Geylang - Singapore’s Red Light District

June 30, 2010

Geylang - Singapore’s Red Light District
  • Introduction

Geylang is Singapore‚Äôs red light district and probably one it’s most interesting neighbourhoods. Living in an old shophouse in Geylang for 4 years allowed me a close up view of a side of Singapore that few tourists see.

What I like most about Geylang is that it’s the opposite of the glossy-magazine version of Singapore that you see most places. It looks, feels and smells like Asia.

The smell I’m referring to is durian, a tropical fruit that is highly sought after but forbidden in many public places because of the intense lingering odour. On Sims Avenue between Lorong 7 and 15 (Lorong is the same as ‘street’) there are many tropical fruit markets where you can buy cheap mangosteens, jackfruit, dragonfruit as well as most other common tropical fruits, and of course durian. June to August is durian season and the whole neighbourhood reeks. Personally I think it smells like vomit, but it’s a local delicacy worth a try if you are adventurous.

As for the neighbourhood vibe, the best way to describe it is eclectic with very different daytime and nighttime characters. But being Singapore, day or night you feel very safe and there is no shortage of places to eat. Restaurants run the length of Geylang Road on both sides offering every type and variation of local cuisine you could imagine - Chinese, Malay, Indian - noodles, rice,  soups, dumplings, claypot dishes, braised boiled and stirfried, duck, chicken, seafood, turtle, frog, pork, mutton, beef, deer, tofu.

Geylang is an older, less affluent area with many colonial style shophouses, some converted to rental units (like mine), some still used as merchant shopfronts and some used by cultural associations, club or religious affiliations like lion dancers or Buddhist associations.

Residents include local Singaporeans as well as a large number of migrant workers of different nationalities. Lots of Bangladeshis and Chinese. Bicycles ride anywhere, traffic of often heavy, the streets are dirty and dusty and trucks stop frequently to pick up or drop off large teams of workers – those who pave Singapore’s streets and keep the parks, beaches and roadsides well manicured.

Typically the migrant workers live in dormitory-style accommodation so they spend the evenings sitting together along the side streets.

Also coming out into the night are the ladies. I was told many girls working here are ‘China girls’ but there are quite a lot of Indian girls in saris too. It’s quite astounding to see streets lined with prostitutes. Clearly there is no shortage of demand.

Juxtaposed against a background of prostitution, with its streetwalkers, brothels, KTV lounges and by-the-hour hotels, you find churches, temples, mosques and hundreds of small street side shrines. Or is it the other way around?

I remember one day riding my scooter home and on the same street I almost ran over a monk and a prostitute (they weren’t together). Both walked into the middle of the street without looking and then gave me impatient looks.

I enjoyed living in Geylang in many ways -- it had alot of personality -- so it's no surprise that I still think it is one of the most interesting places to people-watch in Singapore.

An early evening stroll will bring lots of photo opportunities and when the sun goes down you can get a great feed of local cuisine.

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