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6 Emerging Asian Neighborhoods

Michael Weber A customer listening to music at Playground!, in Bangkok's Thonglor district.

Photo: Michael Weber

SINGAPORE
Chinatown
A 21st-century take on the old-world trading post

THE SCENE Chinatown was once infamous for Keong Saik Road, a hub of debauchery (there are still a handful of brothels today). It's better known now as a tangled and narrow collection of streets lined with Sino-British storefronts, colonial-era apartment buildings, and the occasional hawker center. The first chic property to claim the area: Hotel 1929 (50 Keong Saik Rd.; 65/6347-1929; www.hotel1929.com; doubles from $85), which opened up in a set of Chinese Art Deco storefronts last year. Guests staying in the hostelry's tiny rooms (with museum-quality pieces by Charles Eames and Verner Panton)—as well as local Chinese traders and a newly arrived crowd of artists, yoga practitioners, and marketing professionals—now have restaurants and boutiques to visit nearby.
THE EPICENTER So trendy it almost hurts, Club Street counts a modern Oriental furniture outlet, a hipster wine bar, late-night lounges, and dozens of cafés and bistros in its mix. There's an almost Mediterranean ease in the air, with most visitors strolling from one destination to another.
RESTAURANTS A labor of love by husband-and-wife team Sebastian and Sabrina Ng, Hotel 1929's Ember (dinner for two $50) has black-stained wooden floors and a tight reservation book. If you can secure one of the bistro's 45 seats, order the tempura oysters "six ways" and the banana tart with lavender ice cream. Ambitious Singaporean chef-owner Vincent Teng crafts modern European dishes with a Japanese twist (try the oven-baked smoked duck with five spices) at My Dining Room (81B Club St.; 65/6327-4990; dinner for two $90). Steven Hansen's Broth (21 Duxton Hill; 65/ 6323-3353; dinner for two $60) serves up inventive European dishes with a dash of Australian flair.
NIGHTLIFE Both W Bar (11 Club St.; 65/ 6223-3886), which has low-lying couches and hazy red light, and the brick-walled Union (81 Club St.; 65/6327-4990) bring in a mélange of corporate executives and fashionistas; they're hip without being loud or overbearing.
HOTELS Hotel 1929 now has competition: the Scarlet Hotel (33 Erskine Rd.; 65/ 6511-3333; www.thescarlethotel.com; doubles from $90), a plush boutique retreat that has a teak rooftop bar called Breeze and a lively restaurant, dipped in red, named Desire (dinner for two $80).
SHOPPING The shelves of Eggthree (33 Erskine Rd.; 65/6536-6977) are heavy with linen pillowcases, glassware, and lacquer in contemporary Chinese styles. If you're looking to pick up some well-priced woks, steamers, and other Asian cookware, save time for Sia Huat (7–11 Temple St.; 65/6223-1732). You can secure some limited-edition sneakers, bags, and even toys at Asylum (22 Ann Siang Rd.; 65/6324-8264); the concept store also sells contemporary art, books, and experimental music in addition to hosting workshops and discussions with local and international artists.

BANGKOK
Thonglor
The definition of Thai Modern (known here as 'dern)

THE SCENE Humid sidewalks heaving with satay hawkers quickly give way to steel-and-glass shopping developments teeming with music executives, models both foreign and Thai, and body-conscious youth. As recently as 2003, this corner of Bangkok was mostly residential; a couple of decades ago, there were rice paddies steps away. But the opening of H1 (998 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/714-9578), a striking Modernist reimagining of the mini-mall designed by starchitect Duangrit Bunnag two years back, ushered in a quirky collection of locally owned boutiques that are now drawing a steady stream of customers, who arrive via the newly extended underground system.
THE EPICENTER In the skylit central hall of Playground! (818 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/714-7888), shoppers lie for hours on yellow, green, and blue beanbags beneath a giant hot-pink dinosaur as DJ's spin lounge and ambient music. The open-plan space has racks of small-run, cultish Thai labels like the unisex clothing line Sunshine Headquarter, the bohemian Rabbit Habit, and ethnic Kit-Ti jewelry. On the top floor, there's even Planet 2001—a shop that sells contemporary furniture made from water hyacinths. You could spend days in this place, and many people do.
SHOPPING H1's shops and restaurants are best visited at night, when the buildings are illuminated. Eclectic outlets run the gamut: GEO (66-2/381-4324) displays house and garden gadgets, handmade picture frames, and leather binders—most of them chosen by celebrated editor Sakchai Guy; Basheer Graphic Books (66-2/391-9815) is a top-shelf design bookstore; To Die For (66-2/381-4714; dinner for two $49), owned by fashion designer Bhanu Inkawat, has become the city's hottest table. Late-night (and daylight) browsing is also possible at the recently opened shopping center J Avenue (323/1 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/381-3218), which has every kind of boutique—along with a handful of see-and-be-seen cafés.
NIGHTLIFE Face (29 Sukhumvit Soi 38; 66-2/713-6048) is the only address you need to know for a night out. Strewn with opium beds and veiled in dusky, sensual light, the bar is an ideal prelude to the northern-Indian restaurant within, Hazara (dinner for two $35). If you have the energy after one of Hazara's filling dishes of pomfret curry, hit the dance floor of the hip-hop club Escudo (289/1 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/712-5335) after midnight. For a sweeter nightcap, head to Buono Gelato Italian (5 Sukhumvit Soi 63; 66-2/662-0415) to sample tropical sorbets, or stop by J Avenue's Greyhound Café (66-2/712-6547; dinner for two $15), where high-society wives and film stars gossip over spaghetti stir-fried with Thai anchovies, chiles, and holy basil.

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