A day trip to Singapore's ethnic enclaves



Summary: Today's trip will take you to Singapore's most enchanting ethnic quarter: Little India, Chinatown and Kampong Glam (Arab Street), where you can see how this city-state's different groups coexist in harmony, while retaining their traditions and customs.


A traditional shop in Singapore's Little India, selling garlands for a Hindu festival

Photo by: Gaelen,     License: CC BY 2.0

Little India, where our day trip starts from, used to be the enclave of Singapore's Indian community during early colonial times, when ethnic quarters were built under the British policy of ethnic segregation, and although it stopped being an "Indian only" suburb long time ago, it still maintains its unique character, and its streets boast an enormous variety of authentic shops… From colorful sari boutiques, emporiums and heavenly scented spice shops to traditional eateries, inexpensive electronics and computer shops, and video shops, where Bollywood's latest releases can be found…


We will get to Little India MRT Station at an early hour of the day. Leave the station via exit E to Buffalo Road, where you can visit Tekka Centre: A recently renovated shopping centre, boasting a large wet market and a food court, where you can choose between numerous stalls, serving different Indian foods, as well as vegetarian Malay and Chinese delicacies. There are also quite a few shops here that sell a wide range of stuff... From Indian fashion and inexpensive casual clothes to Taoist and Buddhist paraphernalia, and from tailor shops to henna salons, you name it…


As soon as you leave Tekka Centre, turn right and continue walking along short Buffalo Road to its end, where you cross Serangoon Road, Little India's main thoroughfare, and visit Little India Arcade, on the other side of the street. This traditional shopping centre occupies a cluster of old shophouses and boasts a wide choice of traditional shops that sell everything India has to offer…


From Little India Arcade, proceed to Campbell Lane, turn left to Clive Street and right to Dunlop. On the corner of Clive and Dunlop there is a well-known emporium shop, called "Haniffa Textiles", which has been selling a wide range of Indian and international clothes for more than 50 years. They also offer a decent choice of cameras, electronics, handbags and what have you... Walk back through Dunlop to the corner of Serangoon Road, turn right and right again, to Upper Dickson Road, which runs parallel to Dunlop and boasts some nice shops and cheap eateries...


While you are there: Nibbling snacks from authentic eateries is one of the most enjoyable sides of strolling the streets of Little India. Komala Vilas, on Serangoon Road (Between the corner of Dunlop and Upper Dickson) has been serving scrumptious vegetarian fare at reasonable prices for God knows how many years... Kulfi Bar, on No. 15 Upper Dickson, is known for its lovely home-made Indian ice cream (Kulfi), while Sakunthala's Restaurant, on 151 Dunlop, serves a variety of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian specialties and is particularly famous for its Dosa (Thosai): A South-Indian style crispy crêpe, stuffed with various fillings and served with different sauces and deeps on the side...


Back to the corner of Serangoon Road, turn right and start walking up the street… Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, on 141 Serangoon Road, was built in the 1880s in honor of Kali, Shiva's wife and destroyer of evil, and features the South Indian Dravidian style, with a distinctive Gopuram "pyramid" rising atop of its main gate, covered with sculptures and figurines of Hindu deities, alongside mystic animals from the Hindu mythology and other ornamental decorations.


Continue walking up Serangoon Road and you will reach Mustafa Centre, Singapore's super-store, which spans across two connected buildings near the corner of Serangoon and Syed Alwi, on the other side of the street from the Hindu temple (Serangoon Plaza is on 320 Serangoon Road, while Mustafa Centre is just around the corner, on 145 Syed Alwi).


From here: cross Serangoon Road and walk via small Owen Road to Farrer Park Station, where you can board the MRT and travel to Chinatown.



Upon arrival, leave Chinatown MRT Station and take a pleasant stroll through the historic streets where Chinatown sprung from two centuries ago, including Pagoda Street, Trengganu, Temple Street and Smith Street (on 335 Smith Street there is a fantastic food centre, where you can have an "authentic" lunch).

The Tang-style building of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple has long become one of Chinatown's best-known landmarks

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum


Move onwards to Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum: An impressive Tang-style building on 288 South Bridge Road, where the relic of the tooth of Buddha is kept, in a gold stupa. Other than the holy remnant, there is a lavishly decorated temple here, and a Buddhist Culture Museum, where hundreds of beautiful Buddhist artifacts are on display.


Daily, 7am – 7pm (The holy chamber can be seen 9am – 12noon and 3 – 6pm), Free entry. Website


From here, take a few minutes' walk to Sri Mariamman Temple, on 244 South Bridge Road (near the corner of Pagoda Street), one of Singapore's earliest and most significant Hindu temples, which was built originally in 1827, as a simple wood and palm structure, dedicated to Mariamman, the main South Indian mother goddess and a protector from diseases. The existing brick building started its life in 1843 and has since been expended and modified a few times. You can then proceed to visit neighboring Masjid Jamae Mosque, which was built in the 1820s and features an eclectic architectural style.


The Eu Yan Sang Medical Hall, on 267 South Bridge Road, just across the street from the Hindu temple, specializes in Chinese herbal medicines which are prepared on spot, right before your eyes... Even if you don't feel like trying any of their 'exotic' products, it is still recommended to visit the place.


Walk through Smith Street to the end and use the pedestrian bridge to cross New Bridge Road, turn left and walk along the road to Outram Park MRT Station, from where you can travel to Bugis.


Leave Bugis MRT Station via exit-B, turn right to Victoria Street and after a few minutes right again, to Arab Street, where plenty of 'exotic' shops can be found, selling fabrics, carpets, basketry and bric-a-brac… Turn left to Muscat Street to visit Masjid Sultan, Singapore's largest and most significant mosque, and continue to Istana Kampong Glam, just a heartbeat from the mosque, where the imposing manor that was once the palace of the Sultan of Johor can be seen.


Built almost 100 years ago, Masjid Sultan in Kampong Glam (Arab Street) is Singapore's largest and most impressive mosque

Photo by: Erwin Soo,     License: CC BY 2.0

Nowadays, Istana Kampong Glam accommodates the Malay Heritage Centre and the Malay Heritage Museum, where you can learn a lot about the history of Singapore's Malay community and its culture through historic artifacts, multimedia and diorama displays, as well as other exhibits (For details, visit their website).


In Bussorah Street, the pedestrian mall in front of Masjid Sultan Mosque, there are quite a few handicraft and curio shops, as well as one or two cafés.


Continue walking down Arab Street, turn right and immediately right again, and visit Bali Lane and Hajji Lane, two parallel alleys where some hip shops and cafés are located…


You can wind up the day at Bugis Junction Mall, right next to Bugis MRT Station, where a good choice of cafés and restaurants can be found, or at Bugis Village, on the other side of Victoria Street, where a "night market" is held every evening, with a good choice of street stalls and quite a few hawker stands, where you can indulge on authentic street foods.