Experience Chinatown through the eyes of a local
Chinatown is an area that’s rich in culture and heritage, most famous for the buzz of activity that surrounds it during the festive season of Chinese New Year. The best way to discover this historical place is to embark on the Chinatown trail, which brings you on a journey of interesting and surprising finds,
The trail begins at Pagoda Street in the Chinatown Heritage Centre, where you’ll take a look at how life was like for the early Chinatown settlers.
Named after the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, Pagoda Street is also a good location to admire the architecture of restored shophouses which flank the street, all featuring characteristic five-foot ways (covered verandahs so named because of their width).
Across from the Chinatown Heritage Centre, you’ll find the pedestrian mall of Trengganu Street, where some of the shophouses are home to Singapore’s performing arts groups. Stop by to peek in and who knows, you might just be able to catch a rehearsal in session.
In the early days, hawkers used to sell a variety of wares ranging from cheap cooked food to household goods, day and night. Today, the hustle and bustle is brought back to the streets through the Chinatown Street Market on Pagoda, Trengganu and Sago Streets where one can find traditional wear, accessories, knick knacks and, of course, cheap bargains. Feast on hawker food ala old Chinatown on Smith Street, also known colloquially as 'Food Street', as the land was owned by Portuguese doctor Jose d’ Almeida, who opened a clinic and a shop here.
Situated on South Bridge Road is the famous Sri Mariamman Temple. Built originally as a wood and attap structure by Indian pioneer Narayana Pillai (who arrived in Singapore with Raffles), the temple was later replaced by a brick building. The Sri Mariamman Temple boasts a South Indian architectural design, and is dedicated to the Goddess Mariamman, believed to be a protector and curer of diseases. A stone’s throw away, you’ll see the Jamae Mosque, an Indian-Muslim mosque that is another well-known landmark in Chinatown. Originally built in 1826, it is believed to be one of the oldest mosques in Singapore.
Next, walk along South Bridge Road towards the junction of South Bridge and Maxwell roads and you’ll arrive at the Maxwell Road Food Centre. Once a wet market, it is now famous for its local hawker fare, including the renowned Tian Tian Chicken Rice.
Finally, end the Chinatown trail with a bit of shopping at Ann Siang Hill. Nutmeg plantations used to sit on the hill, before shophouses were later built and housed traditional clan associations. The elegantly restored shophouses on Ann Siang Road are now home to chic boutiques such as Asylum, as well as wine bars and eateries.
If you’re looking for a unique place to stay in a fascinating and cultural location, the boutique hotels of Chinatown make a perfect choice. Some of the hotels you can consider include The Scarlet, The Club, Hotel 1929 and New Majestic Hotel. These hotels are specially themed and each offers a different stay experience that will reveal more about Chinatown’s history.
With so much to see and do, take your time to explore Chinatown and you could be in for a lot more surprises.