Singapore’s Chinatown is a vibrant, eclectic neighborhood that’s a must-see for visitors. // © 2014 Thinkstock
Chinatown is one of the oldest attractions in Singapore and is filled with many unique things to see and do. From trinket shopping and good food to boutique hotels and eccentric temples, there is a lot more to this popular destination than meets the eye. It’s easy to spend an entire day here, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for plenty of walking and exploring.
On a recent visit, I started off my day at Chinatown Heritage Centre, where visitors can relive the days of early Chinese migrants. I walked through the beautifully restored shop houses that have been preserved to reflect life as it was for the tenants in the 1950s, featuring recreations of traditional homes. The center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children.
Explore the culture of Peranakan communities in Southeast Asia (descendants of Chinese traders who married into the local culture) during a visit to Peranakan Museum. Built in 1912, this three-story landmark contains an elaborate collection of artwork, crockery and other items of interest. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is $6.
Another must-see is the famous Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. Erected in 1827, the temple is dedicated to the goddess Mariamman, who was believed to cure illness and disease. Located in the heart of Chinatown, the temple has served as a place of worship to Hindus and Singaporeans for centuries. Check out the colorful relics and shrines dedicated to various deities in Hindu culture.
Chinatown is also home to themed historic boutique hotels filled with character and charm. The modern-looking New Majestic Hotel is known for its stylishly eccentric and modern rooms designed by Singapore’s emerging artists. Head over to Hotel 1929 for an Old World meets nouveau chic experience, featuring conservation shop houses and retro vintage furniture. The Scarlet Singapore hotel showcases contrasting color schemes and textures in an art deco style, while The Club Hotel by Harry’s Hospitality is a 1900s heritage hotel that combines contemporary minimalism with antique Oriental pieces.
One of my favorite aspects of Chinatown is the beautifully preserved shop houses on Tanjong Pagar, located on the south end between Neil and Maxwell roads. These brightly colored historical shop houses have been converted into various bars, restaurants and stores. I enjoyed taking the time to walk into each one, making a series of interesting discoveries as I made my way down the street.
No experience in Chinatown is complete without shopping, which I made sure to indulge in while at the Chinatown Street Market. Whether you’re looking for pretty parasols, calligraphy brushes or miniature Buddhas, there are over 200 stalls offering both new and old collectibles at great prices. If you happen to visit during a major holiday such as Chinese New Year, you’ll most likely catch one of many dragon dances, martial arts displays and stilt walkers, among other fun performances. The market is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
As my day in Chinatown came to a close, I had one last stop to make: Chinatown Food Street (CFS). Designed like an international buffet, the market offers an array of local delicacies and snacks, including char kway teow (stir-fried noodles) and tasty satai (meat on a stick). Depending on the type of dining experience you’re looking for, there are countless street stalls if you’re craving a quick bite on the go, as well as numerous sit-down restaurants for a more relaxed meal. CFS is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
After downing a plate of curry along with a fresh coconut to quench my thirst, I picked up my bag of treasures acquired earlier in the day at the Street Market and headed to the metro station. I was determined to make it back to Raffles Singapore Hotel in time to order one of their world-famous Singapore Sling cocktails and sip it while enjoying another beautiful sunset.
Known for its heat and humidity, Singapore can get especially hot in the mid to late afternoon. Start your Chinatown adventure in the morning then take a break for lunch to cool off before finishing your day. The street markets are cooler after dark and the Food Market comes alive after dark, bustling with merchants and customers alike.
A majority of shopkeepers speak English, but knowing a few words of Mandarin Chinese will only enhance your Chinatown experience, particularly when it comes to bargaining.
For additional fun, you can sign up for a Chinatown Trishaw night tour, where you’ll be driven through the exciting night market and explore the vibrant sights.
Getting to Chinatown is easy and convenient. Hop on the North-East MRT line and exit at Chinatown Station (Exit 4). You can also hop on one of the numerous bus lines and get off at Chinatown or simply tell your taxi driver your destination.