After leaving Changi Airport, my first tourist stop in Singapore was Chinatown, where I ate, visited a Buddhist and a Hindu temple. To get here from Changi, you will need to change train at Outram Park, and get on the purple North-East line for just 1 stop. Every China town is unique in term of diverse cultures and is definitely full of enriched/good foods. I arrived at around 6am and only few places just opened up (or perhaps haven’t closed). After a quick breakfast in one of the restaurant right outside the Chinatown MRT station, I took a stroll around Chinatown. It was the cleanliest Chinatown I have ever been to, and perhaps the cleanliest Chinatown in the world! I walked to Chinatown Complex and then down Chinatown Food Street, where endless stalls of restaurants and cart were on either side of the street. It was still very early (7am) and none of the stores have opened; however the Food Streets seems like a tummy paradise during midday.
I then visited the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, and also located in Chinatown area. It was built in 1827, with an ornate tower called a gopuram, completed in the 1860′s. The Hindu temple is dedicated to Sri Mariannan, the great Mother goddess of health and prosperity. In order to take a picture inside the temple, you have to pay (SGD$3). I didn’t want to pay, so I took a few shots of the impressive looking ornate tower around the outside of the temple. The inside was nothing particularly unique, a typical Hindu temple.
After that, I moved on to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple just 1-2 blocks away. It was said that Buddha’s tooth were stored here (believed to be on the 4th floor). Any tank tops are not allowed, but they do have some shawls that are available to use. Walking in, one will find rows and rows of small Buddha statue along the walls. The colors were impressive and made for some good photos. It was very quiet and very holy. The temple has six levels with museums, a rooftop garden, tea house, and gift shop.
I then moved on to Maxwell Food Centre (a hawker stalls center) which is about 60 meters diagonal from the Buddha Tooth Relic temple. The Chinatown Food Street seemed to be made for tourist, but Maxwell seemed like a spot for the locals. It doesn’t score much points for ambience but does serve some very good cheap local food. Pick the stall with the longest queue and dig in! I had the traditional Kopi here as well as the fried Chinese donut (my breakfast #2). It was so good, and I promised myself to come back here for lunch, which I eventually returned for some chicken rice, bbq pork rice, and noodles. Maxwell seemed to be the biggest hawker stall around town and seemed to have the best selection of local food.
My last stop in Chinatown was at a famous Bak Kwa store, Lim Chee Guan (opposite from Chinatown MRT Station), where I ordered BBQ pork and beef strips, that are much like jerky, but so much tastier and tender. I sampled my pork Bak Kwa, and saved the others for later.
From Chinatown, I walked toward the river and Boat Quay. Boat Quay was filled with waterfront restaurants, bars, coffee shops. The yuppie expat atmosphere of the street feels very similar to that of Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong. One can find curried crabs, Thai food, Indian food, German bars. Walking toward the bay form Boat Quay, one will pass the financial district, Cavenagh Bridge (oldest bridge in Singapore), Asian Civilization Museum, the luxurious Fullerton hotel, and the famous Merlion Park.
Lion Head and Merlion Park
If you didn’t take a picture of you with the Lion Head, you didn’t arrive to Singapore. It is located in the Merlion Park near the marina bay. From Merlion Park, one can get a full panoramic view of the bay and the newly built Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino. People were trying to capture oneself with Lion Head statue pouring water into their mouths. I had one of those pictures too. The Lion Head became the national symbol of Singapore in 1986.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino
The Casino is walk-able from the Merlion Park; however it is a long walk in the humid heat, it was probably best for a short cab ride. The complex has a luxurious shopping center, a huge LV Store, a Casino, and a hotel. Anyone can walk around the complex, but the Casino area had restrictions. Interestingly, entrance into the Casino is free for tourists, but it costs SG$100 for Singaporean. Obviously the government doesn’t want their people to gamble. You can go up to the SkyPark Observation Deck on top of the hotel for SG$20 for adult and SG$14 for kids. A new MRT station was under construction right next to the Casino as of December 2011, so the Casino should be easily accessible by MRT shortly.