In need of an accordion? Broken power tool? Typewriter? Watch parts? If it’s old junk you’re after, you’ll probably find it at Sungei Road Thieves Market. If you’re looking for a taste of authentic old Singapore, head to this rag-tag bazaar when you’re in the Bugis or Little India areas.
Singapore’s oldest flea market operating along the banks of Rochor River (Sungei Rochor) has been a site of questionable commerce since the 1930s. The Thieves Market is the only spot in Singapore where sellers are not required to pay rent nor be licensed, on the condition that they don’t sell new items.
Daily a motley group of pedlars peg out their space on a first-come basis to sell all kinds of broken bric-a-brac of doubtful value. Many of the vendors don’t even bother with folding tables and dump their wares right on the ground. If you have the patience to sort through it, there are undoubtedly some treasures amid the trash, however be prepared to bargain as the traders often have an inflated idea of their stuff’s worth.
The heyday of the market was perhaps the 1950s and 60s, when it was an open secret that if you had something stolen, you could most likely buy it back here with no questions asked. Regardless of its ill-famed reputation, Sungei Road Thieves Market is credited with a few rags-to-riches stories, as a couple of successful local businesspeople made their start as merchants here.
Due to development in recent years, the site has shrunk and retreated to a small cluster of back lanes. Plans to open the Sungei Road MRT station in 2017 may see Sungei Road Thieves Market forever closed. There are no set hours, and some set up stalls early, but it’s busiest late afternoons and weekends. Curiously the majority of both sellers and shoppers are men. The attraction for tourists is more people watching than actual shopping. The market makes an interesting contrast to the shiny malls.
By Sally Arnold
Last updated on 27th May, 2016.