Kampong Glam is known as the ”Muslim quarter” of Singapore. Designated by Stanford Raffles as the residential section for Malays and Muslims way back in the 19th century, Kampong in Malay means “village” while Glam is short for ”Gelam”, a type of eucalyptus tree that once flourished in these parts. It is now a heritage site for its many mosques, palaces, and distinct buildings, and one of the best places to immerse yourself in Singapore.
A walking tour in Kampong Glam starts at the Malay Heritage Center at Sultan Gate. Once the palace (istana) of the ruling Sultans of Singapore, it has been restored as a heritage museum, with eight themed galleries, dioramas, multimedia, and other showcases. Cultural performances and workshops are held every Wednesdays and Sundays, such as sarong tying, batik painting, Malay martial arts (silat), and native music. The grounds are free to traverse but the museum entrance costs SGD 3.
Exit from Sultan Gate and walk to Kandahar Street with its stretch of restaurants serving authentic nasi padang, which is white rice served with curried meats and vegetables, and other Malay dishes. Parallel to Kandahar Street is Bussorah Mall, on which rises the stately Sultan Mosque. The first thing you notice as you approach this religious site is its golden dome, a towering symbol of Muslim faith. One of the largest mosques in Singapore, Sultan Mosque possesses a huge 5,000 capacity prayer hall. There is also the Hajjah Fatimah Mosque just along Beach Road with a design that is a mix of Muslim Malay and British architecture. Both the Sultan Mosque and Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, like all mosques, are designed to face towards Mecca. You can find souvenir shops along Bussorah Mall as well, with plenty of home accessories choices, from Malay, Indonesian, and local handicrafts.
Next, walk to Arab Street, the very center of the Muslim community. Once the main marketplace for Muslim goods, this street served the Muslim pilgrims passing through Singapore on their way to Mecca. It has since been transformed into a designer’s haven. Fashion items from the finest lace, to semi-precious stones can be found here.
After a trip to Kampong Glam, you can relax, eat, and shop at Bugis Junction, just a 5-minute walk away. All sorts of shops exist here, from native knick knacks to Japanese couture. Get your affordable Singapore t-shirts here for the folks back home, or enjoy Teh Tarek, a frothy tea that is poured back and forth from container to glass prior to serving. From Bugis, take the MRT to continue on with your Singapore experience.
Here are a few tips to help you enhance your visit in Kampong Glam:
*This area is most notable for its historically important mosques. Please wear appropriate clothing. Avoid shorts and tank tops. For women, wear long-sleeved tops, long skirts or trousers; no backless, sleeveless, or low-cut blouses, please. And remember to remove your shoes when treading inside the mosques.
*The best time to visit is during Hari Raya Puasa (Aidilfitri), the end of the month-long fast during Ramadan. It is celebrated on the first day of Shawal, the 10th month of the Muslim calendar, based on the lunar cycle. Kampong Glam comes alive with plays, dioramas, and the exotic cuisine at the Ramadan food bazaar.
Another great time to visit is during Hari Raya Hadj (Aidilladha), the Festival of Sacrifice on the 10th day on the month of Zul Hijjah. This last month on the Muslim calendar when the pilgrimage (Haj) to Mecca is performed is marked with families flocking to the Sultan Mosque and other mosques for special prayers and sacrifices of sheeps or goats. The rest of the day is spent in festivities with relatives.