Streets of Chinatown
At first glance, it may be a bit odd to find a 'Chinatown' in a country that is predominantly Chinese. Historically, though, this was where Chinese settlers in Singapore used to gather and live during British colonial rule, so the name stuck even though history has long since moved on.
Today, Chinatown is home to shops that sell a variety of Chinese-related products, from tea leaves to lacquered antiques, cosmetics and the traditional cheongsam. It's one of the few places left in Singapore where you can get a taste of what street stalls were like in the past, though if the heat is too much, you can still escape into air-conditioned malls nearby.
One of the more well-known attractions of Chinatown, the street stalls are one of the best ways to experience the life of Chinese settlers in Singapore.
Sign up for a walking tour that will take you through Pagoda Street, Sago Lane, and Smith Street, and guide you to the restored shophouses along these streets. Keep a lookout, especially, for medicinal halls selling snake-skin wine and dried seahorses.
When you're done, try out the wide array of yummy Chinese street food in the area.
Once known as the 'theatre street', Smith Street is now an outdoor eating area called the Chinatown Food Street. Hawker stalls and shophouse restaurants line the street, offering a wide variety of Chinese delicacies for you to sample.
This street gets its name from the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore's oldest Hindu place of worship. The Chinese Heritage Centre is also located here, featuring reconstructions of opium-smoking dens, gambling houses and prostitute's parlour, once an everyday part of settler life in Chinatown.
There are also shops here that provide traditional services like watch repair, fortune telling and clog making.
A street with a dark past, Sago Lane used to be home to Chinese 'death houses', which were literally homes where dying Chinese, especially the destitute, used to spend the last days of their lives. Not surprisingly, funeral parlours used to flourish here.
The death houses have long since been banned, and most of the funeral parlours have moved out. Part of Sago Lane was removed during the construction of the Chinatown Shopping Complex. As for the part that remains, there are plans to restore it with food stalls and traditional trade stores.
Eu Tong Sen Street
The main thoroughfare running through Chinatown, Eu Tong Sen Street used to be the main meeting place for Chinese immigrants. The major landmark here is the refurbished Majestic Theatre, which is now a retail mall. You can also dine at the former Thong Chai Medical Institution, which has been turned into a restuarant cum bar.
Getting to Chinatown
Drop at either the Chinatown MRT station (purple North-East Line) or the Outram Park MRT station on the green East-West line.
If you want to bring a small souvenir back home for your friends and family, check out those “3 for $10” shops in Chinatown. Merlions in snow globes, miniature Singapore Flyers, T-shirts with “No chewing gum” signs… great for a few laughs too.