Ethnic Quarters of Singapore

Thanks to its geographical location within Southeast Asia and its commercial use as the region’s main trading port, Singapore is home to an incredibly divers mix of cultures. Drawn to the allure of better prospects, the centuries have seen migrants and merchants from all over Asia come to the city of Singapore, bringing with them their culture, language, customs, festivals and architecture.

While the city as a whole is a wonderfully eclectic mix of these cultures and modern adaptation, you can still see individual cultural influences within the many ethnic quarters. Take in the aromatic smells of spices in Little India, then on to Chinatown for some of the best herbal teas you’ll find, and through Geylang Serai for a look at the traditional Malay culture that drifted down from the mainland above.

This multicultural atmosphere is what Singapore culture is all about; a vibrant mix of the best parts of Southeast Asia.

Little India

MRT Station: Little India NE7
Little India Accommodation

A bustling hive of sights, sounds and intriguing aromas, Little India has traditionally been the home of Singapore’s Indian community. Wander the streets scented with spices and jasmine garlands and gaze upon rows upon rows of stalls selling silver and brassware, ethnic jewellery and rainbow coloured silk saris.

Serangoon Road is home to the spice mill where you can choose from a vast array of colourful spices for cooking. Bring another little piece of India back to your home with embroidered bedspreads and homewares. Visit the Chellas Gallery where you can buy papier-mâché boxes, jewellery and other collectables from Kashmir.

Indulge your tastebuds with a visit to the Tekka Centre on Buffalo Road, affectionately known as KK Market to the locals. It's a busy food market full of fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, spices and flowers.

You can’t visit Little India without stopping in at the 24 hour shopping mall, the Mustafa Centre. Inside this modern exterior shoppers can find any almost anything at the lowest possible prices.


MRT Station: (EW16) or Chinatown (NE4)
Chinatown Accommodation

Chinatown Ethnic QuarterChinatown has been the cultural hub for Singapore’s Chinese migrants since 1821. Situated next to the financial district, the Chinese quarter is located within Cantonment Road, New Bridge Road, South Bridge Road and Upper Pickering Street. The quaint pre-war shop houses on the colourful streets and alleyways are home to a vast array of stores. If you're after shopping in Chinatown,  you'll find Chinese merchants selling silk, gold jewellery, traditional crafts and tourist t-shirts.

There is a lot more in Chinatown to arouse the senses than just shopping:  try some tropical fruits, have your palm read by fortune tellers, eat from the delicious hawker barbeque stores or try a traditional delicacy like dried sea cucumber. The medical halls provide a unique cultural experience as you can watch snake skin be mixed with herbs and spices and other exotic ingredients into ancient cures.

Visit one of the traditional teashops in the Tanjong Pagar area, visit the kite makers, try on a painted mask, hide from the sun under a waxed paper umbrella or purchase handicrafts and artefacts from all over Asia. If you're after a bargain walk over to Smith, Trengganu, Temple and Pagoda Streets.

Geylang Serai

MRT Station: Paya Lebar EW8
Geylang Serai Accommodation

Geylang Serai is the cultural heart of the Malay community in Singapore. Wander among these charming old-world streets and immerse yourself in the traditional activities which are a throwback to the old kampong days. There's an eclectic mix of shops selling antiques, fabrics, handicrafts and rugs.

Shopping in Geylang Serai is an absolute delight! Breathe the spicy smells of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg when you visit the wet market. On the outskirts of the markets you can buy CD and DVD’s with both modern and traditional Malay music. Or perhaps you would prefer to be dazzled by the sparkling jewels, textiles and clothes in the Joo Chiat Complex.

Geylang is also the red-light district of Singapore and is the only area in the city where prostitution is legal. Hundreds of brothels are located in this quarter and are easily signified by their bright red walls.

Kampong Glam

MRT Station: EW12

Kampong Glam was the historic seat of Malay royalty in Singapore. Today the former Sultan’s palace, the Istana Kampong Glam, has been converted into a heritage museum. The Malay Heritage Centre was created to provide locals and tourists with an insight into the rich history and culture of Singapore’s Malay history.

Another key building not to miss is the Sultan Mosque/Masjid Sultan at Bussorah Street. It's the largest mosque in Singapore and can accommodate 5000 people. It is here at the Bussorah Mall, where there are beautifully restored houses selling handicrafts, artefacts, furniture, jewellery and clothing. Close by in Kandahar Street you can dine on traditional Malay cuisine.

Peranakan Experience

MRT Station: Paya Lebar and Eunos

Peranakans are the descendants of the early Chinese community who settled in the Malay Archipelago in the 17th century. The culture is a rich and diverse blend of Chinese and Malay – for example the people observe traditional Chinese festivals, however the food, language and dress is mostly taken from Malay cultures. There are also recognisable influences from the Portuguese, Dutch, British, Thai, Indian and Indonesian cultures as well.

The architecture in this area shows the mix of cultures, the east meeting the west. With windows and shutters from the Mediterranean, Corinthian columns and Chinese glazed tiles and plasterwork showing ornate Chinese symbols. The colours of the house facades are beautiful, as you walk around Emerald Hill, Tanjong Pagar and Koon Seng Road in Joo Chiat.

Peranakans are known for their beautiful textiles, jewellery, furniture and ornaments made out of expensive materials such as gold, silver, porcelain, silk, velvet, teak and blackwood. Unmarried women, known as Nonyas, spent much of their time perfecting the art of beading and embroidery. The quality of their work was a mark of the eligibility for marriage.

The Peranakan Culture is one of true diversity so take the time to discover it through their architecture, food and shopping.

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