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Over the years, Singapore's three major racial groups - Chinese, Malays, and Indians - have developed areas of architecture, customs, and colorful festivals that best express their proud past. They are a testimony to the nation's rich ethnic, cultural, and historical heritage. The different districts are home to religious monuments, as well as quaint shophouses selling ethnic goods and cuisine. They provide an insight into the cultural fabric of Singapore and are perhaps the country's truest attractions, having stood the test of time.


Singapore Chinatown's history dates back to 1819 when the first Chinese junk arrived from Xiamen, Fujian province in China. The passengers, all men, set up home around the south of the Singapore River, which is known as Telok Ayer today. Conditions were harsh. The only source of fresh water was from the many wells in Ann Siang Hill and at Spring Street. Each household had to collect fresh water in bullock-drawn carts, hence Chinatown's local name, Niu Che Shui (Bullock Cart Water). Today, Chinatown is the venue of lovingly conserved buildings, century-old beliefs, and intriguing contrasts. Parts of Chinatown are not even Chinese. For example, one of Singapore's oldest Hindu temples and mosques was built even before the Chinese immigrants dominated the town. There are also many other temples and shops to visit. Chinatown can be divided into four main districts: Kreta Ayer, Telok Ayer, Tanjong Pagar, and Bukit Pasoh. Each has its own distinctive flavor. The heart of activity is in the Trengganu or Smith Streets area.

Getting there : A short walk from Outram Park MRT Station.

Little India

The first Indian settlers in Singapore arrived with Sir Stamford Raffles as assistants and soldiers back in 1819. In the late 19th century, many more Indian immigrants arrived to find work, be it as laborers to build roads or to take up key positions in the civil service. In 1843, cattle rearing and a racecourse were introduced near Little India, thus resulting in the heavy influx of Indians. This area, once covered in gambier, banana, and vegetable plantations, had become a flourishing commercial center for the Indian community. Today, Little India is the emotional and commercial center of the Indian community, including the many foreign workers from India. Its spice-scented streets beckon you to a treasure trove of silverware, brassware, ethnic jewelry, jasmine garlands, and silk saris. There are also many temples here for visitors to explore. During Deepavali, the Indian Festival of Lights, Little India is transformed into a fairyland of gaily decorated and brightly lit streets bustling with shoppers. The best time to visit Little India is early morning when you can enjoy the spicy aromas, the strains of sitar music, and the colorful garlands being made. Little India stretches from Rochor Canal to Lavender Street.

Getting there : From Orchard Road, take SBS Bus 64, 65, or 111 to Serangoon Road.

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