Singapore-born MMA fighter Kirstie Gannaway takes us around her fave neighborhood
Kampong Glam, one of the Lion City’s cultural enclaves, is known mainly for being the settlement area for the country’s early Muslim immigrants. Today, the shophouse-filled landscape — enhanced by the majestic Masjid Sultan (or Sultan Mosque) — has become a little cooler than the tourist brochures let on. Hip, halal-certified cafés and restaurants have set up shop, museums have moved in and stylish yet affordable hotels have popped up. And these are what make up the colorful contrasts that have captivated Singapore-born MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter Kirstie Gannaway. The area is extra special to her as well — her mom grew up in the district. Taking a break from training, she shows us how to explore and experience the vibrant neighborhood.
9AM: Take in some history and culture at Masjid Sultan
Entering the district, it’s difficult to miss the gleaming Masjid Sultan. The sacred structure, completed in 1928 and designated a national monument in 1975, is actually the newer iteration of an older mosque that fell into disrepair in the early 1920s. Today, worshippers and tourists alike visit the religious site. Calming and mesmerizing calls to prayer play out at intervals each day, drawing worshippers into the mosque’s airy halls. “The architecture is quite spectacular — definitely worth checking out,” says Kirstie. “Just be sure to cover yourself up properly; or you can borrow a sarong (long piece of cloth worn wrapped around the body) at the entrance before entering.” sultanmosque.sg
- Flea for all: If you’re in Kampong Glam over the weekend, you might run into the frequently held flea market event So Gelam (next held on 9–11 November and 7–9 December), on Baghdad Street. Branded as a “kampung-style” (“village” in Malay — used endearingly!) market, the family-friendly event features live band performances and lifestyle-centric pop-up stalls. Go for ice cream and artisanal coffee, shop handmade goods or even sit down for a quick manicure. fb.com/sogelammarket.sg
10AM: Power up with brunch at Wakey Wakey
Many young Singaporeans — especially those of the working or older school-going crowd — enjoy café-hopping and unearthing places that offer hearty breakfast and brunch platters. In recent years, design aesthetics — from French-style chic to Scandinavian minimalism — have also become a prerequisite. At Wakey Wakey, rustic, industrial fittings are paired with cold-brewed coffees, ice cream and other sweet treats. “The buttermilk waffles are a must — they’re light, crispy and come with maple syrup and fresh fruit,” says Kirstie. “I also highly recommend the smooth and strong Chakra espresso blend, featuring 50% Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee and 50% El Salvador San Carlos coffee.” fb.com/wakeysg
12PM: Keep it old-school at the Vintage Cameras Museum
Cameraphiles and travelers with a geeky streak will want to drop by the country’s first and only museum dedicated to the photo-taking instrument. Started by enthusiast cousins S Ramanathan and AP Shreethar, the museum houses and documents around 1,000 cameras that date back to the late 19th century. At the turn of the millennium, the photography- and history-loving duo went on a collecting rampage — don’t ask them how much it all cost — buying up rarities online and at auction houses. The collection, which is still being added to, is decidedly eclectic. “They have just about every camera you can think of. They even have nifty little Minox spy cameras — you know, the sort you’d expect to see in old espionage movies,” says Kirstie. fb.com/vintagecamerasmuseumsingapore2PM: Spice things up at Chix Hot Chicken
If spicy food is up your alley — and if you’re a fan of deep-fried anything — then swing by Chix Hot Chicken. “The coolest thing about the place is the amount of heart, soul and research that has gone into the recipes,” says Kirstie. “One of the co-owners traveled to the US and ate at as many Southern-style fried chicken joints as he could, before he came up with a recipe that would be unique and suited to his halal venture.” And the result? Fiery Nashville-style hot chicken (a variation of fried chicken) with marinade made from ghost and Carolina Reaper peppers. Diners can choose from three spice levels: mild, extra and insane. “‘Insane’ is not to be trifled with,” says Kirstie. fb.com/chixhotchicken
3PM: Go bargain-hunting at Bugis Street
Kampong Glam may be known for being one of the best places to shop for textiles — you can find these stores on Arab Street — but for the best, most affordable shopping in the area, you’ll have to head past the eastern fringes of the district, into Bugis. That’s where you’ll find Bugis Street. Ask a Singaporean millennial and they’ll probably say that the place figured — at some point — in their growing-up, school-going years. Packed to the brim with street food stalls and compact boutiques offering everything from affordable tech toys to fast fashion, Bugis Street remains one of the top hangouts for people of all ages. “It’s a great place to shop for gifts for friends and family. Brave the crowds on three levels of the complex and don’t be shy about haggling!” says Kirstie. bugisstreet.com.sg
6PM: Have dinner with a local twist at FOMO
Situated at Sultan Gate (near Masjid Sultan), FOMO is a hip, food-court-style venue that’s home to stalls offering Singaporean cuisine with a twist. Try the sambal soft-shell crab sushi tacos (seaweed replaces the usual corn tortilla) from Hokey Poki or the laksa (a spicy noodle soup made with coconut milk) pasta from The Don. “If you’re already familiar with Singaporean food, this would make a great place to broaden your palate. And if you do happen to snap your food for the ’gram, I’m pretty sure you’ll be leaving your followers feeling FOMO (haha).” fb.com/fomosg
8PM: Enjoy tipples with a killer view at Mr Stork
For post-dinner drinks, hit up Mr Stork, a watering hole perched on the 39th floor of Andaz Singapore hotel. Andaz, located on the fringe of Kampong Glam, offers the perfect — and one of the only — vantage points for taking in a view of the district you’ve been exploring all day. Throw back a signature watermelon cocktail — or two — before chilling out in an adorable teepee hut. “Be sure to book your hut in advance; they get snapped up real fast,” says Kirstie. singapore.andaz.hyatt.com
8AM: Up your Instagram game at Haji Lane
Begin your day — and end your tour of this side of the island — with a stop at Haji Lane. The narrow road — along with neighboring Bali Lane, Baghdad Street and Bussorah Street — goes car-free every Friday (from 6pm to midnight), Saturday and Sunday (from noon to midnight). Pop into independent boutiques and cafés — and don’t forget to pop back out to admire the colorful murals scattered across the outer walls. “The artwork here is awesome — so many photo ops and backdrops to choose from!” says Kirstie. “Go as early as you can to avoid the crowds.”
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Where to stay
- XY Hotel. The quirky XY Hotel is equal parts artistic and high-tech. Each of the boutique accommodation’s 15 rooms — every room comes with its own bright, unique design and themed mural — must be accessed by QR code. Guests can also relax in its glass-bottomed outdoor pool. The on-site XY Bistro offers daily American, Asian and continental breakfast options. xyglobalhotel.com
- Cube Boutique Capsule Hotel Kampong Glam. Occupying a refurbished row of shophouses is Cube Boutique Capsule Hotel — a property by a local group of capsule accommodations — which offers dorm-style rooms (sleeps one to eight people, depending on capsule size), shared bathrooms and toilets, lockers, self-service laundry and a common kitchen. There’s an in-house café that serves coffee, beer and wine too. cubehotels.com.sg
This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of Smile magazine.