.00. Which being Singapore is an awful lot of money. Anyway, I finished my beer and made my way out of there.

Then there was my adventure the next night when I was wandering around another part of town, looking for some more bars, and Google Maps led me to this shopping complex. Well, not quite, because as it turned out, the only shops in this shopping complex were massage parlours. Okay, there were bars, but the names of these bars indicated that these weren’t the type of bars that you would visit for a quiet drink. In fact, even the bars that had rather normal names were far from being normal bars.

Paying for Company

I read an interesting article once (though sure enough I can’t find it again) where somebody claimed that they were surprised to discover that there were prostitutes in Singpore. Mind you, it was one of those articles written by a journalist that basically skirts the subject and makes himself (or herself), sound like a puritanical member of society. Surely this journalist didn’t have to make a song and dance about not going into a brothel. It sounded to me like another article where the writer was talking about ladyboys in Thailand and how he was fooled by one (but then again everybody gets fooled by ladyboys in Thailand). His definition of being fooled was simply thinking that the ladyboy was a girl when he was not.

Anyway, I I’m not so much writing about prostitution, or ladyboys in this part, but rather the hostess bars. This is something that we don’t seem to have in the west, but are common throughout South-East Asia. Basically you wander into a bar that happens to be full of women, and depending on the bar they will either swarm you, or one will simply come a chat to you. Well, chatting is not quite the way I’d put it because if you want to talk to them you have to buy them a drink, and while your drink is cheap, theirs isn’t. Once you have bought them a drink you have until they have finished the drink, and when they have done so you can be assured that the mamasang will be there in a flash telling you that can no longer talk with her until you buy her another drink.

So, the question is whether you can touch them. In the traditional Japanese bars the answer is a definite no. In Singapore it is a little different, and generally does depend on the girl. Personally, I prefer not to touch, but depending on where you end up you will have some pretty aggressive women that will put their paws all over you in an attempt to get you to buy them a drink, and not just one, but multiple. I remember standing in one place and watching a group of white males (and they seem to always be white males) coming up an escalator to be swarmed by a heap of girls, all of them trying to get them to come into their bars.

The girls are predominately from the Phillipines, though you do get a few from other places (such as Thailand). Another interesting thing I noticed was that one bar I visited advertised itself as having Euro-girls. Now guess where these girls were actually from – Russia (and the Urkaine). In fact there was one woman there that was from Siberia, which because it is part of Russia makes her technically a Euro-girl. Mind you, I couldn’t speak to them too much, because pretty quickly a mamasang appeared demanding that I buy them a drink.

(pic - Story) Sleazy Singapore - Night 02

These places did bring back some memories of my younger days, particularly of a friend who would frequently visit gentlemen’s clubs (or strip joints would be a more appropriate term). He was making quite a lot of money, but he ended up spending all of it down at these places, places that make me wonder whether it is actually worth spending your money at, namely because in the end you come out with nothing. Yet, in one aspect my friend didn’t have all that much success with women, so found that simply paying them money to talk to him was actually much easier. In a way it was the same with these bars, because in the end, all you are doing, is paying money to talk to girls, and some of these girls go to extreme lengths to get that money from you. The thing with my friend was that his boss’s business failed, and ended up bringing my friend down with him.

Those Four Floors

So, the question comes down to what about prostitution in Singapore – is it legal? Well, no it isn’t, but then again it is illegal in Thailand as well, but you wouldn’t know it if you went for a walk down Bangala Road in Patong Beach at night. Yet the authorities sort of turn a blind eye – though I say sort of. You could say that they allow some clubs to operate, and also have women health checked as well. However, they are still pretty strict, particularly when it comes to pimping, but then again pimping tends to go hand in hand with sex slavery in all of its forms.

So, we have this building where the first four floors are a shopping centre – sort of. Well, not quite because the only businesses that you will find here are massage parlours and bars. The bars are basically the afore mentioned hostess bars, and the decent ones are actually the ones where the women aren’t storming you to try and drag you in (quite possibly because there isn’t as much pressure on them). The other thing, as I mentioned, are massage parlours – well sort of.

(pic - Story) Sleazy Singapore - Orchard Towers

It is similar to what I have seen elsewhere, such as the Netherlands and Germany, where the sex worker rents out a room, and will stand outside waiting for a customer to come along. Well, not quite since some of them are a lot more proactive than others. The reason that I made reference to massage is because that is what they will offer you when you pass, probably because they aren’t actually allowed to sell such services out in the open. As such, this is probably more like Thailand, where they offer you their extras once you are inside. Mind you, most people who want these particular services know what to look for in the end, and know where to go. There is a reason why there are so many Thai Massage places in Australia, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the popularity of Thai massages.

Just ask the guy who gets paid to have sex for a living.

Creative Commons Licence
The Sleazy Side of Singapore by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.


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