Singapore's Chinatown evolved around 1821 when the first Chinese junk arrived from Xiamen, Fujian province in China. The passengers, all men, set up home around the south of the Singapore River which is known today as Telok Ayer. Conditions were harsh. The only source of fresh water were from the many wells in Ann Siang Hill and at Spring Street. Each household had to collect fresh water in bullock-drawn carts, hence Chinatown's local name - Niu Che Shui (Bullock Cart Water).
Chinatown is full of contrasts and fascinating details. A place where many of our forefathers first made their homes, where the historic buildings have been lovingly conserved, where century-old beliefs are still practiced, and, in a manner true to the New Asia -Singapore spirit, where fashionable new ideas have taken root. Much of Chinatown has recently been renovated, but the old traditions endure. During Chinese New Year, the whole of Chinatown is lit up and buzzes with activity as stalls sell a variety of festive goods.
South, across the river, the monolithic towers of the Financial District cast long shadows over Chinatown, whose row of shop-houses stretches for around one kilometer, as far as Cantonment Road. Singapore's World Trade Centre is a fifteen-minute walk southwest of the outskirts of Chinatown, and from there cable cars run across to Sentosa.
Chinatown, with the major draws being more shopping and eating. Antique shops abound, specializing in everything from large furniture and decorative pieces to small jewelry, porcelain and jade. Haggling, bargaining, whatever you call it, it is the rule of the day with shopkeepers. Even if English communications break down, you can trust commerce to prevail.
In Chinatown alone, there are many places of interest, including mosques, temples, markets, parks, and shop houses. Here you will find the Chinatown Heritage Centre which is located in Pagoda Street. This is a museum where you will learn all about the history of Chinatown and also how the early Chinese immigrants live in hard lives. The Thian Hock Keng Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hokkien temple. It is wonderfully decorated. Sri Mariamman Temple is Hindu and the city’s oldest. The entrance tower is colorful and covered with deities and floral designs. The peaceful co-existence of the different places of worship in the same area, even until today, reflects the racial and religious harmony in Singapore.
For an authentic taste of Chinese culture, try visiting a teahouse and the Thong Chai Medical Institute, then take a peek into a typical middle-class Chinese home in the 1920s at the Chinaman Scholar's Gallery. Don't forget to stop by Food Street for an alfresco meal and the various Chinese pastry shops for home-made tarts and cakes and try the famous dim sum.
Chinatown can be divided into four main districts - Kreta Ayer , Telok Ayer , Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Pasoh - each with a distinctive flavour of its own. The heart of activity is in the Trengganu/Smith Streets area.
Getting There: A short walk from Outram Park (EW16) or Chinatown (NE4) MRT Stations.