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?
Tucked away in a nice little corner of the Malay Peninsula, just off the major international shipping routes but along the leisure sailing routes, lies a collection of islands that provide a nice little alternative to Bali, Phuket or Samui. It also happens to be a favourite haunt. This is Langkawi.
Duty is Free
Langkawi, like a number of islands off Malaysia, has the special status of being a duty-free island (The others include Labuan, off Borneo, and Tioman, off the east coast of Malaysia). While the prospects of duty-free alcohol and chocolates (and kitchen ware. Do not ask why) seem to appeal to some, it can just be a happy secondary perk for others.
Expect to see price of alcoholic beverages to be significantly lower than on the mainland, or depending on the venue, on par with the mainland. Hunting for the ‘best’ duty-free value can also be a sport for those who come up from the mainland, and the selection of whiskeys, vodkas and scotch here is, at times, worth the effort.
With 99 islands to choose from (and significantly more during low tide), the options for you to get your own private beach retreat is endless, provided you do not mind taking the effort. Boats and yachts are available for rent or charter to explore the islands at a leisurely pace, or long tail speedboats that ferry excursions for island hopping.
For something a bit more human-powered, most beaches have kayaks, jet-skis and boards available for rents. Kayaking excursions include mangrove exploring or paddles to nearby islands, while jet-skis range from jet-ski tours to messing around along the shore.
Personally, I take a kayak out from Cenang Beach to Rebak Kechil Island, a good 20 minute paddle, depending on the currents. A good, private beach with a nice sandbar, with excellent views of the airport, arriving and departing planes, and that long stretch of commercialized beach.
For something more private, Datai Bay is more genteel in their watersport options, with excellent kayaking or stand-up paddle conditions in a protected bay. However, this option is restricted to in-house guests at the Datai Langkawi or Andaman Langkawi. Worth the premium.
Rugged Coastline Drive
The coastal road hugging the coast along the western coastline of Langkawi, from the airport towards Telaga Harbour, and onwards towards the Datai or Tanjung Rhu are some of the nicest drives in the country. Stunning shoreline, the sea peeking behind the trees, with sheer cliffs on your left and right as you do hair-pin turns on some bends.
Renting a car in Langkawi is a good option, especially if you intend to explore the island. Car rentals are relatively cheap, with good quality, new cars available from vendors. The only drawback would be finding parking if you happen to frequent Cenang Beach, though paid parking behind the mall is well situated in the middle of the strip.
Exploring the island on a bicycle is growing in popularity, heat notwithstanding. With Langkawi being the venue of the Le Tour de Langkawi and Langkawi Ironman, the closer it is to season, the number of cyclists getting used to the terrain might just inspire you to get on a bike.
Green Hills & Suspended Thrills
On approach to Langkawi, be it by air or sea, you would notice the beautiful green hills and peaks that dot the landscape. This being a UNESCO Geopark, options about to explore the natural beauty of the island.
While the mangrove tours along Tanjung Rhu would bring you around the wetlands, karst formations and eagles that give Langkawi her name (Lang being a Malay word for eagle, Kawi being a word for limestone), if you are short on time but do not mind splurging for a quick nature experience, opt for the Langkawi Cable Car that goes up Mount Matchinchang.
Langkawi Cable Car has three options, namely standard cable car, express cable car and express cable car + skywalk. While the cable car is an experience bringing you high above the jungle with vistas including the Seven Wells Waterfall, the skywalk is worth the extra premium, as you trek along the peaks with a guide who brief you on the nature in the area. The suspended skybridge is not for the faint of heart, as some sections of the Langkawi Sky Bride has glass panels for you to look down to the ravine below.
Water falls from sky to sea
Personally, one of the spectacular sights in Langkawi would be her waterfalls. In an island filled with fairy tales and legends, this particular waterfall resonates with a lot of myths and legends in Asia: located along Mount Matchinchang, up the road from Oriental Village and the start of the Langkawi Cable Car, is the Seven Wells, or Telaga Tujuh.
This is a collection of stunning waterfalls and pools that emerge from the springs close to the summit of Mount Matchinchang. While most would be at the base of the waterfall, looking at the stunning, immensely tall waterfall as it crashes down below and onwards to the sea, a stunning viewpoint can be had at the pools at the top of the waterfall.
Cool water, natural slides, rockpools and gently cascading water provides a great counterpoint to the sheer aggressiveness of the water as it goes off the ledge. This would be a good metaphor for Langkawi: peaceful yet hyperactive, commercialized yet rustically idyll.
Rent a car:
there are a number of car rentals available at arrivals of Langkawi International Airport. Taxis can be expensive, and hard to come by if you explore further afield.
Langkawi Cable Car:
-Normal prices start from RM30, but the wait can be painful, especially during weekends and holiday season
-Express: starts from RM90. Worth it.
-Express + Skytrail: RM120. Also worth it.
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.