As a Malaysian, I often stumble on Malay words that mimic English words. Basikal – bicycle, music – music, komunikasi – communication and so forth. Naturally I thought the “Glam” behind Kampong Glam was indicative of the word glamourous or glamor in Malay. I thought wrong!
Glam or Gelam is a type of eucalyptus that grew abundantly in that area previously and its oil were used extensively for medicinal purposes, hence the name Kampong Glam meaning “village of eucalyptus”. Back in the 1800s Kampong Glam was home to Singapore’s Malay aristocracy before colonial rule. This area was designated for the Sultan and his household, as well as the Malay and Arab communities, many of whom were merchants. Today, if meander the streets of Kampong Glam, you will see the original structure of the Sultan’s palace now converted into the Malay Heritage Center offering guided tours to visitors.
The area was very popular with Arab traders and truly, they have left their mark long after the trading years seen in the textile shops, sweet smelling perfume parlours and shisha joints. Yet, what makes Kampong Glam a thriving hub of cultures is the multi-ethnic communities developed here, comprising not only Malays and Arabs but also the Chinese and Indians.
Kampong Glam received a facelift and was restored and refurbished recently. Rows of conserved shop houses have now transformed in to chic cafes, art galleries, boutiques, curios shops and restaurants. They blend in with traditional businesses like perfume parlours, textile and carpet shops, blacksmiths and shops selling religious items used by Muslims.
The area is a great place to eat and explore, tucked nicely away from much of the bustle of the city centre. Stroll around its famous textile shops, and check out the stores selling jewellery and rattan furniture. Make a beeline through groovy Haji Lane hopping from one boutique to another and later stop at any one of the cafes for a break. Try Maison Ikkoku coffee or brunch, take-away fluffy swiss rolls at Rich and Good Cake Shop on Arab Street, slurp on mee rebus at Kampong Glam Café on Rocher Street or tuck into a hearty murtabak (meat pancake) at Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant.
Stay at Hotel Clover 769
Traversed back into time where bullock carts and gunny sacks were used to transport goods and spices and oil lamps hung on tradesmen’s arms as they walked the streets. Reminiscent the era where analog dial phones, gramophones and clacking typewriters were used to communicate or the days when heavy steel sewing machines and bulky cast irons were used in households. Hotel Clover 769, the new boutique hotel on North Bridge Road is a row of 2-storey refurbished conserved shophouse designed to showcase the colonial era in all its simplicity and understated glory.
The rooms are cosy with white, brown and beige muted hues and fittings are minimalist drawing focus on handpicked features such as oil lamps on the bedside and hanging camera lights from the ceiling. The 27 room hotel boasts of two suites with an open air Jacuzzi popular with Singaporean staycationers.
Proud of its heritage, this row of conserved shop house is still decked with Chinese words and former sign boards on the building’s exterior. Within the hotel, you will also find a quiet recluse in the open air well area that has been transformed into a refreshing courtyard with lush vertical gardens hanging over top and lazy rattan swings perfect for a midday unwind.