Monday, June 18, 2012

A Walk Around Singapore's Chinatown

A lot of the visitors to Singapore I meet usually forgo a visit to the Lion City's Chinatown, opting instead to traipse along the more popular touristy destinations.  I, however, do highly recommend you check this little historical and cultural gem out for a number of reasons.

Madir in front of Pagoda Street in Singapore's Chinatown

For most Filipinos, what usually comes to mind when we hear the word "Chinatown" is Binondo, Manila.  Although there are a few similarities (a few old shophouses and some of the local delicacies), Singapore's own stands apart in a number of ways.

Here, there, and everywhere...

Brief History

Sir Stamford Raffles, a British statesman held to be the founder of this small city-state, originally allocated the area south of the Singapore river to the Chinese in his 1828 Town Plan.  This urban plan was designed to maintain some order in the Lion City's urban development program during it's early years as a British colony, and of which saw Singapore divided into residencial areas based on ethnicity: European Town for the Europeans, Chinese Kampong for the ethnic Chinese, Chulia Kampong for the ethnic Indians, and Kampong Glam for the Muslims, ethnic Malays, and Arabs.

Today, the original Chinese Kampong area is now known Chinatown and is composed of 4 main districts: Telok Ayer (where you can find some of Singapore's oldest places of worship), Bukit Pasoh (a.k.a. the "Street of Clans" is home to a number of Chinese cultural and clan associations), Tanjong Pagar (an area known for it's nightspots, pubs, and restaurants housed beneath pre-World War II shophouses), and Kreta Ayer (where the famous Chinatown Food and Market Streets are located).  Each has their own distinct personalities and identities.

SOURCE: website

Not Just your Average Everyday Tourist Destination

Still not convinced?  Here are just a few things you can do in Singapore's Chinatown.

1. Take in the wonderful architectural sights (shophouses, temples and old buildings galore)

I've always been a stickler for old architecture.  For me, they just scream out histories and have tons of stories to tell.  And since Chinatown is designated as a conservation area by the Singapore government, here you'll be delighted to find old pre-World War II shophouses (a unique housing feature where businesses were ran on the lower levels and family residences were located on the 2nd storey) well preserved and in good condition.
A typical Chinese shophouse

A row of old buildings along South Bridge Road

A number of temples and mosques are located here as well.

The Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore

2.  Chinatown Street Market

The Chinatown Street Market, launched last 2004, encompasses the stretch between Pagoda to Sago Streets and is a great place to shop for souvenirs.  The choices here are more varied and items are priced much lower than those offered at Bugis Street (another popular place for souvenir shopping here in Singapore.)

Counterclockwise from right: shirts, magnets, bag hangers and compact mirrors all with a uniquely 
Singaporean twist

 The Chinatown Street Market is open from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily (not exactly sure if this includes public holidays.)  Try to drop by early to avoid the crowd and to give yourself more time to look around.

Pagoda street rush

My very first trip here last 2007 had me browsing through all the shops trying to find the best price and value for the exact same item I was interested in since I noticed that shops near the Pagoda street entrance (near the MRT station) priced their wares higher than those found in the center and end of the street. 

But on my most recent trip here last April 2012 with the Madir, we found almost all shops selling the exact same items at similar prices.  It still wouldn't hurt to look around though, just in case you find something cheaper.

3. Chinatown Food Street

Officially launched in 2001, the Chinatown Food Street encompasses the whole stretch of Smith Street and is a gastronomic delight to the senses.


Operating hours are from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily.

4. The Chinatown Heritage Centre, and the Singapore Coins & Notes Museum

Pagoda Street also houses 2 places of cultural and historical interest: the Chinatown Heritage Centre (where you can learn the stories of the early Chinese settlers in Singapore), and the Singapore Coins & Notes Museum (which showcases the evolution of the city-state's currency from the 1800s to the present day).

Singapore Coins & Notes Museum

5. The Tintin Shop

Fans of George Remi's (a.k.a. HergĂ©) ever popular comics will be delighted to find that Pagoda Street also houses an entire shop dedicated entirely to Tintin and his adventures -- The Tintin Shop.

The Tintin Shop

Opened last 2010, this quaint shop sells almost every imaginable Tintin-inspired memorabilia -- from figurines to books to tote bags, etc.  I could quite easily spend a whole day browsing through all the merchandise.  *sigh*

So, when in Singapore, why not forgo the usual touristy route and try something different for a change.  J


Chinatown, Singapore

Planning to visit?  Drop by my "Getting Around Singapore" post (click here) for more details on how to get around the Lion City.

Madir posing in front of the Pagoda street sign


  1. Chinatown was one of my favorite places in Singapore when I went there! I think it's the cheapest place to buy souvenirs (tama ba?) and I love the charm of nearby Ansiang Hill too :)

    1. We'll compared to Bugis, it is cheaper to buy souvenirs at Chinatown. We weren't able to drop by Ansiang Hill. I think it's full of pubs right? =)

  2. will try to remember going here when my plans of going to sg pushes through this year :) thanks for sharing!

  3. i miss SG's Chinatown.. love Bee Cheng Hiang's delicacies and food products! :)


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