There is a saying that whoever wants to know the history of Singapore must visit the Kampong Gelam area because it was there that its history as a British colony, which began in 1820, can be found.
Not only was Kampong Gelam the area where the First Sultan of Singapore, Hussein Shah, lived, it was also chosen as the settlement area for Malays, Arabs, and Bugis. Traders and merchants from the Far East also stayed there during visits to Singapore.
Kampong is Melayu language for ‘village,’ while Gelam refers to a paper bark tree, which was commonly seen in the area. People in those days used tree parts for cooking, medicine, and ship construction. Now it’s called the Muslim Area as it is a melting pot of Muslim cultures from various places, as seen on the streets, buildings and food, making the area a huge tourist attraction.
GRAFFITI AND STREET ART
Kampong Gelam is also known as the Art Area, particularly for street art and graffiti. On Bali Lane and Ophir Road, visitors can see graffiti works of 17 artists displayed on the 5-meter wall stretching for 238 meters. Each graffiti tells stories about the way of life in Kampong Gelam, from past to present. Some pieces reflect the artists’ childhood memories of Singapore in the old days.
For example, the Kampong-Gelam Collection depicts the time when Singapore was a port city, where Malaysian and Arab pilgrims came to rest on their journey to perform Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Coffee Story also reveals how coffee brewing is quite different among three cultures, namely, Indo-Islamic, traditional Chinese, and Western.
Another street worth visiting is Gelam Gallery. Once a small garbage dump, it now serves as an outdoor art gallery for graffiti artists. At present, there are about 30 works of art to feast your eyes on and send to friends via social media.
MALAY HERITAGE CENTER
Another recommended place is the Malay Heritage Center, a former old palace called Istana Kampong Gelam, and now a permanent museum.
The museum displays documents, antiques, and items used by royal families and in court, reminding visitors of the rich history of a prosperous port city before the arrival of the British in 1819. The display uses interactive multimedia technology which will maintain your interest.
VINTAGE CAMERA MUSEUM
This museum, shaped like a real camera, is a ‘must see’ place if you want to satisfy your passion for photography. On display are more than a thousand cameras, a small fraction of the owner’s reported entire collection of 7,000 cameras. Everything here is a personal treasure obtained over many years. It is probably one of the most amazing camera museums ever.
SHOPPING & EATING TIME!
Follow your sightseeing tour with a shopping spree on Arab Street. Everything in Arabic style can be found here, from carpets and lamps to fabrics and perfumes, the latter of which can be tailored to suit your body’s chemistry at Sifr Aromatics.
Another ‘go to’ place for chillaxing is Haji Lane, a small alley near Bugis MRT. This is where all things stylish can be found, including hip fashion stores, cool cafés, pleasant restaurants, and interesting studios.
A fun way to fill your stomach and satisfy your gastronomical curiosity is to choose your dinner based on nationality or culture. Try Hjh Maimunah, a Malay-Indo restaurant, guaranteed by the Michelin Guide for its curry rice. For roti lovers, look for Zam Singapore which specializes in southern Indian roti and mataba dishes. If you fancy Western cuisine, try Tipo Pasta Bar or Fika, a Swedish café and bistro.
If you still have time, a leisurely stroll is an excellent choice as Kampong Gelam is a fascinating area to walk around. Many small corners and views are hidden and require two feet and a call for adventure. This is the place best described as ‘great things come in small packages.’