Chinatown and Little India in Singapore
Singapore with its super-modern city center is the ultimate consumer paradise. But if monochromatic designer malls made of steel and glass are not your scene, you can always venture into the colorful ethnic neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little India.
Only a few metro stops from fashionable Orchard Road lies Chinatown, the historical center for Straits-Chinese settlers. Red paper lanterns strung across the roads mark the beginning of the area. Here, futuristic high-rises give way to British colonial architecture, and pastelly yellows, blues and pinks replace the dull colors of the business district.
What I first noticed were the striking, perfectly restored facades of many of the buildings. But perfect is not always perfect. While admittedly colorful, many Singaporeans complain that the city’s clean-up efforts have robbed Chinatown of its soul. Personally, I think Chinatown’s chaotic street life helps reduce the slightly Disneylandish effect. Between busy Buddhist temples, pushy street vendors offer questionable electronics, tropical fruit, and cheesy key chains while Chinese restaurants tempt tourists with their famous (and expensive) chili crab.
Little India Singapore
If you like it a little rougher around the edges, walk north to Little India. Architecturally quite similar to Chinatown, the Indian neighborhood is distinctly different. Colors pop more, sounds are louder and smells are more intensive. With many Indian, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan guest workers living there, the neighborhood feels quite authentic. Hindu temples with brightly painted stucco gods, blaring Bollywood videos, sparkling bangles, richly embroidered saris and aromatic Indian food made us feel right at home. (After having spent 15 months in India, we still miss the country.)
Yes, there is still some fun ethnic flavor to be found in the pockets of Little India and Chinatown – not to mention some flavorful food. Those who seek a more funky Asian vibe should be fully satisfied by Taoists rhythmically shaking their bamboo cups or a quick mango lassi backed by blasting sitar music. And most importantly, Singapore seems to be realizing that they came far too close to sanitizing their country to a ridiculous extreme. Those eye-popping coats of fresh paint reveal a city desperate to reclaim and maintain its diverse heritage.
For other cool experiences, traditional and contemporary, check out our list of the 12 best things to do in Singapore.