Chinatown Singapore is a traditional and very exciting place to visit for the tourists and locals. Singapore is a wonderful small country that offers a huge variety of traditional and modern attractions. If you are visiting Singapore, then Chinatown has to be on your list of top visiting sites. The streets of Chinatown are full of colorful buildings and old shophouses that are still preserving the old heritage of the country. As majority of Singaporeans are of Chinese race and most of them are living with a very modern lifestyle. It is a great idea to visit Chinatown Singapore to feel the Chinese tradition that dates back to the life of Chinese immigrants in 1800s.
Chinatown Singapore is also known as Niu che Shui (Chinese) which means a water cart driven by an animal. The name is given because between 18th and 19th centuries the area was used as water transportation hub and most of the transportation were animal carts. Today Chinatown is a very famous place among tourists. Opposite to the most of Singaporean areas where you will see many high-rise buildings, Chinatown consists of low-rise buildings of red and golden color combination that boast a vibrant Chinese tradition.
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The Traditional Aroma of Chinatown Singapore
As soon as you will enter the Chinatown, you will feel the difference if you have already visited some of the places in the vibrant and modern city of Singapore. This one area represents almost three quarters of the Singapore’s population. As you walk past, the busy streets are filled with fragrant smells of the traditional cuisines and shiny traditional souvenirs. The whole area is a display of tradition and rich culture.
Chinatown is the historic area where many immigrants from China settled in the beginning during the British colonization. Compared to other areas of Singapore, the food is very cheap, full of variety and in abundance. The area being very traditional, is also home to the new & trendy lifestyle shops and bars. A large portion of the area has been declared as national heritage site. In this densely populated area, you will not only see the centuries old Chinese temples but also one of the oldest Muslim Mosque and a Hindu temple of Singapore.
History of Chinatown Singapore
The history of Chinatown dates back to when Singapore was called Temasek in 1330 and the Chinese community used to live here. During the British rule, Chinese immigrants who used to travel to Singapore in search of a better work used to reside in this area. The area became overcrowded within the decades until the initiation of governmental housing board in 1960 when construction of high-rise buildings started.
The physical development of Chinatown truly began in 1822 when Sir Stamford Raffles saw the need of developing Singapore and dividing into native divisions and traditional villages. The area for Indians, Arabs, Malays, Bugis and Chinese. He foresaw that the Chinese population will be the highest of the country hence he appropriated all the area in southwest of the Singapore river for them. In 1843, when some of the land was leased and granted to the public, they started to build houses and shops. This resulted in the formation of this distinguished area called Chinatown today.
11 Attractions of Chinatown Singapore
There are many attractions in Chinatown Singapore. The best way is to explore the streets by foot and visit the temples, historic places and enjoy the huge variety of food. You need a full day to explore this area. The area is not far from the center of the city. Chinatown is also home to the biggest celebrations of Chinese New Year. Let’s talk about some of the famous places and things in Chinatown.
I have divided the attractions of Chinatown Singapore in three category.
Temples and Religious Sites in Chinatown Singapore
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a magnificent 5-storey temple that was completed between 2002 and 2007. The main entrance hall is stunningly beautiful with its high ceiling. The same floor has the bell tower and the drum tower. The main attraction is the a 27-feet statue of Maitreya Buddha, and the sacred relic located on 4th floor of the temple. The visitors should be dressed modestly in respect to the place of worship.
The temple is built in Buddhist Mandala style and is rich in history and art. There is a Buddhist cultural museum on the 3rd floor where you can see many Buddhist artefacts collected from various parts of Asia. The tour of the temple takes around one hour and after finishing, you can relax on the 2nd floor where tea and vegetable dishes are served.
Thian Hock Keng Temple
This is the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore which dates back to 1821. The temple is dedicated to Ma Zu Po, the Goddess of the sea, the protector of sailors. Early immigrants who used to arrive in Singapore by sea, used to visit the temple to pay thanks for their safe journey. This is a very interesting and very colorful structure in the middle of Chinatown. The visitors get fascinated by the Fujian architectural style with carvings and dragons and Gods.
Jamae Mosque in Chinatown Singapore is one of the oldest mosques in Singapore built in the 1830s. The mosque was constructed by Indian Muslims merchants from the Tamil region.
Sri Mariamman Temple
This is the oldest Hindu temple in the country. This is one of the most famous places among the Tamil Hindu community for worship. The temple was built in 1827, in honor of Goddess Mariamman considered to be the Goddess of protection from diseases.
Heritage Sites and Museums in Chinatown Singapore
Chinatown Heritage Center
The Chinatown Heritage Center displays the history of old Chinatown and the stories of the immigrants in Singapore. The entry charges are around 15 SGD for Adults and 11 SGD for Kids above 7 years.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) Baba house was built in 1890s. This house belonged to the Wee family who were the descendants of Wee Bin, a shipping tycoon. You can only visit this house by appointment. The house displays traditional furnishing of the Straits Chinese households and the lifestyle of Peranakan culture. The house has 3 floors, two of which displays the Peranakan antiques including the furniture and art. The 3rd floor is a gallery for exhibitions. The house is very prominent because of its bright blue color.
Singapore Coin and Notes Museum
There is a Singapore Coin and Notes Museum very near to the Chinatown heritage center. This place displays the history of Singaporean currency.
Singapore City Gallery
The Singapore City gallery is about the history, present and future of Singapore. Here you learn how the city was built and how the important aspects of life and work were managed despite the fact that the country is very small. There are large scale models of the city at display. This is a 3-storey building that is a great place to visit for first timers in Singapore. As it displays the whole country and its facts through interactive displays.
You can see the urban development plans and strategies that brought Singapore from a 3rd world country to one of the leading countries of the 1st world category.
Interesting Places in Chinatown Singapore
Pinnacle Duxton, Skybridge
Singapore is full of sky-high buildings but the reason Pinnacle @ Duxton is different than others is that this is a world’s tallest residential building. To reach at the top is also not so expensive. The entry cost is around 5 SGD and you need an EZ-link card. Only 200 persons are allowed to visit per day, so plan your visit early morning. You can see beautiful 360-degree views of Singapore from the top.
There are two sky-bridges in the building, the lower bridge is dedicated for the use of only the residents. The upper bridge is at 50th floor.
China Town Complex
If you are visiting Chinatown, then you must visit the Chinatown complex for a huge variety of food. You will be delighted if you are a food lover and looking for massive selection and superb quality. The complex is one of the best hawker’s center in Singapore. The floor is filled with Chinese traditional dishes, beer stalls, and some of the stalls are even Michelin Starred stalls. Maximum of the food is cost friendly. You will also see many old residents socializing here eating food and playing games. The other floor of the building is also filled with assorted stalls of different products and wet market items.
Red Dot Design Museum
Red Dot Design museum is dedicated to the contemporary design and helps you to look at the everyday objects from a different perspective. You will explore some unusual gadgets and things. The gallery is small but there is a good quantity and variety of objects inside.