Get a crash course in the kebaya, keris and everything else Malay at the Malay Heritage Centre in Singapore’s historic Kampong Glam neighbourhood. This museum was totally overhauled a few years ago and is bigger and better than ever before.
The centre is also known as the Istana Kampong Glam as it served as the Sultan’s palace back in the days when Singapore was one with Malaysia and ruled by the Sultan of Johor. Some of the Sultan’s descendants continued to live on the sprawling property until recent years, but were evicted in 1999 to make way for the Malay Heritage Centre.
The goal of the centre is to showcase Malay heritage and culture in Singapore, and it does so with six permanent exhibits spread throughout the palace’s numerous rooms. Exhibits include beautiful maps showing historic migration patterns, black and white photographs, antique keris (ornate swords) in glass cases and mannequins dressed in traditional Malay costumes like the baju melayu for men and kebaya for women (which inspired the uniforms worn by Singapore Airlines’ flight attendants). Stick around to watch the restored videos of the Kampong Glam area of the past – the transformation is astounding.
Also notable are the interactive exhibits celebrating Malay music and film. There’s a listening room where you can put on headphones and listen to Malay pop records from the 1960s and a mini-theatre where you can enjoy the films of P. Ramlee, the iconic Malay actor and director.
To get the most out of a visit, come at 12:00 or 14:00 when there are free guided tours. Tours are currently offered from Thursday to Sunday and last about 45 minutes. It’s also worth checking if there are any special events. The centre aims to be an important part of the Malay community and regularly hosts cultural performances, children’s activities and educational workshops.
If you have any interest in Malay culture or history, the centre is certainly worth the S$4 admission fee. That said, young children will certainly have more fun running around the expansive lawn than reading the informational displays. Even if you don’t plan to go inside, it’s worth a visit to check out the peaceful palace grounds and the nearby Sultan Mosque.
The closest SMRT is Bugis, roughly 15 minutes away on foot. The Malay Heritage Centre is very close to Sultan Mosque and it makes sense to visit both if you are in the area.
By Tanya Procyshyn.
Last updated on 27th February, 2016.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.