Sungei Road Thieves Market

Sungei Road is located between Jalan Besar and the Rochor Canal Road. The Singapore Ice Works, built in the 1930s and situated near the road, was formerly an important supplier of ice blocks, which is why that area is also fondly known as Gek Sng Kio, which literally means Frosted Bridge, by the Hokkiens and Teochews. The factory was torn down in the mid-eighties after its land was acquired by the authority for redevelopment.

But it is the famous Thieves’ Market, instead of the ice manufacturing factory, that gives Singaporeans the deepest impression about Sungei Road. Established since 1930s, the flea market sells almost everything that ranges from second hand clothing and shoes, audio/video tapes, books, old coins and notes to used cameras, handphones and other electronic items.

A peddler need not pay any rent, and all he needs to do is to lay a mat on the ground and display his products. Some peddlers set up big umbrellas or even tentages to protect from the scorching afternoon sun. The peddling can start as early as 7am but the crowds usually peak in the late evenings.

As its name suggests, the early days of Sungei Road Thieves’ Market had stolen goods peddled for sale. During that era, it was an open secret that if anyone’s belongings were stolen, he or she could likely find them in this flea market.

One of the biggest and certainly the oldest flea market in Singapore, Sungei Road Thieves’ Market today largely operates on Pasar Lane, Larut Road and Pitt Street, which are the minor roads off Sungei Road. Interestingly, the word pasar means market in Malay.

The glory days of Sungei Road Thieves’ Market were perhaps in the fifties and sixties, where there could be more than 200 competing peddlers and a huge range of old products. By the seventies, the flea market declined as the government tried to remove vendors and peddlers off the streets.

In 1994, the market was once again cleared by the government who intended to develop the region around Rochor Canal. Somehow, the market was able to make their second revival, and became even more thriving as time went by.

The fields near Pasar Lane and Larut Road are classified as the state land. It is not known when the government decides to draw development plans for that area again. When the time comes, the decades-old Sungei Road Thieves’ Market may be forced to cease operation once more.

At a nearby kopitiam, the Sungei Road Laksa is almost as famous as the Thieves’ Market. Using charcoal to slowly cook the laksa gravy, the popular dish draws queues everyday. Its founder Wong Yew Hwa is said to have learned the recipe in 1956.

Published: 20 January 2011

Due to the construction of Sungei Road MRT Station, about half of the current area allocated for the flea market will be closed down starting from 25 July 2011. Pasar Lane and part of Pitt Street will be affected.

Updated: 20 July 2011

19 Responses to Sungei Road Thieves Market

  1. SSM says:

    Wah, still so crowded ah. Nice pics.

  2. Passerby says:

    The number of stalls left are a remnant of the pre 25 Jul 2011 scenes. Most of the regular stallholders have not set up stalls since then and the new stalls are very small in space . I would presume that probably once the new mrt station is up, this icon may just fade away.

  3. Elias Reuben says:

    I and my oldman never fails every weekend to visit the place or purchased something to me it is interesting and learnt from while strolling down hope it remains I was there last month to purchased old Singapore notes. I hope it remain

  4. Adrea neo says:

    It is just simply amazing how such an old place is still around today i will definitely go visit it myself.

  5. Tim says:

    Per what passerby has commented. I believed the URA will likely redeveloped this place once the MRT station is up(just curious why is there a need to have another line since the bugis station is still relatively close). This place is unique is it is only one of it’s kind(most likely) in Singapore and i was surprised to see Japanese tourists in rickshaws passing by during those pre-Jul 2011 days.

  6. Peter Dunlop author "Street names of Singapore" says:

    My memory from 1954 is of semi permanent shack like shops as well as the on street stuff. My fatehr and I went to get old pram wheels to make me a “go-cart” which had a bamboo frame

  7. Johnny Chen says:

    Thank you for sharing this post and shedding some light on the history of the thieves’ market. I hope to share a series of posts I have done as well.

    http://www.ghettosingapore.com/tag/sungei-road-thieves-market/

  8. The businesses of the various vendors at Sungei Road seem to be hit by the ongoing constructions around the area, limited space and restricted opening hours between 1pm to 7pm…
    The place is not as crowded as before, even on a weekend



  9. sigh….

    Date Published: 16 Oct 2012

    Question by Ms Faizah Jamal:

    To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources what are the Government’s future plans for the Sungei Road Market and what will be done to support the livelihoods of affected vendors with the construction of the Jalan Besar MRT Station.

    Minister’s Reply:

    Vendors currently sell second-hand goods at the Sungei Road Temporary Hawking site from 1 to 7pm daily on a first-come-first-serve basis.

    The area has been zoned for residential and commercial development. These developments are expected to commence after completion of the Jalan Besar MRT station in 2016. The vendors will be given advanced notice to cease their operations on the site once the detailed implementation timeline is confirmed.

    NEA has already advised the vendors to anticipate the redevelopment and to make alternative plans. Vendors who wish to continue their business may bid for Piece and Sundry stalls in Hawker Centres during the monthly tender exercises. NEA, WDA and the CDCs will assist those who wish to exit the trade with job opportunities and financial assistance where necessary.

  10. The Rochor Canal and the Singapore Ice Works Ltd… 1970s

  11. johnnychen says:

    There is much uncertainty surrounding the future of Sungei Road Market and its vendors. The oldest flea market of Singapore should be preserved and this petition is about awareness raising amongst Singaporeans who care about retaining their local heritage, and a means of livelihood for many senior vendors.

    http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-sungei-road-market/

    Thank you!

  12. Baz says:

    I first started to go to Thieves Mkt in 1957, while in Singapore with the British Army, and again in the 60’s and 70’s.
    It was very different from today! You could buy lots of ex army gear there, radios, antennae, bedding, uniforms and so on, motorcycle parts (Triumph, BSA etc). At the time we always believed the army gear was stolen, but more likely it was sold off surplus.
    It was a much bigger area then, and there were more permanent ‘shops’ lining the street, old ladies and men would be sitting on the pavement beating pans and pots from old kerosene tins, for sale.
    Happy days, will be sad to see it go. I still manage to go there occasionally while visiting Singapore.

  13. Ricko says:

    Remember “Thieves Market” also nick name ” Robinson Petang” . There were two tricycles stall selling “Laksa”.

  14. anshumerani@gmail.com says:

    Does anybody know where the vendors shifted to? Or is there a similar flea market like it in singapore?

  15. Sungei Road flea market will have to go
    NEA turns down alternative sites traders suggested

    The Straits Times
    Published on Jul 31, 2014

    Around eight decades of history seem set to come to an end for Sungei Road flea market. As it has to make way for the Sungei Road MRT station, due to open in 2017, an association representing its 200 traders had suggested relocating to one of four alternative sites nearby.

    However, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has rejected this – and not given it any explanation. When asked, NEA referred The Straits Times to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which said the four sites have been zoned for parks and residential use under Master Plan 2014. They are next to Rochor River, at Kampong Bugis along Kallang River, behind Sim Lim Tower and a roadside near Jalan Kubor Malay cemetery.

    The president of the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods, Mr Koh Ah Koon, 73, received a letter from the NEA informing him of the decision last week. He passed on the bad news to members at a meeting on Monday. “Shutting down the market will mean taking away a source of income for many elderly folk here,” he said. “Most of us have little education or are illiterate.”

  16. Jessica Kwan says:

    救救結霜橋吧!別讓它溶化了!社會的進步不一定需要完全埋葬了歷史;相反的,人類的進化是建立于能夠體驗和了解被保存完好的珍貴歷史裡。After tonight’s Channel 8 programme Tuesday Report on Sungei Road Flea Market, I truly hope that this little piece of historical Singapore and the livelihood of many can be saved. We do not need to drive out those who are struggling to make a living in order to show progress and achievements. It’s time for the authorities to rethink what is REALLY necessity vs extras.

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