Chinatown in Singapore is an eclectic gathering of market stalls and restaurants, packed into narrow streets decorated with red lanterns and string lights the entire year. It may not be the world’s largest Chinatown, but it’s arguably one of the cleanest, and easy enough to spend the day in. So here are the top five things to add a bit more pizzazz to your trip to Chinatown.
1. Haggle for a Singapore Souvenir
There are plenty of stores around the island selling replicas of Singapore’s iconic Merlion, the Singapore Flyer, the orchid (Singapore’s national flower), the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort, and the Changi Airport Tower. But nothing quite beats getting a deal on these at Chinatown. Test your haggling skills and you’ll probably score a better deal than what the vendor was initially quoting you. Be prepared to walk away if necessary. There are plenty of stores selling the same thing so feel free to shop around for the best price.
2. Enjoy Traditional Singaporean Fare
It may be called Chinatown but you’ll have little trouble finding cuisine from any of Singapore’s cultures. It’s quite an experience sitting at a curb side café and watching the world whiz past. Unless you’re looking to rest and relax in Chinatown, it’s a good idea to go restaurant hopping. Try a starter in one place, then head for an entrée or mains to another restaurant. A little research and advice from your concierge will update you on which restaurant is best known for certain types of cuisine. It’s a great way to experience a wide array of food without straining your wallet.
3. Check Out the Tintin Shop
It’s far from Belgium but if you’re in Chinatown Singapore you’ll want to check out the official Tintin store on Pagoda Street. Even if you’re not a collector the store is a tribute to Hergé’s popular and loveable characters. Considering there are less than five official stores in Asia, the Tintin shop is worth visiting. Strike up a conversation with owner, Gabriel, and you just might pick up a rare fact or tidbit. While you’re checking out the store, don’t forget to look at the entrances of the other shophouses for the year and date in which they were established. Some are really old and have their own legends to tell.
4. Explore the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
Based on architecture from the Tang Dynasty, this temple claims to house a relic of the tooth of Buddha. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum was officially opened in 2005 and has been welcoming visitors since. The interior has a warm, effusive glow from the candles and incense sticks, and the staff are friendly. You can enjoy a simple vegetarian meal in the temple and offer a donation when you’re done. The temple is mere minutes away from an old Hindu temple so you can get in some shopping, a meal, and a few cultural experiences during your trip to Chinatown.
5. Visit the Sri Mariamman Temple
In true testimony to Singapore’s melting pot culture, there’s a beautiful Hindu temple in the heart of Chinatown. The Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. It was built in 1827, just eight years after the East India Company set up a trading settlement in Singapore. The nation was actually founded in 1819, making the temple younger than Singapore itself. The temple has undergone its fair share of restorations but still preserves its heritage, architecture, and customs that have continued since its inception. Don’t miss the Gopuram entrance structure with its colourful collection of statues depicting the deities and their animals.