Dotted with museums, monuments, and heritage sites, Singapore’s oldest neighborhood has evolved into an important centre of culture and the arts. And talk about a colourful past!
Many of the colonial era buildings have been renovated and given a new purpose. Take for example Bugis Village, a lovely three story building with balconies and louvered windows.
It has been beautifully restored, and now houses mostly fast-food restaurants and electronics shops. Signage has been kept discreet to maintain the integrity of the facade.
Many of the other buildings from the colonial era have been torn down and replaced by shopping malls and modern high rises.
Bras Basah is Malay for “wet rice”, which was once laid out to dry on the banks of the Bras Basah River.
Bugis Street was named after Indonesia’s sea-faring Bugis community, which traded with local merchants at the site in days of yore.
Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, chose the site to build a settlement. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Bugis Street became famous in the 1950s as a gathering spot for Singapore’s trans gender community, which paraded up and down the street dressed in extravagant clothes after dark.
The cross-dressers were a hit with foreign tourists, British sailors, and American GIs, who had never seen anything like it at home.
They became one of Singapore's top tourism draws!
The construction of the Bugis MRT station and the arrival of modern office buildings and shopping malls in the mid-1980s, however, changed things.
The construction caused a transformation of the district, with higher end restaurants and nightclubs as well as and back-alley venders replacing the sleazy dives and bordellos that once populated the district.
The original Bugis Street has been transformed into a cobblestone boulevard between the Bugis Junction shopping complex and Albert Street, which has been cleaned up and renamed New Bugis Street.
Largest Shopping Street
The Singapore Tourism Board has attempted to restore something of the area’s exoticism, awkwardly promoting New Bugis Street as “the largest street shopping location in Singapore”.
The results have been mixed.
While Bugis has never regained its former favour with foreign tourists, it has evolved into a popular shopping and entertainment destination for locals.
As luck would have it, the fourth hotel I had arranged to stay at during a two-week stay in Singapore was located in the heart of the district: Mercure Singapore Bugis.
I had an extra night to fill, so I found another hotel nearby for my second night in the precinct: Hotel G Singapore.
What to See and Do in Bras Basah Bugis
Here's a short list of things to see and do in one of Singapore's most fascinating neighborhoods, starting with those tourist attractions closest to the two hotels I stayed at.
1. Bugis Junction
Bugis Junction and Bugis + are interlinked shopping malls offering the best of both worlds: high-end designer boutiques and simple stalls selling all manner of inexpensive goods.
Together they offer a fascinating slice of Singaporean life.
There are high end food and beverage outlets and cheap as chips fast food outlets. There is a youth-themed zone, the Lion City’s largest Electronic Darts Arena, and a nine-screen multiplex.
Located within the complex, the InterContinental Singapore is reputedly the only five-star hotel in Singapore to preserve Peranakan heritage in a shop house-style setting.
The hotel has more than 400 hotel rooms, a rooftop garden, an outdoor pool, and several food and beverage outlets.
There are also numerous shops and an open air food court, where I picked up some Chinese takeaway to consume in my room for a simple but tasty dinner.
While the stall billed itself as featuring Hong Kong style roasted meats, the yummy sauces were the real attraction. If I hadn't had a dinner engagement the following night, I would have gladly eaten there again!
Between Victoria Street, Middle Road, and North Bridge Road, Singapore.
2. St. Joseph's Church
St. Joesph's Church is located on Victoria Street, kitty corner from the hotel I stayed at, this Neo-Gothic edifice was the first Catholic church to be constructed in Singapore.
I had an excellent view of the church from my room at the Mercure Singapore Bugis, as the above picture taken from my room shows.
Established by the Portuguese Mission in 1853, the original church was demolished in 1906 and rebuilt in 1912.
Serving the city's one influential Portuguese community, the church was passed from the Portuguese Mission to the Archbishop of Singapore in 1981.
While the last Portuguese priest retired in 1999, a number of Portuguese traditions continue such as the annual Good Friday Procession.
The building was declared a National Monument in 2005.
143 Victoria Street, Singapore.
3. New Bugis Street
Colourful Albert Mall on Waterloo Street has been renamed New Bugis Street, but the street addresses continue to be called Waterloo Street.
The mall was right around the corner from the first hotel I stayed at in Triple B, and I quickly stumbled across it as I exited the hotel to explore the neighborhood.
I visited the mall shortly after the Lunar New Year, and it was still decked out with Chinese decorations.
A row of 12 placards with fortunes for the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac was attracting quite a bit of attention as I wandered the mall.
There was a vibrant street market selling street eats and the kinds of cheap clothes, electronics products, and the kind of gaudy merchandise you would expect to find at such a venue.
The mall was also lined some important shops selling religious goods, heritage sites, and two colourful temples.
On Waterloo Road from Middle Road heading southeast, Singapore.
4. Sri Krishnam Hindu Temple
The Sri Krishnan Hindu Temple is clad with amazing statuary. It was gazzetted in 2014.
Established in 1870, the temple is the only South Indian Hindu temple in Singapore exclusively dedicated to Sri Krishna and his consort Rukmini.
The temple has five sections: the head, the neck, the stomach, the legs, the feet, and the soul. The neck, or sanctum, is the most important.
152 Waterloo Street, Singapore. Telephone: +65 6337-7957 .
5. Kwan Im Hood Cho Temple
A few steps down the the mall is the Kwan Im Hood Cho Temple, dedicated to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy.
The temple was established in 1884 and was reconstructed at its current location in 1895. It is one of the largest Chinese temples in the vicinity.
Interestingly, many Chinese devotees of the Goddess of Mercy light joss sticks at the nearby Sri Krishnan Temple.
178 Waterloo Street, Singapore. Telephone: +65 6337-3965.
6. National Museum of Singapore
National Museum of Singapore is the Lion City’s oldest museum. Dating back to 1887, it showcases the country’s fascinating history and unique culture.
The museum has permanent galleries and temporary exhibitions. During my visit to the museum on an earlier trip to Singapore, the museum had a major exhibition on loan from a museum in London.
93 Stamford Road, Singapore. Telephone: +65 6332-3659.
7. Peranakan Museum
Peranakan Museum is housed in the former Tao Nan School, which was built in 1912 to serve the Hokkien community.
The museum has 10 permanent galleries showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the Peranakans, a hybrid Southeast Asian culture with Chinese, Malay, and Indian elements.
I visited this museum on a previous visit to Singapore, and I highly recommend it.
39 Armenian Street, Singapore.
8. Armenian Church
Armenian Church was built in 1835. As Singapore’s oldest Christian church, it is dedicated to St. Gregory the Illuminator, the first Armenian monk.
With a dwindling Armenian population, the last Armenian parish priest left the church in the laste 1930s.
The building was gazetted as a national monument in 1973.
60 Hill Street, Singapore.
9. Malay Cultural Centre
Malay Heritage Centre is set in the restored grounds of the Istana Kamong Glam. The museum has six permanent galleries spread across two levels with artifacts from Singapore’s national collection and contributions from the community.
The collections highlight the culture, heritage, and history of the country’s Malay community.
The building was once the Sultan’s Palace.
85 Sultan Gate, Singapore. Telephone: +65 6391 0450.
10. Sultan Mosque
Sultan Mosque is the Lion City’s largest mosque. Built in 1824 for Sultan Hussein Shah, the first sultan of Singapore, it was rebuilt in 1932 and gazetted as a national monument in 1975.
Free admission. No shorts, short skirts, sleeveless T-shirts inside, but you can borrow a cloak.
3 Muscat Street, Singapore. Telephone: +65 ) 6293 4405 / 6293 4043.
Where to Stay
InterContinental Singapore, Click here for hotel room rates and hotel guest reviews: InterContinental Singapore/TripAdvisor
Mercure Singapore Bugis, 122 Middle Road, Singapore. Telephone: (+65) 6521-6088. Click here for hotel room rates and hotel guest reviews: Mercure Singapore Bugis/TripAdvisor
Hotel G Singapore, 200 Middle Road, Singapore. Click here for hotel room rates and hotel guest reviews: Hotel G Singapore/TripAdvisor
The hotels are within a five to 10 minutes’ walk of the Bugis MRT station.
Changi International Airport is 18 kilometres, or 11.18 miles, from the three hotels. The drive takes approximately 20 minutes, depending on traffic.