Singapore has three distinct neighborhoods – Chinatown, Little India and the Muslim . We didn’t have time to visit all three so we chose to visit Chinatown. We found a walking tour of Chinatown on the web and decided to follow it. This is the tour we followed although there are others on the web including one from National Geographic.
Before you begin your tour, make sure you have your MRT pass, which is the rail and bus transportation system throughout Singapore. There are three rail lines; east-west, north-south, and the circle line. It is very easy to navigate and there are manned booths to help you if you should have any questions. Our hotel was a 5 minute walk from the Raffles stop which made it very easy to get almost anywhere.
First, a little history of Chinatown. In 1821 the first Chinese junks arrived from China. The passengers, set up home around the south of the Singapore River which is known today as Telok Ayer. Chinatown’s local name – Niu Che Shui (Bullock Cart Water) arose from the fact each household at that time had to collect fresh water from the wells in Ann Siang Hill and Spring Street, using bullock-drawn carts. Also in Chinatown you’ll find the Al Abrar Mosque, the Jamae Mosque and Sri Mariamman Temple. There is much harmonious racial and religious diversity and acceptance in Singapore. The heart of activity in Chinatown is in the Terengganu/Smith Streets area.
Our favorite spot on the walking tour was the Wet Market in the Chinatown Complex at 335 Smith Street. The street level part of the complex has lots of souvenirs but we passed that by and went down the stairs to where all the action was in the Wet Market. This is where the locals buy their fresh food for cooking and eating. Warning: do not wear good shoes or even open sandals here – it is wet and somewhat yucky. What you will find here are many varieties of the freshest products for sale from live seafood to the freshest vegetables from usual cabbages, carrots and cucumbers to bitter gourd, lotus root which are often used in Chinese cooking. Most are imported from Malaysia, the rest are supplied locally. You’ll also find seasonal and exotic fruits, and fish heads for the one of Singaporean’s famous dish – fish head curry. Butchers will also be selling different cuts of meat. There are separate sections for shellfish like clams, shrimp, snails, and tiger prawns. The bigger critters like crabs and lobsters are kept in plastic crates. Also in the wet market you’ll find live turtles, frogs and eels, and large squid. You’ll also find a variety of different eggs and whole preserved duck. Of course during the holidays they will have some specialty items.
This certainly was an experience we won’t forget because it was so visually stimulating. So many sights and sounds awaited us throughout the wet market. I would highly recommend that you go if you are in Singapore.