Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

Chinatown Walking Tour (Self Guided), Singapore

The Chinese make up a majority of the population in Singapore. Chinatown is, therefore, a district full of valuable historical monuments, fascinating museums, and tasty food markets. There are also many wonderful shop-houses that sell exotic items to be found nowhere else. This self-guided tour will take you through the most popular places in Singapore's Chinatown.
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Chinatown Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Chinatown Walking Tour
Guide Location: Singapore » Singapore (See other walking tours in Singapore)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Baba House
  • Maxwell Food Center
  • Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum
  • Smith Street
  • Chinatown Heritage Center
  • Sri Mariamman Temple
  • Thian Hock Keng Temple
  • Fuk Tak Chi Museum
1
Baba House

1) Baba House

Baba House (also referred to as NUS Baba House) is a museum in Singapore, showcasing Peranakan history, architecture and heritage. It is a traditional Peranakan pre-war terrace-house which was formerly owned by the family of a 19th-century shipping tycoon Wee Bin who settled in Singapore, after arriving from the southern Chinese province of Fujian.

Built in the 1890s, 157 Neil Road is a residential terrace house located in the Residential Historic District of Blair Plain. The house came into the Wee Family in 1910 when a matriarch of the family bought the house for her grandson, Wee Eng Cheng. The house was last owned and managed by Mr Wee Lin, the sixth-generation descendant of Wee Bin. The Bin family donated house to the National University of Singapore for educating younger generations about Peranakan history, culture and architecture.

About 70 per cent of the furniture in the House belonged to the Wee estate, while the rest of the items were acquired from Peranakan families in Singapore and Malacca. The first two storeys of the House showcase the Peranakan domestic interior, while artists showcase modern interpretations of Peranakan culture through the exhibition gallery on the third storey. At the same time, the House will also be a venue for Peranakan culinary and craft workshops to be organized by Musem of the National University of Singapore.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Maxwell Food Center

2) Maxwell Food Center

Maxwell Food Center is a hawker center with many Singapore hawker delights. There is a great selection of authentic Singaporean food and you can also find stalls which specialize in dishes for all over Asia.

There are over a hundred cooked food stalls arranged in three rows under a steel roof. The food here is cheap eats. The food is great and there is plenty of options. It is located near the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The place is very popular at lunch hours - finding a place to sit down during this time may be a challenge. If you are in Chinatown, Maxwell Food Center is a great place to go for grabbing a bite.

Opening Hours: 8:00 - 2:00 Daily
3
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum

3) Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum (must see)

Located in Singapore's Chinatown, this opulent cultural monument is cherished by the local Chinese who make up the overwhelming majority of the city-state's population. The temple's majestic outside appearance is equally matched on the inside.

Always lit up at night, it is open to visitors 24 hours a day. The dress code is strict and demands women to cover their shoulders, with a conservative dress or slacks advised for the lower part. Likewise, men are prohibited from wearing shorts or tank-tops, but oddly enough shoes are permitted for all, as are non-flash photos in some places.

Locals go in to pray regularly and you may find here a monk conducting a prayer or chanting in a microphone quite often. Set in the rear are the statues of Buddhas each overseeing a certain astrological sign, but the key figure in the main hall is Maitreya, a Buddha that is yet to come to Earth, the wooden statue of which here is believed to be 1,000 years old.

One of the temple's floors is fully filled with statues, among which is that of Guan Yin – Chinese Bodhisattva, Goddess of Compassion, Mercy and Kindness. Further up, in the mezzanine, there are life-sized wax sculptures of present and past leaders of the Temple – quite rich in detail actually (even showing wrinkles on hands!) and fit to rival any wax museum in the world. Also here is a balcony from which one can observe, through the drapes, the huge main prayer room down below, on the 1st floor.

Finally, the 4th floor is where the ultimate treasure of the temple is found – the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Stupa reportedly containing a tooth of Gautama Buddha himself, discovered in 1980 at a Burmese monastery. Now encased in a golden chamber behind glass panels, it can't be inspected up close, but there is an accompanying scale model at the front which can be viewed at any time.

Another must-see within the temple is the orchid garden on the rooftop featuring an enormous “prayer wheel” inside a pavilion of 10,000 small Buddhas lining the walls. Most people aren't aware of this garden, so it is very quiet and relaxing up here – an ideal setting for reflection prior to hitting the streets of Singapore's Chinatown once again.

Tip:
Non-flash-photos are permitted in some places, but not in the relic chamber.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7am-7pm
4
Smith Street

4) Smith Street

Singapore's Chinatown abounds in eateries of various sort which are particularly diverse in the heart of the area, right on and around South Bridge Road. A few touts on Smith Street will try to lure you into some foreigner-friendly restaurants, all decent enough if not the best in their class, and varied enough to eat something different every day for a few weeks. So if you want a great selection of different Asian cuisines, head to Smith Street and dine your way around South East Asia with ease. Give the hawker stalls along the road a miss if looking for genuine local food, even though they're also quite delicious and relatively cheap.

You could start off the day with a Michelin-star hawker lunch at Liao Fan Hawker Chan; next, you could leave the restaurant and roam the streets for unique souvenirs that are much cheaper and affordable, compared to other places. There are several tea shops, craft beer stalls, and many other Chinese shops set in the historical shop-houses, and you will also be able to buy a Durian fruit here or taste Durian ice cream if you're feeling adventurous.

Wherever you choose to go, you won't feel intimidated or pressurized to buy unlike in many other countries. Curiously enough for a street with so much authentic fare, Smith Street is the only street in Chinatown with an English name.
5
Chinatown Heritage Center

5) Chinatown Heritage Center

Located within three beautifully-restored shophouses on Pagoda Street, the Chinatown Heritage Centre tells the stories of Singapore’s past.

The center really gives you an insight into the life of the Straits Chinese who came to Singapore, living in the shophouses and carry on their trade in a single room shared with all their family members. The recreations of the various trades plied by this hardworking community - tailor, shoemaker, dressmaker, doctor etc. - together with the communal kitchen and toilet areas is a real eye opener into their living conditions in the 1950s.

The audio guide explains who lived behind the shop front and house, and how the tailor, apprentices and his family worked and lived together as well as the coolies and Samsui women in the floors above.

In addition to its exhibits, the Chinatown Heritage Centre holds various workshops and story-telling sessions for visitors who want to learn about the Chinatown history. Those looking to bring home a memento can find a range of books, postcards and prints by local artists.
6
Sri Mariamman Temple

6) Sri Mariamman Temple (must see)

Singapore’s oldest Hindu shrine, the Sri Mariamman Temple, is easily identified by the superb entrance “gopura” bristling with brightly colored deities. Located in the Chinatown district, the temple serves the majority Hindu Singaporeans, known as Tamilians.

Once inside, look up at the roof and you will see splendid friezes depicting a host of Hindu deities, including the three manifestations of the supreme being: Brahma the creator, with three of his four heads showing; Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer, the latter holding one of his sons. The main sanctum, facing you as you walk inside the temple, is devoted to Mariamman, a goddess worshiped for her healing powers. Smaller sanctums dotted all around the temple's walkway honor a number of other deities. In the one dedicated to the goddess Periachi Amman, a sculpture portrays her with a queen lying on her lap, whose evil child she has ripped from her womb, which is most interesting given that Periachi Amman is the protector of children, to whom babies are brought when they're only one month old. Sri Aravan, with his bushy mustache and big ears, is far less intimidating and his sanctum is at the back of the complex.

To the left of the main sanctum is a patch of sand which once a year, during the festival of Thimithi (in October or November), is covered in red-hot coals that male Hindus run across to prove the strength of their faith. The participants, who line up all the way along South Bridge Road waiting for their turn, are supposedly protected from the heat of the coals by the power of prayer.

If you go during certain times you will see different interesting rituals almost every day. Visiting here is guaranteed to be a great, culturally-enlightening experience. As in any place of worship, you must be respectful toward locals and follow their lead. Lowered voices, covered shoulders, and removed shoes are generally required, but bringing a pair of socks would probably help the more sensitive, as the floors can be scorching hot due to the sun and burn the feet.

Why You Should Visit:
If you go during certain times you will see different interesting rituals almost every day.
Visiting here is guaranteed to be a great, culturally-enlightening experience.
Free to enter though there's a small charge for tourists – called a "camera fee".

Tip:
As in any place of worship, you must be respectful toward locals and follow their lead. Lowered voices, covered shoulders, and removed shoes are generally required, but bringing a pair of socks would probably help the more sensitive, as the floors can be scorching hot due to the sun and burn the feet.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 5am-11:30am / 5pm-8:45pm
7
Thian Hock Keng Temple

7) Thian Hock Keng Temple (must see)

To get a glimpse of a culture that is absolutely out of the ordinary, visit Thian Hock Keng, the oldest Hokkien temple in Singapore whose name literally translates to the "Palace of Heavenly Happiness". Now skillfully restored, the temple was constructed in the 19th century in the Southern Chinese architectural style, without any use of nails and with all the materials imported from China. It stands on the site of a small house where immigrants made offerings to Ma Cho Po, aslo known as Mazu [Ma-tsu] in Mandarin, regarded by her worshipers as a powerful and benevolent Queen of Heaven whose statue, also shipped in from China, was set here in time for the temple’s inauguration in 1842. It now stands in the center of the main hall, flanked by the God of War on the right and the Protector of Life on the left.

From the street, the temple looks quite spectacular, with dragons stalking its broad roofs, and the entrance to the temple compound bristling with ceramic flowers, foliage and figures. Specifically, the side entrance gates feature brightly colored tiles portraying peacocks, roses and the Buddhist swastika motif symbolizing good luck, eternity and immortality. Two stone lions, traditional sentinels of any Taoist temple, stand guard at the entrance while the door gods, painted on the front doors, prevent evil spirits from entering.

Beyond this elaborate entrance are two courtyards, straddling which is the temple proper, comprising the shrine of Ma Cho Po. On either side of the temple are pagodas – the one on the left is a shrine of Confucius, and the one on the right houses ancestral tablets of immigrants who founded the temple. Look out for signboards to better understand the significance of various motifs found in all parts of the temple. Look out, too, for the huge ovens, always lit, in which offerings to either gods or ancestors are burnt.

The story of the Chinese immigrants who, in the early 1900s, left their hometowns in Southern China for Singapore in search of a better life is very nicely painted as a wall mural that runs the entire length of the temple's back wall along Amoy Street, so don't forget to check it out before leaving.

Why You Should Visit:
Very peaceful atmosphere and a wonderful piece of Asian architecture.
A photographer's dream, with ornate and colorful carvings everywhere.

Tip:
Make sure that you respect the privacy of those praying and only take photos in the front area.
Located literally next door to the temple is an Indian Muslim Mosque – the Nagore Dargah.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7:30am-5:30pm
8
Fuk Tak Chi Museum

8) Fuk Tak Chi Museum

The Fuk Tak Chi (Chinese: 福德祠) is the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore, built in 1824 by Hakka and Cantonese immigrants five years after the founding of the modern city in 1819. Dedicated to Tua Pek Kong, it is a Shenist temple which caters to the religious needs of both Confucianists and Taoists.

The small shrine later also catered to the welfare of the large Chinese community by functioning as an association.

In August 1998, the building was restored and converted into a museum with artifacts on the lives of early Chinese migrants in Singapore in April 1998.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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