Curious Thoughts From My First Visit To A Thai Disco Aka “Siam Tiu”

Uncovering a bustling secret world where affection is traded for flower garlands

Photos: Weekender

What’s somebody like you, doing in a place like this?

The opening line of Timbaland feat. Katy Perry’s catchy club anthem “If We Ever Meet Again” echoed in my head as I stepped foot into Parklane Shopping Centre at midnight on a Friday.

Built in 1979, Parklane is among Singapore’s many first generation shopping malls, established alongside Orchard Plaza, CK Tang, Ming Arcade and the Liat Tower extension.

Today, the spanking new malls that have popped up on the Orchard shopping stretch easily overshadow its gloomy facade.

And this was precisely what I came for — to discover a spark of life within this oft-forgotten mall, which hints of the nostalgic ‘90s.

Inside the mall, dodgy looking massage parlours beckon with stock spa images glaring right back, rivalled only by the neon signs that emanate from KTV lounges, moneylenders and a darkly lit LAN gaming shop.

It’s not all vice though — the upper storeys house everything from legitimate travel agencies to beauty salons and medical centres.

With friends in tow, I made a beeline for newish Thai club, Club Axis.

Tonight, my agenda was simple: To experience first-hand the “siam tiu” culture so loved by many party-goers.

Thai clubs and discos, often referred to as “siam tiu”, isn’t exactly a world apart from the other drinking holes one might be familiar with.

To put things in perspective, these “siam tius” combine the casual drinking vibes of a bar with the singers and hostesses of a KTV pub.

So what exactly makes it Thai? I soon found out that a good majority of the singers, hostesses and bartenders there hail from the Land of Smiles — some PRs, some students, and even some on social passes.

A secret world

The nondescript entrance of Club Axis, guarded only by a single ‘bouncer’, barely hinted at the fascinating world within.

Once inside, my eyes were inevitably drawn to the elevated stage — a grand centrepiece of the smallish club.

With the pomp and pageantry of a beauty queen showdown, a bevy of ladies lined the stage.

Not surprisingly, unapologetically sexy was the order of the day, and possibly every day here.

Variety was key, when it came to fulfilling the visual fantasies of the patrons.

A few wore variations of schoolgirl and sailor uniforms, some strutted about in lacy bralets and hot pants, while a couple were dressed in Lolita get-ups straight from the streets of Harajuku.

Entertainment, as I soon realised, was standard affair — ladies gyrating to the music interjected with performers belting out emotional ballads. It went on like this for the most part.

Apart from the stage, the rest of the club was filled with round bar tables where patrons huddled around. Beer towers were par for course, as were bottles of Martell.

The music? A playlist as varied as the ladies’ outfits.

Throughout the three hours I was there, I’d danced to everything from Jay Chou to Ne-Yo, viral K-Pop hits like Gangnam Style and needless to say, a bunch of head bobbing Thai pop songs.

Talk about a multi-lingual, microcosm of our Little Red Dot.

Gift of the garland

Of course, one can’t speak of “siam tiu” culture without delving into its iconic flower garlands.

In a nutshell, “diao hua” or hanging flowers refers to the act of gifting a garland to the hostess as a means of tipping her.

But it is much more than the simple act of tipping, as you would for good service at a restaurant.

At a “siam tiu”, buying a garland is the ultimate gesture of appreciation for the finer species of this flowery world.

Sashes sometimes took the place of flower garlands, but it’s one and the same.

At Club Axis, sashes start from $300 and go all the way up to $10,000 depending on how much one is willing to splurge.

Cheaper flower garlands can start from as low as $50, but will likely garner you no more than a sweet thank you from the lady in question.

Throughout the night, it was the norm to see men walk up the stage gallantly to present a lady with a garland or sash.

Later on, garlands weighing heavily on neck, she makes her rounds of the tables, flitting about like a butterfly in gratitude to the men who’ve indirectly paid for her company.

Speaking to some of the regular patrons, I found that this garland culture is heavily fed by egoism.

The rule of thumb is: The more you fancy her, the more garlands or sashes you bestow on her, in turn claiming ownership of her attention — even if it’s just for the night.

Jealously comes into play now and then, as men from different tables routinely tip the club’s most popular ladies.

As such, it’s no surprise to see fights break out occasionally. All’s fair in love and war, after all.

Curiosities

What does it mean for the ladies then? The average earning for them can range from $300 per night in terms of garland sales alone, with agents taking about a 10-20% cut.

Whether one’s in it for business or pleasure, there’s no doubt “siam tius” are a colourful addition to Singapore’s nightlife scene.

If anything, you’ll find people-watching fun, as the people who come to Thai clubs are an interesting mix.

You’ve got the curious younglings begging for a glimpse into this forbidden world, the regulars who know the ladies by their first names and even men and ladies who look like they’re in their 50s.

By the time the clock struck 3am, I’d encountered a few hostesses throwing up in the toilet before reapplying their lipstick as if nothing happened.

A table away, an elderly man danced endlessly to a melody only he could hear, likely intoxicated by more drinks he could handle.

For me, it was an eye opener of sorts — to discover a world where affections were traded for flower garlands.