My son is utterly obsessed with flying radio-controlled craft, and I have to admit I love them too. Browsing through toy copters in shops is great fun, and infinitely more so with a wide-eyed child in tow. Fortunately, here in Asia, great RC shops are everywhere.
Hooked enthusiasts who want a higher-end toy often turn to online stores, and there are plenty of them -- Hobby King, X-Heli, Tower Hobbies, Banggood and Helipal to name just a few. Browsing online is a poor substitute for shopping in a specialist RC store, however -- being surrounded by helis, planes, all the spare parts, and upgrade kits is a very special experience.
Online stores have all but replaced the specialist stores in the US. It was difficult for me to locate a decent RC shop in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, and those I found had very poor selections. Even Hobby Town, a large national chain-store, had a limited collection and was devoid of the hottest models being offered online. Fortunately, many interesting stores still thrive in Hong Kong, Singapore, and nearby Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I hope you find them as much of a joy to visit as I have.
Singapore has pretty serious enthusiasts, and consumers have substantial buying power. Add a vibrant tourist industry to the mix, and you have stores selling really good stuff. As with many sectors in Singapore, shopkeepers are conservative -- they stock the very best but not much more. You won't readily find new, upcoming brands in Singapore, but they're well stocked in established, recognized brands.
Air Hogs is a fixture in all the stores in every mall, but you can buy them cheaper in the USA. Silverlit is also here, but the newest, most exciting models are hard to find. An upcoming brand, Cheerson, has just been stocked in Metro departmental stores, and their excellent CX-10 model is worth a look.
Jet Hobby is a pretty serious hobby store specializing in RC planes but it does stock some toy copters. It's a large store by Singapore standards, and enthusiasts can browse through rows and rows of spare parts and batteries and might even be seduced into buying one of their low priced foam-based RC planes.
Fook Hai Building is a small arcade, which houses several RC shops, all of them pioneers of the industry in Singapore. A must-go for every RC fan, it's a unique experience where you can find both the great brands of RC as well as the highest end custom machines.
Singapore Hobby Supplies is located in Fook Hai building and is a pioneer in the hobby scene. They offer a large variety of products from little toy copters to quadcopters meant for serious aerial photography, and they're one of the distributors of the famous DJI line of drones. Prices can be steep for some products but it's hard to beat the selection. As a bonus, you can still find old classics here.
NTC Engineering Hobbies, also located in Fook Hai building, is a paradise for DIY-ers. Stocking carbon fiber rods, a hundred types of glue, gears, connectors, raw foam, motors, chargers, and batteries of every sort. A human stocking computer keeps track of where stuff is kept among shelves and shelves of spare parts boxes. It's extremely well stocked for hard to find parts.
Hobby Square, a hobby store run by an avid hobbyist, only stocks the best of breed in every category of RC flying craft, from $20 (which converts to £10/AU$20) toy copters to $2,000 (£1,165/AU$2,125) top line models. Walkera, one of the top brands for toy copters, is well represented here, and it's probably the only place in Singapore that sells legendary WL Toys V911, one of the most durable and fun toy helicopters meant for beginners. It's also the best stockist in Singapore for the QR-X350Pro, a viable alternative to the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, which makes waves at every CES show in Las Vegas. Best of all, the store owner offers repairs for a small fee. Even the worst damaged copters may still have a chance in his hands.
If you're planning a visit to Singapore's Chinatown, take a short walk to Rotor Hobby Enterprises. It carries Singapore's largest inventory of Walkera products, and even the rarer Scorpion 6-rotor model can be found here -- the only place I've seen it in this region. They also carry the ever-popular DJI series and a lot of more sophisticated rotor craft and RC aeroplanes.
Hong Kong used to be RC toy heaven -- not surprising as so many RC toy manufacturers are based here. Unfortunately, in recent years, high rentals and online stores have battered the retailers, but a notable few are still around.
Kwong Wa Street -- nowhere else in the world have I found a street dedicated to selling big boys' toys. Gun replicas, air guns, lasers, anime figurines, and RC toys of every sort. There are several RC copter stores along this stretch, most notably Modern Model Company, a largish store stocking serious toy guns and RC copters and the distributor for Align, one of the top names in professional RC helicopters. They stock a full selection of goods, priced competitively with online stores. Notable toy copters sold here include the new WL Toys Velocity, a magical, state of the art nano-quadcopter and the V977 6-channel (meaning, it can fly upside down) brushless motor super toy copter. There are several other shops, which stock very interesting products from all over the world.
No trip to Hong Kong is complete for an RC fan without visiting Radar Co., Ltd -- the largest RC store in Hong Kong. Specializing more in model planes, including some of the world's largest mass production RC planes, and representing 20 brands of the world's most established RC companies. It's an amazing experience to be surrounded by hundreds of classic model RC planes hanging from the ceiling. You can find anything you need for RC planes here, including the largest nitro-fuelled engines, a full range of Futaba radio transmitters, and glow plugs of every sort. They don't have many toy copters, though, but it's still a very worthwhile visit.
Away from Kwong Wa Street, Waigo Hobby is another stalwart pioneer in the RC scene. Carrying a much larger variety of products than Radar, it runs a retail store in downtown Kowloon. Not specializing in anything in particular, you can find cars, copters and planes of every sort here.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia was never a great place for RC, but the copter craze has caught on amongst Malaysians and surprisingly, the prices in low-rental Malaysia can be cheaper than most online prices for toy-grade RC copters.
Amcorp Mall is where big boys' toy stores are located in Malaysia, and there are several RC stores there. RC Smart and Hobby Tech are two notable stores worth a visit, but they are more focused on selling large RC craft rather than interesting little toys. It's not cheap, or particularly well stocked, but it's worth a visit just to take a look at the other boys' toys, like military surplus equipment, action figures, and other offbeat merchandise.
Another great place is Jalan Pasar, a crazy street where live fish, pets, salvaged electronics, gadgets, and phones vie for buyers with quadcopters and RC copters buzzing around above your head. It's like a cyberpunk dystopia. A good toy store along this stretch is Saal Toys, which sells every manner of flying RC toy. Expect to buy the WL Toys V911 here very cheaply -- perhaps buy a few just in case you crash them. The friendly store owner will recommend the newest, most interesting toys he finds in China and Hong Kong factories, and some of them are worth considering.