Everything you need to do in Chinatown
From visiting historic temples to drinking at some of Singapore's best bars.
This historically rich enclave is known by local Chinese as “niu che shui” (bullock cart water), so named after the common sight of oxen-drawn wagons on its streets in the 19th century. Today, the well-preserved shophouses that once held coolie houses, opium dens, brothels and factories have been replaced with modern bars and restaurants. Though it has evolved significantly over the years, Chinatown continues to boast a unique blend of heritage sites and new buildings with strong cultural influences.
One fascinating heritage site here is the sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum (288 South Bridge Rd., 6220- 0220), where daily opening ceremonies involving the board bell and drum rituals take place as early as 4:30am. Another landmark is the Thian Hock Keng Temple (158 Telok Ayer St., 6423-4616), one of the oldest Hokkien temples in Singapore. Built back in 1839, it is a masterpiece of traditional architecture, assembled entirely without nails. National monument Sri Mariamman Temple (244 South Bridge Rd., 6223-4064) is the oldest Hindu place of worship in Singapore, with a history dating back to 1827. To learn more about the culture and history of the area, go for the Chinatown Visitor Centre’s (2 Banda St., 6221-5115) daily walking tours.
Besides traditional street markets that serve local delights, there is Maxwell Food Centre (1 Kadayanallur St.), home to a variety of Singaporean food. To sample Italian fare, pay a visit to al fresco restaurant Latteria Mozzarella Bar (40 Duxton Hill, 6866-1988) at Duxton Hill, or head to nearby Lucha Loco (15 Duxton Hill, 6226-3938) for Mexican street food and cocktails.
Tapas joint Esquina (16 Jiak Chuan Rd., 6222- 1616) and cocktail bar The Library (47-49 Keong Saik Rd., 6221-8338) are located here, and another great spot for drinks nearby is swanky cocktail bar The Cufflink Club (6 Jiak Chuan Rd., 9694-9623).
Over on Club Street, you’ll find conserved shophouses occupied by galleries, restaurants and bars such as wine bar O Batignolles (2 Gemmill Ln., 6438-3913). Head to Luke’s Oyster Bar & Chophouse (20 Gemmill Ln., 6221-4468) for American food and Employees Only (112 Amoy St.) for world-class cocktails.
Chinatown is the obvious place to shop for souvenirs, snacks and Chinese herbs. Aside from the more touristy Chinatown Street Market along Pagoda Street, there are also quirky lifestyle stores like Egg3 (#01-10/11/12 Scarlet Hotel, 33 Erskine Rd., 6536-6977) and hip Duxton Hill bookstore Littered with Books (20 Duxton Rd., 6220-6824).