Is the World your Oyster?

Travel to See the World Unravel

Chinatown 牛车水 차이나타운

on August 26, 2011

You must be surprised at the Chinese translation of Chinatown as 牛车水 which literally means ‘Cow, Car, Water’ instead of the typical 唐人街. The name, 牛车水, stems from the scenes of bullock carts pulled by cows in transporting water from the Singapore river to Chinatown for the people of the Chinese settlement area.


Chinatown is an area that’s rich in culture and heritage, most famous for the buzz of activity that surrounds it during the festive season of Chinese New Year. The Chinatown trail brings you on a journey of interesting and surprising finds, beginning at Pagoda Street. Here at the Chinatown Heritage Centre, take a look at how life was like for the early Chinatown settlers.

Named after the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, Pagoda Street is a good location to admire the architecture of restored shophouses which flank the street, all featuring characteristic five-foot ways (covered verandahs so named because of their width).

Across from the Chinatown Heritage Centre, you’ll find the pedestrian mall of Trengganu Street, where some of the shophouses are home to Singapore’s performing arts groups. In the early days, hawkers used to sell a variety of wares ranging from cheap cooked food to household goods, day and night. Today, the hustle and bustle is brought back to the streets through the Chinatown Street Market on Pagoda, Trengganu and Sago Streets where one can find traditional wear, accessories, knick knacks and, of course, cheap bargains. Feast on hawker food ala old Chinatown on Smith Street, also known colloquially as ‘Food Street’, as the land was owned by Portuguese doctor Jose d’ Almeida, who opened a clinic and a shop here.

Situated on South Bridge Road is the famous Sri Mariamman Temple. Built originally as a wood and attap structure by Indian pioneer Narayana Pillai (who arrived in Singapore with Raffles), the temple was later replaced by a brick building. The Sri Mariamman Temple boasts a South Indian architectural design, and is dedicated to the Goddess Mariamman, believed to be a protector and curer of diseases. A stone’s throw away, you’ll see the Jamae Mosque, an Indian-Muslim mosque that is another well-known landmark in Chinatown. Originally built in 1826, it is believed to be one of the oldest mosques in Singapore.

Next, walk along South Bridge Road towards the junction of South Bridge and Maxwell roads and you’ll arrive at the Maxwell Road Food Centre. Once a wet market, it is now famous for its local hawker fare, including the renowned Tian Tian Chicken Rice.

Finally, end the Chinatown trail with a bit of shopping at Ann Siang Hill. Nutmeg plantations used to sit on the hill, before shophouses were later built and housed traditional clan associations. The elegantly restored shophouses on Ann Siang Road are now home to chic boutiques such as Asylum and Style: Nordic, as well as wine bars and eateries.

If you’re looking for a unique place to stay in a fascinating and cultural location, the boutique hotels of Chinatown might just be it. The Scarlet is a bold and uninhibited hotel located along Erskine Road, and features plush and opulent décor. Adjacent to it is The Club, occupying a newly white-washed building that dates back to the 1900s. The Club plays on an east-meets-west theme and gives a new perspective on Singapore’s rich history and heritage. For a mix of old world architecture and designer interiors, visit Hotel 1929 and New Majestic Hotel, both housed in conservation shop-houses. Hotel 1929 features a selection of unusual and classic chairs from the owner’s private collection, as well as 20th century photos of olden Singapore. For a taste of the “New Asia” genre, drop by New Majestic Hotel. From the open concept lobby with vintage Compton fans and furniture, to its dramatic pool that floats above the restaurant, New Majestic Hotel is a stunning and eclectic blend of heritage chic.

Courtesy of


Here’s a photo journey of the Chinatown trail!

Sri Mariamman Temple – Front Entrance


Sri Mariamman Temple – Close-up of Front Entrance

From Left to Right:

Row of shophouses, Bus-stop, Banana Plant, Sri Mariamman Temple Cultural Heritage Plaque, Wooden door decorated by golden bells


Sri Mariamman Temple – Side Entrance

Cows are considered as sacred animals by the Hindus.


Sri Mariamman Temple – Back Entrance

Area where the Hindu devotees congregate after prayers


Ann Siang Hill – Oil-painters painting the shophouses along Ann Siang Hill


Ann Siang Hill – Cafe

The shophouse featured in the oil-painters’ paintings.


Ann Siang Hill – Road Sign


Ann Siang Hill – Screening Room

Pub and recreational area to chill


Ann Siang Hill – Prayers for Seventh Month Hungry Ghost Festival


Ann Siang Hill – Shopfront of Clan Association (会馆)


Ann Siang Hill – Spiral Staircase feature of Shophouses



Ann Siang Hill – Main Entrance of The Club Boutique Hotel


Do take a walk along the Chinatown Trail!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: