Kampong Glam – Singapore’s Arab Quarter

I was surprised to find so much of Istanbul in Singapore; in one specific area of the city, to be exact. Kampong Glam, also known as ‘Arab Street’ is the area that was originally settled by Malay immigrants and, as such, is the muslim centre of Singapore and many immigrants from other countries have since set up business there, including Turks. I got a strong flavour of Turkey during my visit to Kampong Glam probably because, having lived in Turkey, I am very familiar with Turkish products and ways, so I spotted Turkish elements quickly. However, there are many other flavours of the Middle East in the area too and if you are more familiar with another country, it might strike you more strongly than the ‘Turkishness’.

Arab Street

Haji Lane and Arab Street are two long, narrow and really characterful streets lined with shops and cafes. The shops range from large outfits selling carpets and tailors selling silk, organza and other fabrics as well as tailoring services, to smaller boutique stores selling fashions, homeware, jewellery, precious and semi-precious gemstones, leatherware, brass, perfumes, cane and rattan goods and glass lanterns. The shops offer unique finds and are a great playground for shoppers!

Shops on Haji Lane, Kampong Glam, Singapore

Busorah Mall

Probably the area that really felt like the backstreets of Taksim (an area in Istanbul) to me was Busorah Mall. The pedestrian street leads from a junction of smaller roads towards the Sultan Mosque. Delicious smells of fresh meat cooking combined with the heady scent of herbs and spices and a feint whiff of cigarettes, as café customers spilled onto the street laughing and eating. The outdoor café culture made the area feel very lively and vibrant. Shops sell traditional artefacts and Muslim influence strengthens the nearer you get to Sultan Mosque, with many shops selling religious artefacts including prayer mats, holy beads, Korans and skull caps.

Busorah Mall, Kampong Glam, Singapore

Sultan Mosque

Striking Sultan Mosque is the largest in Singapore, accommodating 5000 worshippers, and is the main Islamic place of worship for Singapore’s Muslim community. It has four minaret towers and a huge central golden domed roof. The building combines arabesque styling with traditional Moorish architecture. Visitors are welcome, except on Fridays. Arms and legs should be covered and women should also cover their hair.

Sultan Mosque, Kampong Glam, Singapore

Royal Palace

Built in 1840, Istana Kampong Glam was formerly the royal residence. The palace grounds included the palace, small Malay village houses for the Sultan’s entourage and a sports club.

Bendahara House

The treasurer’s house, Bendahara House, was the yellow building next door to the palace. It was built in the 1920s and, along with the palace, has been redeveloped and is today the Malay Heritage Centre.

Perfume bottles for sale on Busorah Mall, Kampong Glam, Singapore

Malay Heritage Centre

Kampong Glam Palace and the treasurer’s house have been beautifully developed into the Malay Heritage Centre, which is a very peaceful and informative centre showcasing the culture of Singaporeans of Malay descent through exhibitions, programs and activities. Exhibitions tell the history of Malay people in the region, their traditional medicines and explain travelling for pilgrimage. The well-maintained gardens provide a pretty and tranquil spot to enjoy a moment off your feet too!

I really enjoyed wandering around Kampong Glam. The streets felt calm and open in comparison to Chinatown which I also loved but which is very compact and crowded. Personally, I enjoyed the many hints of Turkey, which for me is a home away from home.

Have you ever been somewhere that reminded you of somewhere else? How did you feel about that? Please share your experiences in the comments.


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