Thought of trying out something different, this time sharing a bit about some place nearer to home – Singapore, which is just 750km away from where I stay.
Take the North East Line to Chinatown MRT
Our first stop would be Chinatown, Singapore. This is a bit of a misnomer considering the fact that Singapore is made up of probably 70% Chinese. Usually, Chinatown refers to an enclave for the Chinese minority. Anyhow, you can just take any MRT to Chinatown MRT on the North East Line (Purple).
Stepping out from the MRT station, you will find yourself in the heart of Chinatown itself — Pagoda Street. There are a few streets that run parallel to Pagoda Street, namely Mosque Street, Temple Street and Smith Street, which are all part of Chinatown itself. You might ask, how would I know that I am at the right place? It’s easy actually, just follow the signs and the roadside stalls.
If you’re interested in cheap small trinkets/souvenirs to bring home, this is the place to be at. You can stock up on anything, ranging from cigarette lighters to chopsticks. Cheap stuffs not your idea of a gift? Not to worry, you can also check out the antique stores lining South Bridge Road. Or you prefer something traditionally Chinese, say for instance, handicrafts, home accessories with a Chinese flavour or even fashion. All of these could be found along any of the roads around Chinatown itself.
Tired of shopping? Make your way to the Chinatown Heritage Centre (48 Pagoda Street) and find out how the old Chinatown looked like and how the whole place came to be. For the slightly adventurous or religious, you could try the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (288 South Bridge Road). This newly (2007) completed temple houses a 27-foot statue of Buddha, a sacred remnant of Buddha’s tooth (hence the name) and also a 10,000 Buddhas pagoda on its rooftop.
Find trinkets, antiques, fashion, souvenirs, foodstuffs, medicinal herbs and home accessories with a Chinese flavour here at Chinatown
Tip: There is a cosy garden which is free-of-charge at the rooftop of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in which you could rest your feet and relax your mind.
As you make your way down South Bridge Road towards Cross Street, make a small detour when you find Ann Siang Road which in turn, leads to Club Street. This area is home to eclectic boutiques, expatriate bars, quirky cafes and chic restaurants. This is a slightly different area as compared to Chinatown itself. The area is also dominated by baroque and Victorian architecture, a remnant of the area’s past.
Coming back to South Bridge Road, you can find 2 equally unique and non-Chinese landmarks. The first one is the Jamae Mosque (218 South Bridge Road), built in the 1830s, it is one of the oldest mosques in Singapore. The other is Sri Mariamman Temple (244 South Bridge Road), one of Singapore’s oldest and most important Hindu temple, make sure to check out the intricately carved gopuram (statue on top of the entrance).
Entrance is free but $3 for taking photos
Tip: Visiting both the mosque and the Hindu temple is free, but you need to pay $3-$6 if you want to take photos or video of the Hindu temple.
At the end of South Bridge Road, intersecting with Upper Cross Street and Cross Street lies China Square. This 4-storey mall houses a few shops pertaining to collectibles, and they often have a flea market during the weekends (Sunday) that cater to this particular hobby. So if you are looking for some toys, game-related merchandise or even kites, this is the place to be.
Although Chinatown can be visited at any time, the best time would be during Chinese New Year (Jan or Feb) or during the Mooncake Festival (Aug or Sept). During this time, Chinatown will be decorated to the sixes and nines in traditional Chinese style, adding to the atmosphere.
Sorry for sounding cliché, but bak kwa is a must-try in Chinatown
What did you say? Where is the eating part? That will come in one of the future posts, for now, the only thing that you should try in Chinatown is what the locals referred to as bak kwa or if you are a foreigner, barbequed pork. This delicacy is a must-try and would serve as a good housewarming gift if you are planning to visit someone locally, just make sure they are Chinese! Bee Chee Hiang (69-71 Pagoda Street) is the household name in Singapore for bak kwa.