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Fort Canning Park to and around Chinatown, Singapore

20th of October 2013

Smoking temples, firewalkers, Buddha's dental records and epic rainfall. A walk around Chinatown.

  • Location: Chinatown, Singapore
  • Start or End: Several public transport options can be used to explore Chinatown. I started at Clarke Quay and finished at Tanjong Pagar Train Station.
  • Length: 3.4km (2.1mi)
  • Grade: Very easy. Flat and fully paved.

From Fort Canning Park I head down Eu Tong Sen Street and into Chinatown. Funnily enough, the first interesting sight I come across isn't Chinese but Indian, the Sri Mariamman Temple on South Bridge Road. The Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and dates back to 1827.

As you can see from the picture above there is a lot of smoke. No the temple isn't on fire and there is no emergency. The smoke is from a fire walking ceremony which occurs a week before Deepavali, the Festival of Lights. All of those people dressed in yellow lined up at the front of the temple are worshippers who are about to walk barefoot over fire. Now I enjoy walking, but walking on hot coals barefoot? Not sure that is for me.

After inhaling the second hand smoke from burning feet I thought it was time to wash it down with a refreshing drink. Further along South Bridge road is the Maxwell Food Centre, which was really popular and absolutely packed. You could tell which food stalls sold the best food as they were the ones with the massive lines that actually stretched around the corner and out of the main building. I wasn't feeling very hungry but it looked like the perfect place to have a rest and rehydrate. When I mean hydrate, I mean have a few beers. Really enjoyed the Tiger beers I had yesterday so thought I would try them again. I found a nice spot with a great outlook over the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum.

For about an hour I rest my feet, have a few beers and people watch. Chinatown isn't just full of Chinese people, but a mix of many different cultures. The mix is amazingly obvious as I sit back and take it all in. Only a few minutes ago I was witness to a Hindu fire walking festival and now I am in a food court overlooking a massive Buddhist temple with people of many different origins walking past and eating around me. All this with a loud (slightly intoxicated I think) old Indian guy complaining about the state of the world and the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers song "Islands in the Stream" blaring from the food centres speakers. Now that's a mix of cultures.

In a slightly tipsy manner I head over to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple to have a closer look. Unlike the Sri Mariamman Temple, which is approaching 200 years of existence, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a recent addition to Chinatown. Opening in 2007, the Tang-Styled Chinese Buddhist Temple houses the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic (that is, a piece of the Buddha's tooth), which was found in a collapsed stupa in Myanmar. A stupa, if you would like to know, is a hemispherical structure containing Buddhist relics. The worshippers that built this temple must really believe that the tooth is that of Buddha's as the temple is very impressive. A lot of good work went into a building dedicated to a tooth. What I really liked about the temple was the activity around it, especially at the foot of the temple where a number of old Asian men were playing board and card games. Seems like a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

From the temple I head south along Keong Siak road, which is located a short distance behind the temple. The first place of interest I come across is the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar temple. For a place called Chinatown there certainly are a lot of Indian temples. The Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar temple is no way near as popular as the Sri Mariamman Temple today. It must feel a little left out.

I walk further along Keong Siak Road and then onto Craig Road which are both straddled by brilliantly coloured shophouses. One of the shophouses is home to an antique store with a sign out the front saying "WE BUY JUNK AND SELL ANTIQUES. SOME FOOLS BUY SOME FOOLS SELL". So are they calling their customers fools? If so, I really suggest they should rethink their marketing strategy.

As I walk along Craig Road the beers that I had earlier are really in the need of being released. So where is the nearest toilet? Thought I would head further down Craig Rd and find one. Unfortunately, it is late afternoon on a Sunday and a lot of places are closed. In the distance I see a market, the Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market and Food Center, and a sign to a toilet. Thankyou Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market, you have saved me. My relief was soon soured when the toilet was locked up for the day! To add to my problems some really ominous clouds are forming and using the rain radar app on my IPhone I see a massive storm heading this way. Better call it a day and get to the train station before the heavens open up. Despite the many kilometres walked today this was the fastest I had moved all day. The building pressure in my bladder and the hovering dark clouds above really pushed me towards Tanjong Pagar train station. Let's just say it was an absolute relief to reach a place with an open toilet.

That was the first full day of metrotrekking around Singapore. Had a great time and experienced many interesting sights, smells, tastes and sounds. Time to rest my aching legs. Once I got back to base camp on Dunlop Street, Little India it started to absolutely pour down. No walking tonight then, but a good opportunity to top up my beer buzz. Just down the road from my hotel I found a nice little cafe with a perfect street view where I could down a few more Tiger beers, enjoy some Chicken Tikka and watch in comfort the intense rain and the fire walking worshipers walking in it.

The lady from the cafe told me that the firewalkers in the yellow colours not only firewalk, but before doing so take a 5 km walk from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road, which I visited this morning, to the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown. I hope these guys aren't wasting their time though. By the time they get to Chinatown the rain will have put the fire out!

As I sink another Tiger beer I contemplate the coincidence I am witnessing. I have come to Singapore to go on a walking holiday while at the same time Hindu's in Singapore are taking a religious 5 km walk to then go fire walking. It is definitely a walking day in Singapore. However, the Hindu firewalkers are much more dedicated than me, look at the rain they walk in!

Rain pouring down on Dunlop Street, Little India.

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