Chinatown, Singapore

One of the special places to visit whenever you find yourself in Singapore is Chinatown. This subzone (which is one of Singapore’s most famous) has a very rich history. It is no wonder it is considered one of the country’s great tourist sites. It has been in existence since the 1820s and has been developed over the years. If this is the first time you’re hearing about the name, then these are some interesting facts you need to know about Chinatown before your first visit.

Birth of Chinatown

This enclave was actually created by the British, who were then the colonial masters of the country. They developed the place as a trading settlement. Stanford Raffles, then governor, was responsible for the creation of the enclave after he came up with a structure that allowed the four ethnic groups in the country to live separately. The Chinese found themselves close to River Singapore, and that town was known as the Chinatown. Things have changed now as people from different races have occupied the place and automatically turned it into a cosmopolitan place.

Oldest Hindu Temple in Singapore

And what’s more, the city is the location of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple – the Sri Mariamman Temple. This world famous temple was built in 1827 by a social entrepreneur and businessman called Naraina Pillai. This site is popular among the Hindu community and becomes very busy during Hindu festivals. It has over the years grown to be more than just a place of worship, but also a social place for most Hindus.

Oldest Chinese Temple in Singapore

The Thian Hock Keng Temple is located at the middle of the city. The temple was built in 1820 and is considered to be the oldest Chinese temple in the country. It is said that the temple was dedicated to the Mother of Heavenly Sages known as Ma Zu Po. She was also seen as the protector of the sailors and is very popular among the Chinese.

Two Chinatowns

Make sure you know your destination before setting off to avoid any mix-ups. You might end up in a different town because there is another place in the country known by that name. The original Chinatown is situated along the Singapore River whiles the other one, which is known as the ‘People Chinatown’, is in Geyland. The second town was created when a number of Chinese immigrants settled in the city to engage in different activities.

Amoy Street

This is one of the liveliest streets in the city. The street got its name after a number of Zhangzhou people left the Amoy city in China to reside in Singapore. It has been one of the ancient places in the city and said to have been developed in the 1930s. It is the home of the oldest Chinese temple, Thian Hong Keng. Many people refer to this place as the ‘free school street’ due to the presence of the Cui Ying School which was built in 1854. This place is noted for some of the famous cafés and bars in the city. Though it was popular for being the hub of opium during the colonial periods, this area has the finest food centers in the country. From burgers to noodles to coffee, this place has got it all and there’s no room for disappointment for foodies.

Ann Siang Hill

This site was named after a very wealthy businessmen who lived in the region, Chia Ann Siang. The geographical makeup of this area is very impressive. It is situated on a small hill in Chinatown. Its road links the Club Street to the South Bridge Road. It was initially named after Charles Scott, a nutmeg farmer, and was called the Scott Hill. This place was one of the busiest places in Chinatown during the colonial period. Chinese immigrants usually gathered at this place to send money to their native country. Because businesses were booming in the area, letter writers established their shops at this place to help others write letters to their families outside the land. The area boasts of one of the finest restored houses which accommodate most of the social clubs and clans.

Ann Siang Road

This road stretches from the Ann Siang Hill to the Kadayanallur Street. It has also been the home of the Bawaeanese community who has occupied the place since the 1930s. What makes this street adorable is the layout of the shophouses. The shops are set up in rows and beautifully light up the streets at night.

Banda Street

Lying on the Bukit Padre hill is this nicely constructed one-way street. It connects the Sago Street to the Spring Street which becomes busy during the Chinese New Year season. It is on the street that the Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre is situated which is one of the oldest social places in the city. The Kreta Ayer Community Centre was formerly known as the Banda Street Community Centre which shows its location. The street is also known as the “the end of the foreign brothels” by the Cantonese which suggests it was a place that was used by prostitutes.

Boon Tat Street

This street links the Amoy Street and the Shenton Way. It became the first street to be renamed by a Municipal Commissioner, and has been one of the oldest streets in Chinatown City. It was formerly known as the Japan Street because it was then occupied by people from Japan who came to the city after Japan occupied Singapore during World War 2. That incident took place between 1942 and 1945. It was named after a businessman and ex-Municipal Commissioner, Ong Boon Tat. It also has one of the finest eateries in the city and will be a good destination for foreigners and tourists.

Club Street

This is a principal street in the city that joins the South Bridge Road. The street is beautified by well-designed shops which have been rented out to restaurants and bars. The numerous Chinese clubs located along the street were the reason why it was named the Club Street. Others have also held the view that the street had its name due to the presence of the Kee Lam Club, a Chinese weekly entertainment club. The Chui Lan Teng club, which attracted some of the wealthiest Chinese businessmen around, also helped to put the street on the world map. The Prosecco restaurant, together with other bars and restaurants, will serve you with some of the best local and international dishes.

Cross Street

You might know the term ‘Cross Street’ in the English Dictionary as “a street that crosses other”, but not in this case. This street is considered as one of the oldest roads in the country. It begins from the Shenton Way and ends at the South Bridge Road. It was built in 1819; some few years after Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles founded the country. The road was constructed in an estate which was initially occupied by Indian workers. These Indians mostly worked as shop attendants and sailors. The Chinese took over this place when the town was developed into the Telok Ayer. Because it passes through the main commercial city in the country, Downtown Core, the street is known to be a very busy one and is popular in the country. This road is famous for its great landmarks which include the Telok Ayer Market, the Platform, formerly known as the British Railway House, and the Ying, Fo Fui Kun.

Dickenson Hill Road

This is a 0.06 kilometer road which joins the Banda Street and the Neil Road, all in the city. It was formerly known as Ryan’s Hill, but was later named after Rev. J.T. Dickenson, proprietor of a missionary school in Chinatown. The name for the road was officially confirmed in 1922. The street is next to the famous Berjaya hotels. Because this road leads to some of the principal streets in the city, it can be really busy sometimes.

Keong Saik Road

One thing that has made this road every popular is their eating joints and bars. It was formerly known to be part of the pleasure districts which had lots of brothels scattered all over the place during the 60s. The activities that went on in this area made this street a dangerous place to live and it was the operating ground for the Sio Loh Kuan group. The Keong Saik Road, which also passes through the Outram Planning Area, connects the Neil Road and the New Bridge Road. Like most of the roads in the city, this street was also named after a Chinese business tycoon, Tan Keong Saik, who helped immensely in the development of the Chinese community in the city. This place is located within the Bukit Pasoh Conservation Area and its structures are protected from unauthorized destruction. The well-organized environment has earned them a place in the Lonely Planet Magazine as one of the top 10 destinations in Asia.

Kreta Ayer Road

Lying at the central part of Chinatown is this one-way road which links the Neil Road to the New Bridge Road. The words ‘kreta ayer’ translate into English as ‘water cart’ which was a term used to describe the town. The street’s name was officially documented in 1922. This street is considered as part of the ChinatownKreta Ayer Conservation Area. The Kreta Ayer Community Center and Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre are some landmarks that have made the street very famous. Life in this area is quite interesting because of the numerous restaurants and theatres around.

McCallum Street

This street lies within the financial district of Chinatown. It is a one-way street that begins from the Shelton Way and passes through the Telok Ayer Street and meets the Amoy Street at the end. The street was declared open in 1895 and was named in honor of Henry Edward McCallum, an engineer during the colonial period. The street is beautified by great architectural works and buildings which include the Tokio Marine Centre, Singapore Exchange, and the Oxley Tower. The area was known to be reserved for the wealthy class who lived luxurious lives. McCallum Street saw some amount of development during the reconstruction of the Shenton Way in 1972. The place became a residential area in 2004 when the Far East Organization, a property firm, obtained a permit to change the Natwest Center into a residential one.

Mosque Street

The street got its name due to the presence of the Masjid Jamae or Chulia Mosque in the area. The mosque, which was built in 1835, is sited at the beginning of the street, across the South Bridge Road. This one-way road also passes through the Outram Planning Area, which is at the center of the city. The street was occupied by Indians during the early years of the 19th Century. Because of the existence of the mosque, most people around this location were Muslims. It is bounded by the Upper Cross and Pagoda streets at both sides.

Erskine Road

This street joins the South Bridge Road and the Kadayanallur – Ann Siang Road. It runs through the central part of the Central Region of the country and it is part of the Outram Planning Area. It has the famous Scarlet Hotel on the right side, whiles the Heritage hostel is located at the end of the road. There have been different opinions on how the street got its name. Whiles there are rumors suggesting that it was named after Samuel Erskine, who worked in the renowned engineering company, Howarth Erskine and Company, others have also held the view that the road was to commemorate J.J. Erskine, a former government official. Since this official owned a portion of land in the area, it makes much sense if the street was named after him. Lots of business activities are done in this part of the city which makes it a very busy one.

Eu Tong Sen Street

This road starts from the meeting spot of the Jalan Bukit Merah and Kampong Bahru roads and meets the Hill Street at the other end. It is one of the busiest shopping centers in the city and is sometimes described as the shopping hub. The street was to honor Eu Tong Sen, a wealthy business guru in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaya. This businessman was also the second in command at the Anti-opium Society. He played a crucial role during the Second World War by supporting the British with a tank and a scout fighter plane. Mr. Sen also contributed to the development of the city by reconstructing the street and building some infrastructures. The one-way road is also situated at the central part of the country, precisely the Outram Planning Area. The street was formerly known as the Wayang Street, but was given its recent name in 1919. Some landmarks around the street are Yue Hwa Department Store, and the People’s Park Complex.

Jiak Chuan Road

This is another road that is located at the Outram Planning Area in Chinatown. It connects the Keong Saik Road to the Teck Lim Road. Because it is located at the central part of the city, it is mostly busy. Its location has benefitted many businesses and has been the home of several hotels and shophouses. The street’s name was to commemorate the works of Tank Jiak Chuan who was in-charge of a mining and planting company. This two-way street was known to be part of the pleasure district of the Keong Saik Road.

Kadayanallur Street

This is a one-way road that starts from the meeting point of the Erskine – Ann Siang Roads and ends at the Maxwell Road. It is sandwiched by some famous business centers in the city which includes the Maxwell Food Center and the URA Centre. The location of the street and the type of businesses that goes on around makes it one of the most used in the city and can be an ideal place for business owners. It’s also noted to have some of the finest restaurants and cafés in the city and should be a destination for every tourist and traveler.

Smith Street

Though they carry the same name, this street is not the same as the one in Melbourne, Australia. This is a small street which is placed at the centre of Chinatown, and seen between the South Bridge Road and the New Bridge Road. Formerly known as the Hei Yen Kai or the Theatre Street, this road was named in honor of Sir Cecil Smith, former Governor of the Straits Settlements between 1887 and 1893. The Lai Chun Yuen theatre has made this place famous over the years. After the Second World War, the street was occupied by hawkers and traders, who were later moved to the Kreta Ayer Complex. Job seekers used to gather at this place in search of employment. The street was also known for its brothels during the early years of the 20th Century. It has one of the finest eating centres in the country which is known as the Chinatown Food Street. This roofed outdoor food centre is a 100-metre stretch which has a cooling system and makes it a perfect joint during all weather conditions.

South Bridge Road

This is one of the country’s major roads. It is located at the Central Region of the country and is close to the Singapore River. Built in 1833, this road begins from the Elgin Bridge all the way down to the meeting spot of the Maxwell, Tanjon Pagar, and Neil roads. The street was built by convict laborers under the leadership of George Coleman, then superintendent of public works. The road has been in existence for a very long time but was remodelled into a modern style after there were complaints that it gets flooded whenever there is a heavy downpour. It is one of the most used roads in the country because it leads to the New Harbor. This street was the first to see a steam tramway which was in operation between 1886 and 1894. The street is recognized for some of the city’s amazing landmarks such as the Maxwell Food Center, Sri Mariamman Temple, Jamae Mosque, the Hong Lim Complex, and the Elgin Bridge.

Spring Street

Also located within the Outram Planning Area is the Spring Street which joins the Neil Road and the Banda Street. The one-way street becomes livelier during the Chinese New Year period. This road had a big water reservoir which supplied parts of the city. This water source had its supply from a spring, hence the name. The Cantonese referred to this place as the ‘fan tsai mei’ which translates into English as ‘end of the foreign brothels’.

Stanley Street

This single road joins the McCallum Street to the Boon Tat Street. It is located in between the Downtown Core and the Outram Planning Area. The street was referred to as ‘behind the ma cho temple theatrical stage’. Shophouses and car parks dominate the sides of this road which also has the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, a cultural and educational center.

Teck Lim Road

This is another one-way road that is found within the Outram Planning Area. It joins the Keong Saik and Neil roads. Though it is not noted to be a very busy road, this street is flanked by shops, private houses, and hotels. The street was named after a former Justice of Peace, Tek Lim, who was later elected as the Municipal Commissioner. Lim held this position for three years and supported students of the Anglo-Chinese School.

Neil Road

This road passes through a nutmeg plantation that which was then managed by Dr. Montgomerie, the country’s first surgeon. Until the 1850s, the street was known as the Salat Road and was the first simple road to be constructed through the plantation. This one-way road starts from the South Bridge Road and ends at two points. At one side, the road runs into the Kampong Bahru Road, while on the other side it meets the junction of the New Bridge Road and the Eu Tonn Sen Street. The road was named after an outstanding member of the 1857 Indian mutiny, Col. Neil of the Madras Fusiliers. The street was the last place to see massive development in the city due to its location. The house of the grandfather of the country’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew is located at this place and serves as a tourist site. Mr Lee also spent some time of his childhood at this place.

New Bridge Road

This road was built in 1842 and is considered as one of the ancient roads in the city. Its name was derived from the Coleman Bridge which was then a new bridge constructed across the Singapore River. Because it’s located at the very central part of the city, this one-way road is one of the busiest roads in the country. The road stretches from the Coleman Bridge to the Eu Tong Sen Street. This area had the famous Ellenborough Building which was noted for its triangular shape. The building was demolished in 1986 to make way for the construction of the bridge and the Kreta Ayer Centre. The road boasts of many interesting places such as the Oriental Plaza, and the Kreta Ayer Community Center.

Pagoda Street

This road hosts the iconic Sri Mariamman Temple which is the oldest and largest Hindu temple in the country. It is located at the Outram Planning Area and joins the New Bridge Road to the South Bridge Road. In 1997, this road was changed into a pedestrian mall and leads to the underground mass rapid transit in Chinatown. The pagoda built in front of the temple was the reason for its name. This street was formerly famous for dens created for opium smoking. It has been suggested that this road was the hub of the collie trade prior to the 1880s. Due to the type of businesses that went on in the region, the street was then named after the well-known collie firm, Kwong Hup Yuen. The street is sandwiched between the temple and the Jamae Mosque at the other side. The street has been gazetted for conservation by the Chinatown Historic District.

Sago Lane

Though the street was given its name due to the number of sago factories in the region, this place was formerly known for its death houses. The death houses were owned by Chinese who had the belief that it wasn’t proper for one to die at home. Due to the presence of the houses, the place was also known as ‘Sei Yan Gai’ which means ‘dead people’s street’. The one-way road joins the Banda Street and the South Bridge Road and runs through the Outram Planning Area. During the 1960s, part of the road was destroyed to make way for some developmental work. Shops seen around this area mostly sold clothes, flowers, and paperwork which were used for funerals. The funerals around this part of the city led to the establishment of food joints and bars to take care of visitors. After death houses were banned in 1961, most of the shops were changed to funeral parlors, while the rest were used for residential purposes.

Sago Street

This street also had a lot of sago factories around which resulted in their name. It connects the South Bridge Road to the Trengganu Street. It’s a one-way street and located within the Outram Planning Area. In 2003, part of the street was redesigned into a modern-day pedestrian mall and also known as the country’s major historic district. You need to pay above S$3.80 to rent an outlet in this area. Because it is now used as a tourist site, there are a number of restaurants, bars, and shops to make life comfortable for visitors. The area was noted for the high number of brothels during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. It was formerly known as the ‘little temple street’ by the Cantonese due to the presence of the tua peh kong temple.

Telok Ayer Street

This street is close to the sea and was used as a docking lodge for boats and sampans. It also served as the first stop for Chinese immigrants. This road stretches from the Anson Road to the Market Street. It lies within the central part of the Outram Planning Area in Chinatown. The name of the street originated from the Telok Ayer Bay which is situated at the bottom of Mount Wallich. This road has a lot of religious buildings such as the Al-Abrar Mosque, built by the Indian Muslims, and the Fuk Tak Chi Temple which was built by the Cantonese and Hakkas. This was the first street designated to the Chinese community in 1822 by Sir Stamford Riffles. The street became the focal point for development in the city. Though the place was occupied by Chinese immigrants, the area was the center for the slave trade. This place also has one of the country’s oldest schools, Gan Eng Seng School, which was founded in 1885. The government has gazetted this place as a conservation zone.

Temple Street

Formerly known as the Almeida Street, this one-direction street links the New Bridge Road to South Bridge Road. It also runs within the Outram Planning Area and parallel to the Smith and Pagoda streets. It is unclear how the street got its name, as there have been some conflicting reports about how the street was named. It was said that the presence of the Sri Mariamman Temple at the junction of the street led to its name. Other reports have also suggested that the street had its name from the numerous temples situated in the area. The place was formerly occupied by people from different tribes including the Malays, Indians, and Chinese. The Cantonese referred to this place as the ‘hei yuen hau kai’ which translates as ‘theatre back-street’.

Trengganu Street

This is one street that joins a number of roads. It links the Sago, Temple, Pagoda, and Smith streets and is also found in the Outram Planning Area of the city. In 1997, part of the street was used as a pedestrian mall. The other half, which was also used for the same purpose in 2003, has been one of the most visited tourist sites in the city. Taken its name from the Malaysian state of Trengganu, this street was popular due to the Lai Chun Yuen opera. The road is situated at the city’s conservation area which protects it from unauthorized destruction. Most people have likened this street to Piccadilly in London due to how well it has been organized. The street served as a market grounds for hawkers who sold household goods and other stuff.

Upper Cross Street

This street is an extension of the Cross Street which starts from Raffles Quay. However, the Upper Cross Street starts from the spot that the Cross Street meets the South Bridge Road and stretches all the way to the Havelock Road. This street is noted to have a lot of shouphouses and restaurants. It also marks the western end of the city. It was also referred to as the Hai San Street, drawing its name from the famous secret group, Hai San. Because this place was mainly occupied by Indians prior to the 20th Century, the street was also called Kling Street which was in reference to the Indians residing there. A lot of landmarks can be found in this area which has made the place a tourist destination. The Chinatown Point, People’s Park Centre, Yue Hwa Building, and the Hong Lim Complex are some places that you can visit during your visit.

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