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. It's also where one of Singapore's oldest Malay settlements is, particularly Geylang Serai.
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. And a few walks down is the Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring which was featured in Netflix's Street Food series. 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.
Eat and drink
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’s 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
As it says on the tin, The Skewer Bar is the go-to in the 'hood of Geylang for top-notch yakitori, grilled-to-perfection skewers and fresh seafood. The skewers (from $1.50) – including chicken, pork and lamb, as well as prawn, shishamo, scallop and unagi – are prepared fresh every day and lightly marinated in its special homemade seasoning for that extra kick.
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.
This durian hotspot along Geylang is well-known for its large stock of durian varieties, from the MSW (from $10/kg) and Golden Phoenix ($15/kg) to the Xiao Feng and Red Prawn (from $10/kg). Its sizeable stock means that the vendor rarely runs out, so feel free to head down whenever the cravings hit. They also have a second outlet at Havelock road and one in Malaysia.
Satisfy your craving for the king of fruits at any hour of the night at Durian 36, which stocks favourites such as Mao Shan Wang and D24. While durian stalls are aplenty at Geylang, watch out for unscrupulous shopkeepers who might furtively switch the fruit you pick for an inferior one.
Whether you're down Geylang Serai for a bit of grocery shopping at its massive wet market, making a pit stop at Haig Road Market for a bite or two is an absolute must. Just a walk away from Geylang Serai Market, the hawker centre is the largest in the area, and boasts a plethora of stalls offering menus ranging from Indian, Malay and Chinese fare to Western delights and fusion food. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Traditional Haig Road Putu Piring (as featured in Netflix's Street Food) where the stall is popular for its gula Melaka-filled steamed rice flour cakes topped with grated coconut.
Located between the bustling thoroughfares of Changi Road and Sims Avenue, the Geylang Serai Market has been a focal point for the local Malay community since it was built in 1964. The airy 955-seater Geylang Serai food centre sits on the second floor, sharing the enclosed 9,000 sq ft floor space with a wet market and a battery of shops laden with clothing, groceries, household goods and other bric-a-brac. The market is also home to not one but two legendary nasi padang rice stalls – both with a highly distinctive style – Hajjah Mona Nasi Padang (Stall 166), and Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang (Stall 137).
Probably the closest to a public bath in Singapore, this independent spa complex is reminiscent of a Chinese hot springs resort. The locker rooms have a hot pool (plus a cold pool for the men – it supposedly improves circulation), sauna and showers. But if it's a good massage that you need, the spa’s standard deep-tissue massage uses Shiatsu-style techniques – you can choose to use oil for a smoother, more relaxing treatment, or non-oil for more direct pressure-point massage. 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.
More than 2,000 square feet of bouldering surface and climbing walls dominate this massive facility dedicated to the rope and carabiner. There are 43 lanes, with more than 100 possible routes, and a 15-metre speed climbing wall to flex your Spidey senses. Even if you haven’t scaled walls before, Onsight offers sport climbing courses and provides all the necessary equipment.
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.
Situated on the shopping stretch at Geylang Serai, this shopping mall is a bargain hunter's haven for pre-loved fashion. Check out Whitefiction, Refash and PEONY Collection for pre-loved clothing and fashion finds for $10 or less. Make a pit stop at Arnold's Fried Chicken for spicy, golden-brown crispy chicken, before continuing your search for your next #OOTD. Check out our roundup the best shops in City Plaza.
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.
Hop on BetelBox’s Sins and Salvation: A Geylang Food Walk ($80) to get the best primer on the area’s history and food. The four-hour walking tour takes you past massage parlours and temples, with occasional stops to fuel up on great nosh.