Jason’s Lounge Perches: Southeast Asia’s Chilled Lounges 2018
The beauty of Southeast Asia is both in its contradictions and variety, from fancy rooftop bars to chill, pared-down cliff-top perches. After extensive, err, research and exploration, at least over the past few months, my little compilation here should satiate that desire to find the next ‘hidden’ spot.
I have actively sought out out-of-the-way places or relatively new openings that encapsulate the destination’s many facets, and could, potentially, be a destination bar in its own right.
Paradise Bar, Labuan Bajo, Flores
If there was every an unassuming with a slightly hyperbolic name which lives up to its name, then the Paradise Bar in Labuan Bajo on the Indonesian island of Flores would fit the bill. Perched on a cliff a little out of town (if we can call Labuan Bajo a town), this random bar away from the main drag of backpacker hostels, dive shacks and basic bars is a welcome respite.
Best approached on foot from the main quay of town, a short 10 minute hike up the slope will lead you to a beautiful terrace tucked away behind dense foliage. You could always take your motorbike up, but where is the fun in whizzing past the nice little atmospheric villages?
Inside, the terrace captures you immediately. There is an unobstructed view of Labuan Bajo harbour, as far as the eye can see, with islands dotting the foreground with the endless Java Sea ahead.
The sunset at 6pm will certainly remind you why you would not mind being stuck in the middle of nowhere. With a cool drink, good cheap prices (though still relatively more expensive than the USD1 beer in town), this spot is a good place to unwind after a day of island safari or just to continue on chilling after a day on the sea, be it for sunset or the twilight hours.
I would be remiss to tell you that the street can get dark after sunset, so be mindful!
Atmosphere: Open, wide terrace, with unobstructed views of the harbour, islets and islands, with a very chilled crowd. Primarily travellers.
Drinks: drinkable cocktails and basic beer
Price Point: Agreeable prices for an out-of-the-way destination. USD 5 drink
Feel: Relaxed atmosphere, primarily tourists, good place to chill on a lazy late afternoon
Address: Jalan Bingkom, Labuan Bajo, Manggarai Barat, Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia
Tel: +62 823 3935 4854
SOHY, Ho Chi Minh City
As befitting a rising Southeast Asian city, Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as I occasionally call her, now has a few rooftop perches of pretty good standing, like every other major Southeast Asian city.
However, unlike KL’s occasional live band Helipad, Jakarta’s musically pared down Cloud Lounge or Bangkok’s posh yet accessible CRU Champagne Bar, Saigon’s SOHY has found a way to combine fine dining with rave club, with a touch of beach bar. But for the stunning view of Saigon from the terraces, one would be forgiven if you thought you were at Potato Head in Bali.
With 3 floors to choose from, starting with an open terrace with hard house, to fine dining Italian on the second floor and a champagne bar on the top terrace, SOHY, with Shree just one terrace down, has made Saigon’s Centec Tower in to a Hanging Garden of Nightlife.
While the view is stunning, the music good, and the crowd young and upwardly mobile, the one drawback I found was that it opens pretty late: 6pm late, which barely gives you time to enjoy the sunset with a sundowner while watching the sun descend over the Mekong Delta, with the skyscrapers of Saigon a symbol of where this rising Asian power wants to be.
The beauty of this spot: it could easily be one of the destination bars of Southeast Asia, coming hot on the heels of the sky-high bars of Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, with a skyline to boot.
Atmosphere: Beach bar meets cosmopolitan warm-up nightclub. A little posh, yet very accessible. I came up with shorts.
Drinks: Impressive cocktail selection, go for the espresso martini, not half bad.
Price Point: Average price compared to ‘grounded’ Southeast Asian bars at USD 6/+.
Feel: I want to say trust-fund babies. Mostly locals, not many tourists or expats, yet.
Address: Centec Tower Rooftop, 72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Tel: +84-90 299 9888
Horizon Bar, Ritz Carlton Langkawi
Like SOHY, this is a fairly new addition to the drinking roster in Southeast Asia, having opened in Q4 2017. However, it was worth the wait, personally. Located within the expansive grounds of the Ritz Carlton Langkawi, Horizon Bar is one of two seaside bars on the property. While The Bar at The Grill is closer to the water, Horizon Bar lives up to its name, with the bar perched on the rocks above the crashing waves below.
Now, this bar is, in one word, posh. Like, very posh. Sure, it is best to be there in standard resort uniform of white linen shirt and swim shorts but do remember this is very much a jet-set bar. Having said that, just swipe your card and remember, ‘you are on holiday.’
With the seating area shared with the adults pool, but designed with privacy in mind, you are both seen by the crowd yet tucked away at the same time. The outdoor bar area is split over a few steps, with one narrow terrace meant for couples fronting the sea, a super bar with unobstructed views of the sea right behind that, a seating area for groups behind that, a larger ‘single group area’ to one side and the covered bar at the back. This is a bar to see, be seen yet stay hidden in.
The signature drinks menu is bespoke, but the bartender can make most standard cocktails with competency. The view at sunset, weather permitting, is divine, with nothing obscuring you. The buggy is always a 5-10 minute call away.
Atmosphere: Posh. Like, understated posh. A few statement pieces, but the bar is, on the whole, minimalist. Why add distractions when the sunset is the main show? All seats are oriented to the sunset.
Drinks: Decent cocktail selection and wine list.
Price Point: I will not lie. Posh. Just swipe and do not think.
Feel: Uber luxury resort, where the uniform is designer swimwear and white button-downs.
Address: The Ritz-Carlton Langkawi, Jalan Pantai Kok, Teluk Nibung, Langkawi, Malaysia
Tel: +60-04 952 4888
Bangkok Penthouse Park Hyatt
On a few trips to Bangkok, whenever I chill by the hotel pool, I will always hear a conversation that goes along the lines of this:
“Oh, which rooftop bar should we go to in Bangkok?”
“There are a million here. I don’t think I can tell them apart.”
Having said that, the Terrace at the Penthouse, Park Hyatt Bangkok, has her own charm that does put her at a different position than the others. For starters, the Terrace at the Penthouse is part of a 3-floor food and beverage destination that is more intimate than your standard massive destination rooftop restaurants. If the woody private bar atmosphere of the Bar at the Penthouse is not to your liking, head up pass the mezzanine to the Terrace for, well, a Penthouse view of Bangkok.
The Penthouse at the Park Hyatt was designed like a well-travelled, seasoned urban professional. His paraphernalia includes a classic motorcycle at the Dining Room entrance, his love of classic rock and motorcycle goggles, and a few choice pieces of furniture form his travels. Head up to his Terrace, and it feels like someone’s terrace, albeit done up for a large number of his friends.
The view is good, looking eastwards along Sukhumvit Road, and north/south along Wireless/Witthayu Road. You do not get perfect views of the sunset, but you get a cosy atmosphere, with a well-appointed outdoor bar and cosy furniture.
Best of all, it is not overwhelmingly large, and as it does not have the ‘star’ appeal or large-scale capacity of Sirocco, Vertigo or Red Sky, the intimate atmosphere will make it a nice spot for sundowners after a day of exploring, business dealing or simply lazing by the pool.
Atmosphere: Chestnut and oak wood panels give this a very masculine feel, with clean lines, simple minimalist decoration and comfy sofas
Drinks: Good cocktail and wine selection. I am a big fan of their vodka martinis
Price Point: Average by Bangkok rooftop bar standards. THB 400+/drink.
Feel: Your fancy friend’s rooftop terrace extension, with ample space to laze around. The chairs are that comfortable.
Address: 34th floor, Park Hyatt Bangkok, 88 Wireless Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
Tel: +66 2 012 1234
Nearest Station: Ploen Chit BTS Station
Smoke & Mirrors, Singapore
Singapore is one of those cities that just ooze urban vistas. This city state has a dense, unique skyline, and has an array of rooftop bars to cater to the discerning traveller in search of a watering hole. One of the more laid back places in the middle of all the fancy action, however, is located at the National Gallery Singapore’s terrace, and is, personally, home to one of the more stunning views of the city.
Located on the roof terrace of the ‘Court House’ wing of the National Gallery Singapore, this chic, understated and thankfully not overcrowded bar, has stunning vistas of Marina Bay, the Marina Bay Sands and Raffles Place CBD towers, all while you are surrounded by the tamed greenery Singapore of noted for.
Smoke & Mirrors brands and positions itself as a destination bar, and while every other rooftop bar in Singapore (and Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok and Jakarta) likes to make that claim as well, this one deserves the moniker. The views are unparalleled and service adequate.
The feel of this bar is casual chic, with a very urban professional vibe. Not as many tourists as the other, more famous rooftop bars in Singapore, and the prices are reasonable (by Singapore standards). Try their mango beer: it comes from a micro-brewery in Jakarta and is perfect for those steamy, tropical evenings.
Atmosphere: Brushed stainless steel and marble panels, minimalist chic to not distract you from the view outside. Very upwardly mobile urban professional.
Drinks: Interesting cocktail and beer selection. I highly recommend the mango beer.
Price Point: Reasonable (and lower) than standard Singapore rooftop bar standards. SGD 15+/drink.
Feel: A rooftop ‘resort-style’ terrace. Just add swimming pool and you would think you were at a fancy urban resort.
Address: #06-01, National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew’s Road, Singapore
Tel: +65 9234 8122
Nearest Station: City Hall MRT Station
What is my criteria?
Antwerp, or Antwerpen, is one of those interesting destinations that does not pop up frequently in people’s minds, at least if you are not based in Europe. It is however, a fantastic little destination, which is best approached by train from Amsterdam, for the best arrival experience, at least in my opinion.
All that glitters
Arrival in to Antwerp via high speed train from Amsterdam or Paris is definitely the way to go. A short-ish 2 hour train ride away from Amsterdam Centraal, this gem of a destination will definitely feel like it as you pull in to Antwerp Centraal. This grand baroque cathedral of a railway station will definitely remind you of a city built on trade and diamonds.
Once the opulence and gild of the railway station settles in to your imagination, the city’s plazas and boulevards will set your imagination alight in this the major city of Flanders, the predominantly culturally Dutch part of Belgium.
Just next to the railway station is the Diamond Quarter, aptly named ‘Diamant.’ Do not let the bland exterior fool you: those stores and plain façade hide the Antwerp Diamond Exchange, numerous jewellers skilled in cutting the finest and among the most sought-after gem sets.
Straight out from the main façade of Antwerpen Centraal and Diamant is De Keyserlei, continuing on westwards to Teniersplaats and the Meir, all grand entranceways in to the central of Antwerp. Antwerp is a very walkable city, with wide shaded boulevards, ample trams, a lot of pedestrian space and monumental vistas that are arguably on par with Paris’s Champs Elysees, Newcastle’s Grey Street and Edinburgh’s New Town.
Antwerp can pleasantly surprise you, even if you have high expectations of a city of this magnitude. Walking along the wide boulevard of the Meir, the city’s commercial heart, shopping arcades blend in seamlessly with art-deco constructions, baroque edifices and 19th century opulence.
The Rembrandt House has a fine collection of Dutch works, set in a beautifully restored house, tucked away in the corner along the Meir. Given the right spring day, not your usual street performers will be enthralling you on this boulevard, with my particular highlight being a well-tuned soprano.
Amidst this avenue, you will still be reminded that this is a city in flux, that tries to balance all her commercial interests in one go. In between the medieval city and renaissance quarters, art-deco towers rise up, reminding you of the commercial importance of this city, but unlike other edifices, these almost seemingly blend in at street-level and only really pop up once you see the city from the opposite bank of the River Scheldt.
For an interesting view of Antwerp, head to the banks of the River Scheldt, where, next to the Grote Markt, is Sint-Annatunnel, a pedestrian tunnel that links communities on both sides of the river. This 1km walk under the River Scheldt was built in 1933 and has beautiful painted tiles that tell the story of this unique construction.
The Great Market
Like all great trading cities in the low countries, Antwerp pay homage to her grand market square, the Grote Markt, where the statue of Brabo, or the Brabo Fountain, lies prominent in front of the City Hall. Fantastic beer gardens and bars line the square and the surrounding alleyways, a departure from the formal lines of the renaissance city on the Meir.
The great belfry of Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekatheedraal, or Cathedral of Our Lady is a prominent landmark in Antwerp and provides a good juxtaposition to the spires in the Grote Markt. The interior is, to put it simply, divine, with many beautiful Dutch Masters, Antwerp resident Peter Paul Reubens in particular, hanging in-situ as they would have been when they were initially commissioned. A very interesting way to bring in the people to church: turn it in to an art gallery.
Adjoining the Grote Markt are the old quays and docklands, some of which have been repurposed as art spaces, pop-up markets and warehouse nightclubs. As Antwerp once was one of the great trading conduits linking the interior of Europe to the great outside, Antwerp now becomes the great conduit that links the outside art world to this section of Europe. The Museum aan de Stroom or MAS, is in itself a piece of art and houses a fine collection of works from across the world and is arguably one of the more interactive museums out there. It also has fantastic views of the city from the top terrace.
Chocolate, Chips and Shells Trails
Think Belgium and Belgian Chocolate would surely pop in to your head. Apart from the usual Godiva and Leonidas, Antwerp has a fantastic array of small, artisanal chocolate shops, all tucked away in the old city. These small establishments are worth the hunt, and are consistently as good as their more famous counterparts.
The chocolate trail combines with the, as I now call it, the chips trail. Fries, pomme frites, chips, call them whatever but they taste pretty good in Antwerp, and you cannot go wrong with whichever shop you go in to. However, one particular shop, at the Groenplaats, seems to get the crowds. Queue looks long, but it is fast moving, and as it is next to a Leonidas and a few good bars, you might as well add on a chocolate trail and pub crawl while you’re here.
Another interesting feature you may notice as you walk around Antwerp would be the small bronze shells you see embedded in the pavement. It was only after a visit to the St James’s Church when I realized that there is a third trail that converges in Antwerp: the Way of St James, or the Via de Santiago de Compostela. Yes, that famous Pilgrimage Trail actually starts up in the low countries and passes through Antwerp.
Little did I know, my travels would converge in a nexus where the trails of commerce, art, diamonds, chocolates, beer and religion meet. It helps that it is still one of the largest ports in the world (the Port of Antwerp actually almost reaches the Dutch border) and one of the grandest railway stations around.
WiFi? The City of Antwerp has free decent speed wifi available city-wide, so there is no worry for you to hunt around for free wifi if you are too lazy to get a local sim or pay for roaming.
Train connections? Local trains, high speed inter-city trains and Thalys provides excellent connections to Antwerp with regular services across the Low Countries. In fact, you can just turn up at Amsterdam Centraal and you’ll be on a train to Antwerpen within the hour.
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.