Chinatown Singapore

Singapore’s cherished cultural heartland is Chinatown. It is a mix of restaurants, street food, markets and more. It is always bustling and always fascinating. Foreign tourists stroll along food street being greeted and welcomed in by every restaurant. souvenir shops are spread with gifts from the cheap to beguiling. Above the hustle and bustle a glimpse of the past can be seen in the beautifully preserved shop houses and amidst it all is the Heritage Centre.

Thian Hock Keng Temple

This is Singapore’s oldest Hokkien temple which was built on the shores of Singapore in 1821 by early Chinese Hokkien immigrants and at first was a humble joss house. Land reclamation now means it now longer in the shoreline, which is now 500m east. Chinese migrants would come here to give thanks and prayers to the goddess Ma Cho(Zo) Po – the goddess of the sea and Protector of Sojourners – in gratitude for a safe passage to Singapore. Between 1839-42 the joss house was rebuilt as the temple by a philanthropist. It is constructed using traditional techniques, bricks and wooden posts, without any nails in the main structure.

The Temple was declared a National Monument in 1973 and renovated between 1998-2000. The temple’s twin rooftop dragons represent the principles of ying and yang. Two stone lions (one male, one female) guards the door and as extra security measures against evil spirits, there are fierce looking warriors painted on the huge doors to the temple.

Inside there is a courtyard and the holy place, the main prayer hall,where the goddess is worshipped – which is also open to the courtyard. The shrine of the Queen of Heaven (as Ma Zu is also called) is in the centre with Guan Di, the god of war on one side and Bao Sheng Da Di, the protector of life, on the other. In the rear courtyard is an altar to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

The ceilings are gilded featuring intricate carvings of Chinese folklore, tales and heroes. The huge bell is rung as the temple opens and the massive drum is beat when the temple closes.

Hawker Chan

The cheapest Michelin star meal in the world. Hawker Chan used to have a stall in the Chinatown food centre but has moved to premises, which are always packed and have a queue. The simple hawker (Street) food is delicious. The menu is limited, the restaurant is a cafe style and expect to share tables with strangers as everyone packs in for the tastiest and cheapest Michelin meal in town.

Chinatown Heritage Centre

This is a museum which has reconstructed living environments of everyday lives of Singapore’s Chinese settlers. It’s three floors of 3 converted and restored shop houses full of original artefacts, some of which have been donated or loaned by the families depicted in the museum and the accompanying audio guide. The centre has recreated the lives of shophouse tenants from the 1950s and offers a rare glimpse into everyday lives at that time. The four evils of gambling, prostitution, secret societies and opium addiction are also covered in the Heritage Centre.

Useful Information

Thian Hock Keng Temple

This is free to enter and there are no dress requirements. Visitors are asked not to photograph worshippers and the gods.

Address: 158 Telok Ayer Street

MRT: Telok Ayer (Downtown line (blue on the MRT map))

Open: 7:30am to 5:30pm


Hawker Chan

Address: 78 Smith Street, Singapore

Open: 10am – 8pm

A Michelin star meal (chicken rice / char Sui noodles) from $7


Chinatown Heritage Centre

Admission charge: Adult $18 Child (7-12 yo) $14

(includes a free curry puff to be collected after the tour from Old Chang Kee stall outside)

Docent tours are available daily at a charge of $25 (adult) and $20 (child)

Address: 48 Pagoda Street, Singapore, 059207

MRT: Chinatown

Open: 9:30am – 6:30pm

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