A trip to Singapore’s Chinatown is a unique experience, where past and present meet. It was once an important enclave for new Chinese immigrants during the colonial times, where it was a centre of trade and commerce within the Chinese community. However, as Singapore progressed and modernized, much of Chinatown’s old time charm was lost, making way for new shopping malls, and tourist attractions. That being said, a stroll through its alleyways, there are still pockets that are reminiscent of its marvelous past.
The Markets Around Pagoda St
The easiest way to get to Chinatown is to take the MRT subway train to Chinatown station on the North East Line (purple line). Once off the train at Chinatown station, head towards Exit A, which will bring you right in the heart of Chinatown at Pagoda St. This is probably the first place most people explore in Chinatown.
The first thing you will see once you get out of Chinatown station is a whole stretch of touristy stalls selling souvenirs. This is the street markets surrounding Pagoda St. The market is definitely less lively than the ones you see in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or even Kuala Lumpur.
The souvenir stalls sells your typical “I visited Singapore” goods, plus your “I visited Chinatown” goods, such as Chinese style fans, lanterns, and shirts, and even iPhone cases.
That being said, a stroll through here you will still see a glimpse of the past as there are many wonderful colonial style shop houses that are well preserved and still in use by the market vendors.
Chinatown Food Street
At the intersection of Trengganu St and Smith St, on the left along Smith St, you will see the famous Chinatown Food Street, which becomes a pedestrian only street after 6pm on weekdays, and 12pm on weekends and public holidays. It is a street that is lined up with street food serving some of Singapore’s most popular local dishes. However it is quite geared towards the tourist crowd with prices slightly higher. Also one thing to take note is that regrettably over the years, there has been a trend where many of the stalls have shut down, because of the operator’s struggle to keep up with the increases in rent. That being said, it is still a nice place to grab a beer, and just do some people watching.
As you make your way around the Chinatown Food Street, there are also restaurants in the shop houses serving various cuisines from China, such as Sichuan hot pot. Also, nearby are the hawker centres where many of the locals frequent, such as the Maxwell Food Centre and the Chinatown Complex, which guarantees the most authentic Singaporean dishes. So there are plenty of choices when it comes to food in Chinatown!
Exploring the street market and the Chinatown Food Street can probably be covered within 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on how much time you spend on shopping around in the street market area. So this is quite an easy itinerary for everyone to enjoy!