Chinese make up 74.2% of the Singapore population. As descendants of immigrants from China in the early 20th Century, the Chinese in Singapore have diverse ancestries and religious beliefs, for example, Buddhism, Christianity, and Taoism. When Chinese immigrants first set foot in Singapore, they mostly resided in present-day Chinatown, which is popularly known to the Chinese as “Niu Che Shui (牛车水)”, literally translated to mean “bull-cart-water”. This was due to the fact that water supplies were transported into the area via ox-driven carts. Today, Chinatown is a rich treasure trove of discoveries, allowing visitors to take a glimpse into the rich culture and heritage of Singaporean Chinese.
View Chinatown Cultural Trail in a larger map
Attractions have been marked out on the map above in the order listed below.
1. Kreta Ayer Complex
Kreta Ayer is the Malay name for Chinatown. Once a workplace of the Japanese Military Police (Kempetai) during the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), it is now not only a marketplace as well as a food centre, it is also an area for communal activities to be held.
Kreta Ayer Complex is located at 335 Smith Street (S)050335.
2. Chinatown Heritage Centre (3 min walk from Kreta Ayer Complex)
In 21st Century Singapore, the landscape is covered in well-developed, opulent skyscrapers. Few would have imagined that Singapore was still a developing nation only 50 years ago. Here at the Chinatown Heritage Centre, you can see the remnants of Singapore's pre-independence days. Houses, complete with rooms and kitchens, are recreated here. Not only will visitors see the living conditions of Singaporeans in the 1950s and how Singaporeans made a living, they will also take a peak into Singapore's pre-colonial era, when the Four Evils of China (prostitution, opium smoking, gambling and drinking) were still very much prevalent.
Be sure not to miss the special segment explaining the roots of the Chinese in Singapore and the origins of their family names (located on Level 2), as well as the photo galleries (Level 3).
Chinatown Heritage Centre is located at 48 Pagoda Street, +65 6325 2878. Open daily 9.,00am – 8.00pm. Admission $10 adult, $6 child 12 & under)
3. Sri Mariamman Temple (2 min walk from Chinatown Heritage Centre)
Located in the middle of Chinatown is the Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Singapore is a multi-religious nation and there are 99,904 adult Hindus in Singapore in 2000. As part of promoting racial and religious harmony in Singapore, this Indian temple is right in the heart of a Chinese-dominated district.
This is a key place of worship for many Hindus in Singapore due to the fact that it once served as a shelter for refugees in the 20th Century and the Registry of Marriages for Hindus. The key icons of worship in this temple are the goddess Mariamman and two secondary gods Rama and Murugan. As a result, the temple is an important icon in the religious lives of many Hindus here. In addition, be awed by the beautiful and distinctive South Indian Dravidian architecture of the building.
Be sure to remove your shoes before you enter as this is a code of conduct followed by all devotees and visitors.
Sri Mariamman Temple is located at 244 South Bridge Road, S(058793), +65 6223 4064. Open daily 6.00am-9.00am Admission Free
4. Chinatown Food Street (3 min walk from Sri Mariamman)
Take a break and indulge in local Chinese delicacies! Over here at the Chinatown Food Street, enjoy a wide variety of Chinese food such as Hainanese chicken rice, wanton noodles and other popular hawker dishes. Besides savouring the economically-priced and delicious food, notice the shophouses along the street. Their unique architecture is reminiscent of Singapore's pre-independence days and only a few are left conserved as old buildings make way for brand new skyscrapers.
5. Ann Siang Hill (3 min walk from Chinatown Food Street)
Ann Siang Hill is named after its owner, Chia Ann Siang. He was a wealthy businessman who bought the area after having worked in a British trading company for more than 40 years. Here at Ann Siang Hill, you will be able to enjoy a panoramic view of the Chinatown area, especially the beautiful courtyards of the Thian Hock Keng Temple. Just a stone's throw away is Ann Siang Road, a perfect shopping district for those interested in purchasing souvenirs.
6. Thian Hock Keng Temple (6 min walk from Ann Siang Hill)
Buddhism is also one of the major religions here in Singapore. Hence, you must not miss this next destination, the Thian Hock Keng Temple. It is the most prominent Chinese temple in Singapore. It was originally a shrine for the Ma Zu Po (the Mother of the Heavenly Sages), to whom the Chinese immigrants would pray to in gratitude for their safe voyage to Singapore. As devotees were mainly from the Fujian province, the temple is widely associated with the Hokkien people and is currently managed by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan.
The architecture of this temple resembles traditional South Chinese styles. Its distinctive features are the the axial-north-south symmetry of the 3 courts, a magnificent roof design complete with the Jian Nian decoration, which involves exquisite and skillful porcelain mosaic tiling. In addition, notice how the large majestic statues of the goddesses Guan Yin and Ma Zu are elevated to highlight their authority and power.
Thian Hock Keng Temple is located at 158 Telok Ayer Street, S(068613) +65 6423 4616 Open daily Admission Free
7. Al Abrar Mosque (1 min walk from Thian Hock Keng Temple)
Visit the Al-Abrar Mosque, one of Singapore's earliest mosques. The mosque used to be a makeshift hut for Muslim worshippers in the early 19th Century, and today it's most distinctive feature is the tall four-minaret-like tower structure right at the front of the mosque. This is symbolic of the Indian-Islamic style. What is most amazing is the resilience of this building. Almost 200 years old, it has hardly required any major repairs or renovations and still stands as one of the most prominent national monuments of Singapore today.
Al Abrar Mosque is located at 192 Telok Ayer Street, S 068635 +65 6220 6306
8. Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church (2 min walk from Al-Abrar Mosque)
Now that we have better understood the Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist communities in Singapore, let us pay a visit to the Methodist Church. In 2010, the Singapore government was focused on fostering religious harmony in Singapore as well as with our neighbouring countries. The presence of a church, temples, mosques and Hindu temples in close proximity further highlights the fact that Singapore is a friendly and accepting society.
The Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church was founded in 1889, making it the oldest Chinese-speaking methodist Church in Singapore. The Roman-styled building has remained relatively unaltered since it was first built, giving visitors an illusion of an early 20th Centruy setting. It is also preserved as a National Monument as it introduces the Chinese-Christian community that came to reside in Singapore in the 19th Century, and their hard work and faith that kept the Christian fellowship alive and growing.
Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church is located at 235 Telok Ayer Street, S068656 +65 6324 4001