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Chinatown is a place where most of us go for a wide variety of food or to get our festive goodies. However, do you know that there is more to Chinatown than good food and cheap items? Here are eight iconic locations to visit when in Chinatown:
Once the ancestral home of a Peranakan Chinese family in 1895, the three-storey townhouse was acquired by the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2006. A year later, the heritage house was restored and turned into the current day, Baba House.
The interior of the Baba House consists of the settings of a Peranakan Chinese family home of the early 20th century. Over 2000 antiques and objects such as furniture, wood carvings and porcelain can still be found. Many of the photographs and furniture which once belonged to the Peranakan Chinese family remains intact and are well presented within the enclosure of the house.
Location: Baba House, 157 Neil Road, Singapore 088883
All visits are by appointment only.
Opening Hours: Tue-Fri: 10am (English Heritage Tour)
Sat: 1pm to 4.30pm (self-guided visit)
Cost: Free for Singaporeans, PRs, NUS staff, students and alumni, students holding valid passes, ICOM and Museum Roundtable members.
Yue Hwa Department Store (formerly Great Southern Hotel)
Yue Hwa Department store was once the Great Southern Hotel, a place for the Chinese high society in the 1930s. The hotel was a hit amongst celebrities from Hong Kong and China for it was the first Chinese hotel in Singapore to boast a lift service.
Known as the “Raffles Hotel of Chinatown”, the Great Southern Hotel was the tallest building in the area in the 1930s. In 1993, the building was sold for S$25 million and converted to the first Yue Hwa Chinese Products department store. After the renovation and restoration work, the building won the Architectural Heritage Award by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 1997. As of 2022, the Yue Hwa building houses a Chinese goods department store.
Location: Yue Hwa Department Store, 70 Eu Tong Sen Street. Singapore 059805
Opening Hours: Sun- Fri: 11am-9pm, Sat: 11am-10pm
Cost: Free Entry
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum
Located opposite Kreta Ayer Square, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum has been a unique icon for residents of Chinatown. Built in 2007, the Tang dynasty-styled Chinese Buddhist temple consisted of five-storey and cost S$75 million to build.
In the temple, there are various relics including a giant stupa made from 320kg of gold and have a total weight of 3,500kg. Although only monks are allowed into the relic chamber, visitors are still able to catch a glimpse of the relics from the public viewing area.
One of the most iconic relics from which the temple got its name is the left canine tooth of Buddha. Measuring 7.5cm long, the tooth was recovered from his funeral pyre in Kushinagar, India. Currently, the tooth can be viewed by the public on the fourth floor of the temple, in the Sacred Light Chamber.
Location: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, 288 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058840
Opening Hours: Daily from 9am to 5pm
If you walk through the back alleys of Chinatown, you will notice various street art depicting Chinese cultures. Some of these murals even capture Singapore’s heritage and a past which could not be seen in the present day.
Here are some of the murals that encompasses Chinatown:
Cantonese Opera Mural
In the 19th century, Chinese street opera also known as Wayang was a popular form of entertainment in Singapore. The opera troupes would paint their faces white and perform on makeshift stages for the amusement of deities and as a form of respect during religious celebrations and festivals. Although the performance was for the deities, they drew a large crowd which included both children and adults. To date, the art form is still very much preserved in Singapore.
Location: 5 Temple Street, Singapore 058556
Opening Hours: Daily
Wet Market Mural
Painted by local artist Yip Yew Chong, the Wet Market mural is one of the latest additions to the Chinatown streets. The mural depicts various scenes from the traditional wet market from ear picking to communal engagements in the coffee shops. It even shows an unhappy woman scolding her upstairs neighbour from her window. This large mural took Yip 24 days to complete.
Location: 30 Temple Street, Singapore 058575
Opening Hours: Daily
Bruce Lee Mural
Unlike the other murals in Chinatown, this mural does not depict the olden days of Singapore, instead, this unique mural enlivens the area with a famous face from the past: Bruce Lee. Utilizing a pop-art style to create the mural, the students from the School of Design at Temasek Polytechnic illustrated the late martial artist balancing a mangosteen on his head while holding a durian with his bare hands. Singaporean lingos such as “Shiok!” could be seen in the mural as well.
Location: 335 Smith Street, Chinatown Complex, Singapore 050335
Opening Hours: Daily
Singapore Musical Box Museum
House within Thian Hock Keng Temple, this hidden gem is home to over 40 antique musical boxes hailed from Switzerland, Germany, the United States of America and even locally. These musical boxes were once a significant icon in the European culture, holds many stories from the past.
Location: Singapore Musical Box Museum, 168 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068619
Reservations must be made in advance.
Opening Hours: Daily from 11am – 5pm, except for Sundays and public holidays
Cost: S$12 for adults, S$6 for students and senior citizens (60 years and above), free entry for children below 6 years old
With all the place mentioned in the above, head over to Chinatown this weekend and check out these hidden gems.