The mere mention of ‘Chinatown‘, anywhere in the world probably evokes mental pictures of stone dragons and colourful archways in an area purely dedicated to the Chinese culture. The traditionally Chinese side of Singapore does not disappoint in this aspect. Interestingly, the most dominant dialect in this area is Cantonese, unlike the rest of Hokkien-dominated Singapore.
It lives up to its name in everyway, complete with quaint shops selling dried herbs to religious trinkets. Take the time to browse around and you may find some pleasant bric-a-brac and even an antique item or two to be taken back as souvenirs. Incidentally, Chinatown is also known as Niu Che Shui or Kreta Ayer (Malay), both meaning ‘bullock-cart water’ as a reference to a time in the past when those beasts were used to haul in drinking water.
Best time to visit Chinatown
The best time to visit Chinatown would be – when else? – just before Chinese New Year. At this time, the streets come to life with festive lights and decorations. The first 15 days of the lunar New Year are particularly interesting as lion and dragon dances are held in the hope of reaping blessings and good fortune. Drop by the ornately designed Thian Hock Keng Temple to admire its exquisite artwork. If you ever needed proof of Singapore’s unique diversity, the very heart of Chinatown itself proves it in the form of an Indian temple, the Sri Mariamman Hindu Tamil Temple, as well as two mosques, Al-Abrar and Jamae. Be sure also to visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre which chronicles its history. Clubs and karaoke joints are abundant, making for a colourful nightlife. A huge part of Chinese culture involves food and you’ll find enough gastronomical delights here to sample and taste. Indeed, you probably could spend an entire day here just eating!
Chinatown is popular among tourists and has its fair share of hotels and accommodation, all of which would fit perfectly into your budget with prices starting at about SGD100 (USD68) for a decent place to spend the night. One of the more expensive hotels in the area is the New Majestic Hotel Singapore, which at SGD220 (USD151) also sports a spa and fitness centre with retro-designs described as ‘heritage chic’. An interesting feature of this hotel is that each of its 30 rooms are all individually styled – some quite colorfully – with some of the furniture dating back to the 1920s and swinging ’60s. Even the bathrooms are uniquely designed including some aquarium-themed transparent bathrooms. A night’s stay here would definitely be an experience unto itself.
The word ‘peacock‘ conjures up a mental picture of a colourful, elegant fowl. Likewise the Royal Peacock Hotel uses richly-hued walls and colourful carpets which combine prettily without being garish. Altogether this adds a charmingly intimate touch to its interior with serene rooms to lull you to sleep. With rooms ranging from SGD129 (USD89) and up, this jewel in the middle of busy Chinatown assures good service from its friendly staff, lending a personal touch to your stay.
Yet another, slightly cheaper hotel that also offers different themes for its rooms is the Hotel Re Singapore, with a price range beginning from SGD 118 (USD81) for a glitzy experience. Take your pick of retro designs or pop culture and let your imagination soar as you head for dreamland. Rooms are equipped with basic facilities, including satellite TV and mini bar.
Those who prefer more a traditional, calmer atmosphere could try out the Hotel 81. Rooms are simply decorated with a slightly Oriental look just to remind you that you’re in Chinatown, after all. Despite its simplicity, all the rooms are cosy and fully equipped with modern facilities, ensuring a memorable stay. Nothing beats a cool shower and crisp white sheets after a day of wading through Chinatown’s crowded streets. For quiet comfort at a reasonable price – its rooms range from SGD117 (USD80) onwards – Hotel 81 is the place for you.
On the other hand, if all you’re looking for is a simple, comfortable bed to rest for the night, the Furama City Centre Singapore(SGD100 = USD68) is ideal for the traveller who has no need for frills to complete his trip. Pristine, snug beds guarantee your dreams stay sweet and untroubled throughout the night. After all tomorrow is a new day with more sights to visit!