Once a home for Chinese immigrants, Chinatown nowadays is a popular place to visit for tourists, offering delicious food, stunning temples and fantastic shopping opportunities...
Singapore’s historic Chinatown is a busy place, filled with a mixture of old and new shops and markets. These narrow streets are an important part of Chinatown’s past. Although now we can get sight of a more modern Chinatown, the history of this place is still present everywhere, and you can still experience some of its original charm.
Chinatown is different from the rest of the city; it is an area that is bountiful of Asian and Chinese culture and it is proud to show it to everyone who wanders through the streets. You'll be filled with different aromas and scents from the local cuisine and get to see one of the best skyline views of Singapore, along with art and the major tourist hotspots.
You can’t go to Singapore without paying a visit to their famous Chinatown. I explored Chinatown with a local guide from Topdeck's Ultimate 49 Bucket List, he gave me an excellent tour in Singapore. Here is a list of the top hotspots in Chinatown that you can’t miss:
01 | Chinatown Food Street
Located in the heart of Chinatown, this place holds the most authentic Singapore dining experience for a tasty and reasonable price. This street assembles a lot of traditional dishes under one roof. Recently, a new roof and cooling system have been installed, which makes it an even better experience whatever the weather might be. It is a place for both, locals and tourists. Here you will find a collection of restaurants and shops that spread out along the street. The local cuisine might not be so easy on the tourists, for the varieties of dishes, however is recommended to share with your friends or family so you can all try new things.
There are 24 hawker stalls, each have their own name. Some of the most popular options of food are the following:
Stingray at Boon Tat Street, BBQ Seafood Satay Skewers at Old Airport Road, Satay Roasted Duck at Tiong Bahru Meng Kee, Fried Oysters at Katong Keah Kee, BBQ Chicken Wings at Chomp Chomp Goodluck, Kway Teow at Food Street Fried Kway Teow Mee, Hainanese Chicken Rice at Bugis Street, Abalone Noodle at Balestier, Beef Noodles at Odeon and Indian Cuisine at Serangoon Raju.
02 | Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
The majestic Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is an outstanding four-story temple. The sacred temple is located in the heart of Chinatown. It was built in 2002 and only in 2007 was it open to visitors. The temple’s indoor design exhibits Buddhist art and history and tells a story on more than a hundred years of their culture. The temple gets its name from what Buddhists believe to be the remaining tooth of Buddha, which was acquired from his funeral.
Most of the visitors focus in the solid 320 kilogram-gold giant stupa on the last floor, which is where the sacred relic is stored. One can observe from the public viewing area, and only the monks are permitted in the relic chamber. The temple also holds a museum within on the third floor in which one can observe about 300 Buddhist artifacts from all around Asia. The temple holds ceremonies on a daily basis, and visitors are allowed to observe and take part in these.
One important thing to consider prior to visiting the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, is that dress code should not be revealing since it’s a religious temple. This means, no shorts or short skirts, and no off the shoulder shirts.
03 | Chinatown Heritage Center
The Chinatown Heritage Center will send you back to the very own beginnings of Singapore’s early pioneers. In this center you will be able to experience the culture and history of the Chinese people. The museum portrays the history of the development of Chinatown and shares personal stories of the people who made of this place their home.
The Heritage Center has recreated the original interiors of the homes of Chinatown’s early residents who lived in the 1950’s. Sets of bedrooms, kitchens and street scenes can be seen in eight by eight living quarters where every object tells a story. The Heritage Center is located on Pagoda Street in which there are different exhibition galleries spread over three levels; each one of them will take you into different periods of time.
On another note, souvenirs here are quite popular and they are also limited edition by designers such as Doe & Audrey and My Paper Earrings, therefore don’t forget to pick one on the way out!
04 | Chinatown Complex
Chinatown Complex is a hawker center, which is filled with different types of dishes located right in the heart of Chinatown. It is a place with signature plates and diverse menus at a reasonable cost. Since a lot of the stalls often offer similar dishes, the prices are low, and therefore you can have a very enjoyable meal at a reasonable cost. The place isn't fancy at all, this is the place where locals eat and socialize.
Some people often describe the Chinatown complex like a food court, but they claim that the size is at least ten times bigger than a regular one. You can find hundreds of food stalls here, with different scents and flavors everywhere. For anyone that likes to experiment in the food section and try out new things, you will be delighted by everything that you will find here.
Some of the top dishes here are the following:
Fried fish cake at Xiu Jin Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Fu, Steamed dumplings at China La Mian Xiao Long Bao, Soy Sauce Chicken Noodles at Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodles, Steamed fish head at Cheng Ji, Fried bee hoon at Jia Ji Mei Shi.
The photo above shows Popiah on the left image - it's a thin pancake, filled with rice, veggies and peanuts. It suppose to have egg and shrimps in it but we were able to get a vegan version. The other dish on the right image tasted like a dessert, but apparently it's a common snack. It's called Kueh Pie Tee, a thin and crispy pastry tart, filled with peanuts, veggies and usually shrimps.
05 | Sri Mariamman Temple
The vibrant Sri Mariamman Temple is the first Hindu temple in Singapore. This temple is devoted to the goddess Mariamman, and dates all the way back to the 19th century, when it started to get constructed. Historically, the temple used to be a place for Hindu culture and religion to be expressed, and also it used to help immigrants as well; today it preserves the cultural and religious concept of the Hindu society.
What stands out the most from this temple, is the gopuram (monumental tower), which can be observed at the entrance along with the images of Lord Krishna and Lord Muruga. The tower is decorated around with colorful sculptures of Hindu gods or goddesses. Besides from being a worship temple, this place was as well, sort of a refugee for new immigrants that belong to the South Indian Hindu community.
I hope you enjoyed this little guide about Chinatown. If you're not too tired, head over to Club Street for a drink, it's a popular place for locals and expats who like to go bar hopping. I ended my day with a glass of wine on Club Street and loads of new impressions from Singapore.
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