At the top of my list of favorite things to do in Singapore is to explore the many different ethnic enclaves. I’m fortunate to live within a short walk or MRT ride from several. Chinatown is a wonderful neighborhood to experience, especially during the build up to Chinese New Year. Little India contains some of my favorite cuisine, sensory experiences, and lively market stalls. The Geylang area is home to historical remnants of the ethnically diverse Peranakan culture that helped establish what would become modern Singapore. I live in the Bugis area that had quite a reputation not that long ago which I will share in a future post.
Last weekend, I had the day off and decided to fit in two new neighborhoods. I wrote about my morning visit to the 60s hip Tiong Bahru in a previous post. I needed a break from the afternoon heat, so after a long, air-con fueled nap, I was refreshed enough to head out to the the Kampong Glam area, which is also known as the Malay-Arab Quarter. It is home to the beautiful and popular Masjid Sultan Mosque.
Street names here are influenced by Malay and Arabic place names like Baghdad street, Arab Street, Muscat Street, Haji Street, and Bussorah Street. Kampong means village or compound in Malay. The streets are full of shops that contain many of the items you would expect in an Arab influenced market: rugs, fabrics, lamps, and perfumes. There are also a fair share of more trendy clothing stores. It is also packed with restaurants. mostly all with middle eastern themed offerings. I had an ample serving of delicious kababs, rice, and hummus with a cold beer as I watched the sun set and the evening gain ground while the crowd thickened.
In the old days this was the center of the Malay community, including the location of the royal palace. It was also a transit point for many Muslims that were traveling on the pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca. Before low cost air travel was available, pilgrims would arrive by boat from throughout Southeast Asia in Singapore and make their way to this neighborhood for a brief rest and a chance to resupply for the long journey ahead.
I can imagine these narrow streets teaming with locals and pilgrims, buying, selling, trading, and worshipping all within the confines of this community. The holy fasting month of Ramadan will be in May and I am looking forward to experiencing the breaking of the fast in the evening and the ultimate Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which celebrates the end of the month in celebratory style with, this of course being Singapore, lots of great food.
I am looking forward to spending much more time here and in the neighboring Geylang Serai over the coming weeks. Enjoy the photos below and I promise many more to come from this especially photogenic neighborhood and a must stop for visitors to Singapore.