Singapore’s Chinatown | The Mysterious Red Thread

Facts about Singapore’s Chinatown:


  • The area is also called Niu Che Shui in Chinese and Kreta Ayer in Malay (both meaning “bullock cart water”).
  • Large sections of Chinatown have been declared national heritage sites by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
  • The Chinese make up more than 75% of Singapore’s population.
  • The Chinese are Singapore’s largest ethnic group.

“The Mysterious Red Thread” is only mentioned one other time in this article to pique your curiosity, but it is very significant to Chinatown.  There are many Chinatowns around the world, but Singapore’s Chinatown has many distinct attractions that are special for either their spiritual or cultural significance.  Singapore’s Chinatown is an attraction in and of itself, what with its architectural beauty, but the best place to begin is the Chinatown Heritage Centre.  It gives an inside look on how Chinatown began and the obstacles that early migrants faced.  Once you step away onto the streets of restored shops, you’ll get a better sense of why things are the way they are.  Although Chinatown is traditionally Chinese, it continues to share the space in a multicultural way.

What’s in the Chinatown Heritage Centre?

The Singapore Tourism Board collaborated with the National Heritage Board to make the best of the Chinatown Heritage Centre.  Three newly restored shops work together along Pagoda Street to make it what it is: a project whose efforts are just as valuable as the memories it preserves.  The three galleries of the centre, each on their own levels, allow visitors to follow the lives of the first Chinatown settlers.  They can also experience how dark and cramped a typical Chinatown shophouse was by visiting the cubicles.  You should go and visit, however, just to find out the story behind the mysterious Red Thread.

The Chinatown Heritage Centre inspires visitors to ask if migrants really carried red threads from China and the answer is well worth the visit.  The centre also offers “Walkabout Chinatown”; visitors can take a trip with staff to learn about the medical halls and Chinese opera houses, while stopping by shops and other sites.

Visit Chinatown’s temples and mosques.

Chinatown is home to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (BTRT).  The BTRT was complete in 2007.  It hosts many religious objects, but most importantly, it preserves one of Buddha’s teeth (the relic that is referred to in the temple’s name).  Singapore’s oldest (and still active) Hindu temple is called Sri Mariamman.  It has a beautifully carved statuary above the entrance, called a gopuram.  Sri Mariamman Temple is credited for giving nearby Pagoda Street its name.

Singapore’s oldest Hokkien temple is called Thian Hock Keng.  It was constructed in 1821 and was later refurbished in 2000.  It has bright colors, along with ironwork from Scotland, tiles from the Netherlands and England, and dragon motif pillars from China.  It surely is a sight to see.  Only a block away, Jamae Mosque was first constructed in the 1830s by Tami Muslims (making it the oldest in Singapore).  Consider Mosque Street’s origin while looking at the stepped minarets outside.

What are some reasons to visit?

If you are a shopaholic, there are many shopping malls for you to get a “fix”, such as the People’s Park Complex, Chinatown Point, OG People’s Park, and Pearl’s Centre.  As suggested for other tourist attractions in Singapore, the Chinese New Year (around January through February) is as exciting as the month preceding it.  People revel in the anticipation and the streets become bright and colorful with decorations and performances.  Even if you visit during any other time of the year, Singapore’s Chinatown continues to attract interest because of age-old traditions like calligraphy, clog-making, and tea-brewing.

Other visitor highlights are the paper effigies for deceased loved ones and tea houses.  The older generations of Chinatown might be gathered around pagodas, and souvenirs are custom-made and hand-painted.  After walking out and about, tourists might be interested in traditional Chinese massages at Qimantra.  Female tourists can also visit Rustic Nirvana for a Balinese-style spa, while others might want to check out the Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble for the performances at the Attic or other venues.

Tips for Travelers

  • Chinatown has an MRT station in the middle of Pagoda Street.
  • Cantonese is predominantly spoken in Singapore’s Chinatown.
  • The Chinatown Heritage Centre is located at 48 Pagoda Street, Singapore.

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