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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Exploring Chinatown as a Solo in Singapore

People often say about a destination “it is the vibe that is so great”. It is an intangible feeling that creates a heightened, pleasurable, emotional state. This is how I reacted to Chinatown. I loved it. Walking the streets, there is so much to see and take part in. The enticingly wonderful smells of cooking lure you. Sure, there are plenty of stalls to buy items from, Chinese medicine shops, tailors, trinkets, clothes, toys, durian and delicious food. Stall after stall competes for a sale. For me it is the small things all put together that make for a memorable and joyful visit. It was delightful to watch old men enjoying themselves by play board games, socialising with each other daily.

It was heartwarming to see multi-generational activities, grandparents laughing with their families as they paint paper lanterns together.

The lanterns were then hung for passersby to admire the skills of the talented artists.

Built in 1827, the Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. It is dedicated to the Goddess Mariamman who is known for curing illnesses and diseases. Open to the public in the morning and evenings, the highlight visit is in October each year when a fire walking ceremony takes place.

Visitors to the temple are asked to dress respectfully when attending. Shawls, coverups and raps to cover bare shoulders or knees are available free to use whilst here, but my advice is to bring your own, as they are not washed after each use. Inside the temple is the wall of one thousand buddhas.

This highly decorated temple houses many amazing statues. People can pray here, make donations, or just respectfully wander and be in awe of the beautiful surrounds. Incense sticks are available to light as you make a prayer. The sticks are then placed upright in a sand filled basin to burn out. The fragrant smell fills the air.

The temple is not the only place you will find religious dedications in Chinatown. Offerings are made to the Gods at small shrines around the town.

Shopping is definitely a favourite activity and attraction of Chinatown, and there are many streets, filled with small shops to purchase from. Tailors can create a personalised and handmade item within hours. Many foreigners travel to Singapore just to have clothing made for them.

Madam Lin's Fu Xing Antique Shop has been in Smith Street since 2003. It is so named, as customers would buy their antiques from the shop. Today, locals purchase figurines and amulets while tourists find the perfect souvenir to remind them of their trip.

The God of Fortune Feng Shui Inn sells luck enhancing charms. Whether you believe in that sort of thing or not, the superstitious can purchase a charm for luck in lotteries, wealth, fortune or career progression.

With so many choices and interesting items, this is a shoppers' dream Locals shop here too, so there are household items for sale amongst the souvenier sales.

Bike tours are a good way to navigate the streets with a guide, but I spent my first visit walking by myself. After a few hours, with weary feet, it was time to indulge myself with a reflexology foot massage. My masseuse and I conversing about our home lives, she shared tales of her experiences as child growing up in an evolving and transforming Singapore. From a wooden shack with no running water, to her current apartment, she explained how life has gotten better for Singaporeans.

The architecture of Chinatown has retained its traditional style and been maintained with love and care. Surrounded by modern skyscrapers, these humble dwellings celebrate the ties with the past while still being functional in the modern world.

From 1880, one of the earliest forms of transportation in Singapore was the rickshaw. It was a fast and cheap way to navigate the streets, an early taxi system. Built in 1903, the Jinrikisha (meaning human-powered vehicle) station is a former rickshaw station. Around the late 1940s they started to be phased out as more trams and buses took over their business. Today, the old rickshaw station is home to restaurants and bars. It is worth standing across the road and trying to imagine and picture the bustling hive of activity that would have been here when it was first built.

Chinese Medicinal Halls sell items that boggle the western mind. For centuries their cures have proven effective and are still in great demand.

Beautiful works of art adorn the walls around Chinatown. With cameras ready, people interact and snap shots of themselves with the paintings. They take home a piece of themselves melded with Chinatown.

Love locks started in Serbia in World War I and have spread to every country in the world. Parts of bridges have collapsed under their weight. An alternative is to place equipment where people wishing to place a lock can do so without damaging vital infrastructure. You will see these portable stands in many places around Singapore. I truly hope it stops people weighing down the bridges. (In France part of the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of 45 tons of locks!)

Back in the 1930s, around 200,000 Chinese women came to Singapore from Canton (Guangdong). These immigrants worked as labourers in the construction industry and were recognizable by the red headgear they wore. Called the samsui women, they are remembered with great respect and statues of them appear in various places in the city.

Food is definitely high on the list of anyone visiting Singapore, and especially food in Chinatown. I chose to eat like a local at the various hawker markets. Click here to read more about Chinatowns food options. My best advice is to join the longest queue, the food will be amazingly delicious and filling.

When you immerse yourself and soak up the taste, smell, sights, sounds and the vibe of the Chinatown culture, you become a traveler rather than a tourist. I waited in line for my turn to ring the bell for a blessing of Blissful Harmony. I do not have to hope for it, by being here, I already have it!

Happy Travels!

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