Come to Chinatown to experience Singapore at its most traditional and its trendiest, side-by-side.
At the heart of Chinatown, the red-painted eaves and upturned roofs of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple tower over streets packed with touristy stalls selling cheap souvenirs. Venture deeper into the neighbourhood, however, and you’ll begin to discover pockets of old Singapore.
There’s “Cobbler’s Square”, where old men sit chatting and mending shoes amongst temples nearly 200 years old built by early migrants from Southern China. There are bakeries selling traditional moon cakes and lotus seed paste biscuits (try Tong Heng, on Pagoda Road). There’s the “street of the dead”, where third-generation stores sell incense and paper effigies to be burned for “hungry ghosts”. There are parks where roosters and junglefowl scrap on the grass as if this were an old Chinese village. These are the last vestiges of an old Singapore that still existed a couple of decades ago, but which will soon be little more than a memory (and a few colourful murals on the sides of shops and restaurants).
Today, Chinatown’s restored shophouses are as likely to contain a café-cum-bookshop or vintage clothing store as an old-fashioned cornershop or teahouse. You can eat anything from durian pizza to frozen yoghurt smoothies, then wash it down with a kaya toast cocktail or craft beer in a microbrewery. Whatever you do, don’t miss the hawker centres, where each food stall specialises in cooking one delicacy to perfection. Chinatown is even home to the first Michelin-starred hawker stall in the world — just look for the longest queues for the most delicious bites.