Spend an hour tracing the footsteps of Singapore’s early Chinese pioneers

When Singapore was still a British colony, Chinatown was home to the island’s early Chinese immigrants who arrived from Southern China by sea. To get a glimpse into their daily lives, stop by the Chinatown Heritage Centre at 48 Pagoda Street.

Located within three beautifully preserved shophouses, the heritage centre is an interactive museum that recreates the lives of Chinese migrants with painstaking attention to detail.   Inside the museum, visitors can experience the simple, almost spartan, lives of these early migrants, who lived and toiled for a meagre living. Measuring just 8ft by 8ft, the cubicles were reconstructed from memory of those who had lived in such cramped quarters previously, along with the objects inside, which together tell a story of love, loss, sacrifice and longing.

Image Source: The Straits Times

Dig into delicious local fare (approximately one hour)

In Singapore, it is easy to eat well and not bust your budget. After all, the city-state boasts the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred eatery, located close to Chinatown Heritage Centre, at 78 Smith Street. For the price of a burger meal, Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle will dish up tender chicken and springy noodles dressed in an aromatic sauce.

For dessert, stroll around the corner to Mei Heong Yuan Dessert at 63 Temple Street. This stall is famous for serving up a mix of delicious hot and cold desserts. For a traditional sweet treat, try the Almond with Egg White. If beating the heat is what you’re after, cool off with a Banana Chocolate Snow Ice.

Take an hour to visit beautiful places of worship

No trip to Chinatown is complete without a stop (or more) at the precinct’s many temples. For starters, head for the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum on 288 South Bridge Road.

It might not be the oldest place of worship in Chinatown, but it’s certainly the most beautiful – the exquisitely-designed exterior and bold, striking colours have been wowing visitors since 2007. The highlight of this temple is the Sacred Light Hall on the fourth floor, which contains the Buddha’s left canine tooth, housed within a stupa made with 320 kilograms of gold.

When you’re done admiring the Buddhist relics, walk to neighbouring 244 South Bridge Road, where you’ll find Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. Built in 1827 by South Indian immigrants, the Sri Mariamman Temple is dedicated to the worship of Mariamman, a goddess known for curing diseases. The temple’s most instantly-recognisable feature is the gopuram or entrance tower, which contains five tiers of looming sculptures.

Further up and down the street are the Jamae mosque, one of Singapore’s earliest Muslim mosques, and Fairfield Methodist Church, a prominent church housed in a former cinema. Within this short stretch of road, one can visit places of worship of the four major religions in Singapore, bearing testimony to the multiethnic, multicultural harmony of the society here.

Soak in the ambience of Singapore’s famous gentrified street (approximately one hour)

Take a leisurely stroll down Keong Saik Road with your camera handy to capture some of Chinatown’s most colourful architecture in the form of conservation shophouses. This was one of Singapore’s seedier streets in the 1960s, rife with gangs, opium dens and brothels, but the area has since gentrified.

Named one of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 destinations in Asia, it now boasts some of Singapore’s coolest cafes, bars and restaurants. Drop by Muchachos for what could be Singapore’s best burrito places, The LoKal for Singapore flavours with a modern twist, Kok Sen Restaurant for some of Singapore’s best zi char dishes (hawker-style stir-fries) that are indeed Michelin Bib Gourmand-worthy, or get specialty coffee from the immensely popular Populus Coffee & Food Cafe.

And since you’re in the neighbourhood, stop by Tea Chapter, a dedicated tea retailer that deals in varieties of Chinese tea along Neil Road, for a lesson on tea appreciation. Then take some home for a spot of zen whenever you need – you’ll find everything here from the humblest jasmine tea to the premium Dragon Well tea from Hangzhou province.