Chinatown was one of my favorite walks in all of Singapore. Away from the skyline, this hub of bustling markets brings a down-to-earth part of Singapore to light. Writing this Chinatown Singapore Guide took me back on a sweet memory lane to the evening here.
As someone who doesn’t like crowds, I was unsure of what to expect here. But the moment I witnessed the colorful lights floating over my head, I was glad! It was to be quite a chunk on my SG travel blog. There are tons of places for walking tours (like Marina Bay) in SG and Chinatown is a must! Here goes my Chinatown Singapore Guide.
Self-Guided Walking Tour Chinatown Singapore
Most people talk of the must-try foods here which make up for most of the spot! But with Chinatown’s heritage since the country’s beginnings and lit markets, there’s a lot more. This Chinatown Singapore Guide shall take you through all the things to do here.
What to expect
I visited Chinatown in the evening and highly recommend you do the same. The evenings are when the place comes alive; Get a small backpack along with a water bottle. Don’t carry too much luggage as you’ll need to walk around a lot.
Get some comfortable shoes on and begin! Unlike most attractions of Singapore like the Zoo or the National Gallery, you don’t need a ticket as such to enter or walk around. It’s only part of the city after all.
But you’ll find paid tours that guide you around the heritage key spots of town. Now, should you get yourself a paid tour? Well, it depends on whether you’d prefer a paid walking tour or a self-guided walk.
Chinatown Walking Tour Guides Singapore
If you wish to make sure not to miss out on anything important here – put in some time beforehand and get your itinerary checklist in place before you get here. But if that’s too much work for you and are willing to pay for a leisure walk, the walking tour guide is highly recommended!
It also avoids the self-guide hustle of holding the maps up every 20 seconds. I took a self-guided walk around the place but I missed out on a few spots. I wished I’d read more about the place beforehand.
The best part of guided tours is that even tours are out-of-the-box here to make history interesting! One is the Trishaw Uncle Guided tours (yes, they take you around with the trishaw). Something like the infamous Singapore River Cruise at Clarke Quay.
Another is the Murder Game tour where you’ll get around Chinatown while playing a history game! Find your preferred tour guide on Klook below and book before you miss out on great deals!
For self-guided explorers like myself, don’t worry! Keep reading this post for all the key spots before you visit. Thus this self-guided walking tour of Chinatown Singapore.
Guide to Chinatown Singapore: Best Things to do
The moment you land in Chinatown, Singapore, you’ll find yourself wandering away into amazing shops, colorful buildings, and aromatic food around. There’s so much detail you observe when you visit it physically – especially the cozy tiny streets you walk through.
In fact, I didn’t know the names of the streets that lured me in with their colorful air. I had to figure them out while writing this article.
Walking through Chinatown, you’ll come across all these places one after the other. Walk through the streets, take pictures, talk to people, and enjoy your tour! Here are all the best things to do in Chinatown Singapore Guide.
Visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
This majestic landmark beaming between Chinatown’s bustling streets and skyscrapers was my first stop here. There’s no hard and fast on when to visit the temple. But if you’re visiting Chinatown in the evening, get there at least at 4 pm.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple closes at 5 every day. Having an hour (or more if you’re too passionate) to tour the entire temple place is sufficient.
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Walk the Pagoda Street
Chinatown Singapore guide: Pagoda street is where you’ll go back in time to the colorful Chinatown markets. Running parallel to Chinatown Temple Street, this 250m stretch of the paved footpath is filled with shops and restaurants on either side and it’s ever-lively!
Even if you’re broke, I suggest you visit it for the street’s ambiance, lighting, and Instagrammable shots. Thank me later. Take a stroll till the end of Pagoda Street towards Shri Mariamman Temple.
Check out the Chinatown Heritage Center museum
Oh, you’re already on Pagoda Street? You might as well snuggle into Chinatown’s Heritage Center – it’s right on the way! I couldn’t visit this museum as it remains closed for the time period as it undergoes review.
But I hope it opens soon for your visit! When you do visit, expect to dive into the lives of early landers of Singapore. The laborers, traders, and immigrants and their stories of victories and struggles. If it opens up, I’ll be sure to visit it!
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Eat at the Maxwell Food Centre
A friend suggested me this place, the Maxwell Food Centre. And sure enough, the place is popular to be a landmark around here. The food center located by Maxwell Road is a large food court with a bunch of hawker stalls.
They serve a range of Chinatown delicacies including the popular chicken rice and dim sums! If you’re a foodie and looking to try every food place out here. I suggest eating to a minimum at Maxwell as there are still a ton of outdoor hawker stalls!
For small street hawker stalls, expect to spend around $3-5 SGD for a dish. But there are also bigger places with nice seating arrangements where it can cost between $6-8 SGD. For an authentic place, it’s worth the money as well.
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Try out hawkers at Complex, 335 Smith Street
For newcomers, it’s tough to figure out where to eat. Going around Chinatown’s Complex on Smith Street with a series of restaurants, it all comes to where you end up. At the end of this street, you’ll also find the infamous Hawker Chan restaurant which previously held a Michelin star!
I was too hungry when I arrived in Chinatown. So I plunged to the first hawker spot I found – the Tiong Bahru Chicken Rice. Not to mention, this place was popular among locals and a lot of people came in! I got a medium-sized Hainanese chicken rice with soup for myself and it was worth the S$ 3.5!
Take pictures at the People’s Park Complex
Find this name familiar from social media? Sure, it’s a beautiful picturesque spot. But the People’s Park Complex is worth the sight regardless of its distinguished structure. There’s a lot more to it than its looks.
The People’s Park Complex is very different from the skyscrapers you see in SG today. Built after Chinatown’s market fires in 1966 with millions of dollars in damages, it stood as one of its kind in Southeast Asia back in the day. The 40-year-old structure stood as the biggest shopping complex back in the day!
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Visit the Shri Mariamman Temple
Though living near Singapore for almost a decade, never had I realized the Hindu Temple – Shri Mariamman Temple was around Chinatown’s corner. Though worlds apart from Chinatown’s streets, it’s a must-visit in Chinatown!
This temple is very similar to many beautiful Dravidian-style builds I’ve come across in India. Built-in 1827, it is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple! What I loved most about Pagoda Street and Mariamman Temple is how so many cultures come in together in a single place.
Right next to it is Masjid Jamae and the Buddha temple isn’t a far walk away either. It’s quite a wonder to see!
Take a stroll on Telok Ayer Street
Another gem of Chinatown Singapore Guide that I deeply regret missing out on is Telok Ayer Street. It’s a 500-meter walk from Pagoda street. Begin with walking the Telok Ayer Green park with its black metal sculptures and the Nagore Dargah museum at its corner.
With a series of restaurants similar to the rest here, Telok Ayer street stands apart with its appearance. The place blends today’s technology and development with remainders of old Singapore with its colorful shophouses. There are also some places to see here like the Thian Hock Keng Temple and the Singapore Musical Box Museum.
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Shop at the street markets of Chinatown
Remember those fancy lights around Pagoda Street? Right from Buddha Tooth Relic Temple’s Kreta Ayer Square, walk into the alleys of the street markets of Chinatown. It’s best to walk in the evenings. The bright hues come to life at night over your head.
Gift shops of all sorts become livelier than ever. Yet, the pavements remain clean and photogenic throughout with so many tourists flocking in. The gift shop items are equally alluring with their curious detailed works. I couldn’t help buying myself a hand fan embroidered with Chinese scripts and Pandas on it!
Mural Paintings around Chinatown Singapore
Another thing to look out for is street art – Chinatown’s Mural heritage or Chinatown Wall paintings. The picture at the beginning of this article? That’s one of them! Called the Labour of Love murals, you’ll find these amazing paintings in the alleys of Chinatown.
It’s hard to spot them with the bustle. But keep an eye on the alley walls, you’ll find them! These depict the histories of lives in old Chinatown and add up to the flavor of the place. Keep an eye out for them for I found only one! You can even book a tour just to spot all these amazing wall paintings. Here’s a great tour on Klook for the same:
Taste a pinch of Ya Kun Kaya Toast
People who live in Singapore know of the popular restaurants around here. But there are too many to count for tourists. Ya Kun Kaya Toast is another resto chain with restaurants across over a dozen countries.
However, I put it on this list because the infamous Ya Kun Kaya Toast empire began here – at Telok Ayer Street, Chinatown! Loi Ah Koon started it here at Telok Ayer in 1944 and today it looks to expand to Brunei, India, and Malaysia. Its ingredients are simple with bread, yet delicious with its kaya.
Tailpiece: Singapore Chinatown Guide
That sums up for most of my Singapore Chinatown Guide to the best places to visit. I was glad I could visit most of Chinatown in the evening. Yet, I know I missed a good deal of stuff like the Ya Kun Kaya Toast and the top floors of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
It’s not tough to fall in love with the place here. If you think you might, you will. Much sooner than you think. Keep half a day for a complete walking tour of the place. Another idea is to spend two evenings here instead and roam Singapore elsewhere during the day. With the MRT, it shouldn’t be hard getting around.
After getting around Chinatown, I sat down at Kreta Ayer Square facing the Buddha temple as dusk fell. It was time to head back to my cozy SpacePod at Lavender. Tired and weary, I needed a break from all the walk. Stallkeepers and workers were headed home. One Chinese old man came and sat down on the stairs beside me.
He smiled and I waved hi. We then talked for a good 15 minutes. Where we had come from and how we’d come here. Sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it? Talk to people on your visit. Be friendly. It’ll make the trip worth it all!
Tell me how your self guided walking tour of Chinatown Singapore went in the comment section below. I’ll be happy to hear about it :)