‘Kampong’ is the Malay word for village, but ‘glam’ has 2 possible origins. It originated from the Malay word ‘gelam’, which refers to the cajeput tree. It’s commonly found in Singapore and its bark, leaves and fruit are all used in a variety of things. Another origin is from the Orang Gelam, an aboriginal tribe who had settled around the Singapore River.
The British colonial government assigned the area to be the royal seat for the Sultan of Singapore. The Arabs were then given the area next to the sultan’s area. Hence, Kampong Glam became an area for Malay and Arab settlers. Since then, Malay and Arab travellers from the region settled into the area as they came to Singapore for trade and slowly made the area their own. Today, Kampong Glam has an eclectic mix of the new and old, with modern shops moving into the area, but older ones still retaining their relevance. Flanked by Victoria Street and Beach Road, Kampong Glam’s best-kept secrets are in its small alleys, so get off the main streets and venture into the narrower streets.
Unlike the glitzy shopping malls of Orchard Road, the shops that line Kampong Glam are smaller, but present a more unique selection of goods. Check out Sifr Aromatics, a modern branch-off of the well-known Jamal Kazura Aromatics, where they make a small batch and custom scents. For fashion, there’s a selection of indie boutiques on Bali Lane and Haji Lane. Discover one-of-a-kind souvenirs at Supermama, a gallery store that sells items that are deeply interwoven with culture.
History & Culture
When Kampong Glam was gazetted as a conservation area in 1989, much of the Malay and Arab heritage has been preserved. Pay a visit to the majestic Sultan Mosque and take the chance to learn more about Islam. The mosque has become an instrumental pillar in the Malay community in Singapore. Don’t miss the Malay Heritage Centre to learn more about the history and contributions of the Malay community!
Naturally, the area is full of Malay and Middle Eastern restaurants due to the history of the area. Try out the Nasi Padang from Hjh Maimunah, where you can pick and choose from a dizzying selection of Malay-Indonesian dishes to go along with rice. Or if you can’t decide, try the briyani from Islamic Restaurant, practically an institution in the area when it opened in 1914.
Kampong Glam is known to be a hub for the arts scene in Singapore. Many arts-related structures, shops and initiatives are constantly emerging here! There’s the Aliwal Arts Centre, which has a changing rotation of exhibitions and performances. Gelam Gallery is one of the newest additions to the scene, being Singapore’s first outdoor gallery. Its outdoor art fits in perfectly with the sprinkling of murals all around Kampong Glam. Although graffiti is technically illegal in Singapore, the recent decade saw a renaissance in wall art, with Kampong Glam being one of the first places where street art blossomed. The Sultan Arts Village is a hidden find for murals, as opposed to the more popular ones along Haji Lane.