Singapore is a wonderful mish-mash of different cultures and communities, with various groups having made their way to Singapore in the past. Indeed, Singapore prides itself on its diversity today, and, rather than trying to blend all cultures together to create one ideal of the Singapore psyche, the country embraces the differences and various cultures co-exist side by side.
There are several historical ethnic enclaves around Singapore where it is easy to forget the skyscrapers and modern gems of the downtown area and enter a totally different world. Let the wonderful sights, sounds, and smells invoke your senses and carry your mind away as you explore the different ethnic communities of Singapore.
Here are some good places to start:
Chinatown is, as the name suggests, the part of the country that was settled by early Chinese immigrants. As you walk around the area you will see lots of traditional shop houses. Spend a while browsing and you will find traditional herbal remedies, ornaments, and Chinese food produce as well as a plethora of cheap mainstream items and souvenirs. If you’re into shopping, don’t miss the large Night Market. The Chinatown Heritage Centre is a good place to learn more about the early Chinese settlers in Singapore, as well as the hardships they faced in the beginning. There are Chinese shrines and temples, hard to miss with their bright red colours, ornate lanterns, and the sweet smell of incense. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is an important spiritual place for Chinese Buddhists, and you can also visit Singapore’s oldest Taoist temple – Thian Hock Keng Temple. Other attractions in Chinatown, although not culturally Chinese, include Masjid Jamae Mosque and the Sri Mariamman Temple.
Wandering through the winding streets of Little India you can’t help but notice the enticing smells of rich spices and cooking. Luckily, there are numerous places to stop for a bit to eat if all the aromas make your stomach start to rumble! Follow the Little India Heritage Trail to learn more about the area’s history and visit sights such as the area’s oldest temple – the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Stroll along Campbell Lane to buy some vibrant saris and other traditional items and be dazzled by the sheer array of products in the Mustafa Centre. Open all around the clock you can buy almost anything you may ever have wanted here!
To get a taste for the days of when the country was ruled by the Malay monarchy, don’t miss a trip around Kampong Glam. Visit the Malay Heritage Centre, houses within the former royal place, and see the history of Malays in Singapore. There are street vendors galore, selling a tempting range of snacks and meals.
A previous hive of activity for Arab traders and settlers, the area is home to the country’s biggest mosque – the Sultan Mosque. There are also lots of shops.
In the east coast part of the country, Joo Chiat is where you can find out more about the Peranakan culture. There are old shop houses that transport you back to the past and you can experience a blend of Chinese and Malay cultures.