Aug 17 2011
A historic street in Chinatown named for its Hindu temple? Temple Street is more than just an exemplary example of Singapore’s multiculturalism – it’s the perfect stretch for a quickie walking tour. I’ll assume you’re coming from Chinatown MRT station and start where Temple Street meets with New Bridge Road.
Near the beginning of the street is a shop you won’t find in any of the mega-malls on Orchard Road – a traditional Chinese medicine hall. Teck Yin Soon Medical Hall is a family-run business that’s been around more than 40 years. There isn’t a word of English on the bins of dried ginseng, birds’ nests, teas, and animal parts, but staff are happy to explain the healing properties of each. You can also sample the herbal tonics, a uniquely Singaporean drink, dispensed from metal urns.
Continuing down the street, the shophouses have been converted into an eclectic collection of karaoke bars, jewellery stores, tailors, antique shops, and a 7-eleven that seems very out of place. The small spas and massage parlours rank among the most affordable spots in Singapore for a little pampering, with 30 minute foot massages from S$20.
Temple Street eventually intersects with Trengganu Street, part of the Chinatown street market, and this is where you can spot one of its most immaculately restored buildings – a four-storey beauty with red paint and white shutters. While you might expect prime real estate like this would have been converted into a boutique hotel by now, its occupants are another long-running traditional Chinese medicine shop and the Galaxy Tattoo 2 Studio.
If you’ve worked up an appetite you’re in luck as you should be right beside Yum Cha, one of the few dim sum restaurants in Singapore where the steamed buns and dumplings are still served the traditional way from a push-cart. For a faster or cheaper meal, backtrack a few buildings to the vegetarian eating house or the traditional desserts shop – the peanut paste tastes better than it looks.
Proving that Temple Street has a few more surprises up its sleeve, keep an eye out for a rainbow flag among the Chinese lanterns. They’re discreet, but Singapore does have a few gay-friendly nightspots like Backstage Bar – the entrance is just off the main road.
The Sri Mariamman Temple is the last building on Temple Street and on the left – or just navigate your way there by looking for its ornately carved roof. In addition to being the street’s namesake, this is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple and its roots can be traced back to 1827. Though it’s far from Little India, the temple plays an important role in the community with weddings, cultural events, and religious rituals taking place every day. Visitors are welcome to enter – just remember to take off your shoes!
This is the end of Temple Street, but if you’ve got the energy for more you can take a right at South Bridge Road and make your way to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
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