Chinatown, Singapore’s largest historic district, is one of the most popular areas among visitors to the city, thanks to its lively atmosphere, history and abundance of eateries and market stalls, serving up the very best of oriental cuisine.
Relive the history of Singapore’s Chinese clans and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the city with our walking guide to the Chinatown district – ideally located in the heart of town near PARKROYAL on Pickering, a PARKROYAL Collection hotel in Singapore.
Chinatown: Singapore’s largest historic district
Image by Digitalpimp
Singapore became a prominent trading post during the early 1800s, resulting in a large influx of migrants, 70 per cent of whom were of Chinese descent. Chinatown subsequently established itself as the largest district in the city and its residents divided into clans according to their regions. As the area became increasingly overcrowded, rogue, mafia-like groups began to form, resulting in frequent violent clashes as well the introduction of a number of illegal activities.
However, after suffering significant damage during the Second World War, Singapore’s Chinatown re-built and reinvented itself, developing into a thriving market place and cultural hotbed. History seekers can nevertheless still see the legacy of the clans today at the Ying Fo Fui Kun (Hakka Clan Association) building on Telok Ayer Street, where it has stood since 1822.
While you are there, take a short stroll to Thian Hock Keng Temple, one of the city’s oldest Hoklo temples dating back to 1839. The building, which is easily accessible from the well-appointed PARKROYAL on Pickering, a PARKROYAL Collection hotel has undergone several award-winning restorations and is open to private tours.
Chinatown’s street markets are a particular highlight, with the stalls on Trengganu Street and Pagoda Street specialising in souvenirs and electronics. For those of you keen to browse authentic Chinese products, a visit to the Yue Hwa emporium is essential. Here you’ll find stores selling Chinese silk, teas, herbs, antiques and traditional Chinese costumes.
Image by Ryan Custodio
The People’s Park Complex on Park Road also offers up an array of traditional Chinese goods, including textiles, herbs and jewellery. Keep an eye out for stalls selling old photos and artefacts dating back to the early days of Singapore, some of which make for excellent souvenirs.
A taste of Chinatown
No trip to Chinatown is complete without sampling some of the delicacies on offer from the countless food stalls, cafes and restaurants that line the district’s streets. Some establishments have even integrated themselves into the area’s most historic buildings, such as the Chung Hwa Medical Institution on Telok Ayer Street which is now home to My Awesome Cafe. The original purpose of the clinic was to provide free diagnosis to people in the wake of the Second World War and it still retains much of its original interior. This results in a fascinating place in which to enjoy homemade pastries, quiches and a fantastic three blend coffee comprising of beans from Sumatra, Columbia and Brazil.
You can also immerse yourself in the Singapore food culture and head to the Maxwell Food Centre where you will find an array of authentic local dishes from over one hundred food stalls lining the old converted market place. Alternatively, meander along Chinatown Food Street for an eclectic mix of cuisine which draws inspiration from a variety of Asian countries.
Image by John Liu
Dim Sum often features near the top of the ‘must taste’ list for many visitors to Chinatown, and the Red Star restaurant is the perfect spot in which to satisfy your cravings. This authentic looking Chinese restaurant is buzzing both day and night with regulars and visitors enjoying traditional bites in a setting that is nostalgic of the bygone era of Singapore’s Chinatown.
What’s your favourite part of Singapore’s Chinatown? Let us know in the comments section below.