Take a Tour : Singapore's Chinatown

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discover singapore

and take a walk around the larger Chinatown district, stopping along the way for coffees and some culture. The perfect half-day activity for tourists and Singapore residents alike

Today’s post is a biggie!  It is a fantastic walk around the Chinatown area.  I say ‘Chinatown’ but quite honestly it stretches further than actual Chinatown and takes in some of my favourite little neighbourhoods like Duxton Hill and Keong Saik Road along the way – so ‘Chinatown’ is a bit of a generalisation. This is a great circuit if you have visitors in town or simply take a friend and do something different midweek by heading to this area.  There are so many amazing places for lunch or drinks or simply a coffee that it is worth a half day out.

I have tried where possible to be clear with directions but you might want to have your maps app turned on as well.  I am not a tour guide and my knowledge of the history of each of these areas is scant, but I have devised a walking circuit that allows you to explore on foot pretty architecture and cultural sights alike.  Depending on your pace and how often you stop to take photos this walk will probably take a couple of hours.

So grab a friend or a visiting relative…and go for a walk in Singapore’s Chinatown area.

Kadayanallur Street – Erskine Street

Start at Maxwell Food Centre located on the corner of Maxwell Road and Kadayanallur Street. This hawker centre is a favourite with both locals and tourists and no matter what time of day you can always find something here to fuel the beginning of your walk.  I always drop by the fruit stall – it seriously sells the juiciest watermelon and pineapple and I like that you can grab it and go.

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With juicy fruit in hand, start your walk by heading up Kadayanallur Street and stop at the top of Erskine Street to admire the curved row of shophouses.  The Scarlet Hotel is on the corner and if the food centre isn’t your thing, you can always pop in here for a quick coffee pit stop before you begin.  At this point Kadayanallur turns into Ann Siang Road so continue 2 minutes on and follow the road to the left.

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Ann Siang Road

On Friday and Saturday evenings Ann Siang Road and Club Street are closed to traffic and the restaurants and bars spill out on to the street.  During the day they are lovely streets to wander down and admire the shophouse architecture and stunning tiles.  Continue walking down Ann Siang Road and at the next junction, take a slight right to join Club Street.

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Club Street

Once a famous street for private social clubs now it is home to a plethora of restaurants and bars and is most often visited in the evening.  Club Street is quiet in the day with few places open, but it does have quintessential Singapore shophouse architecture and it leads us to Mohamed Ali Lane on your left which will take you down to South Bridge Road and the next leg of our walking tour.

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South Bridge Road

From the relative quiet of Club Street (and Mohamed Ali Lane) you emerge on to bustling and busy South Bridge Road.  A reasonably large thoroughfare of a road that is popular with tourists.  You will enter South Bridge Road with the Chulia (or Jamae) Mosque across the road from you.  This is one of Singapore’s oldest mosques and is somewhat unique given it’s location next to Chinatown. Cross South Bridge Road so that you are on the same side as the mosque and head left towards the Sri Mariamman Temple and our first cultural stop.

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South Bridge Road – Sri Mariamman Temple

The Sri Mariamman is a glorious Hindu temple that welcomes visitors.  Make sure you slip your shoes off and store them in the racks outside the entrance and if you don’t have clothing that covers your knees and shoulders then grab a shawl and a wrap skirt from the basket just inside the door.  If you would like to take photos you will also need to drop by the booth to your left (inside the front doors) and pay a small fee.  Have a quiet wander around the temple and when you are done, head back out to South Bridge Road.

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South Bridge Road – Tong Heng Bakery

Cross back over the road so that the Hindu temple is on the opposite side from you (and you are back on the side you started).  A minutes walk from the Temple is Tong Heng Bakery, famous for it’s custard tarts and Singaporean bakery delights.  I am not such a huge fan of red bean paste (I’ve tried but I just can’t get the joy in it) but I do love a freshly baked crispy, flaky and wobbly egg tart.  So pull up a stool, grab a drink and have a Singapore treat before you continue on.

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Just near the bakery is a Chinese medicine shop that sells all manner of ‘medicinal’ items including tea-soaked hot eggs (which actually smell amazing) and other dried items which maybe don’t smell so inviting!  Have a wander along and then cross South Bridge Road again to visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

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South Bridge Road – Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

As with the Hindu temple, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple invite visitors inside, however as a sign of respect you will once again need to have your shoulders and knees covered and you will find the shawls and skirts at the entrance.  This is a truly magnificent building.  Inside you will find large gilded rooms with giant gold Buddhas and it is often busy with Buddhists praying and paying respects.  There are a number of rooms to visit so take your time.  When you have finished, come back out to the front (where you entered) onto South Bridge Road.

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South Bridge Road to Neil Road

From the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, cross South Bridge Road to be back on the same side as the bakery and then head towards Neil Road (away from the Hindu temple and the bakery).  The roads at the junction can be a little confusing and there is a huge amount of construction work for the MRT so I suggest you turn on your maps app to help you navigate on to Neil Road.  Once on Neil Road you will find rows of shophouses and palm trees with the modern Pinnacle building looming on the horizon.  Cross over Neil Road and walk 2 minutes along until you reach Duxton Road.  Turn up Duxton Road and head into the Duxton Hill area.

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duxton hill

Ahhh, Duxton Hill…it’s like a little oasis of beauty and quiet after the noise and hubbub of South Bridge Road.  Home to trendy bars and restaurants and a smattering of cool entrepreneurial businesses, it is young and hip and very very pretty.  Having done the temples and braved the MRT construction site on South Bridge Road it’s now time to take it down a notch and refuel.  Pop into Mavrx, a little hole-in-the-wall cafe located at the start of Duxton Hill and recharge with a seriously good coffee.

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Coffee pit-stop complete, wander up the hill along the shophouses and peer in at the restaurants and bars keeping a mental checklist of where it might be good to return to come sundown.  For my pick, once the sun sets, you could head back here to Lucha Loco for some tequila and a tasty soft shell taco or two.  This is a great restaurant and bar to hang with friends and soak up the Duxton Hill atmosphere after dark.

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But for now, wander on by and keep your camera handy because you will find the prettiest of architecture along this cobbled pedestrian street.  This is a conservation area and the two and three storey shophouses and terraces have been beautifully restored and rows of trees and greenery keep the street cool and shady.

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At the end of the cobbled pedestrian area there is a carpark and a set of stairs leading down to Craig Road.  Leave behind pretty Duxton Hill and take the stairs to emerge on to Craig Road.  Turn right and walk along for 1 minute until you arrive at a cross junction with Neil Road.  This is a busy multi-lane one way street so make sure you look the right way (!) and cross straight over to Keong Saik Road.  On one side is the very majestic looking The Working Capital building which houses a relaxed trendy cafe, The Daily Roundup, at the bottom and shared working spaces above – and on the other side you will find a hawker eatery offering porridge and other local delights.

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If you didn’t refuel at Mavrx in Duxton Hill, then enter the cool of The Daily Roundup and order yourself a fresh juice before continuing on Keong Saik Road.  This road has a rich history and is a classic mix of old and new.  It is a recently gentrified neighbourhood so in amongst the latest exciting restaurants and bars you will find a Chinese temple and local life.  It is this mix of history and modernity that makes Singapore so wonderful to live in.

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Take a general wander around these streets, turning off Keong Saik Road on the right to follow Jiak Chuan Road (which has yet another row of shophouses with restaurants and bars) until you hit the T-junction with Teck Lim Road (one of my favourite modern tapas restaurants, Esquina, is on the corner).

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Turn left until you loop back around to Keong Saik Road where the very popular Potato Head Folk occupies the corner.  You could finish your walk here with a burger and fries, or a drink on their rooftop terrace.  But before you do, take a look back up Keong Saik Road from the direction you started and marvel at the amazing mix of old and new with the recently completed Pinnacle building looming over the tiny shophouses and original architecture.  I seriously love this city.

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That’s it my friends.  From Potato Head Folk and Keong Saik Road you could choose to eat and drink and be merry.  Or if the lure of soft shell taco’s and and icy cold Corona beckon then retrace your steps to Duxton Hill and finish your walk there.

Singapore is such a wonderful city to live in but with daily life and the requirements of the school run and work, you can often forget to go out and explore areas on foot with camera in hand and simply be a home tourist for the day.  I have had my ups and downs with living in Singapore, sometimes I wish to return ‘home’ but the feeling never lasts for long because the pull of living here in this wonderful city always wins in the end.

Wishing you all a wonderful week ahead.


Photography credits: Zoe Hasker and Charlie Cameron

LIFESTYLECharlie Cameron