Singapore is full of culture, great enclaves and we love getting out and about to explore them with our small sidekicks. One of our favourite colourful quadrants to beckon for adventure is Kampong Glam. It’s time to get back to Singapore’s Malay roots and get some culture, food and other goodies – kampong style…
Where to start
The nearest station to the area known as Kampong Glam is Bugis. Walk along Victoria Street towards Raffles Hospital until you see a sign for Arab Street. You’ll notice that most of the streets in the area are named after Middle Eastern places, Baghdad Street, etc. These names hark back to the nineteenth century when Singapore-based Malays traded with the Arabs.
Make it interactive: See how many Middle Eastern street names you can spot!
Shopping the kasbah in Kampong Glam is a lot of fun and very different to the Orchard Road variety. We think it qualifies as a cultural pursuit that kids can learn from. Arab Street mostly is made up of textile shops – every colour, every pattern and every type of material you can think of, you will find it here. There is even a shop that solely sells sequins! It is a budding seamstresses paradise – and if you are more thumbs than fingers in the sewing department, don’t worry as there are plenty of tailors that will make you your dress, suit, curtains and cushion covers of your dreams minus the effort. There are also plenty of carpets and weavings to be bought – all for the right price.
Make it interactive: Carpet sellers are great fun to barter with and they have been known to throw in a free lunch and a cricket match in order to seal a deal.
Next to Arab Street is Haji Lane – mum’s time to shine! Haji Lane is renowned for its one of a kind boutiques and vintage goods so you can be assured you will not turn up at a party wearing the same dress as someone else. Check out our full guide to Haji Lane for all the places to eat, shop and relax…
On the other side of Arab Street is the tourist friendly Bussorah Street, where pashminas, traditional Malay batik clothing and Peranakan ceramics can be found for good prices (probably the cheapest in Singapore). There are a few shops the kids will like with stalls selling traditional local games, dream catchers and lots of leather bracelets and necklaces.
Make it interactive: Challenge your family to a game of Chapteh or five stones and relive Singas’ good old days. Visit one of the perfume shops and see if you can recognise some of the scents; the perfume is strong as it contains no alcohol, in keeping with Muslim customs.
The Majestic Masjid
Muslim heritage defines the skyline in Kampong Glam. The mighty Sultan Mosque or Masjid Sultan as it’s known in Malay, is central to this bustling village. The mosque is the largest in Singapore and is named after Sultan Hussein, the man who negotiated with Raffles back in 1819 to establish Singapore as a trading post.
See if you can spot the black rim along the main dome – it’s actually made of recycled glass bottles! When the mosque was being built, the Muslim community was asked to contribute to the cost. While the rich gave their gold, those with less money were equally valued for their contribution of glass bottles. This feature reminds the community that the mosque is a place for everyone no matter how much money they have in their bank accounts.
Make it interactive: Flowers, calligraphy and shapes are the three art forms of Islam. They add beauty and focus without distracting followers from their prayer. See what you can spot inside and outside the mosque.
Time for lunch! Opposite the Mosque on North Bridge Road there is a line of food shops selling traditional Malay and Middle Eastern food including nasi goring, biryanis and murtabaks. Murtabaks are not spicy and are a good choice for kids. They’re made of soft dough covered in egg, onion and your choice of meat. They are then fried, so while they’re not totally healthy, they are certainly delicious and authentic! The most famous restaurant here is Zam Zam, where Indian-Muslim fare is guaranteed to fill tummies for under $10.
You have shopped, Mosque’d, and eaten well, so it’s time to end the day with a spot of art and craft. The Malay Heritage Centre was once the palace of the Sultan but now is a place to celebrate Malay art techniques such as batik, pottery and traditional dancing. It is worth checking the website to see what activities are scheduled for the date you visit, such as viewings of the Sultan’s belongings.
Make it interactive: Create some pottery or make some batik to take home to remind yourself of your adventure.
Take a break in the shade of the trees
And as much as we love the garden and fountain at the Malay Heritage Centre, we must mention the little spot of green just outside its walls (71 Sultan Gate) where you’ll find swings of all sizes and the occasional art exhibit.
After that it’s time to head back home with the call to prayer echoing in your ears with your tired little adventurers.
Top image: Tracy Tristram
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