The name of this quaint and historical district originates from the Gelam Tree, which once grew abundantly in the area. In 1822, the land in Kampong Glam was officially allocated to the Malays and others in the Muslim community, including a small but successful community of Arab traders. In 1989, the Urban Development Authority gazetted Kampong Glam as a conservation area, and most of the original architecture has now been restored.
To explore Kampong Glam, hop on the MRT and alight at Bugis MRT Station. A stone’s throw away from Bugis MRT Station, you’ll find shopping haunts such as Bugis Junction, the bustling Bugis Street Market, and of course Kampong Glam. Rows of conserved shophouses painted in vibrant colours line the streets, and many of them are occupied by trendy design and IT firms, restaurants, caterers, art galleries, and craft and curios shops.
On Muscat Street, you’ll find one of the most important mosques in Singapore. The Masjid Sultan (Malay for Sultan Mosque) was first built in 1826. The present mosque was re-built and completed in 1928 and features carpet that was donated by a Saudi Arabian prince. Like most religious places of worship, the Sultan Mosque has a conservative dress code. If you are not dressed appropriately but would like to enter the mosque, cloaks can be borrowed free of charge.
After a visit to the historical Sultan Mosque, step out to Bussorah Street which has been turned into a pedestrian thoroughfare. During colonial times this area catered to the Muslim community’s religious needs and was where pilgrims on the haj, particularly those from the Indonesian archipelago of Java, would dwell. Nowadays, you’ll find an eclectic mix of old haberdasheries and new shops selling local wares, such as versions of the famed Singapore Airlines kebaya dress, decorative trinkets and accessories, and books relating to Arabic and Muslim culture and religion.
From Bussorah Street, continue your idyllic walk down Muscat Street before turning into the timeless Arab Street, where modern developments have not tainted its reputation and character as a textile haven since its rise to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. You’ll find bales of silk, batik, lace, organza and other materials here, where customisation and tailoring services are also available. Bring home a ready-made traditional or modern Malay costume or browse through the endless variety of traditional games such as the Congkak (a game involving marbles and a wooden board), carpets, antiques and rattan handicrafts such as wicker baskets to spruce up your home.
Stroll to the end of Arab Street and you’ll reach North Bridge Road. At the shops here, you’ll find sandalwood, prayer beads, book stands used specifically for the Quran known as ‘rehal’, wooden toothbrushes and other unique wares that cater to the Muslim community.
During the fasting month of Ramadan leading up to Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Kampong Glam is the place to be if you want to experience Malay culture and festivities. Time your visit to coincide with iftar (the ‘breaking of fast’) in the evenings and witness the Sultan Mosque and Muscat Street come alive with myriad stalls selling traditional Malay goodies and handicrafts. Catch vibrant cultural performances and other activities such as ketupat (rice cake) weaving demonstrations.
Kampong Glam is a gem of Singapore’s history and culture. An amazing place to experience the hospitality of the Malay people and learn about Muslim customs, this is one of the city’s ethnic quarters that you simply should not miss.