Admittedly, Geylang is Singapore's premier red-light district, complete with leggy street walkers of diverse nationalities, but not all 44 lorongs of the area are sleaze-filled.
Besides a breeding ground for vice, here are five things Geylang should be remembered for:
#1 - Food, food, glorious Geylang food
Choose from a tasty selection of Peranakan, Indian, Malay and regional Chinese standards: Coconut rice and curry chicken (Bali Nasi Lemak), the Hakka favourite of Thunder Tea Rice, comprising rice, vegetables, tofu and peanuts in a broth of - what else? - tea (Lei Cha Fan).
Liu Da Ma Charcoal BBQ Restaurant, located between Lorongs 15 and 17, is a simple set-up offering up tasty items for grilling. Those inclined to DIY cooking will love the idea of getting down and smoky with skewers of meat - the specialty is lamb - internal organs and other items, using a little grill found on each table.
And of course, Lorong 9's beef kway teow, charred broad rice noodles drenched in a dark sauce. It still draws raves after more than a decade, although there are many views that it is just not that tasty any more.
#2 - Delightful durian
Stalls are scattered throughout, but at least if you don’t like the look of the thorny fruit –or the seller – at one stall, there is another one just a little way ahead.
Wooden tables and plastic chairs are laid out neatly alongside some hawkers, for customers who just have to eat durian at that very moment.
Whether it’s the Mao Shan Wang, D101 or D13 that your heart desires, it is likely to be found at Geylang. A note of warning, however: Durian fraud is rampant, so the usual advice applies, for eg, confirm the price before letting the seller open up the durian or make sure your durian is not swapped when being packed.
#3 - Cheap comfort
The proliferation of affordable hotels in the area makes Geylang a popular choice with budget travelers. While the beds don’t come with luxurious Vi-Spring or Hypnos mattresses, rooms are generally clean with a decent slew of amenities like Wi-Fi and safe deposit boxes.
What’s more, Geylang is halfway between Changi Airport and the heart of the city. A train ride from Kallang or Aljunied MRT stations is merely 20 minutes to Orchard Road and Raffles Place.
Besides having cheap rooms, Geylang’s unique location is also a draw for budget travelers as it is just halfway between Changi Airport and the city center. Served by the nearby Kallang or Aljunied MRT train stations, you are just 20-min by train to business districts and Orchard Road.
#4 - Time warp
Being in Geylang is like entering another universe. In a country like Singapore, where the pace of modernisation is fast and furious, Geylang has, strangely, been left pretty much untouched.
Quaint architecture is a distinctive hallmark of Geylang. The style of many buildings goes way back to the early 1900s. Art Deco buildings, popular just before and after the war, are also common in this quarter of the eastern part of Singapore. The former home of the Eastern Aerated Water Company, once a deep salmon colour but now faded by time and weather, is one example.
Lorong 24A is an especially striking lane. Here, seven local architects have given new life to eight conservation 1920s shophouses in a collective project: The Lorong 24A Shophouse Series integrates “contemporary design and creative functionality seamlessly with the traditional charm of the archetypal shophouse form”.
#5 - Sin and salvation
Together with streets of sin are sanctuaries for the spirit. Churches, mosques and temples are scattered throughout Geylang, almost as a reminder of the duality of sin and salvation.
In certain parts of the area, the air is redolent of incense fragrance.
Gek Hong Temple in Lorong 26 is a single-storey bungalow, with one side of the building raised on stilts to avoid flooding. In Lorong 29 is the Khadijah Mosque.
In Lorong 25A is Poh Tiong Kiong Temple, while Haji Mohammed Salleh Mosque and Shan Yuan Tang Temple reside in Lorong 11. Geylang Evangelical Free Church and Bethesda Chapel sit in Lorong 27A and Lorong 29 respectively.
And there are plenty more such places of worship in Geylang, offering solace to a weary or jaded soul.