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Singapore’s Bugis district is a place where heritage and hipsters meet, standing as a fascinating intersection of the country’s past and present.
Once known for gambling and prostitutes in the 1970s, Singapore’s Bugis district has a much more sanitised reputation today as an arts and culture district. It is now one of the most popular areas in the city-state.
Bugis was named after the Bugis seafarers who sailed over to Singapore from southern Sulawesi in Indonesia, and are among the first groups to settle down in the country after its establishment as a British Settlement. The Bugis community mostly settled down in an area around present-day Kampong Glam, also known as the Malay and Arab ethnic quarter in Singapore in the early 1820s.
Sultan Mosque is the centrepiece of Kampong Glam and was built in 1824 for the first Sultan or local Malay ruler of Singapore. The original mosque lasted for about a hundred years, but it was rebuilt in its current form in 1932 after the original form fell into disrepair.
Kampong Glam is not just a cultural heritage area, it’s also very popular among the artsy and hip who flock to the iconic Haji Lane to snap its colourful graffiti and wall murals as well as shop its many small independent boutiques. It is a popular place for locals and tourists alike to grab a drink or have a bite and just chill out.
Older residents and visitors might have memories of the wild heyday of Bugis Street in the 1970s that was a favourite hangout spot for local transvestites and gawking Western tourists, as well as rowdy sailors passing through Singapore. A crackdown by the government and redevelopment of the area into a retail complex has transformed it completely. Bugis Street is now better known as a place for cheap shopping.
The Bugis area today is no longer a Bugis community like before, but the Bugis name lives on it its main infrastructure, namely the shopping malls Bugis Junction, Bugis Plus and of course, Bugis Street.