For most of my time in Singapore, I stayed in the neighborhood with the glamorous name: Kampong Glam. Since I was so close, I waited a few hours before my departure to wander its streets (blame it on the procrastinator in me). With the many vibrant murals and colorful shops, I wished I would have spent more time in the area.
Kampong Glam’s name derives from the Malay language, which is fitting since this area was designated for this community in 1822. Kampong means village, while gelam is a paperbark tree often found in the area.
Initially a port town, Sir Stamford Raffles, the British explorer who colonized Singapore, gave control of Kampong Glam to Sultan Hussein Mohammed Shah. The entire area was pretty much the sultan’s palace as it was left to him to establish a Muslim community. Legend has it brought 600 of his closest friends and family to live with him in his new digs. The community continued to grow and the area is still primarily made up of residents from Arab, Malay, and Bugis backgrounds.
Here are some of the best places to visit in Singapore’s oldest quarter: Kampong Glam.
My first stop was the gorgeous Masjid Sultan, or Sultan Mosque. With it’s shiny gold dome, it’s impossible to miss. The original structure was built in 1824 Sultan Hussein Shah. After 100 years, the mosque was in need of repair. The current iteration opened in 1928 and is now a national landmark. I wasn’t able to go inside due to Hari Raya celebrations marking the end of Ramadan, but visitors are welcome during certain hours. Check the Sultan Mosque website for more details.
If you do find yourself in Singapore during Ramadan or Hari Raya, be sure to check out Kampong Glam at night. There is a bustling night market right outside the mosque. The Muslim community gathers to eat together and celebrate the end of the day’s fast.
Muscat Street provides the most scenic view of the Masjid Sultan and is a popular place for photos. A quick search on Instagram will bring up hundreds of snaps from this spot. The stunning stone archways were created in collaboration with Oman and provide the perfect framing for the massive mosque. In 2012, these archways were installed along with a number of murals, depicting the area’s history as a hub for Arab merchants.
There are many cafes and restaurants lining the walkway in front of the mosque, serving everything from Turkish tea to Lebanese cuisine. I didn’t sample any of the fare as I opted to eat on the back side of the mosque at Singapore Zam Zam. I’ll talk more about how this became my favorite meal in my upcoming food post!
The nearby Arab Street is filled with colorful shophouses, selling a wide variety of items. I passed by luxurious handwoven carpets and magical glittering lanterns. I was tempted to snap a photo, but decided against it as I wasn’t purchasing anything. The buildings’ facades still have the traditional style, but have been modernized with bright colors.
Haji Lane continues the trend of colorful shops with its long row of boutiques. This picturesque lane is home to everything from thrift stores to lively bars. A number of gorgeous street art pieces line the walls. Some of my favorites were the black woman sporting an afro and the futuristic depictions of an indigenous tribe. I had fun staging my own mini-photo shoot with these colorful backdrops.
MALAY HERITAGE CENTRE
Photo: Asia-Europe Museum Network
A former palace belonging to Sultan Ali, the 160 year-old building was restored and converted into the Malay Heritage Centre. Though I didn’t have time to visit the museum, I read great reviews. There are a number historical pieces and interactive exhibits depicting Kampong Glam’s rich history and cultural importance. It’s an excellent way to learn about this ethnic group, which is not commonly seen outside of this region of the world. Tickets are affordable and the center occasionally hosts cultural performances. Visit their website for more info.