The term “Bugis street” is misleading. It really isn’t a street any more. The original Bugis Street had some un-savoury history behind it. It was a place of bars, pubs, foreign sailors, other assorted foreigners with specific sexual preferences, and groups of transvestites who provided services to them… Indeed, the whole affair with the transvestites was really Bugis Street’s claim to fame, or notoriety.
The Bugis Street of today sits across the road from where it used to be. The old location has become part of a large shopping mall and a reputable (and expensive!) high-class hotel. The new Bugis Street is a low-priced bazaar-style shopping mall selling cheap clothes, gifts, accessories and tourist souvenirs.
Now to answer an important question – is it worth visiting?
The answer to that could depend on where you come from. Some other nations in South East Asia could have similar places, and visitors from those countries could consider skipping Bugis Street unless they are really curious. Bugis Street is a large three-story building complex with thousands of small individual shops packed tightly within narrow corridors. You could consider it a sort of modern air-conditioned bazaar selling affordable clothes, accessories and souvenirs. Of course “affordable” in this case is probably not synonymous with “quality”, so you get what you pay for. It probably isn’t synonymous with “fashionable” either. But then sometimes you just need something cheap and nice or flashy that you can relegate to “rough wear” a few years down the road, so these things have their uses.
Speaking as a local, Bugis Street is really the only one of its kind in tiny Singapore. This is one of the only handful of places with some unique character that isn’t owned or promoted by some mega-conglomerate brand or shopping mall empire. It is a giant collection of small, individual retail proprietors gathered together in a single place and offering the affordable wares they have to offer. So there is quite a lot of flavour to this place with the multiple blends of self-expression from the individual proprietors.
As a visitor, you will generally fall into one of the following categories:
(a) You think this is a narrow stuffy place selling cheap stuff and you hate coming here. This is a far cry from the likes of the usual swank and classy shopping malls!
(b) You think this is a really interesting place with some bargains!
(c) You think this is a place with a lot of character and is worth your time visiting. But you are not interested in buying anything, except maybe a soft drink as you explore the long corridors of shops snaking through three storeys.
I fall into category (c). 😉
For me, there is actually enough character here to warrant a few more visits and take more pictures. Maybe there will be a follow-up post to this next year with more pictures. 🙂
If you are really interested in what Bugis Street has to offer, they have an online retail site here.
All images were taken with a Nikon D610 and the Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G. I find that this lens’ light-weight and small profile works very well in confined spaces. It also does not get too wide so the image center does not become too small and the edges do not start looking weird. ISO ranges from 2,500 to 9,000. The D610 can handle it all well enough with careful processing.
It’s already 2017 and I have not had a chance to go shoot some pictures yet. Ah well, work beckons. – WY