Ethnic Quarters

Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India are testimony to the island-nation's rich ethnic, cultural and historical heritage. The districts are home to religious monuments as well as quaint shophouses selling ethnic goods and cuisine. They provide an insight into the cultural fabric of Singapore and are perhaps the country's truest attractions, having stood the test of time.

  • Where to Shop Chinatown
    Just behind the soaring skyscrapers of Singapore's financial district lies Chinatown. Bound by Upper Pickering Street, Cantonment Road, New Bridge Road and South Bridge Road, this crowded and colourful network of streets and alleyways has changed little over the decades. Here, Chinese merchants engage in business from the ground floor of quaint pre-war shophouses much as they have for generations.

    Experience the sights and sounds of Chinatown: medical halls mix snake skin, herbs and spices and other exotic ingredients into potions for all ailments; traditional delicacies like sea cucumbers lie drying in the street; fruit sellers squat near mounds of rambutan, strong-smelling durian, mangosteen and other seasonal fruits; fortune-tellers sit at make-shift tables waiting for eager customers to know their future; hawkers grill thin slices of pork for passers-by over home-made barbecues.  Here, bargains abound from beautifully-embroidered kimonos, gold jewellery and T-shirts to pottery and traditional crafts at delightfully hard-to-believe prices.

    Try the Tanjong Pagar area for traditional teashops, clog and kite makers, painted masks, waxed paper umbrellas, lacquerware from China, handicrafts and artefacts from all over Asia. Then wander over to Smith Street, Trengganu Street, Temple Street and Pagoda Street where the streets are at their narrowest and you'll find some of the best bargains.  The modern face of Chinatown shopping can be found in the area around the junction of Cross Street with New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Seng Street. The large shopping complexes here, such as Chinatown Point, Yue Hwa, People's Park Complex and Chinatown Complex are not only good sources for Chinese products but also offer bargains galore in their extensive ranges of more conventional products. Look here for everything from electrical and electronic goods, luggage and textiles to bargain-priced clothes and cosmetics. A wide selection of local crafts are available at the Singapore Handicraft Centre in Chinatown Point.
    Nearest MRT station: Outram Park (EW16) or Chinatown (NE4).

     

  • Where to Shop Kampong Glam and Arab Street
    The little streets in this area form the historical focal point of Muslim life in Singapore. Nothing beats the surroundings for bazaar-style shopping with true ethnic character. Here you can browse in hole-in-the-wall shops, haggle to your heart's content and come away with the most delightful purchases at bargain prices. Arab traders settled here to be near their Muslim brothers, the Malays, Javanese and Buginese. Many shops still reflect the Muslim influence, selling prayer rugs, skull caps and anything needed for an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

    The most visible items for sale are the baskets and other cane, straw, rattan and pandan leaf goods spilling out onto the pavements - from baby cradles to floor mats, hanging chairs to serving trays. These shops also stock interesting camel skin bags, cloisonne boxes and sewing kits. But perhaps the real glory of Kampong Glam and Arab Street is the textiles. Bales of gorgeous chiffon, silk, cotton georgette and other luxurious fabrics crowd the pavements, waiting to be sold at unbeatable prices. The area is also renowned for batiks from Indonesia and Malaysia, exquisitely hand-made by the wax-resist dye method and typically sold in sarong lengths. Machine-printed batik with traditional designs is also available by the metre or in ready-made shorts, sundresses, ties, table linen and more.

    There are also a number of fishing tackle shops carrying an amazing array of items for both the amateur and the professional angler.
    Nearest MRT station: Bugis (EW12)

     

  • Ethnic Quarters Little India
    The first Indian settlers in Singapore arrived with Sir Stamford Raffles as assistants and soldiers back in 1819. In the late 19th century, many more Indian immigrants arrived to find work, be it as labourers to build roads or to take up key positions in the civil service.

    Today, Little India is the focal point of Singapore's Indian community. Its spice-scented streets beckon you to a treasure trove of silverware, brassware, ethnic jewellery, jasmine garlands and silk saris. From the large Tekka Centre to the small provision shops, Little India is packed with interesting things to discover. During Deepavali, the Indian Festival of Lights, Little India is transformed into a fairyland of gaily decorated, brightly lit streets bustling with shoppers.

    Don't miss the Little India Cultural Corner (next to the food court in the Little India Arcade) which transports you back in time through an archival display. There's also a striking display of traditional Indian items and story signs which brings to life the rich symbolism and use of these items. There's also the vibrant Indian-inspired murals painted by Singaporean youths next to Sri Veeramakalimman Temple. For more information on Little India and the Indian community in Singapore, visit the Little India website at
    http://www.littleindia.com.sg
    Getting There: From Orchard Road, take SBS bus 64, 65, or 111 to Serangoon Road.

     

  • Ethnic Quarters Geylang Serai
    The Malays had been living in Singapore long before the Chinese or the Indians, and Geylang became their enclave in the 1840s after the British dispersed the Malay floating village at the mouth of the Singapore River. Together with the large influx of Malaysians and Indonesians, many wealthy Arabs then congregated in Geylang. In the early 1920s, Kampong Glam's Malay population moved out en-mass to Geylang Serai as a consequence of the keen competition for land in Kampong Glam. Malay influence is still strong in Geylang Serai as reflected in the restaurants and shops specialising in Malay cuisine and ethnic goods, arts and crafts.

    In the heart of Geylang Serai is the Malay Village, a vibrant cultural showcase of the Malay community. Discover what it was like to live in a village community 'Kampung Days', which showcases the traditional lifestyle of Malays in the 1950s and 60s. You can also experience traditional Malay arts and crafts like batik painting, kite-making and kampong games such as top spinning. The Cultural Museum features a fascinating collection of artefacts like weaving tools, musical instruments and an extensive display of a traditional Malay wedding complete with hand-sewn garments, accessories, and a Bridal Chamber. Other attractions within the Malay Village include the Muslim Showcase, Hall of Fame and Geylang Serai Corner, all offering insight into the lives of Malays in Singapore.

    The daily cultural performances at 6.30pm and 8pm are not to be missed. Catch them daily at the Seafood Restaurant and Restoran Temenggung.
    Open: Malay Village, 10am - 10pm (daily)
    Location: 39 Geylang Serai, Geylang Serai Malay Village, Singapore 409227
    Tel: (65) 6748 4700
    Fax:
    (65) 6741 7794
    Admission:
    Free entrance to the village (Extra charges apply for the two attractions, Kampung Days and Cultural Museum: SGD 5 adults and SGD 3 children)
    Getting There:
    Take the MRT to Paya Lebar Station (EW8) and walk towards Geylang Road.

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  Information provided by Singapore Tourism Board.

 

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