Singapore’s Chinatown is the go-to destination for travelers looking for a dose of cultural stimulation. Dating at least as far back as the 13th century, the district is one of the world’s oldest and largest Chinatowns. Despite a history that is steeped in bloody conflict (multicultural, modern Singapore emerged out of a series of clashes between Malays and Chinese immigrants), the district has long been one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the city.
Located within the larger district of Outram, today’s Chinatown consists of Kreta Ayer, Tanjong Pagar, Bukit Pasoh, Ann Siang Hill and Telok Ayer. Here’s a look at each of the districts within Chinatown.
- Kreta Ayer – Considered the heart of Singapore’s Chinatown. Here you can find the Chinatown Heritage Center, Chinatown Food Street, Chinatown Night Market, and Kreta Ayer Wet Market.
- Tanjong Pagar – Pre-World War II shop houses are now primarily bridal salons.
- Bukit Pasoh – Often referred to as “Street of Clans,” with several Chinese cultural and clan associations interspersed between international restaurants and boutique hotels.
- Ann Siang Hill –The area is named after a wealthy sawmiller who acquired it in the 1800’s with the intent of building his estate. Today, look for interesting shops, cafes, and watering holes that have become popular hangouts for Singapore’s younger crowd.
- Telok Ayer – Home to a majority of the Chinese temples and Muslim mosques in Chinatown.
Exploring Singapore’s Chinatown is best done on a walking tour where you can get up close and personal with the well-preserved shops and houses. Wander into unique stores selling traditional Chinese medicines or funeral rites supplies, and don’t miss the Chinatown Wet Market.
The whole area is teeming with quality eateries, but those in pursuit of the best food in the area should make it a point to visit the Chinatown Smith Street Food Centre. If you are not comfortable exploring a large food center on your own, consider booking a Singapore Hawker Center Food Tour in Chinatown. On a tour, you can explore the best eats with an expert guide who can show you how to dine at a hawker center, which can be an intimidating experience for some.
The celebrations surrounding the Chinese New Year are extraordinary citywide, but the epicenter of the chaos, fireworks and traditional dances and practices is in Chinatown. Every year at the end of January, the streets come alive with red lanterns and resplendent revelers.
If you want to learn more about the area’s dark past, consider a Night Cultural and Historical Tour of Singapore’s Chinatown. Here, you can explore Singapore’s East End and its Red Light District. Due to the adult content covered on tours here, no one under 18 is allowed.
The main hub of transportation around the district is the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), which travels along the middle of Pagoda Street (Downtown Line) and Chinatown MRT Station (North East Line). The MRT works in concert with several public bus routes.