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Geylang, shophouses
Photograph: Justin Adam Lee/Shutterstock

The ultimate guide to Geylang

There’s more to Singapore’s infamous red-light district than its sleazy reputation

Cam Khalid
Written by
Tiffany Chow
&
Cam Khalid
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Geylang may be stamped as Singapore's red-light district due to the number of brothels that set up camp here, but there's more to this 'hood than its shady rep. Despite its scandalous nature, the vibrant neighbourhood beams with the iconic Peranakan shophouses, food and culture at every nook and cranny. It's home to the King of Fruits – better known as the durian – as well as frog legs porridge and the famous crab bee hoon that had the late Anthony Bourdain coming back for more. If you're down for a food and culture adventure, here are the top spots to hit when you're out and about in Geylang.

RECOMMENDED: The ultimate guide to Kallang and the ultimate guide to Joo Chiat and Katong

Do

  • Things to do
  • Geylang

From Paya Lebar Road, hop on your best two-wheeler and cycle along the serene Geylang River. Along the way, look out for shelters that resemble kelongs, and a gazebo that mirrors the shape of a kampung hut – all in homage to the area's past as a Malay settlement. Continue down towards the Singapore Sports Hub where you can take one of the three paths to Marina Bay, East Coast Park, and Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Otherwise, enjoy a breezy ride through the four-hectare cycle-friendly Paya Lebar Quarter where there's a wide cycling trail that links you to the various park connectors.

Shophouses
Photograph: Justin Adam Lee/Shutterstock

Shophouses

We love our shophouses here in Singapore, and Geylang has its fair share of beautiful specimens. According to URA, shophouses in Geylang depict a range of architectural styles spanning the 1910s to 1950s, from Early Transitional to Art Deco. Lorong Bachok in particular stands out – this Malay house stands as a true meeting of Asian and Western influences which you can find in its Peranakan tiles, French windows, Chinese door gods and more. Otherwise, wander around the lorongs (24, 29, 34 in particular) and see what you spot. 

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g.Spa
  • Health and beauty
  • Spas
  • Geylang

Probably the closest to a public bath in Singapore, this independent spa complex is reminiscent of a Chinese hot springs resort. Upon entering, you’re directed to either the men’s or women’s side and given a locker – swimming trunks, robes and towels are provided, so there’s no need to bring anything. The locker rooms have a hot pool (plus a cold pool for the men – it supposedly improves circulation), sauna and showers. In the common areas, you can relax on comfy couches with personal TV screens, plus there’s an all-you-can eat buffet throughout the day, making it quite easy to spend a full day here (and well worth the basic $68 entry price).

Geylang Adventures
Photo: Geylang Adventures

Geylang Adventures

Besides going beyond to change social norms and perceptions through brilliant pop-up social initiatives, Geylang Adventures also takes adventure seekers on a three-hour eye-opening trail to discover the lesser-known stories of Geylang. This includes issues like the living conditions of migrant workers and the social stigma of prostitution which stamps the area its reputation as a red-light district.

Eat and drink

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Geylang

Sin Huat has made a name for itself among local and international foodies; the late Anthony Bourdain claimed to visit "at least once" whenever he was in Singapore. What’s so special about this place? It certainly isn’t the decor (standard coffee-shop plastic). Or the setting (on Geylang’s ‘busy’ streets). And it isn’t the service (waiting times sometimes stretch to hours). What’s so special is the popular Sri Lankan crab bee hoon (prepared one dish at a time) – think juicy Chinese escargots accompanied by an addictive chilli dip; and meaty prawns steamed with garlic and chilli.

  • Restaurants
  • Geylang

We all know Swee Choon is the go-to for late-night dim sum but 126 Dim Sum has an edge over its biggest competitor ‘cos of its round-the-clock operating hours. It peddles more than a 100 different types of dim sum, running from staples like siew mai and har gao to more interesting bites such as braised duck wings and pork belly yam rolls.

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  • Restaurants
  • Singaporean
  • Geylang

In 2018, Eminent Frog Porridge received the Michelin Bib Gourmand award. And it rightfully deserves it for its signature bowl of porridge served with chunks of flavoured frog legs. Choose your piping hot bowl – the spicy option where the frog legs are cooked in dried chili and soy sauce or the mild option where chilies are substituted with ginger and spring onions.

G7 Sin Ma
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Kallang

Dreaming of frog leg porridge in the middle of the night? Get those late-night cravings sorted at this restaurant in Geylang. From $8, you can choose between the dry chilli bullfrog or the ginger spring onion bullfrog. If you're not keen on the frog, opt for other seafood dishes such as fried prawns with salted egg and cereal, black pepper and butter crab.

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  • Restaurants
  • Singaporean
  • Geylang

Also known as Geylang Famous Beef Kway Teow, this popular restaurant is the place to be for comfort local food – we're talking hot plates of beef horfun (from $7) smothered in flavourful soy sauce and topped with tender beef slices. It's addictive rendition even earned it a Michelin plate from the Singapore Michelin Guide.  

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Geylang

A late arrival may earn you a stern rebuke from the harried maître d’, but you will forgive him when the food arrives: perfectly steamed fish, tangles of kang kong fried with dried prawns or astonishing sambal. But the restaurant (one of four in town) makes its name with crabs, including the iconic black pepper and chili varieties.

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  • Restaurants
  • Geylang

When that late-night craving for fried dim sum hits, Mongkok Dim Sum has got you covered. Open 24 hours every day, this popular dim sum joint makes an ace supper spot. Order up favourites like its signature prawn dumpling, the custard bun, and the Shanghai pork dumpling – all for less than $5. Add on the three-yolk crab porridge which makes an excellent choice to share among your four buds.

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Kallang

Put on your cowboy boots and tilt your hat as you make your way through the doors of this casual restaurant-slash-wine-bar. Dig into a variety of Western nosh, whipped up to perfection with its best-kept recipes and homemade sauces. Order up the classics such as fish and chips ($13.90), lamb chop ($17.90), grilled chicken ($13.90), sirloin steak ($24.90), and carbonara ($12.90) for an Italian twist. For after, treat yourself to sweet, sweet hotcakes ($6.90).

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The Tuckshop
  • Restaurants
  • Geylang

Far from the sorry selection of your school canteen, The Tuckshop serves café fare by day and craft beer by night. (Even if you want booze in the afternoon, we – and The Tuckshop – don’t judge.) With over 40 types of bottled beers (from $14), the owners are serious about their hops. And the tasting notes they’ve written in the menu will help even the most novice of drinkers decide on the right beverage. Grab a cold one before planting yourself in the al fresco area to watch the traffic zoom by.

  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Geylang

Ah, the king of fruits. Geylang, the city’s infamous red light district, is home to plenty of roadside stalls hawking durians– but with plenty of crooks looking to swindle you out of a quick buck, it’s best to stick to places that have built up a solid reputation like Fruits Top 1 Department Store.

Shop

  • Shopping
  • Geylang

Need a new Christmas tree this festive season? Easily spotted by its brightly lit façade decked with a red banner that screams "Henry Christmas Wholesaler", the Geylang Road shop transforms into a Winter Wonderland complete with fake snow but real Christmas cheer from October to December. During this period, you can find everything including trees, garlands, crackers, baubles, nativity set, and even Santa suits at wallet-friendly prices – think four-feet tall trees from $25, and decorations at less than $10.

  • Art
  • Photography
  • Geylang

Wet-plate photography is a historical image-making technique that was invented some 150 years ago. Now, a Singaporean photographer wants to bring this process back to life. Hip Xiong Photo Studio, founded by Ryan Lee, is the only one in Singapore that shoots using a 19th century-style tinplate process. “It’s sort of like the Poloroid of the 1850s,” says Ryan. Even the space itself, located within a two-storey shophouse in Geylang, captures the same old-school charm. Wood-panelled walls and mid-century furniture pieces were deliberately chosen to recreate the photo studios of yesteryears. The final product, too, is nothing short of magical: a stunning keepsake that’s suspended in silver, and time.

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  • Shopping
  • Geylang

Pre-loved tops, bottoms, outerwear, shoes (some with tags still attached) from high street stores and local labels such as Topshop, ZARA, and Love, Bonito are sold at a fraction of their retail prices, starting from $5. If your wardrobe’s spilling with unwanted clothes, consider selling them within this space, where you pay a $20 registration fee, and a weekly rental of $40 to sell up to 100 pieces of clothing to fellow bargain hunters in store. 

  • Shopping
  • Geylang

It's no surprise that you'll find adult toy shops in the red light district. With over 12,000 fun playthings including vibrators, dildos, strap-on kits, male masturbators, anal toys, BDSM gear and inflatable toys, Love is Love is definitely one for those who like to get frisky in bed. The store may sound intimidating, but don't sweat – the friendly and knowledgable staff will hook you up with the best product based on your preference.

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