Singapore
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Singapore Travel Guide, Orchard Road

Orchard Road to the Singapore River

From glittering shopping malls to charismatic colonial houses

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The area between Orchard Road and the Singapore River reflects some of the deepest and most beautiful contrasts that characterize this fascinating city.  Modern, glitzy shopping malls and traditional temples co-exist here, side by side, and historic buildings from the city's early days are shadowed by glittering skyscrapers.

 

Since this journey is not circular, you can start it from either one of its ends:

  • From the north side of Coleman Bridge (next to MICA Building), on the corner of Hill Street and River Valley (from MRT-Clarke Quay, simply cross the bridge to its northern side).
  • From Peranakan Place, on Orchard Road (walk out from MRT-Somerset, cross Orchard Rd. to the other side, and you are there...)

We chose to start from Peranakan Place, on 178 A Orchard Rd.  Here, at the heart of this modern, bustling street, there is a small complex of six beautifully restored shophouses, built by wealthy Perankan merchants around the early 1900s.

 

The Peranakans (also known as Straits Chinese, after the Straits of Malacca), are descendants of the very early Chinese immigrants to the Straits region and the Island of Java, who have partially adopted Malay customs in an effort to be assimilated into the local communities.  Most Peranakans came originally from Southeast China, particularly from the provinces of Fujian (Hokkien), Guangdong (Canton) and Chaozhou (Teochew).

 

The tastefully refurbished shophouses are currently housing some lovely wine & dine outlets, where you can chill out and have your coffee "alfresco" as you watch life on Orchard Rd. unfold before you...

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Left of Peranakan Place is the entrance to Emerald Hill Road (through the pedestrian passage), it's very recommended to take a slow walk along this beautiful street (as well as its neighboring streets), where some of Singapore's most beautiful and charismatic historic houses can be found...

 

Those beautifully restored houses, part of the Emerald Hill conservation project, were built around the early 1900s by members the city's wealthy Peranakan community.  They feature a unique architectural style, commonly known as "Chinese Baroque", which blends classic European motifs with Chinese elements... Doric columns, French louvers and pagoda-style roofs can all be found in a single house...

 

Most of the restored houses are lined along Emerald Hill Road and adjacent Hullet Road and Saunders Road.

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Back to the Hustle and bustle of Orchard Road, turn right and walk along the road: Some of Singapore's best shopping malls can be found along this section of Orchard, next to the corner of Scotts Rd. and MRT-Orchard (you can read more about it in the Singapore Shopping Districts Guide). At a certain stage, you should cross the road to the other side and walk back towards MRT-Somerset. Pass by the entrance to the MRT station and turn right to Killiney Rd.  After a short walk along Killiney, turn left to Eber Road (the second turn to the left). After a short while, Eber Road takes a right curve and its name changes to Oxley Rise.

              

On your right hand side you will see the Jewish Synagogue "Chesed-El" (means The Grace of God in Hebrew).  Housed in an impressive late-Renaissance style building, this synagogue was built in 1905 by Sir Manasseh Meyer, a Jewish businessman and philanthropist who migrated to Singapore (from Iraq) and amassed a great wealth in the trade business.

 

Continue a few more steps along Oxley Rise and turn right to Clemenceau, just before the flyover (it's a short and steep descent).  Right after you turn, on your right side, you will see the beautiful 1910 Church of the Sacred Heart, with its impressive tower.

 

Just after the church (almost adjacent to it), on 97 Tank Road, you can see the notable Teochew Building.  Built in the beginning of the 20th century as the residence of a wealthy Teochew family, it was one of the only Chinese-style buildings in an era which was characterized by European architecture.

 

Today, the building is the home of the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew foundation that is actively involved in educational, cultural and welfare activities.  It also accommodates the Ngee Ann Cultural Centre and the Ngee Ann Kongsi Heritage Hall, where some items of historical value are displayed (mainly related to the history of the foundation and to Singapore's Teochew community)

 

Open daily from 10am to 6pm. Admission is free.

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Continue walking down along Tank Road and after something like 100 mtrs., on your right side, You will see the Indian Sri Thandayuthapani Temple.  Also known as Chettiars' Temple, this beautiful temple is one of Singapore Hindu community's most important monuments.  It was originally built in 1859 by the Chettiars (Indian moneylenders) in dedication to their most popular deity, Lord Thendayuthapani, who is better known as Murugan.  The original structure, featuring a typical South India Hindu temple architecture, underwent major renovations in 1984, and some extensions were added in the 1990s.

 

The temple is the final station of the famous Vel Kavadi parade, held during the Hindu festival of Thaipusam. The parade, which departs from Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple, on Little India's Serangoon Street, is a spectacular practice where hundreds of devotees walk along the route, carrying large, portable steel altars, called Kavadi. Those steel altars are up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and other ornaments and attached to the devotees' body by more than a hundred vels (spikes), pierced into the skin on the chest and back.

 

The temple is also the host of the Navarathiri festival, around the month of October, including nine nights of worship, dance and song.

 

As in most South India style temples, there is an impressive Gopuram tower at the entrance to the temple, decorated with sculptures and carvings and painted with a variety of themes derived from the Hindu mythology.

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Few more steps down Tank Road will bring you to the corner of River Valley.  Cross the road, turn right to River Valley and left to Mohamed Sultan Road where you can visit the Chinese Hong San See Temple, on 31 Mohamed Sultan Road (the temple is not right on the street, so you will have to climb some stairs to get to it).

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This beautifully decorated temple was built in the early 1900s by Fujianese migrants, after their original 1829 temple, in Tanjong Pagar, had to be removed due to road expansion. Positioned atop of a small hill that used to face the sea, back in the time when it was built, the temple enjoys excellent Feng Shui.  Architecture wise, it is built in accordance to the southern Chinese traditional temple style, featuring a cluster of courtyards and inner halls.

 

As in many traditional Southern Chinese temples, the rich and well detailed decorations are the real draw, including deeply sculpted granite columns, wooden carvings, intricate decorations and paints of phoenixes on the doors (the temple's name translates to "Temple on Phoenix Hill").

This is where our trip comes to its end.  From here, you can take an easy walk to Coleman Bridge and Clarke Quay (or hop on one of the River Boats), where you can either see some of the sights along the Singapore River excursion or proceed to MRT-Clarke Quay, on the other side of Coleman Bridge (or you can just hop to nearby Robertson Quay, a stonethrow from the temple, and enjoy a nice chillout in one of the riverfront cafés).

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