Singapore in the early days drew many traders and immigrants. They were ultimately grouped and allocated certain areas in which to live and trade – the Chinese were given the area around New Bridge Road (where Chinatown currently is), the Indians were given an area in Serangoon Road (known as Little India) and Kampong Glam was the designated Malay-Muslim area.
There are so many things to do around Kampong Glam that I suggest you dedicate at least half a day for exploring. You’ll be able to visit Sultan Mosque, the Malay Heritage Centre, wander around the shops of Arab Stret and Haji Lane (where a lot of hip shops have sprung up), and squeeze in a lunch at one of the many eateries.
Visiting Kampong Glam? The National Heritage Board has an awesome walking trail you can follow. Download it here.
First order of business was Masjid Sultan, or Sultan Mosque. We love that there are volunteers roaming around to answer any questions and guide you around. Don’t worry if you’re too shy to approach one; just wander around looking confused and someone will approach you and ask “Sister/Brother, do you need help?”
The hospitality we received reminded me of the time I visited the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre.
You’re not allowed to wander around much, just around the main prayer hall (but not into it), and around the perimeter of the building. I love finding out about other cultures and religions and think it’s good to expose children to beliefs apart from their own, but wondered if it would be too heavy for the kids.
My 8-year old surprised me by asking a string of questions that included “What’s the name of your God?”, “What do the star and moon mean?”, “Do you pray alone or with a group?” and “Does everybody need to fast?” Each was answered by our very patient guide, and I love that he directed his answers to my daughter, and explained them in a way that an 8-year old would understand.
We were fortunate enough to witness part of a wedding solemnisation as we were leaving. We would have stayed longer had hunger not ushered us out.
Most interesting facts we learnt from our guide:
1) The prayer hall resembles the interior of a cathedral because it was designed by a European architect – He wanted to give the room a feel of openness, and was inspired by cathedral interiors
2) The Muslim community all contributed to the building of the mosque – the rich donated funds while the poor donated glass bottles. If you look just below the gold portion, you’ll see a ring of black – those are the bottles. Soya sauce bottles apparently!
Note: This is a place of worship so please dress appropriately. However, there are robes you can borrow for the duration of your visit should you need to cover up. Visitors are welcome at the following times: Saturdays to Thursdays, 10am to 12noon, 2pm to 4pm, and 2.30pm to 4pm on Fridays.
Children Little Museum
Bussuroh Street is the walking street from the main entrance of Sultan Mosque. Along the street, among the restaurants and souvenir shops, is a unit called Children Little Museum. Level one is full of retro knick-knacks, and there’s even more on the upper floor, including a horse from a carousel. Entry to the lower floor is free, and you’ll be welcomed by the very friendly owner (each time we’ve passed over the years, he’s given a little toy or knick knack to our kids). Entry to the upper floor is $2 per person, and he’s not pushy about it at all. Fun to see for those old enough to appreciate retro toys.
It’s makan time, but where to eat?
Our original plan was to eat at HJH Maimunah, which was highly recommended by many Muslim friends for good nasi padang. Unfortunately, a ten minute walk was too much for very hungry little kids so we ended up at Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant (or affectionately known as Zam Zam). Apparently this is an iconic establishment among Singaporeans so I was pretty excited because as a Singaporean, I’d never been to Zam Zam before.
The kids enjoyed their Milo Dinosaur, I was in love with my teh terik (it’s possibly the best I’ve ever had!), and we all appreciated the air conditioning. Together we polished off one plate of chicken briyani and a pack of papadums but struggled with the chicken murtabak. All in all, $18.20 for a heavy lunch.
Just opposite the Malay Heritage Centre is Rumah Makan Minang, famous for its nasi padang. We love the food, but it’s pricey and there’s usually a big queue at lunch. But worth a try if you’re in the area.
Arab Street, Haji Lane
Lunch gave us all an energy boost so we were up for more exploring. I love how the shops at Arab Street all adopt an open concept – there are no doors and most of them are cooled down with ceiling fans. It just gives the whole area a very relaxed vibe. Had they brought their purses, the kids would have bought a Persian rug or a bale of shiny cloth, I’m sure.
Haji Lane was nice to explore too with shops and cafes but with all that Zam Zam in our tum tum, we needed to move and not sit for more yums!
The Malay Heritage Centre was once the Sultan’s Palace and you can feel a sort of grandeur when you roam around. We love the area where they showcased snippets of old movies in a little theatre setting (with old cinema seats!). They occasionally have days where they teach visitors traditional Malay games, and that’s usually fun. It’s a little dark within the building so maybe it’s not best for very young children.
I thought it might be a bit more interesting with a section on Malay food and culture. Because a lot of the Heritage Centre is focused on the past, and not much on the present.
Get your tickets from the Visitor Centre first before going into the main building. Also, washrooms are not within the main building.
There are always special programmes (usually free but requiring pre-registration) popping up so make sure to check here before you visit. Free guided tours are available at 11am Tuesdays to Fridays, and 2pm on weekends.
Kampong Glam is easily accessible by MRT – the closest station is Bugis. Take Exit E and walk along Victoria Street toward Raffles Hospital. Past Raffles Hospital is Sultan Mosque; use that as your landmark!
We really enjoyed exploring Kampong Glam – it’s easy to get to and move around in, even with little children. If you know anyone who’s interested to find out more about Kampong Glam, I’d love for you to share this with them.
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