Revisiting Singapore’s past in modern enclaves
Just like most urbanised countries in the world, Singapore is a city that is well-known for its modern urban planning and advanced infrastructures. The country's relentless pursuit of urbanisation has enabled the entire nation to stay on top of their game in a rapidly changing world. Despite the urbanisation, priceless landmarks such as street hawkers, old roads, precincts and buildings have been conserved in preservation of their heritage, making Singapore a modern city that is rich in historical sites. Here's a list of areas where you can get to experience Singapore's heritage that remains unsullied even with the changes of time.
Go on a Cultural Tour around the Katong and Joo Chiat Trail
The beginnings of the Katong/Joo Chiat area can be traced back to the early 19th century, where coconut plantations and humble attap-roofed kampungs (villages) dotted the landscape. Up to the 1950s the area was a serene seaside retreat for the wealthy. Joo Chiat Road started off as a simple dirt track that linked plantations to the sea in the 1920s. It was named after Chew Joo Chiat, a wealthy landowner and philanthropist who bought over the large plots of land in Katong and was known as the “King of Katong”. In the 1920s and 1930s, many communities moved eastward out of the city centre to make Katong/Joo Chiat their home – most of them were of Peranakan and Eurasian descent. This resulted in bungalows, shophouses and places of worship steeped in their culture. To retain its rich architect and heritage, over 700 buildings in the area have been conserved.
Foodies will be happy to know that Katong/Joo Chiat is particularly well known among Singaporeans for their food trails that will take you through traditional kopitiams (coffee shops), Peranakan dining institutions and multi-ethnic eateries. A few eateries to look forward to include the Chin Mee Chin Confectionary, 328 Katong Laksa, Tian Tian chicken rice, Strictly Pastry, and Immigrants Gastrobar.
Discover Singapore’s Oldest Gem, Telok Ayer Street
Telok Ayer Street is one of Singapore’s oldest street gems. It gained prominence in the 1820s because it served as a landing ground for early immigrants. Under the Raffles Town Plan in 1822, which saw the creation of designated development for different ethnic groups in Singapore by its founder Sir Stamford Raffles, Telok Ayer Street belonged in a district that was designated to be a Chinese District. The concentration of religious buildings and Chinese clan associations along the street gives both citizens and travelers an insight into the life of the early Chinese immigrants. Telok Ayer Street used to face the sea and served as a docking bay for boats and sampans for the early immigrants. Grateful for a safe journey, many of them set up altars and worship houses to give thanks to the gods, which led to the building of the Thian Hock Keng Temple (one of Singapore’s oldest temple) in 1842.
To completely indulge in Telok Ayer’s rich experience it is recommended that travellers start at Amoy Hotel at Telok Ayer Street. The Amoy Hotel is linked to the Fuk Tak Chi museum, which used to be Singapore’s first temple built in 1824 before it was restored into a museum. Amoy Hotel, on the other hand was built from a collection of conserved shophouses that existed over 170 years ago, with Chinese-themed detailing throughout the hotel. Another important part of Singapore’s Hokkien Chinese immigrant history can be found in the Tian Hock Keng Temple. Built in the 1839 by the Hokkien clan, the temple was initially created to house the clan’s office and serve as a meeting venue, which was completed in 1842. Details of the temple’s history were recorded in granite tablets on the wall inside the entrance hall. Built in a traditional southern Chinese architectural style, the Thian Hock Keng Temple’s structure was assembled without nails and comprises an architectural masterpiece of stone, tiles, wooden dragons and phoenixes, intricate sculptures and imposing columns.
Revel in the Nostalgic Charm of Tiong Bahru
Built in the 1930s, Tiong Bahru is one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore. It was the first project undertaken by Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), the government body administered by the British colony history to provide mass public housing in Singapore. Before it became a housing estate, Tiong Bahru was a cemetery. The construction style of the estate is a mix of Streamline Moderne and local Straits Settlements shophouse architecture. The streets around Tiong Bahru are also named after its Chinese pioneers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Initially, in the pre-world war years, few could afford living in Tiong Bahru and it became a place for the rich and powerful to keep their mistresses. After the world war, the houses became affordable and more people could live there. Nowadays, Tiong Bahru has transformed into a hip neighbourhood for families and young people alike.
Take a walk on one of Singapore’s most vibrant streets – Little India
The area’s main thoroughfare, Serangoon Road, was one of the earliest roads in Singapore. Farms were set up along the road and they produced crops like sireh or betel nut, paddy, vegetables and sugar cane. Years later, it moved on to cattle trading, which drew in a wider Indian population. The Indian population grew further in the 19th and 20th century, and fuelled the birth of numerous religious and cultural landmarks, which later became iconic tourist attractions in Singapore.One of the key attractions this year is the newly built Singapore Indian Heritage Centre (IHC). Embrace the rich history of the early Indian settlers as you discover special trade and culture exhibitions by the IHC in partnership with the Indian government, and a wide range of showcase pieces reflecting the Indian History of the South East Asian region. The IHC will also be showcasing heirlooms, arts and crafts and memorabilia from South East Asia, dating back to early 1900s.
If you are a fan of Indian cuisines like Banana Leaf rice or even the famous “Nasi Briyani” a visit to the Tekka Market in Little India should definitely be on your list. Known as the heart and soul of Little India, the Tekka Market features authentic Indian cuisines that are colorful and fresh. Each food is also suitable for Muslim travellers as most of the hawker stalls sell predominantly Indian Muslim cuisines.