Before the tourists descend and the big-name retailers pave the streets with gold, Rob McKeown checks out six emerging enclaves from Singapore to Shanghai.

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

Causeway Bay
A creative hub of café and consumer culture

THE SCENE Neon-lit and dense with high-rises, Causeway Bay fuses the essences of New York, Hong Kong, and Tokyo into one bubbling urban stew, with teenage punks, media types, and celebrities all moving to the frenetic pace. Fashion magazines and filmmakers like Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love) have had offices here for years amid monster malls (see the skyscraping Times Square complex). But it was the arrival of the hotel JIA (1–5 Irving St.; 852/3196-9000;; doubles from $198)—with its discreet rooms outfitted in spunky white sofas and bright daffodil detailing by Philippe Starck—that established a permanent beachhead for the style set in 2004.
THE EPICENTER Get swept into the crowd under the towering SOGO department store sign.
SHOPPING High-end retail centers (including the newly renovated Fashion Walk, where Vivienne Westwood and Agnès B. have shops) and tucked-away boutiques make conspicuous consumption here a satisfying adventure. G.O.D. (Leighton Center, Sharp St. E.; 852/2890-5555) takes iconic Hong Kong scenes and pastes them onto notebooks, bamboo-trimmed sofas, and an enormous range of home accessories. At Island Beverley (1 Great George St.; 852/2890-6823), the four floors of boutiques no bigger than closets are filled with hand-painted and repurposed clothes crafted by young Hong Kong–bred designers. Going for that classic retro-chic fifties look?Browse the vintage-inspired skirts and blouses of Azalea by I'sis (G/F, Po Foo Building, 3–5 Foo Ming St.; 852/2808-4183).
RESTAURANTS Eating is serious business in Causeway Bay, where you can sample beef noodles in Swiss sauce at Tai Ping Koong (6 Pak Sha Rd.; 852/2576-9162; dinner for two $30) and even taste some great Italian at Da Domenico (10–12 G/F Sunning Plaza, 10 Hysan Ave.; 852/2882-8013; dinner for two $148), a miniature trattoria where every dandelion green, white bean, and branzino is flown in from Italy daily. Pumpernickel Café (G/F, Shop B, 13 Cleveland St., Fashion Walk; 852/2576-1668; dinner for two $35), a smoky hideaway for the literary crowd, serves rocket-fuel espresso and house-baked breads and pulses with great jazz tunes.
NIGHTLIFE At the salon-style café and lounge After School (2/F, 17 Yun Ping Rd.; 852/2983-2130), procrastinating stylists and writers gather around old grammar-school desks for citron tea and gin-and-tonics. Across the street and 27 floors up, film stars and business tycoons commingle on the gray couches of Shelter (27/F Henry House, 40–42 Yun Ping Rd.; 852/2577-1668) to watch the animated short films projected on the wall and take in the views of Hong Kong.

An artists' colony and collectors' haunt

THE SCENE The enclave first began to develop when a handful of
GALLERIES opened in the early nineties along with an oddly placed hat boutique, Lui Elle (100 Hwa-dong; 82-2/720-0309). In the past two years, a younger generation has moved into the area's streets—which wend past gable-roofed houses and the east wall of the magnificent Gyeongbokgung Palace—forcing Samcheong-dong to expand up the hill to the foot of Mount Bukhansan. Now you'll find writers scribbling quietly, Japanese and Korean tourists, and brooding artists and scholars sitting notepad to laptop in the ramshackle noodle shops and modern cafés with glassy new façades while sipping green-tea lattes and Shiraz.
THE EPICENTER The Café at Kukje Gallery (59-1 Sokyuk-dong; 82-2/735-8449; dinner for two $30) is an oasis of blond wood and lazy afternoon conversations. Regulars usually include Korean politicians hiding out and conceptual artists planning their next exhibition.
GALLERIES Art is the raison d'être for Samcheong-dong; the neighborhood's Kukje Gallery and Gallery Hyundai (80 Sagan-dong; 82-2/734-6111) continue to raise awareness not just of emerging Korean artists but of global ones as well. (Kukje plans to show the work of installation artist Lee Bul and has also exhibited Bill Viola's videos.)
RESTAURANTS have even gotten in on the art scene: Cook 'N' Heim (63-28 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/733-1109), a pocket-sized café and restaurant, has a gallery in the small rooms surrounding a courtyard, and Gallery Café (110-220 Palpan-dong; 82-2/734-9466; lunch for two $34), a wine bar lit by hanging paper lanterns, showcases rotating exhibitions of Korean painters.
RESTAURANTS Bar 0101 (124-2 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/723-1259; dinner for two $40) keeps its orange bucket seats full by serving simple Italian pastas and foamy cappuccinos. It's also a great place for people-watching. Quo Lai (110-230 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/720-3368; dinner for two $32) has Leonardo da Vinci–style frescoes on one wall, dark floors, and spicy dishes from all over China. Prefer something Korean?Ji Hwa Ja (11-8 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/733-5834; dinner for two $72) presents lengthy multicourse affairs of marinated meats, bamboo salads, and other Joseon Dynasty food.
SHOPPING Bring home earthenware vases, plates, and urns by celebrated ceramist Yang Gu from the artist-owned Boinhang (63-47 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/720-4421). First Flag Shop (28 Samcheong-dong; no phone) lays out its primary-colored, hand-sewn leather pumps, boots, and sneakers on circular rugs and low-lying shelves. And the pioneering milliners at Lui Elle are still the reigning retailers, selling out of velour top hats and flowery sun chapeaus in every size, shape, and color.

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;; 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;; 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.

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.

Da-An Road
Taiwan's designer enclave

THE SCENE The narrow lanes shooting off of Da-An Road every 20 yards or so are dotted with dilapidated buildings from the 18th century and the 1895–1945 Japanese occupation. This is where a fashion-forward crowd (clad in imported name-brand jeans), television stars, and young Taiwanese on shopping tears all take a break from the motorcycle-clogged streets of Taipei.
THE EPICENTER The tiny, weekends-only lounge Eden (11th Floor, 98 Zhong Xiao E. Rd., Section 4; 886-2/6638-9988) is stashed inside Bistro 98, a steel-clad building and nightlife hub. On the first Saturday of every month, the club hosts one of Taipei's best parties, called Deep Inside.
SHOPPING Jamei Chen (132 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2776-4235), who crafts flowing ready-to-wear pieces, moved her studio and store here 10 years ago amid the noodle shops and run-down flats. Now her neighbors include Isabelle Wen (118 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2771-9021), the Betsey Johnson of Taipei, and Shiatzy Chen (140 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/ 8773-1729), who makes delicate, feminine women's wear. Newcomer  Gray Area (3 Lane 116, Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2711-8891) sells furniture and colorful silk-sheathed pillows. At Gallery Su (19–21 Tun-Hua South Rd., Section 1; 886-2/8773-1108), the glass shelves are chockablock with elegant, hand-painted ceramics from Europe and the Americas, much favored by the local style set. There's also Bella (85 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2751-0117), one of a handful of tiny specialty shops that carry hard-to-find labels such as Nude and Barbara Bui.
RESTAURANTS Isabelle Wen has taken the same playful sensibility she uses in her store and applied it to her Old Shanghai–inspired restaurant and lounge, Fifi (Second Floor, 15 Ren-Ai Rd., Section 4; 886-2/2721-1970; dinner for two $40). The glamorous crowds that alight from the bistro's green-neon escalator often come straight from their studios, launch parties, and runway shows to pair earthy Taiwanese braises with Veuve before heading to the bar.
NIGHTLIFE Coffee is a newfound passion on the island, and Chicco D'Oro (135 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2777-2366) serves lattes to the Mac-toting graphic artists who sit beneath the aluminum pendulum lamps. Health-conscious ladies who lunch head to Acqua (4 Lane 238, Tun-Hua South Rd., Section 1; 886-2/8771-8069), a water bar with a list sourced from across the globe.
GALLERIES The Side Flower (First Floor, 38 Tun-Hua South Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2773-2733) artists' studio is housed in a semi-derelict storefront with a teak terrace where lovably iconoclastic Ming-Hsing Wu paints his Lucian Freud–like portraits. Though it's technically private, visitors (and potential collectors) are welcome.

Julu Road
A new-world spin on Old Shanghai

THE SCENE In the twenties and thirties, before the rise of Communism, Julu Road was known as Rue Bâtard—an address highly sought after for its stone row houses and its gardens, which you can still glimpse near the corner of Hanshan Road. The strip fell into disrepair as Shanghai slumped through the eighties; until just a year ago, it was best known for the beer-soaked girlie bars—which are finally being pushed out, one by one. Restaurateurs, besotted with the magnificent buildings, are now luring architects, creative media types, and an increasingly diverse group of foreigners to this burgeoning restaurant row, which has helped spark Julu's second golden age.
THE EPICENTER Weekend brunches at Mesa (748 Julu Rd.; 86-21/6289-9108; brunch for two $36) have become an institution, thanks to the terraced outdoor seating (reserve a week in advance). Black-clad Chinese women and expats crowd the former bank cafeteria for Steve Baker's daily-made sausages and eggs Benedict. After hours, the adjoining Manifesto Bar (748 Julu Rd.; 86-21/ 6289-9108) pours Shanghai's best caipirinhas in a warm space with lipstick-red walls and banquettes.
RESTAURANTS Julu Road's ethnic diversity is best experienced through its food. Rich clove-infused curries, a Himalayan answer to gougères (Burgundian cheese puffs), and a mutton-and-chile stir-fry are the signature dishes at Nepali Kitchen (819 Julu Rd.; 86-21/5404-6281; dinner for two $40). Spicy noodles and galangal-scented Thai curries are presented in a leafy garden at Coconut Paradise (38 Fumin Rd.; 86-21/6248-1998; dinner for two $45), and fiery Hunan cuisine draws an A-list crowd to Guyi (87 Fumin Rd.; 86-21/6249-5628; dinner for two $20). Perhaps the most memorable spaces in the area are Shintori Null 2 (803 Julu Rd.; 86-21/ 5404-5252; dinner for two $65), a Japanese food palace with soaring ceilings, and People's 7 (805 Julu Rd.; 86-21/5404-0707), the glass-encased bar next door that looks out on an enclosed bamboo garden.
SHOPPING Spin (758 Julu Rd., Bldg. 3, first floor; 86-21/6279-2545) sells the same Japanese-inspired earthenware that gives Shintori Null 2's table settings such a distinctive minimalist style. The well-edited textiles at Brocade Country (616 Julu Rd.; 86-21/6279-2677) are dyed with indigo and have simple graphic patterns; they're made by the Miao people in Guizhou province.
PAMPERING Hidden among nameless boutiques peddling vintage silk qipao you'll find Magpie (685 Julu Rd.; 86-21/5404-3867). Try to time your aromatherapy massage or Chinese pedicure so that you emerge from the salon at sunset, when the street lanterns shine on the Parisian-style plane trees and dim yellow lights flicker in the pre-war brick apartment buildings.

Face Bar, Thailand

This 2006 newcomer joins the nightlife nexus on Sukhumvit Road.

G.O.D., Leighton Center

With decor that appears to be a mix of IKEA and Urban Outfitters, this hip store is located in Causeway Bay. The decorations, textiles, lighting, and gifts that Goods of Desire (G.O.D.) carry are unfailingly modern and cool. One of multiple Hong Kong locations, the store’s moniker is based on a slang phrase that means “to live better.” From G.O.D. t-shirts to quirky light fixtures, tableware, and bed linens, many items have local influence, like the pillowcases emblazoned with Chinese characters.

Magpie, Shanghai

An old villa is the setting for this spa in the French Concession. A Qin brick façade and Ming-era furniture add to the authentic feel. A stream bubbles in the foyer, and the massage rooms are neat and warmly-lit. Known for having masseuses trained in traditional Chinese medicine, the spa offers a range of treatments including Thai, oil, and traditional Chinese. Magpie aims to combine relaxation and preventative medicine; a signature is the backbone and shoulder massage.

Brocade Country

This unassuming shop with a white front and simple black signage stands out on a road of fashion shops. Owner Liu Xiao Lan, a member of the Miao ethnic group, sells handmade items with an emphasis on Miao-crafted goods. The variety can include handcrafted tapestries, ornaments, and shoes. Pieces range from antiques to recently-created work by Lan herself. The butterfly pattern, an important symbol in Miao culture, is represented in some bright-colored textiles, and the owner’s own wedding dress is displayed in a prominent place.

Spin Ceramics

A stylish, contemporary warehouse space with pared-down simple ceramics. The packaging in wooden boxes is beautiful and thoughtful—it’s great for gifts.

Shintori Null 2

Japanese architect Sakea Miura designed this bunker-like restaurant, which was once a movie theater for retired government officials. Guests enter down a concrete walkway through a bamboo garden and by Shintori’s sole sign, a large white stone. An open kitchen sits on the former stage, tables sit in a valley flanked by a sushi bar and traditional bar, and two balconies provide more dining space. Contemporary Japanese is served including appetizers like cuttlefish with butter sauce and Peking duck rolls. Mains include a grilled beef steak wrapped in a bamboo leaf.

Coconut Paradise

This renovated townhouse in the French Concession district provides an elegant, dimly lit backdrop for a Thai dinner. The interior is marked by teak doors, Asian hardwood floors, and a collection of Buddhist artifacts. Starters include spring rolls and rice paper crab vegetables with peanut dipping sauce. There is no shortage of pad thai varieties, but patrons can also opt for a more meaty entrée such as the red curry chicken or beef with pineapple. Outdoor seating is available.

Nepali Kitchen

This Julu Road eatery is a favorite with expats and locals looking for a unique dining option. Nepali Kitchen serves food of the Himalayas inside its dining room, which has low tables, cushion seats, prayer flags, and bright-colored walls. This French Concession location prepares standard dishes, such as potent curries, Indian naan bread, and lentils of many kinds, but other menu items include grilled fish. Diners often sop up the curry with paratha, a fried, unleavened bread.

Manifesto Bar


Side Flower

Acqua, Taipei

Chicco D'Oro



Gallery Su

Gray Area

Shiatzy Chen

Isabelle Wen

Jamei Chen

Eden, Taipei

Buono Gelato Italian


Housed inside the Dutchess Plaza Building in the city’s bustling Thonglor district, Escudo is a two-story nightclub offering clubgoers two distinctive nightlife experiences. Patrons on the first floor are immersed in the traditional nightclub atmosphere with a DJ playing current hip hop music. The second floor offers a more subdued environment characterized by house music. A popular destination among Bangkok’s jet-set crowd, the club has ample opportunities for dancing. Liquor is served, and whiskey based drinks always prove a popular choice.


Showcasing the tandoor clay oven and handi wok, Hazara serves Indian cuisine that celebrates culinary traditions found across the subcontinent. Not surprisingly, the tandoor items, including the murgh malai, a dish of chicken, cream, onions, and coriander, are menu highlights, as are the handi dishes, including tawa jheenga, a Punjab specialty made of king prawns, ginger, onion, and coriander. The restaurant is located inside a teak home, and the atmosphere evokes India with ornate wood carvings, white gossamer drapes, and tropical plants. Vegetarian options are available, and all of the dishes on Hazara’s menu are MSG-free.

J Avenue

Owned and developed by Siam Future Development, J Avenue, at 88,000 square feet, is one of Thailand’s most comprehensive lifestyle centers. Located in the Thong Lo district, the center has become a shopping Mecca and houses such retailers as L’Occitane and the Apple Store. The open-air shopping center caters to the city’s Japanese population, and this focus is reflected in the presence of such retailers as Villa Market, which sells food imported from both Japan and the U.S. Dining options include the popular Au Bon Pain and Greyhound Café.

To Die For

An upscale bar and restaurant located at H1 Place in Bangkok’s trendy Thonglor district, To Die For serves cocktails and wines alongside French and international-inspired cuisine. Executive chef and film director K. Nida Sudasna serves culinary creations like grilled lamb chops with mint pesto and grilled tiger prawn and scallops with a lime and mint sauce. The space offers indoor and outdoor seating, and it exudes an upscale vibe with colorful cushions, floor-to-ceiling windows, and artistic chandeliers. Small, votive candles provide tabletop lighting.

Basheer Graphic Books

Basheer Graphic Books is a prominent bookseller in Southeast Asian markets, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong. The company’s Bangkok store, located at H1 Place in the Thonglor district, sells its trademark selection of design-centric books and magazines, covering such subjects as interior design, architecture, graphic arts, and photography. There are even titles about landscape design, animation, and fashion design. Besides books, the store also has a selection of gifts like paper toy construction kits, alphabet sticker postcards, a clock shaped like eyeballs, and an Yves Saint Laurent coloring book.


A pioneering household accessories shop that also sells clothes, and jewelry from up-and-coming local designers. The eclectic store also offers house and garden gadgets, handmade picture frames, and leather binders - most of them chosen by celebrated editor Sakchai Guy.


Playground! is a three-story shopping emporium located on the bustling Sukhumvit Road. The store is divided into zones, each filled with a specific type of merchandise, from clothing to housewares, even music. The first floor is home to the store’s magazine and music inventories, as well as a Starbucks© and a Vanilla Industry. Shoppers on the second floor can browse a selection of designer clothing and jewelry, while the third floor sells housewares, including furniture and appliances. There is even a cooking school and Play Gallery, an on-site art gallery.


Designed in the Modernist style by Duangrit Bunnag, the H1 complex is at the forefront of the city’s shopping scene. The collection of glass buildings, which houses a myriad of retailers and eateries, was largely responsible for revitalizing and reinventing the Thonglor district. Today, shoppers at H1 will find such high-end shops as Geo, selling housewares, and Basheer Graphic Books. Dining options include the famed To Die For, owned by fashion designer Bhanu Inkawat and film director Nida Sudasna.


Owned by the eponymous design studio, Asylum is a high-end clothing store on Ann Siang Hill. The two-story space originally housed an inventory of quirky home furnishings and pieces from local fashion designers like Grace Tan and Aiwei. Eventually, Asylum expanded its fashion holdings and made designer clothing its primary focus. Today, the shop stocks international brands for both men and women, including Lyle & Scott (Scotland), Mismo (Denmark), Commune de Paris (France), and Six Scents (New York). The inventory is displayed in an industrial-chic setting with a bright green floor, bare white walls, and rough-hewn wooden shelves.

Sia Huat

Occupying three adjacent shops on Temple Street, this spacious kitchen supply store sells tableware, utensils, and foodservice products to Singapore’s top restaurants and hotels, as well as amateur chefs. Originally established as a house wares store in 1959, Sia Huat sells everything from pots and pans to high-quality knives, kettles, glassware, patterned placemats, and even pasta-making machines. Represented brands include Vulcan, Rowenta, Cole & Mason, and KitchenAid. The company also owns a second kitchenware store, ToTT (Tools of the Trade), located on Dunearn Road.


Billed as a “lifestyle concept store,” Eggthree sells an unusual selection of clothing, accessories, house wares, and gift items. One of four Singaporean locations, this Chinatown branch is only a three-minute walk from trendy Ann Siang Hill. The popular house wares selection may include anything from porcelain cups embossed with Chinese characters to distressed wooden picture frames, iron wine racks, and embroidered pillows. The shop’s fashion items are carefully selected by owner Mike Tan on various shopping trips around the world, and his finds often include vibrant silk tops, cropped pants, oversize handbags, and faux-crocodile loafers.

Scarlet Hotel

Billed as Singapore’s first luxury boutique hotel, this 80-room property is located in Chinatown, surrounded by eclectic shops and late-19th-century buildings. Inside, the lobby is designed with large gold chandeliers, red velvet furnishings, and ambient lighting. The guest rooms and five suites (which have names like “Swank” and “Passion”) are individually decorated, although most contain heavy drapes, dramatic gilt mirrors, silk pillows, and unusual headboards made with leather, velvet, or gold sunburst designs. The hotel also includes an outdoor Jacuzzi and two restaurants: Our Korner, which serves Asian comfort food, and the rooftop Breeze, furnished with candlelit tables and cabanas.

Union, Singapore

Surrounded by the many dining and nightlife venues of Chinatown, Union Restaurant & Bar is located in a traditional shophouse on bustling Club Street. Ideal for a casual afternoon beer or late-night cocktails, the bar is designed with warm lighting, plush corduroy couches, local abstract art, and windows that open onto the street. Equally stylish, the adjacent restaurant has exposed brick walls, blue pod chairs, and an open kitchen. In addition to drinks, Union serves modern European dishes like wild mushroom truffle fettuccine, and moules (mussels) served with four different sauces, including lemongrass and coconut.

W Bar


Broth, which is an acronym for Bar Restaurant on the Hill, stands out among the other Duxton Hill eateries thanks to its unique menu of Australian cuisine. Inside, the open and airy dining room has an almost European vibe with its high ceiling, polished wood floor, and all-glass façade that admits plenty of natural light. Additional seating is also available outside on the small terrace. A short but well-selected wine list provides a number of Australian options that complement signature dishes like the spinach and Portobello salad and the lamb loin in a green coat with mint jus.

My Dining Room


Housed inside the chic Hotel 1929, Ember serves an innovative menu of Asian-influenced European cuisine crafted by chef Sebastian Ng. The understatedly stylish dining room is filled with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows and is accented by designer furnishings, such as vintage Louis Poulsen lamps. The white tables and chairs contrast with the dark wood floor, and mirrored artwork on the walls lends a slightly mod feel. Simple yet imaginative, the menu includes such signature dishes as pan-seared Chilean sea bass on a bed of mushroom and smoked bacon ragoût with truffle-yuzu (citrus) butter sauce.

First Flag Shop


Ji Hwa Ja

Quo Lai

Bar 0101

Gallery Café

Cook 'N' Heim

Gallery Hyundai

The Café at Kukje Gallery

Lui Elle

Da Domenico

The lonely expat from Italy needn’t look far for a taste of the homeland, since this Causeway Bay restaurant brings in fresh ingredients from Rome on a weekly basis. Diners don’t go for the ambience or presentation, as neither are emphasized. The food is king here, and for good reason; chef Alessandro Palluzzi prepares dishes to transport guests from Hong Kong to Rome with one bite. Starters include thinly sliced mortadella, a sausage from the Bologna region, while mains include grilled scampi and calamari, and bucatini pasta served with bacon.

Tai Ping Koon

This Causeway Bay restaurant is one of the most storied in Hong Kong and is still run by the family who started it. While 1860 marked the beginning of this Western-style chain, this location opened in 1971 and is one of three Hong Kong locations. Tai Ping was founded by Chui Lo Ko, a chef from Guangzhou. Inside, many things appear unchanged since the restaurant’s inception, with waist-coated waiters and traditional decorations. Specialty dishes include roast pigeon and “Swiss sauce” chicken wings.

Azalea by I'sis

Island Beverley

Selling the latest trending items, this four-story mall is located in Causeway Bay. Rows and rows of pint-sized shops and boutiques fill the popular space. Not for the claustrophobic, navigating this shopping center takes shoppers through twisting passageways and down tight escalators. Brands favor imports from Korea and Japan, but budding Hong Kong designers make a showing as well. While clothes and shoes are the focus, quirky accessories can also be found.

Guyi Hunan

Cuisine from the southern Hunan region is known for its smoke, spice, and rich color. This Jing’an neighborhood restaurant’s reputation precedes it, so it’s often crowded. Once inside the simply decorated often-noisy space, guests settle in to choose a dish off the English menus (and chat with the expat crowd). Stir-fry of all kinds is a common choice; dishes in that style can include clams, or for the more adventurous, frogs. Another popular dish is the Ziran Paigu, ribs layered in cumin.

Greyhound Cafe

This trendy chain—seven Bangkok restaurants and another in Hong Kong's IFC Mall—pays homage to Thailand's 'Greyhound' fashion label. Occupying a conspicuously posh space on the second level, the Emporium Suites location incorporates steel display counters, exposed concrete and ducts, and a sleek black and white color scheme, the cafe is a favorite gathering spot for young Thai urbanites and expats eager to see if the Thai-Italian fusion fare warrants all the buzz it gets. Waiters in catwalk-caliber duds serve dishes such as fettuccini with seared scallops and pesto cream sauce; Italian clam and mussel soup; and Hainanese chicken and rice. Inventive desserts round out the offerings, most notably the Mixed Berry Layered Crepe Cake and Jeed Jard Lemon Tart.

Hotel 1929

Housed inside five refurbished 1929 shophouses, this retro-inspired Chinatown hotel is decorated with vintage designer furniture from hotelier Loh Lik Peng’s private collection. In the mirrored lobby, Verner Panton’s Cone chair and Arne Jacobsen’s Swan chair add visual interest to the space. Equally stylish, the 32 individually designed guest rooms may include Marimekko fabrics, Eames chairs, and bedspreads decorated with bright red poppies or blue-and-green stripes. The two suites also have outdoor baths set in rooftop gardens. Additional hotel amenities include an outdoor Jacuzzi, limousine service, and the renowned Ember restaurant, which serves inventive European cuisine with Asian influences.

JIA, Hong Kong

The JIA Hong Kong, located in the Causeway Bay shopping district, is the first boutique hotel in Asia designed by French designer Philippe Starck. Jia means “home” in Mandarin, which is reflected in the hotel’s 54 apartment-like studios, one-bedroom suites, and duplex penthouses decorated in crisp whites offset by warm teak floors and golden yellow accents. If you really want to feel at home, whip something up in the in-room kitchenette with the help of an electric stove or sleek Smeg microwave.

Room to Book: If you prefer space and privacy, book a suite. They are much roomier than the studio rooms—an extra 400 square feet, exactly.