What You CANNOT Miss in the Heart of Chinatown, Singapore

The tourist places in our own city are never a high priority in our travel plans. We miss so many exciting places which others come to visit from miles and miles away! This is the realization I had when I visited Chinatown. Having been in Singapore for a few years, I always wanted to see Chinatown as a tourist. Finally my wish came true last weekend when I enrolled for a walking tour by Singapore Footprints.                             IMG_7451Chinatown brings memories of old Singapore to life in a very vivid way.  Singapore’s Chinatown is known as Niu che shui which means bullock cart water as bullock carts were the most prominent means to carry water from one location to the other. There are 4 parts of Chinatown: Kreta Aye (wells water), Telok Ayer (bay water), Tanjong Pagar (Near the bay) and Bukit Pasoh (Big Jars) and each of them have historic importance.

Places to See & Things to Do in Chinatown:

  • Chinatown Visitor Center
  • Buddha Tooth Replic Temple
  • Japanese Street
  • Opera House (now Hotel Lai Chun Yuen)
  • Nam’s Supplies Shop (offerings for the dead)
  • Teck Soon Medicals (Traditional Chinese Medicine)
  • Ann Siang Hill Park
  • Thian Hock Keng Temple
  • Chinatown Shopping for Souvenirs
  • Food Tasting: Laksa & Fried Carrot Cake (Both are must try!)
Food Street of Chinatown

Chinatown was originally a Sago (a food good for digestion) processing center from 1840 to 1940. After World War II, biggest consumers such as India started importing Sago directly from manufacturing countries such as Indonesia. Soon the business in Chinatown collapsed and the streets here, turned into brothels. It eventually evolved to become home of hard working laborers who used to stay in very small houses and had to take turns to sleep. It used to be a depressing site to see dead bodies around in this area and hence the government banned these laborers from staying in this neighborhood. The streets were soon occupied by Chinese and Indonesian businessmen who opened shops to sell Traditional Chinese Medicine popularly known as TCM.                                                                                      4D5385F9-75C9-41A4-89E3-023C3172B249However, these shops were not performing very well. In 2007, government setup a Buddha Tooth Relic Temple here to bless this place. It is believed that all businesses flourished thereafter.

Tooth Relic Temple, Chinatown

During the World War II era, ‘The Japanese Street’ was famous for gambling, prostitution, opium smoking and drinking. It also had an Opera House called Lai Chun Yuen now converted into a hotel. The gallery of this hotel displays images of professionals and their  clothing and makeup depict various emotions. For eg, black face symbolizes justice and red face symbolizes bravery.

Opera House

Further down the street is Nam’s offerings shop, which sells offerings for the dead. This supplies shop, about 150 years old, is one of the only 3 such shops in Singapore. They also make paper offerings in the form of houses, cars etc. which can cost over $8000!

Nam’s Supplies Shop: Offerings for the Dead

Across the street one can find  Teck Soon Medicals, a Traditional Chinese Medicine shop. These herbal medicines are made using historical recipes using 100 percent natural ingredients, a concept very popular in this part of the world. Another example of such medicines can be found in the Ayurveda medicines in India.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Shop

The next stop was Ann Siang Hill park, named after Chia Ann Siang. He was a rich Hokkein merchant and was one of the most successful merchants of all times. He acquired both Ann Siang Hill and Mount Erskine. The park is developed on a smal hill with beautiful landscape and is a nice place to stroll  around.

Entrance of Ann Siang Hill Park

Our next stop was quite unique. Something I thought never existed in Singapore! It was the last surviving well in Singapore which is preserved for future generations to see and embrace.

The only well in Singapore!

Singapore is one the unique cities that has been growing in land area for the last many years. This is due to the process of reclaimation of land from the sea. Once reclaimed, the piece of land is left as is for thirty years to allow it to settle. Post that the construction starts.

Thian Hock Keng temple, literally meaning temple of heaven & happiness, is built on one such piece of reclaimed land. Back then, it used to face the sea and was built to protect the fisherman from the hardships in the sea. The material to build this temple has come from Poland, Scotland and China. The entrance has male and female lion on either side of the main door and offerings are made here to the Goddess of the sea.

Thian Hock Keng Temple
Gorgeous Graffiti on the Back Side of Temple!

This is was the last stop of the day for us. Indeed a day well spent! We walked for about 5 Kms and got to see so many beautiful, culturally rich and historical places in Singapore. Whether you are a local or a tourist, I highly recommend a tour to the older lanes of this wonderful city!

Did you ever get a chance to explore any city on foot? If so, tell us below about your experience!!

Want to see more? Check out the other things you can do in Singapore!

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87 Comments Add yours

  1. Anna Sherchand says:

    I haven’t been to this beautiful place yet but will definitely use your tips when I’m heading there. Loved your pictures too. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. neha says:

    I have heard a lot about China Town , Singapore. And your post reaffirms what I have read elsewhere. i was in two minds about visiting here when I go to Singapore, but after reading your account, it goes into my must visit list 🙂

  3. taissnow says:

    I wish I had this guide last month when I went to visit Singapore. I was staying right across the street from The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and didn’t see much in Chinatown. I wish at had tried some of the food you mention, but I did eat chili crab in Chinatown which was really good! I never knew the details of some of the shops that you mention! Very cool!

  4. I wish I had this guide last month when I went to visit Singapore. I was staying right across the street from The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and didn’t see much in Chinatown. I wish at had tried some of the food you mention, but I did eat chili crab in Chinatown which was really good! I never knew the details of some of the shops that you mention! Very cool!

  5. I definitely want to take my family here, definitely have to check this out!

  6. I haven’t been to Singapore’s Chinatown. It looks very colorful, lively and you can find anything in one area. Would love to do food tastings and check out the temples.

  7. Pamela Leon says:

    It would be a dream to go to Singapur, and I will definitely take these places and tips into consideration. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Oh my gosh, your shots are really incredible! This place looks very lovely. Good to know. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Agnes says:

    I have visited Singapore and passed through the China town as well. I had no idea about the history. Now you have kind of completed my trip with the interesting story about the past 😊

  10. It looks like you definitely maximized the tour. I have never been to Singapore. It looks like Chinatown has such a long and rich history that would be nice to learn about and it would also be nice to see this in person.

  11. The Everyday Mom Life says:

    This place looks really beautiful and certainly a place where I would to add on my must see list. It looks like you had a great time.

  12. Oooo Singapore looks like one awesome place to visit!!! Definitely on my travel bucket list. Hopefully I make the trip one day!

  13. This looks like an amazing cultural experience. We’ve never visited Singapore but would love to.

  14. i have been to Singapore but would love to go again and China town looks fab!

  15. I love traveling! I’ve always wanted to take my whole family here to visit. My husband actually just went to Singapore last year and he loved it so much.

  16. Wow, such gorgeous photos! I would love to visit Chinatown one day! Looks like a ton of fun.

  17. Heather says:

    This is something we have been trying to do as a family recently – exploring our own backyard so to speak. This looks like a beautiful place to visit and live!

  18. You are so right, we tend to avoid tourist places in our own countries. But, have to tell you – I loved Singapore and Chinatown there. It seems I’ve missed on those graffiti on the back side of the Temple… Oh well, next time maybe! 😉 Thanks, it’s always great to have tips from locals! 🙂

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Thank you for your generous comment! I hope to see you next time when you are in Singapore! 🙂

  19. Ami Bhat says:

    I think I would really enjoy the tooth relic temple here. I wish I had done it the last time. Was just so short of time here that I had to skip it. Thanks for sharing the other delights of the place.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Glad to know that you visited as well! 🙂

  20. Shanghai looks to be a beautiful place to visit. I love to travel and I cannot wait to do some more traveling. Who knows? I may wind up in Chinatown, Singapore some day.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Actually it is not at all like Shanghai. You would be surprised to see the difference.

  21. Thank you for giving us a sneak peek. I haven’t been to Singapore but I have been to China Town in Sydney and DC and I love the food and culture scene. I can only imagine how much better the China Town in Singapore must be

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Wow! I am also learning. I didnt know there was one in Sydney. I was there for a few days in summer.

  22. There are so many things to experience and see here. I would love to visit and sample all the foods as well as take a lot of photos.

  23. Donah @ SJB says:

    Singapore is already one great tourist spot. But I’ve been really wanting to visit to China, yet it is only Singapore that is more accessible to me, in my present situation, it is just along my route when I travel home, so it is so good to know that there exist Chinatown in Singapore. I wish I could arrange a side-trip to here.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Aww! I am sure Donah it would be possible next time! Wish you very best.

  24. Ana Ojha says:

    This Chinatown gives a perfect vibe of Chinatown in New York City! Loved the architecture of the Thian Hock Keng Temple!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Yes Ana! I love how they have architected all temples and they all look so unique!

  25. I’ve never been to Singapore and have never realized that there are other Chinatowns, than the one in New York city.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Yeah! There are many! There is one in London as well. 🙂

  26. cvnxena says:

    This is on my bucket list and these pictures are making me love it even more! Singapore has been one of my favourite travel destinations

    1. Sona Jain says:

      I have been here for 3 years and it is indeed beautiful!

  27. I love reading about all the sights and sounds of the city. The colors are incredible and the food sounds like a must try.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Thank you Cindy! What you said is absolutely true.

  28. Bhushavali says:

    My friends have been inviting me to Singapore since years now but still I haven’t been there! This is more inspiration for me to book my flight to your country! The tooth relic temple and the well look so interesting! A bit of heritage still surviving!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      yeah! Singapore does a great job at preserving heritage. 🙂

  29. gokulr27 says:

    That is a pretty colorful place. Love the wall art on the temples. Really amazing.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Thank you Gokul! Indeed it is. 🙂

  30. I’ve heard lots of positive comments about Singapore.. These photos make me travel right now! I’m sure it offers great food and adventures.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      You will love your time in SG! Hope you get a chance to visit soon!

  31. darmarq says:

    I love the energy and art of china town! It is so exhilarating! And of course, the food.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Indeed it is very vibrant and lively! It is a food paradise.

  32. This is a great guide of Singapore’s Chinatown! I love how you bulleted the places to see for quick reference and then delved into some of the history and it’s beginnings as a Sago processing center 🙂

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Thank you! Appreciate you dropping by to leave this note. 🙂

  33. Kristina says:

    This looks like a fun experience and the photos are beautiful. I’d love to go here!! It would be a great time!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Thank you Kristina! 🙂

  34. My goodness, your pictures are gorgeous! The architecture in Singapore is fantastic and I can’t get over their form of graffiti! That looks like a masterpiece!

  35. My goodness, your pictures are gorgeous! The architecture in Singapore is fantastic and I can’t get over their form of graffiti! That looks like a masterpiece!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Thank you Heather! Yes, I absolutely love Singapore. 🙂

  36. Henry says:

    The chinatown in Singapore and the one in San Francisco always have been my two most favorites. Obviously this one is so much more authentic, and your photos really show it off beautifully. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Thank you Henry! So glad that you liked it. I am happy to hear you have been to Chinatown as well!

  37. Gorgeous pictures. I have been to Singapore twice and missed Chinatown both the time. Not repeating the mistake again, when I visit next.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Awww! No problem! I wish you luck to visit Singapore again so you get a chance to see this beautiful place.

  38. Ana De-Jesus says:

    I have been to China Town in London but I am sure that it does not compare to the real version. I like the sound of the food tasting sessions x

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Wow! You have been to the one in London. I am not sure how that is but the one in Singapore is really authentic. 🙂

  39. I love all the history in Chinatown. Each one is a bit different. I’m glad you explored this “touristy” spot in your hometown!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Thank you! I have always been a lazy bug when it comes to touristing in my town. I am glad I did it. 🙂

  40. Tom says:

    I’ve always been amused that a majority-Chinese place like Singapore has an area called Chinatown. Great photos and a nice tour, thanks. Seems like many parts of the city were once known for sordid purposes…

    1. Sona Jain says:

      That’s a great observation Tom! Singapore is very multicultural and they welcomed different races to settle during 20th century. Thank you for your compliments. 🙂

  41. I last visited Singapore as an 11 year old very many years ago so it looks like it has changed! My first stop would definitely be Food Street!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Wow! Singapore has transformed since then and you will definitely not recognize it to be the place you have been to. 🙂

  42. karahyvarinen says:

    What a neat place to visit. I love that there is so much culture and history to explore.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      I am sure you would be awed by it’s beauty!

  43. Smoomander says:

    I was in Singapore last year and unfortunately I couldn’t fit Chinatown in my itinerary. This will be very useful when I visit Singapore again!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Yeah! Singapore or somewhere else, Chinatown is a must see. 🙂

  44. Sounds like a very fun and exciting place to visit. I know here in California in San Francisco area they have a Chinatown. I have not yet visited but I would like to one day because I see all kinds of really cool pictures of the architecture which I would like to explore to .

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Yeah! Chinese temples and architecture is quite unique and I am sure you would love it. 🙂

  45. GlamKaren says:

    Wow – what a series of transformation in Chinatown! I’m was intrigued by reading the ways this area kept transforming, and now looking at your photos I can see how remarkable a location Chinatown really is! Wish I could be there to experience it first hand!

  46. Jessica Joachim says:

    This looks like an awesome place to visit. My husband and I have been working on building out travel bucker list for when we get our debts paid off, so this might just have to go on it!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Hey Jessica! Definitely..Wish you all the best with clearing up your debts! There is so much out there to embrace. 🙂

  47. Robin Rue says:

    That sounds like an amazing place to explore. I truly hope to get to Singapore someday! What an exotic place 🙂

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Singapore is indeed awesome and intriguing! You have to have this on your bucket list☺️

  48. siddharthandshruti says:

    We have been to China Town in Singapore a few years back. Loved the tooth relic temple. Would have liked to see the last surviving well! Haven’t seen the Japanese street. Will keep it in mind for next time.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Wow! Glad to know that you have been here already! It’s beautiful. 🙂

  49. Cassie says:

    This post couldn’t be timed better! I’ll be in Singapore early June and very excited! Keeping this bookmarked til then!!!

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Hey Cassie! Enjoy your stay in Singapore! Do let me know if you need anything in Singapore 🙂

  50. This looks like so much fun! I’ve been to plenty of Chinatowns. In fact, I even live near Chinatown in NYC. But I had no idea there was a Chinatown in Singapore. It sounds like a place with a rich history.

    1. Sona Jain says:

      Yes Stella! That’s great to know! I am sure you would love the food over there! 🙂

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