One of the reasons we love Singapore is the juxtaposition of old and new. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the vibrant colourful Chinatown. You can see tradition and culture everywhere: in the food, businesses, temples, and museums. Modern ambitious Singapore is also present in the trendy bars and cafes, the workers passing through from the nearby CBD and the night-life.
No visit to Singapore is complete without spending some time sampling the sights, sounds and smells of Chinatown
Chinatown Heritage Centre
The best way to get an idea of the history of Chinatown is to visit the excellent Chinatown Heritage Centre. Stepping inside the restored shophouses on Pagoda Street is like stepping back in time. You’ll follow the stories of the early settlers right up to modern day. The Centre is also the starting point for walking tours of Chinatown or if it’s too hot to walk, why not pick up a trishaw tour?
Chinatown Heritage Centre. 48 Pagoda Street, 059207. Tel : +65 6224 3928. Open 9 am – 8 pm.
Red Dot Design Museum
This exciting museum is the only one in Singapore that opens after midnight. So if you feel like a date that mixes culture with a great venue and good F&B options, this is the place for you. The building itself is magnificent, and all the exhibits are winners of the internationally renowned Red Dot Design Award. A must-see place for anyone interested in design, or looking for a classy date-night venue.
Red Dot Design Museum 11 Marina Boulevard, 018940. Tel : +65 6514 0111. Open 11am – 2am.
NUS Baba House
Built around 1895, Baba House has been restored to give visitors a view of what it was like to live in a Peranakan Chinese House in the early 20th Century. The house is now owned by NUS. Phone ahead to reserve a place on a free guided tour.
NUS Baba House. 157 Neil Road, 088883. Tel : +65 6227 5731.
Kong Chow Wui Koon (KCWK)
This cultural centre is one of Singapore’s oldest Chinese Clan Associations. It hosts traditional lion and dragon dances, Chinese Martial Arts and Opera. Guided tours are available.
Kong Chow Wui Koon. 321 New Bridge Road, 088758. Tel : +65 6223 9608
Singapore Musical Box Museum
Email or phone ahead to book a tour of this small but beautifully formed museum, tracing the history of the musical box.
Singapore Musical Box Museum, 168 Telok Ayer Street, 068619. Tel : +65 6221 0102. Open 10 am – 6 pm Closed Tuesdays.
PLACES OF WORSHIP
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
This is a relatively new temple and museum, as it only opened in 2007. The rich interior and collection, however, tells the story of Buddhism that is many centuries old. The museum on the third-floor houses many relics, including the Buddha Tooth Relic, from which the temple takes its name. There is also a theatre which hosts cultural performances and a garden which offers a place for quiet contemplation in the heart of the bustling city. Remember to dress with respect – no bare shoulders, shorts or mini skirts.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum 288, South Bridge Road, 058840. Tel : +65 6220 0220. Open 7 am – 7 pm.
Thian Hock Keng Temple
This temple is dedicated to Mazu, Goddess of the Sea, and was visited by Chinese immigrants to give thanks for a safe voyage back in the 19th Century. It is the oldest Hokkien Temple in Singapore and is a masterpiece of Chinese Architecture, built entirely without nails. During celebrations such as Chinese New Year, the temple offers guided tours.
Thian Hock Keng Temple 158 Telok Ayer Street, 068613.
Sri Mariamman Temple
Built in 1827, the Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu Temple in Singapore and is dedicated to the Goddess Mariamman, who is revered for healing.
Sri Mariamman Temple 244 ,South Bridge Rd, 058793. Tel : +65 6223 4064.
One of the most wonderful things about Singapore is how different cultures live and work together so harmoniously. The Jamae Mosque has stood on its present site for nearly 200 years, alongside the Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple. The Mosque is a mixture of Eastern and Western architecture.
Jamae Mosque. 218 South Bridge Road, 058767. Tel : +65 6221 4165.
WHAT TO EAT
There are so many excellent food options in Chinatown. China Food Street (Smith Street) is closed to cars in the evening and is the perfect place to sample some of Singapore’s finest street food. Local favourites include Char Kway Teow (stir-fried noodles), crispy duck, satay and dim sum.
Another tasty and affordable option is the Maxwell Hawker Centre where you’ll be spoilt for choice for street food Singapore-style.
Yum Cha is another great place for traditional Chinese food and is on the second floor of a converted shophouse. If you’re not feeling the Shark Fin Soup, you’ll love the dim sum and fried beef noodles.
If you’re looking for something a bit more modern there are plenty of places to choose from on Neil Rd and you’re bound to enjoy the village-feel of Duxton Hill. Club Street and Ann Siang Road really come alive on Friday and Saturday nights.
While you’re in Singapore try to take the opportunity to visit a Chinese Teahouse. Our favourite is Yixing Xuan. Book one of their wonderful tea appreciation workshops to learn all about the history, culture and art of this famous drink. A humble cup of tea will never be the same again!
No trip to Chinatown would be complete without a bit of shopping. Wander down Pagoda Street to pick up some souvenirs in Chinatown’s famous street market. Mooch around South Bridge Road to see Chinese medicines and traditional remedies. Pick up some delicious Chinese pastry from the famous Tong Heng.
If you’re feeling arty, don’t forget to pop into Utterly Art to see the work of local and regional artists.