The Chinese form the largest ethnic sub-group in Singapore, and when the British divvied up the land according to ethnic enclaves via the Jackson Town Plan back in 1822, an area southwest of the Singapore River was accorded to the Chinese diaspora. Chinatown remains one of the more colourful districts today, and beyond temples, shophouses and other typical Chinese architecture, you will find plenty of historical and multicultural bits in this popular tourist hotspot on the edge of the Central Business District.
Chinatown is busy throughout the year, with some roads pedestrianised and lined with little shops to accommodate the increasing number of tourists who throng the streets.
Chinatown is busiest in January and February as the Lunar New Year approaches, and stalls break out all the red decorations and knick-knacks that tourists and locals alike snap up to adorn their houses for the festivities. Look out for the street light up along the main Eu Tong Sen thoroughfare, and pick up your favourite Chinese New Year snacks during this period.
Old traditions thrive against a backdrop of newer, taller office buildings and residential blocks all around Chinatown. The pace picks up as the day passes and the temperatures become less muggy and the lanterns come on.
Architecture lovers will adore the wide variety of conserved shophouses in this district. Singapore shophouses trace back a heritage brought over by Guangdong and Fujian immigrants, and gradually developed their own distinct style thanks to the multicultural influences from the Southeast Asian region. Many shophouses have had their exteriors preserved, but their interiors have been modernised or transformed into offices, residential units or even hotels.
The number of religious buildings and temples in this area, especially along Telok Ayer Street is due to the fact that before land reclamation, Chinatown actually sat right along the coastline. The temples were the first port of call for immigrants who wanted to thank their respective deities for helping them survive the long voyage, which is why you can find such a mix of religious structures in what is supposed to be a predominantly Chinese district.
The Sri Mariamman Temple dates back to 1827 and is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, located right in the midst of bustling Chinatown.