Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India are testimony to the island-nation's rich ethnic, cultural and historical heritage. The districts are home to religious monuments as well as quaint shophouses selling ethnic goods and cuisine. They provide an insight into the cultural fabric of Singapore and are perhaps the country's truest attractions, having stood the test of time.
Singapore's Chinatown evolved around 1821 when the first Chinese junk arrived from Xiamen, Fujian province in China. The passengers, all men, set up home around the south of the Singapore River which is known today as Telok Ayer. Conditions were harsh. The only source of fresh water were from the many wells in Ann Siang Hill and at Spring Street. Each household had to collect fresh water in bullock-drawn carts, hence Chinatown's local name - Niu Che Shui (Bullock Cart Water).
Singapore's Chinatown is full of contrasts and fascinating details. Parts of Chinatown aren't even Chinese. Witness, for example, the Al Abrar Mosque along Telok Ayer Street, and the Jamae Mosque and Sri Mariamman Temple along South Bridge Road. The peaceful co-existence of the different places of worship in the same area, even until today, reflects the racial and religious harmony in Singapore.
Chinatown can be divided into four main districts - Kreta Ayer, Telok Ayer, Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Pasoh - each with a distinctive flavour of its own. The heart of activity is in the Trengganu/Smith Streets area.
Getting There: A short walk from Outram Park (EW16) or Chinatown (NE4) MRT Stations. Click here to view MRT route map.
The Malays had been living in Singapore long before the Chinese or the Indians, and Geylang became their enclave in the 1840s after the British dispersed the Malay floating village at the mouth of the Singapore River. Together with the large influx of Malaysians and Indonesians, many wealthy Arabs then congregated in Geylang.
In the early 1920s, Kampong Glam's Malay population moved out en-mass to Geylang Serai as a consequence of the keen competition for land in Kampong Glam. Malay influence is still strong in Geylang Serai as reflected in the restaurants and shops specialising in Malay cuisine and ethnic goods, arts and crafts.
In the heart of Geylang Serai is the Malay Village, a vibrant cultural showcase of the Malay community. Discover what it was like to live in a village community 'Kampung Days', which showcases the traditional lifestyle of Malays in the 1950s and 60s. You can also experience traditional Malay arts and crafts like batik painting, kite-making and kampong games such as top spinning.
The Cultural Museum features a fascinating collection of artefacts like weaving tools, musical instruments and an extensive display of a traditional Malay wedding complete with hand-sewn garments, accessories, and a Bridal Chamber. Other attractions within the Malay Village include the Muslim Showcase, Hall of Fame and Geylang Serai Corner, all offering insight into the lives of Malays in Singapore.
The Floating Seafood Restaurant sometimes feature cultural performances in the evenings. Call 67484700 to find out the performance dates and times.
Open: Malay Village, 10am - 10pm (daily)
Location: 39 Geylang Serai, Geylang Serai Malay Village, Singapore 409227
Tel: (65) 6748 4700
Fax: (65) 6741 7794
Admission: Free entrance to the village (Extra charges apply for the two attractions, Kampung Days and Cultural Museum: SGD 5 adults and SGD 3 children)
Getting There: Take the MRT to Paya Lebar Station (EW8) and walk towards Geylang Road. Click here to view MRT route map.
The name Kampong Glam comes from the Glam tree which grew in the area. Medicinal oil was extracted from the tree and its bark used by the Buginese and Malays to caulk their ships.
Kampong Glam is a sea of sounds and colours. Originally a fishing village at the mouth of the Rochor River, it was the historic seat of Malay royalty in Singapore. Today, you can still see where the Istana Kampong Glam (the Sultan's Palace) stands or step into Sultan Mosque, the biggest mosque in Singapore with the capacity to accommodate up to 5,000 Muslims in congregational prayers.
Malay Heritage Centre
The former Istana of the Malay royal family will be converted into a heritage museum to showcase Singapore's Malay story. The museum is scheduled to open by end 2004. Visitors will not only find fascinating displays about the local Malay community, but will be able to admire the meticulously restored building and its architecture.
Restoran Tepak Sireh
Tepak Sireh, a newly opened restaurant (opened Dec 2003), is in a restored bungalow situated next to the Istana. The restaurant offers halal food and cultural performances in an elegant setting. The building is also known as Gedun Kuning (Yellow Mansion) because of its attention-grabbing hue.
Tepak Sireh is one of the few establishments in Singapore offering dining and cultural entertainment in a charming historical district. If diners are lucky, they may be guests at a royal-style Malay wedding!
Start your tour with a visit to Sultan Mosque or Masjid Sultan (3 Muscat Street). With its massive golden dome and huge prayer hall, the Sultan Mosque is one of Singapore's most imposing religious buildings, and the focal point of Muslims in Singapore. The mosque, designed by Denis Santry, was built in 1928. Fronting the mosque is Bussorah Mall, where you'll find beautifully restored shophouses.
Some shops to look out for:
Malay Art Gallery - traditional weapons, artifacts, jewellery. 31 Bussorah Street.
Melor's Curios - Javanese furniture & handicraft. 39 Bussorah Street.
Mona J Boutique - Traditional clothes. 41 Bussorah Street.
Habib Leather & Crafts - handicrafts, bamboo / rattan items, leather goods. 44 Bussorah Street.
If you are curious about Malay cuisine, head to Kandahar Street, a great place for traditional Malay food! Here you will also find shophouses of ornate style and elaborate ornamentations.
A five minute walk from Kandahar Street is Arab Street, where the finest lace, sparkling semi-precious stones, colourful rattans, spices and dates abound. In the old days, the shops that lined Arab Street sold headgear (or Songkok) for Muslim men, the holy Quran which holds the complete truth about Islam, prayer mats and numerous textiles to pilgrims from Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei who had arrived here to take the ship to Mecca for their haj ot pilgrimage.
Today, it is still the place Muslims head to for their haj needs, although the shops are no longer confined to Arab Street. Besides traditional items, Arab Street is also the place where fashion designers from here and around the region scour for items like ostrich feathers, iron-on diamantes, gold threads, wholesale bales of cloth, filmy organza, and brilliant lame in different colours and furry materials of various shades and density.
Some shops to look out for:
KS Abdul Majeed & Co. - carpets. 33 Arab Street.
Cafe le Caire / Al Majlis Foodcourt - Middle Eastern foodm desserts and sheesha. 39 Arab Street.
Mahaco Impex Silk Shop - textiles. 51 Arab Street.
Vipin Company - carpets. 54 Arab Street.
Insaf's Fabrics - textiles. 63 Arab Street.
Original Singapore Walks
Sultans of Spice - A Kampong Glam Walk
Thursdays 9:30 - 11:30am
Singapore in 1819. Politics and power like you have never seen before, wielded by a commercial firm called the East India Company. How was Singapore sold to the British for 60,000 Spanish dollars? Find out about the man who did it, and the man who forced him to. The Sultan Mosque, the Royal Graveyard, the site of the old Istana Kampong Glam: they all carry an air of royalty from the past. Follow Journey's entertaining guide on a pilgrimage to remember past glories. Take this chance too, to discover the Islamic beliefs, Malay traditions and mysticism that go back countless centuries!
Route: Bussorah Street - Sultan Mosque - Muslim Good Shop - Old Istana Kampong Glam - Royal Graveyard
Meet at Bugis MRT Station, outside Exit B
* If you'd like to enter the mosque, please wear sleeved blouses / shirts (ladies - long sleeves) and long skirts or pants.
Getting There: Take the MRT to Bugis Station (EW12) and walk along Victoria Street towards Arab Street.
The first Indian settlers in Singapore arrived with Sir Stamford Raffles as assistants and soldiers back in 1819. In the late 19th century, many more Indian immigrants arrived to find work, be it as labourers to build roads or to take up key positions in the civil service.
Today, Little India is the focal point of Singapore's Indian community. Its spice-scented streets beckon you to a treasure trove of silverware, brassware, ethnic jewellery, jasmine garlands and silk saris. From the large Tekka Centre to the small provision shops, Little India is packed with interesting things to discover. During Deepavali (usually between Oct/Nov), the Indian Festival of Lights, Little India is transformed into a fairyland of gaily decorated, brightly lit streets bustling with shoppers. Witness also the faith of devotees during the colourful and ritualistic Thaipusam in Jan/Feb each year. Colourful temples co-exist side by side with churches and mosques, parrot fortune tellers stationed by the five-foot way and tantalizing scents of spices drifting out from restaurants. Don't leave Little India without a temporary Henna tattoo or try "Teh Tarik", a hand pulled cup of tea.
If you are interested in discovering more about Little India, there are a selection of walking trails to choose from, they are :
Dhobis, Saris & a Spot of Curry - This walking tour is conducted by Journeys Pte Ltd on every Wednesday from 9.30am- 11.30am. Meeting place is at Little India MRT Outside Exit E (Buffalo Road) Tour price : Adult : SGD$15/- Child 12 years & below : $12/- For more details, please proceed to http://www.journeys.com.sg/ or call (65) 6224 0136
Desire Paths Little India audio tour, available from Tuesdays to Saturdays between 10am and 4pm at No. 65 Kerbau Road, Singapore 219188. For details, please call : 6392 1772
Please note that Little India tends to become rather crowded on weekend evenings when many of the foreign workers congregate to shop, eat or simply catch up with friends.
Getting There: Take the north east line to NE6, Little India station or take SBS bus number 65 from Orchard Road, alight at Tekka Market along Serangoon Road.