When I found out that Chinatown is one of the must-see places in Singapore, the first thought that came to my mind was, Chinatown in Singapore? Really? Why? My notion of Chinatown was a place where you can buy cheap products at cheap prices. What else was there to see?
And then I found out that Chinatown in Singapore is more than a place where you can buy souvenirs and other trinkets at cheap prices. Amidst the throng of tourists, the smell of bak kut teh wafting through the air from one of the tiny kitchens to the streets, and noisy vendors calling out tourists with the prices of their wares; Chinatown is also a reminder of the country’s short, albeit controversial history. It is a still life of Singapore then and Singapore as it is now.
Getting to Chinatown was quite easy, thanks to Singapore’s efficient transport system. Straightforward and reliable, getting to one’s destination should not be difficult, even for a first-timer. My friend had already told me which train to board and where to alight so I got to Chinatown smoothly.
For first-timers who are not yet acquainted with the country’s train system, there are station control centers in each station. You can approach the personnel and ask for a mass rapid transit map so you have a guide.
One of the problems travelers face when going to a foreign country is the language barrier. Not being able to speak the language means you are limited when it comes to communicating with locals and most importantly for me, haggling for souvenirs. I did not have such fears in Singapore as it is an English-speaking country.
Along with English, the other official languages are Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. So, even if you do not speak English, there are still three other languages to fall back on. All joking aside, pretty much everyone in the country can communicate in English so it is easy to convey your message to locals.
One of the first things I notice about Chinatown is its vibrance. It is bursting with colours and life! There is a never a dull spot .The beautiful architecture of the buildings and their bright colors made my hands take pictures in a trigger happy way.
With this landscape, it is quite difficult to take bad pictures, unless you are absolutely one of the worst people to have ever held a camera. There are also temples and mosques nearby which make for a pretty interesting landscape.
The juxtaposition of the old and new in harmony is like an orchestra with nary a note astray. There are traditional shops which have been serving customers for years, as well as new cafes and stores. If you plan to explore every nook and cranny of this place, you are going to need the entire day. There are teahouses, goldsmiths, and a maze of other shops plying their wares so you can shop to your heart’s content with a full stomach.
If you are a connoisseur, Chinatown will appeal to your palate. Singaporean cuisine is a mixture of Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisine so suffice it to say that it has quite a lot to offer. Oh, the chili paste, noodles and meat! There is always something to try and always something to whet your appetite.
There is a whole street of hawker stalls where you can order various dishes and wait for freshly cooked food to be served. For someone new who would like to sample food that represents the country, there is hookien mee, satay, chili crab and char kway teow. Hookien mee is my personal favorite. Egg noddles stir fried with shrimps, pork and egg and garnished with vegetables before serving, it is both satisfying and delicious.
One of Chinatown’s bestselling product is the bak kwa or barbecued meat. Tourists, especially from China, buy kilos of the bak kwa to bring home with them! Bak kwa must be that good that people are willing to wait in long queues!
The best thing about Chinatown, at least for the younger generation, is that it has free wifi! You can simultaneously post pictures of your meal and make your friends jealous back home whilst eating it!
Everywhere you look, you will see satisfied travelers smiling with bags of souvenirs in their hands; pictures in their cameras; their stomachs full; and more than a handful of memories to last them a long time.
Chinatown is indeed a treat for the eyes, as well as the palate, and a place which should figure prominently on your itinerary when you visit Singapore.