Oozing with culture and history, Kampong Gelam is Singapore’s most colourful heritage district and a credible contender for Singapore’s second Unesco World Heritage site after the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Kampong Gelam is where the original Malay royalty of the island’s historic settlement held sway. It hosts Singapore’s oldest and most significant mosque, the Sultan Mosque in North Bridge Road. Built in 1824, it remains an iconic national landmark, a perennial postcard must-have and now an Instagram favourite.
Once home to Singapore’s diverse melting pot of ethnic communities—Javanese, Sumatrans, Baweanese, Banjarese, Arabs, Chinese, Indians—Kampong Gelam placed Singapore’s reputation as a colourful and eclectic tropical entrepôt firmly on the world map.
This explains why today Kampong Gelam tops the menus of many of Singapore’s voracious food lovers. Its classic repertoire of Malay, Arabic and Indonesian restaurants, including the fabled Islamic Restaurant, is complemented by new chefs on the block—hipster cafes, halal bakeries and cool bistros—creating a culinary smorgasbord serving the past along with the present.
Fashionistas too feel stylishly at home in the shophouse boutiques and bars of Haji Lane; traditionally strait-laced Singapore’s truly authentic indie neighbourhood. This eclectic enclave with its inspiring street art murals was celebrated by TimeOut as the world’s 8th coolest street in 2020.
Connected to Haji Lane is Kampong Gelam’s major thoroughfare, North Bridge Road, and one of the city’s oldest roads. Originally carved out of dense jungle under the direction of Lieutenant Henry Ralfe, it was subsequently constructed by GD Coleman between 1833 & 1835.
In the colony’s early days, North Bridge Road ran from Arab Street all the way to the Singapore River, charting its status as one of Singapore’s iconic arteries and an early destination for entertainment, commerce and publishing.
The Star Opera (formerly Kassim Bangsawan and the first opera troupe in Singapore dating back to the late 19th century) was located at North Bridge Road.
In 1908, Kampong Gelam was described as Singapore’s “World’s Fair” due to the array of affordable goods on offer in North Bridge Road (pre-dating TimeOut by a clear century).
The Royal Press (formerly known as Regal Press) was established in 1924 at 745 & 747 North Bridge Road. Currently under renovation, the former premises of the Royal Press were recently home to two still popular restaurants, Islamic Restaurant and Sabar Menanti II.
And right here in the middle of Kampong Gelam you’ll find our new Singapore studio office at 787 North Bridge Road. Inspired by the area’s cultural, creative and culinary richness, a new colourful chapter in our story unfolds. Where the city originally took shape is we’re ready to welcome you over kopi to talk about sustainable placebranding in Singapore from the streets of its past to the skylines of its present.
When it comes to big and bustling, no other place in Vietnam, or in Southeast Asia, does it better than Bến Thành Market at the epicentre of Saigon.
Today Bến Thành Market leads Saigon’s District 1 as the go-to destination for tourists and an iconic landmark for both the city and the south of Vietnam.
Before the French invaded Gia Dinh (modern day Saigon) in 1858, the original Bến Thành Market was formed with brick walls, wooden slopes, thatched roofs and was described as a ‘dense market street along the river wharf’.
In 1912, the market was moved into the building it occupies today, constructed by contractor Brossard et Maupin from 1912 to 1914. One of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon its name Bến Thành comes from the words ‘harbour’ (Bến) in and ‘citadel’ (Thành).
Since then the market has undergone major renovations but the overall architecture retains its iconic clock tower; another postcard favourite of yesterday turned today’s sought-after-selfie.
Now boasting almost 1,500 stalls, the market is a mecca for visitors to Saigon and, if you can’t find what you want at Bến Thành, you’re simply not looking hard enough.
The market’s West Gate, facing Phan Chu Trinh street, is a magnet for foodies. Dried goods, fresh daily produce and mouth-watering local Vietnamese delicacies are all reasonably priced, especially for the locals.
Yet both locals and visitors alike are unlikely to know the story behind this landmark street. Previously known as Schroeder Street before 1955 and formerly a bus station to the East, Phan Chu Trinh street is named after one of Vietnam’s favourite sons.
Born in 1872, in Quang Nam province, Phan Chu Trinh became a man with a mission to take back control from the French, not by force but through education and diplomacy. In 1908 Trinh was captured and sentenced to death but his punishment was reduced to imprisonment on Con Dao Island. After three years Trinh was pardoned and deported to France under house arrest, eventually returning to Saigon in 1925 where his passing the following year elevated him to one of Vietnam’s legendary anti-colonial era heroes.
Saigon’s Phan Chu Trinh Street of today is famous for its bustling scenes both day and night and, like its illustrious namesake, is only temporarily subdued by the adversity of the pandemic. Facing the street facade, a row of eclectic retailers peddling jewellery and fabrics appears before you. Yet, dare to delve inside and climb dark staircases, you’ll discover hidden nail bars, art galleries and coffee shops. Quite possibly more.
Look closely at number 45 Phan Chu Trinh Street. Here you’ll find our new Saigon studio office occupying two floors of a beautifully restored shophouse overlooking Bến Thành Market’s West Gate and the iconic clock tower. When you have time, come and join us for cà phê to talk about what sustainable placebranding means in Vietnam, from the bustling districts of Saigon to the legendary destination of Halong Bay.