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Exploring Singapore’s Coolest Quarter: Chinatown and Keong Saik Road

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Updated: 12th January 2022

With super-charged airports, skylines illuminated by light shows and forests complete with electronic trees, Singapore is pretty cool in all its corners. There is, however, one pocket of the city that stands out: Singapore’s Chinatown and Keong Saik Road.

Each time I return to Singapore, I feel like I find another neighbourhood to explore. But I’ll never grow tired of this area of Singapore’s Chinatown, which is perfect for experiencing day and night.

From bustling hawker markets to colourful temples, accommodation for all budgets and plenty of chic bar-restaurants, this district is a real crowd-pleaser. All along Keong Saik Road and heading into Chinatown, you’ll find a different side to Singapore – cool rather than contemporary. Here are some of my favourite experiences in one of Asia’s best cities.

Kick back with cocktails on Keong Saik Road

Just on the outskirts of Chinatown, Keong Saik Road rejuvenated itself from a rundown red-light district. Now, it’s a a street of fancy facades and fusion food. There are plenty of chic and happening spots here to wine, dine, and dance while enjoying a Singapore Sling or two to ease into the night.

As the evening grows older and the cocktails start to take effect, weekends call for a visit to Potato Head. Famed for its iconic location in Bali, the Singapore outpost covers a few floors on the corner of Keong Saik. Stacked burgers meet you first before the top level comes through with lovingly crafted cocktails on the colourful roof terrace or in the cosy library-style bar.

There are countless more options in this small spot of Singapore. Eel lovers will want to head to the slightly hidden Man Man, so popular expect a wait at the door, while Brunch is well catered for in all forms, and the more traditional Kuan Food Court sits at the bottom of the street.

Call Chinatown home for your stay

Over the years, I’ve stayed in all corners of Singapore, from the beaches of Sentosa to the Instagram favourite, Marina Bay Sands – but Chinatown has always been my go-to for reliable, well-priced accommodation.

On Keong Saik Road, amongst the art deco buildings and colourful fronts, boutique hotels have set up shop, oozing uber-cool finishing touches that verge on hipster. At Q Loft Hotel 1929, you can chill out on reclaimed dentist chairs in the lobby or take an al fresco bath on your roof terrace.

Contrast contemporary cuisine with market culture

Moments away from this more trendy pocket of cool, the buzzing night market of Singapore Chinatown awaits.

As street food is not that common in Singapore – at least, in the typical stalls on the side of the roadway you find elsewhere in SE Asia – you’ll love the vibe here as an alternative. A hotbed of sizzling plates, lively hawker stools and vibrant colours. thi

Whatever your palate is craving, you’ll be as spoilt as I was in this corner of the city, from favourites such as Hainanese Chicken or satay to Singapore Crab and more traditional Chinese cuisine. The stalls vary in size, from small spots with communal tables and stools to more formal sit-down affairs. The market gets super busy, both with locals and tourists, and the food quality is exceptional – as it is nearly everywhere in Singapore. So, any health market worries you might think of are likely unfounded here.

Nearby is the Maxwell Food Centre, another fantastic spot to sample local dishes at great prices. Not quite as colourful or photography-friendly as the Food Market Street, it’s also less hectic. Although I’ve always managed to miss it, the second floor of the Chinatown Complex, which looks like a rather bland shopping centre from the outside, is also packed with food options.

If you would prefer to join a food tour, there are plenty of options available. From those that include hawker and Michelin samplings to grander tours, including three-wheeler guides, dinner and boat sailing.

Marvel at the religious monuments

Chinatown’s religious monuments summarise the quarter’s diversity. The largest and most striking is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It’s spectacular day and night, and if you’re lucky, you’ll witness Monks practising their chants inside.

Designed in the bright crimson style of the Dang Dynasty, you could well mistake its age. However, it’s, in fact, rather modern. Inside is one of the sacred Buddha teeth, hence the name. And although it’s intricate and the museum factual, unless you are a Monk, you won’t be able to enter the relic room yourself.

Another smaller but super picturesque Chinese temple, Thian Hock Keng, is a short walk away. This one is older, dating back to 1840. Islam is also represented in the Chinatown quarter at Masjid Jamae. Dating back two hundred years, it’s one of the first buildings you’ll notice if you walk from the CBD.

Two Hindu temples are in the area, as well as those in Little India, further across the city. Sri Mariamman Temple is a beauty, with an imposing entrance decorated with sculptures and a tranquil and colourful interior. On Keong Saik Road, the smaller but still worth-a-visit Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple needs a little more searching.

To delve a little deeper into the history and culture of this quarter, visit the Chinese Cultural Centre. Many of these streets have stories from years gone by when they were used for different purposes. You’ll also learn how temples have moved, and boundaries were refined to create the Singapore Chinatown that is known today.

As you walk along Keong Saik Road and its neighbouring streets, you’ll feel a world away from the modern high-rises Downtown. The small balconies, wooden shutters and brightly painted frontages or murals like on Amoy Street are a visual stimulation. It’s a blissful contrast to glass and steel in the CBD.

For that, this pocket of cool around Singapore’s Chinatown shouldn’t be missed.

16 replies
  1. Alisonhale says:

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  2. Hannah Jones says:

    Singapore is a very futuristic and advanced country and also one of the cleanest countries on our planet. Very excited to visit Singapore once this pandemic ends. Sentosa beach is definitely on my to-go list. Thank you for sharing this article.

  3. Cherryl says:

    Like a lot of people, I’d never really thought of Singapore as a dedicated travel destination – just a place people layover in and try to make the most of – but posts like yours are helping to change my perception. I never thought there were beaches there – (not to attract tourists anyway), but the futuristic vibe and the lull of all that delicious food have definitely spike my curiosity.

    Aww, little India looks fun too 🤗 great video btw.

  4. subia says:

    great one! totally agree with uh bcoz we went to Singapore last year it was fun, enjoyed a lot with my planning. planning to visit soon after this pandemic ends.

  5. Sam Manaf says:

    I had no idea Singapore is so beautiful until I found it in your blog. I’ve been working my butt off for more than two decades without realizing that I’m missing out on traveling overseas and discovering other cultures. I will definitely add Singapore to my bucket list, and will start searching for some deals as soon as I feel safe about traveling again. Thank you again so much for sharing, and I will look forward for other posts from you.

  6. Radesh says:

    I have never been to Singapore yet but the way you have shared your Singapore post I have fallen in love with this place. I think you have crafted your article so well that after reading it nobody could stop themself from visiting Singapore. I am sure gonna visit the places shared by you. I hope to get over with the pandemic soon so that we can be back in vacay mode. Thanks for sharing!!

  7. Kaylini Naidoo says:

    Wow! i totally agree, I dont think I could ever tire of a Chinatown in any city. Ive visited Chinatown in Singapore before, but your photography has truly captured the night essence it exudes, I love it! Ive never tried don Ho, but once dine-in is lifted, it definitely worth a try.

  8. Nathaniel says:

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