Geylang Serai | A Malay Village Attraction


Fast Facts:

  • Located east of Singapore’s central business district, it is known either as Geylang Serai or Geylang.
  • A 20-episode drama series, Living in Geylang, aired in 1998.
  • Geylang Serai has a museum known as the Malay Village.
  • Malays make up more than 13.6% of Singapore’s population.
  • The Singapore Constitution recognizes Malays as indigenous to Singapore.

Visitors probably do not travel to Geylang Serai particularly for its architecture, but they definitely visit because it is known as one of Singapore’s oldest Malay settlements.  Geylang has been very popular among tourists of Malay descent (especially to those from Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia), and it is considered the cultural center of Malays in Singapore.  Even if you are from another culture, Geylang Serai has something that you will enjoy.  Take, for example, Malay Village, between Sims Avenue and Geylang Road.  It was created to exhibit traditional Malay life through crafts and cultural activities.  If you want a different perspective on modern Singapore, take a trip to Geylang Serai and visit its Malay Village.

What is the story behind the name and the place?

Geylang’s story goes back to the nineteenth century when Malays had a “floating village” near the banks of the Geylang River.  They were probably the same Orang Laut (Sea Nomads) of the 1840s, reinforcing the possibility that the origin of the Geylang name could be credited to the Orang Gallang tribe of the Orang Laut people.  This village was later displaced by the British Authorities interested in trade.  The British mostly employed the Indians and Chinese, while the Malays were left to do agricultural work.  A lemon grass plantation led to the creation of Geylang Serai (serai means lemon grass in Malay).  Others mention that Geylang might stem from the Malay word kilang (which means press, mill or factory).

In the early 20th century, after the lemon grass industry was no longer fruitful, Malays and Chinese began making a living from coconuts, vegetables, poultry, and rubber.  Singapore’s first railway service established a terminal at Geylang Serai in 1910 and the area really began to change.  During the Japanese Occupation, between 1942 and 1945, people began to cultivate tapioca (ubi in Malay).  A section of Geylang Serai then became known as Kampong Ubi.  The Geylang Serai population finally became predominantly Malay when the Chinese began to leave the area in the 1950’s.  Three blocks were built by the Geylang Serai Housing Scheme redevelopment program in 1965, and about fifteen years later was further developed with Housing Development Board.  The Malay Village was also part of the plan of improving the area.

What’s special about the Malay Village?

Visitors to this life-like museum can imagine themselves during the days of the Kampung Melayu district of the mid 1930s (which led to the Geylang Serai of today).  They can observe traditional Malay crafts, such as batik printing and kite making, or learn about games that were played during the time period.  The Malay Village displays artifacts, such as weaving tools and musical instruments, while housing traditional Malay wedding garments that were hand-sewn.

If marriage is a subject matter that interests you, the Malay Village showcases a Bridal Chamber as well.  Tourists interested in furthering their understanding of Malay life in the history of Geylang Serai can visit the Muslim Showcase, the Hall of Fame and the Geylang Serai Corner.  The Floating Restaurant hosts cultural performances at the Malay Village as well, while shops influenced by Malay culture are waiting and open for your business.

Tips for Travelers

  • Do not travel alone.
  • Keep in mind that Geylang Serai has been associated with red light districts.
  • Malay Village is open daily from 10 am to 10 pm and admission is free of charge.
  • Special exhibits are S$5 for adults and S$3 for children (which may be subject to change).
  • The nearest MRT station is Paya Lebar (EW8).
  • Visitors can also take the MRT to Aljunied, or Kallang, and walk to Geylang Road.
  • If traveling by bus, take one to the Geylang Lorong 1 Bus Terminal and walk to Geylang Road.
  • Last but not least, wear comfortable walking shoes and have a great trip!