Of all of Singapore‘s enclaves, Little India is the city-state at its liveliest and most colourful. With narrow little lanes and a bustling community, it is quite unlike the rest of orderly Singapore. So, keep your cameras and your appetites at the ready – here’s our guide to the top things to see and do in Little India, Singapore.
The Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple is also called the Temple of a Thousand Lights, due to the 15m (50ft), 300-tonne statue surrounded by what seems to be thousands of little lights housed within its walls. This Buddhist temple is an eclectic mix of Chinese, Thai and Indian styles dating back to 1927. First constructed by Thai monk Venerable Vutthisasara as a simple zinc roof shed, it was later built into its current form through donations by Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par – the entrepreneurial brothers who created the medicinal ointment Tiger Balm and Haw Par Villa.
This reflective, modern building, inspired by the Indian baoli (or stepwell), sticks out amidst the narrow streets and old shophouses found in Little India. This four-storey building houses a significant collection of artefacts telling the story of the diverse Indian diaspora, including a permanent exhibition of the history of the Indian community in Singapore. It’s educational, never too jam-packed with people, and a great spot to chill out and soak in some heritage on a hot afternoon.
The Little India Arcade is a collection of shophouses that date back to the 1920s, with narrow alleyways selling sundry and novelties alongside street food stalls and other eateries. It is a tourist favourite to pick up all sorts of Indian souvenirs, whether it’s fresh floral garlands or intricate textiles, or even a traditional henna tattoo. The building has been preserved to retain some of that retro flavour from its early colonial days.
The Banana Leaf Apolo is one of the best places for a good hearty meal in Little India. It is famed for its traditional Indian practice of serving food on freshly cut banana leaves, giving the food some additional natural flavours. With over 40 years of experience and several outlets around the island serving both North and South Indian cuisine, the fish head curry is the star dish for your foray into Indian food in Singapore, but don’t miss out on mutton mysore, chicken masala and biryanis.
The family-run Komala Vilas is an institution in the Little India dining scene. It is famous for its South Indian vegetarian cuisine – come here for delicious dosa (similar to crepes). The masala dosa, a rice and lentil pancake topped with mashed potato, is a big crowd-pleaser; combine it with the lentil-based vegetable stew sambar and cap it off with a good cup of South Indian coffee. There are several branches within the Little India area, but this one at Serangoon Road is the original outlet that opened in 1947.
Jothi Store & Flower Shop isn’t a run-of-the-mill corner store. Jothi, in the heart of Little India, is the go-to shop for the countless needs of the Indian community. Typical shop staples like food, medicine and other household goods sit on shelves alongside prayer items used in traditional customs and rituals. Though it caters to local life, Jothi is a must-visit for travellers as well, whether to pick up groceries for the evening or stop and inhale a breath of their wonderfully fresh flowers.
Nick Dauk contributed additional reporting to this article.