The Kampong Glam Trail takes you into the heart of Singapore's Malay and Arab communities. This ethnic district is a colourful and vibrant area with a modern twist, full of the rich Malay and Arab culture and Muslim traditions that dominate this enclave. This guided introduction will highlight sites of interests and heritage markers along the streets in the area.
Kampong Glam is a Malay Historic District that has remained the heart of Singapore's Muslim community since ancient times. Once the historic seat of Malay royalty on the island, Kampong Glam is an ancient settlement older than modern Singapore itself, and has been gazetted as a Conservation Area. The precinct has attracted Muslims from diverse ethnic backgrounds, fusing them into one community by their common faith and lifestyle. This enclave is a rich and colourful tapestry of traditional trades, as well as religious activities and festivals. Rich cultural heritage and long-enduring traditions are seen along the streets and lanes of Kampong Glam in beautifully conserved shophouses, significant monuments, popular dining spots, and quirky shops.
The district thrives in unique fashion trends and traditional goods such as exotic fabrics from around the world, as well as authentic ethnic clothing and dried foods. Kampong Glam is particularly well-known among Singaporeans as the destination to explore bazaars and markets with an Arabic tinge to them, and for indulging in shisha, smoked in waterpipes known as hookah. The menus of cafés and restaurants in the area stand out with their Middle-Eastern influence, and are a treat for those seeking something different and exotic. Mingle with students on school excursions, backpackers and tourists and, especially at Friday's midday prayer time, with Muslim worshippers going to the mosque to listen to the Friday sermon.
The nearest MRT stations are Bugis [EW12] and Nicoll Highway [CC5]
Buses that serve Kampong Glam...
Along North Bridge Road: 7, 32, 51, 63, 80, 145, 197
Along Victoria Street: 2, 7, 12, 32, 33, 51, 63, 80, 130, 133, 145, 197
Along Beach Road: 10, 14, 16, 70, 100, 107, 196, 40
View The Kampong Glam Trail in a larger map
As shown in the map above, the various sites of interest in this area have been arranged into a walking route from the Malay Heritage Centre to Muslim eateries along North Bridge Road. The walk would take around two and a half hours to complete. Each site of interest is listed below with a brief description of the site's history and significance.
1. Malay Heritage Centre *
Begin at the grand Malay Heritage Centre (Taman Warisan Melayu) at 85 Sultan Gate, which was once the Istana Kampong Glam, the Sultan’s palace. Within the grounds of the Malay Heritage Centre are Gelam trees, whose bark was used to construct boats, from which Kampong Glam (Glam village) takes its name.
A restoration project completed in 2005 by the Malay Heritage Foundation includes the Malay Heritage Museum. This is a heritage museum which aims to preserve and showcase the culture and heritage of Singaporean Malays through artefacts and diorama displays. It also traces the contributions and aspirations of Singaporean Malays towards nation building.
2. Gedung Kuning *
The bright yellow exterior of this distinctive bungalow, also known as “Yellow Villa” or “Yellow Mansion”, is hard to miss. It is believed that the bungalow was painted yellow to reflect its connections with Malay royalty. This house of the former Bendahara (or Prime Minister) has now been converted into a restaurant serving authentic Malay cuisine in an exquisite setting.
3. Masjid Sultan *
At the heart of Kampong Glam lies the impressive Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque), the pride of the local Muslim community. The original Masjid Sultan was built in 1824 by Sultan Hussein and served the Muslim community for almost a century. The present building dates from 1924. and was designed in Islamic Saracenic architecture - a mix of Persian, Turkish, Moorish and Indian elements.
An integral place of worship, this majestic building is orientated towards the Mecca, and draws Muslims from all over the island as well as tourists. The mosque is crowned by its golden dome, adorned by a bluish ring made entirely out of glass bottles contributed by the poor. If you wish to enter the mosque, wear sleeved blouses/shirts (long-sleeves for ladies) and long skirts or pants.
4. Conservation shophouses along Kandahar Street
Exceptionally ornate Late-style prewar shophouses line Kandahar Street, decorated with intricate architectural details and features such as string courses, dentils and bouquets. These buildings exhibit a harmonious mix of Malay and Chinese architectural influences. This is also the perfect stop for lunch, where restaurants serve mouth-watering Indonesian and Thai dishes. Old eateries established here since the 1970s are well-known for their nasi padang (Indonesian meal of rice served with a variety of dishes).
5. Shops and cafes along Bussorah Mall
Bussorah Mall lies in the shadow of Masjid Sultan, and is flanked by a row of simple Early-style shophouses on one side and, on the other, Late-style shophouses with elaborate façade ornamentations. These restored structures now house interesting curio shops and Mediterranean and Arabic cafes which are well-shaded by palm trees. Thirteen of them are the only ones left in Singapore that have retained original window shutters that can be swung out into the five-foot-way to display goods such as keris, collectibles, handicraft, paintings, sculptures and ceramics.
6. Bazaar-style shopping along Arab Street
Indulge in the sights, sounds and smells of Arab Street, where Kampong Glam's commercial activities has been centred since Arab immigrants were first invited by Raffles to settle along this street in the 19th century. Many shops still reflect the Muslim and Arab influences, selling prayer rugs, skull caps and anything needed for making the Islamic pilgrimage, the Hajj, to Mecca. Check out the vibrant and charming cluster shops selling brightly coloured textiles and clothes, brassware and rattanware, accessories, Arabian perfumes and Malay scents, spices, dates and confections.
7. Haji Lane, Singapore’s narrowest street
Take a detour through a small unmarked lane halfway down Arab Street, and you will arrive at this quaint little street. Barely the width of two cars, Haji Lane is Singapore's narrowest street! Tucked in this sleepy street are a small handful of cafes and Early-style shophouses turned into small boutiques stocked with offbeat labels by local designers that you won’t find in shopping malls. This quirky find is a well-known shopping district among Singapore's fashionista hipsters and indie types.
8. Baghdad and Pahang Streets’ Arabic cafes
At least half a dozen Arabic cafés along these streets offer exotic Middle Eastern fare. Baghdad Street is known for a nondescript, hole in-the-wall sarabat stall that reputably offers Singapore’s best teh tarik, a sweet tea with evaporated milk and sugar, served with a thick, bubbly froth created by pouring the piping hot tea from a mug into a serving glass with outstretched hands. It is believed that stretching the tea helps it to mix well with the evaporated milk to bring out the strong aroma and subtle taste of the tea and allows the drink to cool faster.
9. Blacksmith shop at No. 39 Sultan Gate
This blacksmith shop occupies the ground floor of a shophouse that has yet to be restored, and started business about 80 years. Blacksmithing is one of the few traditional trades in the area that has survived the test of time. See the simple primitive furnace used for forging ironworks. Originally, the blacksmith trade thrived in making ship paraphernalia such as anchors, hooks, pulleys, serving the shipyard and boat repair areas nearby. The trade has now evolved with the times to include other hardware.
10. Fishing accessory shops along Beach Road
Running parallel to the seashore before land was reclaimed for development, Beach Road used to be a fashionable residential area until the 1870s and 1880s, when the smaller streets in the area were laid out. Today, the fishing accessory shops here are a haunt for fishing enthusiasts and hark back to its literal history as Beach Road.
11. Masjid Hajjah Fatimah *
Also known popularly as “Rochor Mosque”, this elegant mosque was founded by Hajjah Fatimah, a wealthy Malaccan Malay lady who married a Bugis merchant trader. To orientate it towards Mecca, the mosque sits with a unique square building footprint at a skewed angle within a rectangular site. The mosque has a single prominent octagonal minaret shaped like a tower.
12. Former Chong Cheng & Chong Pun Schools
These former Chinese schools were built in 1938 with the support of Haw Par Brothers, and were popular with the Chinese community during older days. The brothers Haw and Par built an empire and a legendary fortune out of a formula for a cure-all ointment sold in a little jar. Today, Tiger Balm is sold in over a hundred countries, and arguably the world's best known analgesic ointment.
13. Alsagoff Arab School *
Built in 1912, the school was named after Syed Ahmad Alsagoff, a wealthy Arab merchant and philanthropist who was very influential in Singapore’s early colonial days. It was the island’s first Muslim school and is Singapore’s oldest Islamic school.
14. Masjid Malabar Muslim Jamaah *
Also known as Golden Dome Mosque, Masjid Malabar Muslim Jamaah occupies the corner of Victoria Street and Jalan Sultan. This is the only mosque in Singapore which is fully managed by the Malabar Muslim community, who originally came from the Malabar Coast in the southern state of Kerala in India. Naturally, this is the place where Malabar Muslims gather on religious days.
15. Muslim eateries along North Bridge Road
This road is named so because it runs north of the Elgin Bridge built over the Singapore River. Today, popular Muslim restaurants are the highlight of the area. Long queues are a common sight, as customers patiently wait to sink their teeth into Malay and Indian culinary delights such as murtabak (Indian prata with meat filling), nasi briyani (fragrant yellow rice), and nasi padang.