The street of Bugis got its name from the pirates who frequented the Straits of Singapore during pre-colonial times. It used to be the settlement area for a Hainanese community, which later on relocated to Beach Road where they were able to utilize the seafront. Before World War II, a small Japanese community, comprised mostly of underprivileged Japanese women who came to Singapore and worked as prostitutes, settled in the area. However, after the war, the British sent home all Japanese settlers, wiping out the growing Japanese community in the place.
In the 1950s, the area became a popular red light district where transvestites would show themselves to sailors who went to Singapore for their rest and relaxation. At night, the street was transformed into a flimsy night market where merchants gathered to sell cheap items and hawkers set up their stalls to take advantage of the buying crowd. This night market attracted tourists, who eventually began frequenting the area not just to buy cheap goods but also to sample the delicious hawker food.
In 1985, construction of the Mass Rapid Transport tore down parts of the street, killing all activity in the area. Many tourists expressed disappointment that their favorite night market was gone. However, in 1988, the Singapore Tourism Board decided to resurrect and redevelop the street in order to preserve its identity. Bugis underwent an intensive facelift, which transformed it into a clean shopping destination to which families could go.
Today, the street has become a major shopping area lined with an estimated 800 shops selling different kinds of items. Being the only street shopping place in Singapore, you can find all sorts of merchandise here including clothes, shoes, bags, watches, wallets, belts, gold jewelry, silver jewelry, accessories, local products, souvenir items, and even fruits. Haggling is a skill you must learn when shopping here, and it is not uncommon for buyers to bargain with the sellers to get a lower price for their goods.
There are presently two major shopping centers in this area: Bugis Village and Bugis Junction. The Village is a night market-themed area with a lot of small stalls selling low-priced merchandise. It also has a number of food stalls where shoppers can have their fill of refreshments. On the other hand, the Junction is a large shopping mall with modern facilities and a cinema. Many of the shops in the Junction are aimed towards attracting the teen shoppers.
For those who love books, the Bras Basah Comlex is a paradise. Here, you will find all sorts of books, from literature to nonfiction to textbooks. Some stores sell used books while others sell brand new books.
Visitors to Bugis can also visit Arab Street from nearby Kampong Glam where they can witness the colorful Muslim culture; buy oriental carpets, different kinds of fabric and Muslim clothe; or eat Arabian, Indian, and Malay food. Kampong Glam is also home to the Sultan Mosque, the grandest and biggest mosque in Singapore. Built in 1928, the Sultan Mosque is known for its golden dome and exquisite design. Be aware of the proper dress code if you intend to visit the mosque. Do not wear shorts, short skirts, or sleeveless or revealing blouses. Long pants or a long skirt and a sleeved shirt or blouse are appropriate.