Singapore is awash in museums, so it can be difficult to determine just which ones are really worth your time if you’re here on a quick trip. Among them all there is one museum a step above the rest: the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) near Boat Quay in the heart of central Singapore.
The ACM opened in 1997, but in different lodgings on Armenian Street. When that building was closed in 2005 (to be redeveloped into the Peranakan Museum) the ACM RE-opened in its current premises overlooking the Singapore River and the glass banker towers of Boat Quay beyond.
The building itself is of considerable interest. Built in the 1860s by convict labour and expanded over subsequent years, it was home to almost the entire colonial British bureaucracy and, when the Brits finally left, the Singaporean bureaucracy moved in.
As the name suggests, the ACM is focussed on Asian civilisationS and the collection is vast. It’s not quite on the scale of say the British Museum in London, but there’s enough within the museum’s walls to easily keep a visitor busy for half a day — if not longer — and the museum is a popular one with repeat visitors to Singapore.
While the museum hosts changing exhibitions throughout the year, the core is built around 11 galleries across five themes showcasing a collection more than 1,300 artefacts. The themes commence with Singapore River, while Southeast Asia, West Asia, China and South Asia neatly dovetail to bring together the myriad cultural influences that created the Singapore you see today.
The Singapore River Gallery is the first section and traces, you guessed it, the growth of the river and artefacts that have been found in and around it. It also tells the tales of the city’s early inhabitants.
The Southeast Asian section (our favourite, not surprisingly) encompasses the entire region. West Asia, China and South Asia, as with the Southeast Asia, are self explanatory and can be visited piecemeal or as a part of a flowing visit through the entire museum. Detailed write-ups of each theme and the galleries can be found on the excellent ACM website.
The biggest issue you may have with the museum is not allowing yourself enough time to see it. On our first visit we allowed just a couple of hours, but ended up needing to return the next day to spend more time taking it in. While you’re welcome just to wander the museum as you see fit there are regular free tours in English running Monday to Friday at 11:00 and 14:00, with an extra one at 19:00 on Fridays, and on Saturday and Sunday at 11:00, 14:00 and 15:00. Tours are also available in Mandarin, Japanese, French, Korean and Spanish but the frequency varies considerably. Again, see the ACM website for details.
The museum is roughly equidistant between Raffles Place and City Hall SMRTs, each of which are about 15 minutes walk away.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 2nd May, 2015.