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An Early Morning Walk Around Chinatown, Singapore

24th of October 2013

Singapore's Chinatown on a quiet morning exploring temples, shophouse lined streets and hotels made from cardboard sheets and toilet paper rolls.

  • Location: Chinatown, Singapore
  • Start or End: The best starting and finishing point in probably Chinatown Train Station, but there are also several other train and bus options.
  • Length: 5.6km (3.5mi)
  • Grade: Easy. Paved the whole way and flat.

Last time I was in Chinatown I didn't get to explore everything I wanted because of an impending storm and an impending exploding bladder. To avoid a late afternoon storm I decided to try an early morning walk around Chinatown this time.

My walk starts from the Chinatown train station and heads down Mosque Street. It is very early morning in Chinatown so there isn't much going on, but this allows a quiet reflection of the shophouses lining Mosque Street.

At the end of Mosque Street I turn down Southbridge Road to Sri Mariamman Temple, located on the corner of Southbridge Road and Pagoda Street. On my last adventure to Chinatown there was smoke billowing from the Sri Mariamman Temple and it was surrounded by massive crowds of Deepavali worshipers. This morning it is much quieter, allowing me to get closer and observe some of the finer details of the temple from Pagoda Street.

Pagoda Street, a pedestrian only street which runs parallel to Mosque Street, is generally very busy as it is filled with eateries and market shops, but I am so early the markets are closed and the only people around are cleaners picking up the mess from the previous night's trade. This works perfectly for me as I don't enjoy shopping and would rather take in the immaculately restored shophouses without having to dodge tourists.

At the end of Pagoda Street I continue my zig-zag pattern and head down Temple Street, which runs parallel to Pagoda Street. Once again more great examples of Shophouses.

Next I break out of my zig-zag pattern and walk along Sago Lane, another market street which runs adjacent to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. I visited the surrounds of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum previously in a slightly tipsy manner after having a few too many Tiger Beers at the Maxwell Food Centre across the road. This time I enjoy the architecture of the temple in a more coherent state of mind. Watching the sun rise over the temple was worth the early morning wake up.

From the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum I follow the same path as I did previously, taking in the beauty of the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar temple and the Shophouses along Keong Siak Road. At the end of Keong Siak Road I turn up Neil Road, back towards the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum and the Maxwell Food Centre. Across the road from the Maxwell Food Centre, on the corner of Tanjong Pagar Road and Neil Road is the triangular Jinrikisha Station, which was built in 1903 as a registration centre for rickshaws, a human-powered carriage used for transporting Singaporeans around the city. Supposedly this building is owned by Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong action movie star.

Walking past the Maxwell Food Centre I head along Ann Siang Road and Club Street. It is absolutely gorgeous along here with one beautiful shophouse after another.

So far Chinatown has been a very flat walk, but along Ann Siang Road and Club Streets it gets a little hilly as I approach Chinatowns highest point at Ann Siang Hill Park. Ann Siang Hill Park is a quiet “green oasis” which winds its way around behind the shophouses. The shophouses look much nicer from the street.

At the end of Ann Siang Hill Park is Amoy Street which leads onto Telok Ayer Street. Not knowing where to go from here I walk south down Telok Ayer Street. Wrong way. There is nothing that exciting down here except for a little park on the corner of Maxwell Road and Cecil Street called Telok Ayer Park. Fortunately the Telok Ayer Park is perfect for a rest and an application of sunscreen.

I head back along Telok Ayer Street and find the much more interesting Thian Hock Keng Temple. Thian Hock Keng Temple is the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore and is regarded as the most important by the Hokkien community in Singapore.

Walking northward along Telok Ayer Street the historic Chinatown turns into towering skyscrapers. There is nothing that interesting as I head off Telok Ayer Street onto Phillip Street, South Canal Road and South Bridge Road, just more busy cities scenes and tall buildings. However, one building on the corner of South Bridge Road and Pickering Street, the ParkRoyal Hotel, really caught my eye. It is amazing how with today's technology we can build a hotel out of giant cardboard sheets and huge toilet paper rolls. That's what it looks like to me anyway.

I continue my walk away from the skyscrapers back into Chinatown down South Bridge Road. Along the way I make a diversion down Hokien and Nankin Streets looking for a bite to eat. In the search for food I am amazed by the fact that the pedestrian only Nankin Street is entirely covered by a massive transparent roof that not only covers the street but the renovated shophouses on either side.

As I hoe into a croissant and a coffee I contemplate my next walk. What about a leisurely sea side walk?

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