Despite its seedy reputation, worn-down interiors, and all-around ugly architecture, Singapore's Golden Mile Complex remains one of my favourite places to spend an afternoon. Sure, not everyone enjoys a stroll among occult stores, massage parlours, and Thai discos, but I find every corner of this high-rise commercial building fascinating. Built in the early 70s, it is known among the locals as “Little Thailand” — and for good reason. Almost everything that is authentically Thai can be found here, which explains why it’s a hub for Thai expats living in Singapore.
For years, there have been efforts to demolish the building and replace it with something newer, shinier, and more up-to-date. In 2006, a Singaporean politician even called it a “vertical slum” and a “national disgrace.” But I couldn’t disagree more.
The place is a portal into hundreds of little universes. Starting at the bus terminal outside, you’re immediately met with some of the most authentic Thai eateries and food markets, so you can gorge yourself on a myriad of unique meals, snacks, and desserts.
It's hard enough to limit yourself to just one basket at the mega Thai and Vietnamese supermarket, let alone at the actual eateries. Once, I took a stroll during durian season, stopping to ask one of the store owners about the difference between Thai and Singaporean durians. A few minutes later, she was giving me a free tasting session while we debated contrasting flavours with a group of elderly Thai visitors.
Food aside, though, Thai culture abounds through a multiple of ways throughout the building. Venture up to the third floor for occult stores and vendors selling a range of variously blessed items to bring good luck, wealth, health, and love. Further down the hallways you'll find traditional corner stores doing Sak Yant (traditional Thai tattoos). And while they look painful to get, they also offer claim to offer power, fortune, and protection to the bearer.
And don’t get me started on fashion. If, like me, you're tired of shopping at the same franchise fashion stores, you'll love shopping for clothes at the Golden Mile. The fashion stores have taken on a personality of their own: loud, flashy, and a bit risqué. Fun to try on and cheap to buy. All the insane heels, wigs, and glittery shirts your heart desires. And if that isn’t your cup of tea, look at it like thrift shopping: there’s always a gem hidden in there somewhere.
The trippiest part of Golden Mile that always gets me, though, is not the stores or the physical building itself, but the way time seems to dissolve once you step inside. That’s mainly due to the lack of natural lighting and the fact that clubs are open 24/7. It could be 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., but you wouldn’t know it from the bars filled with people drinking beers, or the mothers eating desserts with their daughters. In a country known for harsh regulations, the Golden Mile seems like a real breath of fresh air. Here, seeing a bunch of people drinking beers at 2 p.m. seems completely normal.
But if you really want to see something new, head to the building’s top floor where you’ll find a rooftop terrace, with tennis courts and an abandoned pool. Unlike the basement floors, the roof is peaceful and quiet. Here, you can sit and stare upon a vast city vista from above.
Golden Mile has personality and identity. While Singapore has countless skyscrapers, heritage sights, malls, neighbourhood housing estates, and authentic food markets, there isn’t anything quite as beautifully decadent as Golden Mile. You can love it or hate it, but really, it’s a magical universe on its own.