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My Escapes Singapore Bustling, Colourful Singapore Night Time in Chinatown

Night Time in Chinatown

May 30, 2014
July 19, 2014

If night falls while you're in downtown Singapore, do take a stroll to Chinatown.
I did. And its beauty kept me hanging around for a long hours. It's certainly worth seeing during the night!

Spiral staircases

Spiral staircases

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It was my very first night in Singapore and after a long long walk I stopped by at the Lau Pa Sat (Telok Ayer) hawker centre for a brunch.

The streets heading north brought me into Chinatown and prior to entering it, I noticed these beautiful old spiral staircases.

I started my Chinatown exploration at around 9 PM.

Oddly, the place felt almost deserted, ghost town-ish, almost... it felt like an open air museum with everything in perfect condition.

I do not know if Chinatown's colours today are the approximate reflection of what it used to be at the very beginning of the 20th century or, if improvements were made to make it look more attractive.

I found it a bit unusual that despite Singapore having an overwhelming Chinese majority of 74-75 %, there is actually a Chinatown in it(!). And a very beautiful one indeed.

If there are so many Chinese, then why'd they need a Chinatown?

It would sound like having a Cuban quarter in Havana, right?

But no, actually this is partly because of the British urban planning and racial segregation in the 19th century. Back then, there was a Chinese Kampong in this area (sort-of a village) inhabited by the local Chinese community.

Singapore is actually the only widely recognized country in the World with a Chinese majority. Taiwan would be the other one (but only a handful of countries recognize its self-proclaimed independence).

Glimpse of Chinatown

Feels oriental, but with a strong European accent. Or, the other way around?

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The Singaporean Chinatown is vast and already on my first night out, I felt overwhelemed by what I saw there. In a few hours, my expectations about Singapore were surpassed!

But before we go into the attractions, here are a few lines about the Singaporean Chinatown's history...

Chinatown's History

Although historically Singapore was part of Malaysia for a very long time, in 1330 there was already a (recorded) Chinese community living on the island.

This Chinatown is actually one of the oldest Chinatowns in the World!
It's also one of the largest ones!

Lamps in Chinatown

Lamps in the heart of Chinatown

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Why are there so many distinct ethnic neighbourhoods in Singapore?

Well, in my Little India article I mentioned that there was a thing called "Raffles Plan of Singapore", which divided the populations - racially segregating them.

So, the Chinese of Singapore were actually encouraged during British colonial rule to live in this area.

No balconies?

No balconies? One could open the door and step out onto the street!

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Singapore was officially founded in 1819, but the Raffles Plan (also known as Jackson Plan) was already launched in 1822.
It was an urban development plan which forced a grid-like layout for the city and the ethnic groups were forced to live in 4 distinct areas.


Colourful shophouses

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Interestingly, the Chinese of Singapore are diverse amongst themselves: the Hokkiens/Fukiens predominantly occupied Havelock Road, Telok Ayer Road, China Street, Chulia Street, while the Teochew mostly lived in the Circular Road, River Valley Road, Boat Quay and South Bridge Road areas and, the Cantonese lived rather scattered around South Bridge Road, Upper Cross Street, New Bridge Road and Bukit Pasoh Road.

Singapore too had its own groups of interest, clans, gangs, what the West might call "Chinese mafia", some even formed secret societies.

Chinatown's Architecture and Attractions

The houses and shophouses looked like having a mix of oriental and European architectural elements.

One of the most beautiful places is the Ann Siang Hill area. Slightly hilly, as its name suggests. Some of the most beautiful streets and lots of cafes, bars are located there.

Ann Siang Hill

Ann Siang Hill - one of my favourite places in Chinatown. Lots of cafes, bars... scenic streets!

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One can observe an abundance of Baroque, Victorian elements on many of the buildings, which indeed have a strong Chinese feel. The European influence cannot be questioned.

One of the main attractions in Chinatown is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, a fantastic pagoda...

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

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It houses a tooth relic said to have belonged to Buddha (Siddhartha).

It's not at all old, it was only finalized in 2007 and cost a whopping 62 million SGD (!), but its designers' source of inspiration was ancient Chinese architecture (Tang Dynasty architectural style).

From another angle...

The pagoda bears the Tang Dynasty's architectural style (618907 AD)

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Despite this being a Chinese neighbourhood, there are several mosques and I even encountered a Tamil temple.

Chinatown itself is far more diverse than I had anticipated... Here's the photo of the greeinsh-teal Masjid Jamae mosque:

Masjid Jamae

Pleasant mild greenish-teal colour

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This one is one of Singapore's oldest historic buildings. It was built in 1826 by the local Tamil Muslim community and it's found on South Bridge Road, at the edge of Chinatown.

Sri Mariamman Temple

The gopuram of the Sri Mariamman Temple

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To the left you can see the gopuram (entrance tower) of the Sri Mariamman Temple.

This one is in Chinatown too, just a very short walk away from the mosque presented above.

It is in fact Singapore's oldest Hindu temple, built in Dravidian style.

The Sri Mariamman Temple was erected in 1827, founded by the leader of the Singaporean community back then (Naraina Pillai).

Interestingly, Pillai first arrived to Singapore together with Sir Stamford Raffles (founder of Singapore, as we know it today) in the year 1819.

What's interesting is that the primary construction material of the temple is a combination of wood and nipa palm...

But perhaps you'd want to find out more about Singapore's religious sites worth visiting. But you'd require a week to see most of them.

Unexpectedly, my curious short-intended night time downtown stroll has turned into a thrilling architectural adventure...
And I could barely put my camera down...

I was so caught by the sprawling beauty of Chinatown that I subsenquently returned to it several times on the following days.

What you can see here on my photos is just "a drop from the ocean" that you can find there. It's vast and with many hidden attractions.

But because photos can speak a thousand words, I'll leave you with further photos below... enjoy!

Duxton Hill

Colourful shophouses at Duxton Hill

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Luxury cars

Lots and lots of luxury cars

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Pinnacle at Duxton

The gigantic Pinnacle at Duxton housing complex in the background

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Feels European

This again feels European

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Mild architectural contrast

Mild contrast

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Flat, square...

Flat, square... dead quiet in the early night hours..

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Houses without balconies

Wouldn't anyone want to have a small balcony, at least?

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Strong colourful contrast

Now that's striking contrast!

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Red lamps

Love those red lamps!

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Western movie feel

Western movie feel... Wicked place. Dead quiet, just a few pedestrians and light car traffic (mostly taxis).

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Happy buildings

Happy buildings

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Dark Chinatown

Some areas were shady, grey... felt almost deserted

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Rooftop bar in Chinatown

There's a bar on the roof

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Staircases again

You can find these external spiral staircases in many parts of Singapore

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Escape Hunter

About the Author:

Escape Hunter, the young solo traveler in his early 30's explores the World driven by curiosity, thirst for adventure, deep passion for beauty, love for freedom and diversity.
With a nuanced, even humorous approach to travel, an obsession for art and design, Escape Hunter prefers to travel slowly, in order to learn and "soak up" the local atmosphere...


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