Geylang is known best for two things. The first for being a haven for good food and delightful late night suppers. The second for being Singapore's biggest legalised red-light district. Love it or hate it Geylang is a part of Singapore that looks set to stay forever.
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The Different Geylang
Many have spoken about Geylang being a food haven and also given a bad reputation of a place for prostitution. But I want to talk about another part of Geylang which is part of the Malay culture. The Geylang that is filled with festive lights and bazaars during Ramadhan. The Geylang that offers the well known wet market and a place that serves Malay food that are to die for. The Geylang where the Malay Heritage Centre stands. The Geylang that lies in the heart of all Malays in Singapore.
Known to Malays as Geylang Serai, it boasts ethnic shops selling songkoks, baju kurung, kain samping and many more. Shopping malls such as Tanjong Katong Shopping Complex and Joo Chiat Complex are filled with rows of stores catered to Malays. Not to forget their famous landmark, Geylang Serai Market, which offeres additional cultural stops, the popular wet market and a hawker centre filled with all kinds of Malay cuisine you ever want. Then there's the Malay Heritage Centre that brings you back to the history of Singapore and providing knowledge of the culture as a whole.
How I wish that Geylang can still be remembered by this way, like those times before the legalisation of the red light district.
Great Food hidden within the Dark Streets
"Geylang is Gay-land, that's where all the old men find pretty young girls".
As a kid, that saying was a common one among my friends in my generation. We were naive then. Though it is known that Geylang is the only place where one can legally solicit sex, there's much more to this place than its dark secrets.
In fact, one of the things that people look forward to in Geylang would be its specialities that are served piping hot: food. The fantastic food from Geylang has kept me coming back for more. Be it the Dim Sum in its old looking shop or the street side Frog Leg Porridge, this place is a genuine genius for having hawkers this capable. The best part about the food? These snacks are great for a midnight supper for me and my family - just cruising down the still busy road in the wee hours of the morning will definitely perk you up from your sleepy stupor.
What's your poison
Geylang is a rather "colourful" place. There's plenty of motivating factors for visiting Geylang. You can be there for gastronomic delights or seeking sheer carnal pleasure. There's a poison for everyone.
I like roaming the durian stretch of Geylang during the durian season. You will simply go nuts. My personal favourite is the shop at Lor 13. Comfy enough seating, bright lighting, complimentary supply of drinking water and relatively easy parking.
Price wise, it depends on the season's supply but it also depends on some luck and your haggling skills.
There is always a stigma associated when one informs others that one is heading out to Geylang, more so at night. This stigma does not seem to apply to me though, aside from the fact that I am of a certain gender but because I am such a foodie and everyone knows that some of Singapore's best food can be found in Geylang!
My favourite places to go to are the ban mian at some small corner coffeeshop and the roadside stores for durian and mangosteen during the season! Some of the best zi char stores are in Geylang as well. So who's coming to Geylang with me?
It's not just the nightlife
'Geylang? Are you kidding me? I would never be seen dead there.'
This was the comment from a Singaporean friend in Tampines who had, presumably, closed his eyes when his MRT passed through Aljuneid. And what is he missing? Some of the best eating joints in Singapore. Some fascinating side streets. Quaint shops. Original soy bean curd - rare to find these days apart from the one in Short Street, Bugis.
And of course, there is the fascinating mosaic of night life. I am told (I only go there for the food) that the different Lorongs (all on the even numbered side, thank you very much) provide different national treasures, so to speak. And there are thousands of them! All done up fit to kill in excessive make up, short, tight fitting skirts and mini skirts (mainly), and tired smiles at the cars and trucks that cruise by.
The wonder of the area is that it is safe. Here you have a huge brothel centre, and you can go there, with your family, and-albeit avoiding some of the more obvious streets, have a great night out.
Someone told me that more tourists go to Geylang than to any other Singapore attraction. I don't believe him, necessarily, but maybe...
I care not for the dodgy hotels and the infamous red light district label of geylang, but the food finds at the area are great. As a kid, I lived at eunos and it was very convenient for my family and I to get to geylang, thus accounting for the numerous supper nights I had during my childhood.
It has been years since i last enjoyed a comfortable night of supper with my family there, but I recall that my few favourite sinful indulgence were durians, porridge, chinese pastries and dim sum! Having durians at geylang is part of the experience, but beware of getting scammed by nasty durian sellers. Some of them seem to be getting outrageously audacious in overcharging customers, apparently demanding that customers who had already eaten their fill of durians to pay much more than they were originally quoted.
a charm of its own
Geylang is associated with mostly negative connotations here in Singapore. Tell someone you are at Geylang and they would probably tease you or ask why you're there for. Well, I'm sure most of you would have known about the shady red-light district that Geylang is infamous for but hey! There's more to that! In Singapore, there is no area without nice food. ;)
I would recommend 'Wen Dao Shi'. For those of you who can't read Mandarin, just look out for a red signboard, with three golden mandarin characters on it. It's a small dim sum shop with great pocket-friendly prices for freshly-made dim sum. The shop is a little on the squeezy side, especially the tight entrance/exit pathway. Be careful when walking there because you might get burned by the hot steamers next to the pathway. The dim sum is really nice, big prawns, fresh pork.. I'm sure most of you would know how good dim sum taste like. It can get really crowded here so prepared to wait if you are coming around supper time.
Along the stretches of the different Geylang streets, you can also find makeshift durian stalls. Many people love to go there for durian. You choose, you pay, you sit there and enjoy. Fuss-free! There are also a few indian muslim stores which serves fragrant and thick mutton soups.
On the road, through the night
Infamous for its shady nightlife, the great food in Geylang takes second place in what connotates with its name. I guess the best experience I've had in Geylang was during a night cycling trip with my friends.
Starting from my old house in Sembawang, I made my way to Serene centre where I met my NS buddies. That in itself was a good hour of cycling. But we decided at Serene Centre that the night was still young, and the roads were still yearning to be cycled on. We made our way towards the east and found ourselves sitting outside the esplanade, gambling (not with money) to see who would treat everyone to 'Tau Hui' when we get to Geylang. I don't remember who it was who lost the game, but I do remember enjoying my desert in the middle of the night in Geylang. Having laboured through the night to get to our destination, I had never tasted anything better.
Geylang might be famous as a red light district, but their food is fabulous.
Some popular dishes among me and my peers are their ban mian / mee hun gui (as my friends call it), bak kuk teh, dim sum, and many many more.
Definitely a must go for all food lovers!
As for the prostitutes, you can see them along the streets but I think they don't usually go out and harass people (at least not for my male friends). But again maybe that's because we go there in a large group. When you travel past there in the noon, you will see a line of the girls lining outside the hotels.
Compared to other countries, I do agree that Geylang is considered quite "clean". With controls and order put into place (I assume), it could at least reduce the chances of contracting diseases. Since it is impossible to eradicate prostitution (they could go overseas and make things worse), I think this is the best we can get of the "bad".
No matter what Geylang is, it is certainly a unique part of Singapore that we cannot dismiss.
I for one, am one who is always open to seeing Singapore from all the different angles. Hence there is no way I was going to avoid exploring Geylang simply because I have no plans to engage one of the many prostitutes that line its street.
While I must say that this red light district is very much tamer than it once was, it nevertheless provides visitors into an eye opening insight into the local sex trade. One just need to walk along any of the lorongs to see for themselves a side of Singapore not seen anywhere else on the island.
After the foray into singapore's right light district, head to one of the kopitiams within the vicinity for the food found here is some of the best around town.