- Recommended for Adults and Couples
- Budget: Very budget-friendly, cheap food and souvenirs
- For heritage lovers who like to walk and explore.
- Hotel Average Prices: $17 – $250 per night around the area
Marina Bay Sands and Orchard Road. If you are one who loves history, culture, and suspense, Chinatown is a great district to walk around for an entire afternoon. If you are afraid of the hot humid weather, it is recommended to visit after 2 pm and walk till nightfall where the neon lights come on and the district turns alive.
History of Chinatown, Singapore
The vibrant energy that courses through Chinatown’s busy streets gives the place a distinctly different feel from most places in Singapore. Set amidst charming and lovingly-restored heritage shophouses, today’s Chinatown bears scant resemblance to its disreputable past.
Then, shady back alleys provided refuge to secret societies, opium traffickers, and illegal gambling dens. Cathouses stretched across alleys, and prostitution was as common as the rats brazenly scampering to their next meal. Standards of living were utterly deplorable; living spaces were cramped and suffocating, and proper sanitation was simply unheard of. It was a slum of unimaginable squalor and debauchery.
Chinatown – Where Modernisation Meets Culture
Several decades and countless restoration campaigns later, Chinatown has evolved into a landmark attraction and upscale residential and commercial area. Only the shop houses – respected, thankfully, for their historical and architectural value – were spared from being reduced to rubble.
Iconic developments have since sprung up all over Chinatown, such as the Red Dot Design Museum, [email protected] residential project, and the Chinatown Heritage Centre, creating an architectural fusion of past and future.
In spite of all the modernization, Chinatown still retains much of its quaint and quirky old charm, where ‘uncles’ sit around watching the world go by and foreign faces still draw attention. The intricate maze of shophouses from Pagoda Street down to Maxwell Road blurs the boundaries between the Tanjong Pagar district and Chinatown, selling everything from cackling trinkets and dried seahorse to Buddhist paraphernalia and sexy underwear for men.
Kooky souvenir shops boast quaint bohemian-styled bracelets to Singapore-themed tees in mildewed display glasses. Nowhere else in Singapore will you be able to find such a diverse array of street shopping options.
Rest and Relax in Chinatown
If you feel tired after your long trek, soothe your abused soles in one of Chinatown’s famous spas. Spahaven (45-46 Amoy Street) offers all the amenities of a modern luxury spa, while Qimantra (83A Club Street) offers an authentic traditional Chinese remedial massage experience. A curiously unconventional method of relaxation is offered by Living Wellness(24A Pagoda Street). Instead of providing bone-breaking massages or exotic mud wraps, this outlet advertises colon hydrotherapy and coffee enemas in a private and relaxing environment.
Where to Eat in Chinatown, Singapore
For an introduction to local cuisine for first-timers, the most gastronomically authentic cuisine in Chinatown is served by the Singapore Heritage Restaurant (48 Pagoda Street) within Chinatown’s Heritage Centre. This authentic fusion restaurant serves dishes reminiscent of Singapore’s historical past and matches them with a selection of wines and cocktails.
Yum Cha Chinatown Restaurant (20 Trengganu Street) is a traditional-looking Dim Sum Restaurant, which locals love to hang out for one of the best dim sum experiences in Singapore. Set on top of a Chinese Shophouse, be transported into the old Singapore as you dine on white circular marble tables and wooden carved Chinese chairs, and enjoy the company of Chinese calligraphy. It is on the second floor of the current hotel of Santa Grand, Chinatown. A highly recommended medium range hotel with boutique western furniture in the heart of Chinatown.
If you’d like a first-hand experience of the juxtaposition between old and new, take a walk along Keong Saik Street. Once an infamous red-light district, the street is now teeming with boutique hotels including The Saff and the delightfully quaint Q Loft Hotel 1929, which houses Ember, an upscale modern European restaurant which food critics constantly rave about. See if you can spot the old brothels, some of which are still in operation today – staffed by seasoned veterans of the world’s oldest profession, they have been allowed to die a slow and natural death.
How to Go to Chinatown in Singapore:
Direct Train Stop: Chinatown on the Purple line.
By exiting this station, you will be immediately in the heart of Chinatown, with Chinese Shophouses selling traditional Chinese souvenirs, paintings, antiques, and calligraphy.
Indirect Train Stop: Tanjong Pagar Station on the Greenline. (10 – 20 minutes walk. Exit Tanjong Pagar and walk towards a Red Building called the Red Dot Museum towards Maxwell Food Center and explore by foot.)
By exiting this station, you will pass by the more boutique developments, a higher-end area. By going towards Maxwell Food Center, you will see Club Street, a famous expat, and businessmen hang out. By turning left away from Maxwell Food Center, you will go towards Chinatown. If you would do not like walking under the hot humid sun, jump into a taxi, which is affordable from all directions of the city towards Chinatown, which is in the central.
Our Recommended Hotel Picks:
Budget: Hotel 81, Chinatown