Travel Chronicles in Singapore. From Chinatown with Love

I arrived at the Changi International Airport in Singapore around 2:00 pm from Bangkok. Ahead I had a weekend of an afternoon, two days, and three nights, with two clear objectives. I want to visit Singapore and explore its nightlife. We have been trapped and is in love with Singapore. Exciting, hypnotizing and incredible, this is the Asian Tiger. Together with Bangkok and Hong Kong, it is currently one of the standards of Southeast Asia.

Once I had gone through the immigration procedures, I went straight to the hotel. From the Singapore airport, you can go to the city center by metro for only 2 SGD and the journey takes just under half an hour. I preferred to take a shuttle service of minivans that I share with more people and that leaves every half hour or so. It cost me 7 SGD. I wanted to get to the hotel soon and I did not feel like dragging my suitcase around the city. Given the difference in price, I thought it was a good option.

Once in the hotel, it was past 4 in the afternoon. At night I had stayed to have a drink with my friend so I still had some time to do some sightseeing. I decided to visit Chinatown, one of the three ethnic neighborhoods of the city (Chinatown, Little India and Arab Quarter). My hotel was 10 minutes walk from Chinatown so I did not need to take public transport.

After the expedition to the bus stop, I wanted to visit China Town. However, the monsoon rain started, leaving me to rest for a while on a terrace until the rain subsided. In Singapore, a daily storm usually lasts about an hour. You take it with patience, take the opportunity to write your travel notes and once for the storm the street and air are clean to kick again.

Chinatown in Singapore is dramatically bigger than Little India. The color red abounds in any corner and markets and stores dominate the space. Despite the rain, people enjoyed their daily shopping even though I missed seeing the tables outside Smith Street full of people eating.

The Chinatown of Singapore, like any other in the world, is a neighborhood full of flea markets, shops, traditional pharmacies, restaurants. Here the customs of the Chinese ethnic group of the city can be seen. In general, in all the cities where we have visited Chinatown, we have found an authentic, chaotic, disorganized, thick, crowded and very trade-oriented place. Singapore's Chinatown still has the charm and authenticity of Chinese culture, but it is infinitely more organized and cleaner than any of the others.

The Chinatown of Singapore is somewhat different from the rest of Chinatowns from other Asian cities such as Bangkok. There is no chaos, disorder, bustle, bugs hanging in front of the public, or merchandise displayed in the street piled up in any way. In Singapore, everything is neat, clean and well taken care of to the extreme.

The Chinatown of Singapore also boasts one of the hallmarks of the city that houses it is its multiculturalism. Not in vain in the middle of Chinatown, there is an important Hindu temple, two mosques, several Buddhist temples, and a racial mixture difficult to find in another city of the Asian continent.

My first impression was that it was a bit artificial, set up for tourists, and that little was left of its origins as a neighborhood for the reception of Chinese immigrants. As night fell, my impression changed little by little. From those hours is when the neighborhood is filled with local people. People come to do their shopping, have a drink or eat in one of its many restaurants or outdoor stalls.

Chinatown is an excellent place to eat at reasonable prices, which is difficult in Singapore. At any Smith Street food stand you can dine acceptably for 10 SGD (the dishes at the Hawkers (food stalls) in Chinatown are usually around 5 SGD). China Town was the place where we found all the drinks, from juices to beers or soft drinks at the best price. For example, in Chinatown Food Street you can enter a bar, take your beer and take it at one of the street tables for $ 5.

The higher category restaurants are expensive but they do not shoot. I remember having dinner at a restaurant in the area for 60 SGD. Despite the intimidating initial queue, we decided to try it. Finally, there was a fast and well-organized row. We had about 15 minutes of waiting on the weekend. After tasting the specialty of the house, we left more than happy. The duck lacquered with Chinese noodles is very delicious. The price, quantity, and quality is second to none. You cannot ask for more.

And speaking of food, in this neighborhood there are famous bakeries. You cannot miss the egg tarts (egg yolk cakes on a puff pastry base, mooncakes or any other pastry they sell). The bakeries are really on another level.

Chinatown in Singapore is a picturesque and fascinating place. Walking the neighborhood on foot, I discover the cultural richness of the facades and balconies of colors of its old colonial houses. I see the bustling atmosphere of its streets, the unique architecture of its small temples and shrines of worship. There are the colorful and showy fairy lanterns that adorn every corner.

If there is something that we enjoy especially in Singapore, it was with the quality of urban art that was exhibited in its streets. Each district has a large number of them, and in the case of Chinatown, they are intimately linked to the history and culture of the city. Our favorite, without a doubt, was the drawing of the Samsui Chinese women, with their characteristic blue dress and red scarves.

As a curiosity, I get to know that there are only two samsui women left now in Singapore, and they are already octogenarian. The rest, either returned to China or have already died.

I got lost in its streets and visited the most important tourist attractions in the area such as the Al Abrar and Jamae mosques. I also visit the most colorful Hindu temple in Singapore. Sri Mariamman Temple dates from 1827 and reminded us a lot of that we had already had the opportunity to visit in Kuala Lumpur. Here we lived a magical cultural experience when invited to attend a Hindu wedding. For that reason, it is a temple that we remember with a lot of affection.

The Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple is a modest temple, if we compare it with the temples we had the opportunity to visit in South India last year, which is more majestic, especially in the lost city of Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the temple was well worth a visit for the color of its gopuram (tower), and the beautiful details of the interior of its vaults.

Our next stop is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. On the 4th floor of this colossal temple of recent construction lies a relic. It is said to be of Buddha. One of his teeth, found in 1980, under the stupa of a temple that collapsed in Myanmar. The relic is guarded by a giant stupa of 3.5 tons and topped by 320 Kg of solid gold. The building was built following the precepts of the traditional Chinese Buddhist temples, Tang style, in order to guard the ancient relic.

When we pass through the main door of the imposing temple, under the watchful eye of its two guardians, we feel that he is in a special place. After entering the interior, the red, the golden, and the smell of incense invade the senses. Of the 5 floors that make up the building, the first is a museum dedicated to Buddha and Buddhist philosophy. We see the Zen garden that is located on the roof. We visited the small sanctuary under an unexpected tropical storm.

Hidden among the tropical foliage, and the carvings of hundreds of Buddhas, there is also a giant sacred prayer wheel. It is like the one we already had the chance to roll on our trip to the Tibetan centers in Northeastern India, where the faithful chant mantras and prayers while meditating, rolling it.

We also visit the Thian Hock Keng Temple. It is the oldest Buddhist temple in Singapore, dedicated to the sea goddess Ma Cho. It was built by Chinese immigrants in gratitude for having survived the long journey to Singapore from China. It was declared a national monument in 1973, due to the mastery of its architecture, assembled without a single nail. We especially liked the colorful doors of the temple guardians. It was a place where we admire the contrast between the modern and the ancient, offered by this beautiful area of ​Singapore.

We next move to the Chinatown Heritage Center, a museum about the history and heritage of the Chinese community of Singapore. It shows a window to the past, and the humble and curious Chinese origin, and the harsh ways of life of ancient Singapore. In the early decades of the 1800s, Singapore was a very interesting place. It was a place of a black and white film with ingredients of mystery, action, and inherited millenary betrayals.

Here secret societies and opium clans had the economic and political power, thanks to the traffic of opium and alcohol. The secret clans of Singapore were enriched with the sale of opium, with the approval (in its beginnings) of the British Government of the Colony. The secrets of Opium were the escape routes to the freedom of the exploited Chinese workers.

To get the ancient essence in Chinatown, we stroll through Kreta Ayer Square, the authentic heart of Chinatown in Singapore. Here traditional craft shops are hidden among restaurants and souvenir shops. We see scenes of old people in the streets throwing Chinese chess games, and practicing tai-chi.

The Chinese souvenirs of Pagoda Street, much more touristy, exhibit an amalgam of peculiar objects of traditional Chinese origin. We see the typical Chinese decoration lanterns, to scrolls of ancient inspiration (where they engrave your name in Chinese characters), and even colorful dragon puppets.

The shops and stalls of Pagoda Street are like Ali Baba's treasure cave, where we enjoyed the exotic world of color and fantasy that surrounded us and absorbed our senses. The traditional medicine shops of Chinatown in Singapore deserve special mention. In the quaint little shops, the dusty glass jars, which adorned the full wooden shelves to the ceiling, we discovered a whole zoo of insects and various bugs, dissected in strange powders and liquids.

In the Chinatown Complex, we buy lanterns, traditional costumes, tropical exotic wood furniture, traditional Chinese instruments, and Chinese swords! It was raining and the $ 2 umbrella that I had bought had half-done its duties. So I went into the labyrinthine Chinese shopping center where everything was sold and eaten. With a good mango juice with orange for $ 2, I spent a good time enjoying the human panorama of Chinatown in Singapore on any given day.

At night, after a shower in the hotel and with the light suit on, I went back to Chinatown to have a few drinks and start the night out. My friend had told me to have some cocktails in the area of ​​Tanjong Pagar. It is an area with traditional architecture that is very colorful. It is perfect to start the night in one of its bars and cocktail bars. A new Chinatown is resurging in recent years of gentrified status, replete with fashionable restaurants and luxury shops.

From there, we moved to some gambling dens in the Club Street area near Mariamman Temple. It is very popular with expats and for the local girls. It is great to go into the atmosphere of Singapore's nightlife and make friends with locals. Our night ended at the gambling dens of Clarke Quay, the area that has the most restaurants and nightlife in all of Singapore, with a chestnut of scandals.

The Chinese New Year begins in Singapore with fireworks and firecrackers with the countdown party and the official opening and lighting ceremony. Afterwards, we go to the colorful stalls of the bazaars and see the Chingay parade, with floats, clowns, dancers, acrobats, and jugglers entertaining the crowd. I taste the Ong Lai (pineapple cake) that symbolizes good luck and peanut cookies that represent longevity. I also try the Yusheng by throwing a fish salad into the air.

I can assure you that I enjoyed like a dwarf going out to party in Singapore.
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  • Treat and Trick
    Treat and Trick January 7, 2012 at 10:37 PM

    Informative post and fantastic photos!

  • sheril benedict
    sheril benedict January 8, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    wow ..chinatown is always a favourite place for tourists ..and i have written a post about china take a look at this link

  • Lisa Gordon
    Lisa Gordon January 8, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    This looks like a wonderful place to be Kalyan!
    Thank you so much for the information too.

  • Sensible Vegetarian
    Sensible Vegetarian January 8, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    Such a lovely post, with lot of information. Love your clicks.

  • Ana Regalado
    Ana Regalado January 8, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    Very informative post ! The Chinese New Year fever has started here few weeks ago :D The flower market in which we lived near , is full of people buying flowers that's auspicious for that occasion and so as those street stalls that sells all kind of CNY sweets , every shops are decorated with all things anybody can buy for this much anticipated occasion ;D

  • Max Coutinho
    Max Coutinho January 24, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Hi Kalyan!

    This post is very a propos, due to the Chinese New Year (Dragon Year)!

    I find the Chinese cuisine to be extremely rich, however I cannot eat half of their dishes because they use a lot of pork. Nevertheless, I love the aesthetics of their food.

    Cheers and I loved the photos (as always)

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