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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrSingapore is an intoxicating mix of modernism and multiculturalism, with the latter permeating through every single aspect of the city’s character. From the eclectic architecture to the varied and unique cuisine, Singapore’s most enticing aspect is that fact that when you travel here, you travel everywhere. Chinatown is the city’s most culturally vibrant heart, its core,and arguably its most tantalizing nook.
Visit Singapore’s Chinatown and you could be shopping in Beijing, feasting in Hong Kong, sightseeing in Shangri-La, and bartering for souvenirs in Dali.
The Best in the World?Mainland Chinese have been flocking to Singapore for centuries so it comes as no surprise that, along the way, they manage to simulate a piece of their homeland in the city. Renowned for being particularly attached to their customs and way of life, not to mention their food, Chinese immigrants have the reputation for being exceptionally apt at re-creating their homeland wherever they roam. For the curious visitor this translates to a superb ‘holiday inception’ moment.
Although some of the world’s most famous capitals boast their own thriving versions of Chinatown, be it New York, Sydney, Paris or San Francisco, there’s something particularly unique to discover in Singapore. Due to its close geographical proximity, it is constantly brimming with Chinese tourists who flock here en masse to stock up on jewelry and goods which are sold at cheaper prices than in major Chinese cities. Moreover, per capita, Singapore boasts one of the highest numbers of Chinese immigrants on Earth, making up almost 10% of its entire population. This is about as undiluted as a Chinatown could ever be.
Can’t get to China this year? Visit Singapore instead and you’d (almost) not even notice the difference.
How it All StartedSingapore’s Chinatown is the largest and oldest in the world. When the first written records of it appeared, in the early 14th century, a healthy Chinese population was already alive and thriving. Earliest archaeological excavations have unearthed coins and relics dating back to China’s Song dynasty of the 10th and 11th centuries. The finds have been so extensive that experts believe traders had been coming here for centuries beforehand, at the very least.
Due to its sheer size and longevity; you may notice a definite blurring of lines between Chinatown and the rest of Singapore. Deciphering where one ends and the other begins may be a challenge. Nevertheless, a large section of the enclave, namely between Smith and Pagoda streets, are considered the core of Chinatown and the most visited by foreign tourists. Chinese-Singapore, however, continues far beyond these borders.
What there is to See and DoChinese influence in Singapore is extensive and has permeated every aspects of the local culture; from religion to cuisine and architecture. Most Singaporeans nowadays may not even know that many of their festivals, beliefs and even dishes have a distinct Chinese origin. Yet there is very little doubting the origins of Chinatown, and spending a few hours (or days) perusing the narrow alleys of the area, past restored shop-houses and open-air bazaars selling everything from solar-powered prayer-wheels to dehydrated insects, is an incredibly fun thing to do.
Aside from the browsing, bartering and feasting (yes, yes, it’s really all about the food!), here are some of the best highlights not to be missed.
Chinatown Heritage CenterA fantastic little museum which showcases the story of Chinese migration to the city: from the trials and tribulations of early migrants, to the modern-day success stories.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and MuseumAs if you needed more proof that the Chinese really are that pivotal to Singapore, their most revered temple is, nowadays, one of the most visited museums in the city. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is as enticing as its name suggests and comprises a shrine to Buddha’s tooth (a revered relic unearthed in Myanmar), as well as a magnificently built and decorated temple. With suggestive gardens and a most peaceful ambiance, this is one of Singapore’s most beloved oases.
Jamae MosquePerhaps not the most visited of all the religious buildings in Singapore, the Jamae Mosque is nonetheless an interesting place to visit, as it epitomizes all that is so intrinsically Singapore: it’s an Islamic mosque, built to Indian design, right in the center of Chinatown.
Singapore City GalleryA fantastic display of the whole country in miniature, the Singapore City Gallery is a great place to spend an hour in, if you wish to see the phenomenal evolution of this city state’s urban planning over the last few decades.
Club StreetPossibly the most diverse of all the streets in Chinatown, here you’ll find fantastic Korean and Western eateries. The whole strip closes down to traffic in the evenings as it becomes a brilliant place for people watching, dining & drinking.
Shopping & EatingHead to Singapore’ Chinatown and your senses will be completely titillated from every which way. The abundance of market stalls and shops selling trinkets, knick-knacks, and souvenirs, not to mention a plethora of mouthwatering food and a near ending supply of 1,001 different types of tea, is undoubtedly what attracts most visitors. Here, you can have a suit, dress or pants made in less time than it will take you to slurp a wonton soup and, fortunately, there are plenty of Chinese massage parlors scattered about for when it all gets too tiring. Indulge at will.
Maxwell Center is a popular choice for cheap eats and runs on adrenalin 24/7 and if you’re coming in the evening check out the hawker stalls on Smith Street.
AccommodationIf you want to be in the heart of the action, and save a few much-needed Singaporean dollars, then choose to stay at one of the many hostels in Chinatown. The area is the renowned backpacker haven in the city and home to a vast array of renovated guesthouses.
How to Get ThereChinatown is in the center of Singapore, only about 3km west of tourist, waterfront, core.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Feb 10, 2015