Something I’ve wanted to do with my lads for a long time is take them on an exploration around Chinatown, and so last weekend we did it. We made it into a bit of a dragon hunt, being the year of the dragon and all, but the day we arrived was also the day they decided to take the dragon decorations down. It didn’t matter though, because not only is Chinatown full of dragons, it is bursting at the seams with interesting stuff to see. I think it’s a very rich and exciting place, because unlike other Chinatowns around the world, this is a fully functioning local area, but it is equally a huge attraction for tourists, and after last weekend, I know it’s a mystery wonderland for little ones.
You can catch a train to Chinatown, which drops you in the heart get a park right in the heart of Temple Street – bonus! Don’t forget your parking coupons if you’re driving. Temple Street is a great place to start the adventure, and from here I suggest wandering towards South Bridge Road. It’s not easy getting little loves past the numerous stalls selling all sorts of trinkets, because while there’s lots of cheap to buy, it certainly adds up. The great thing is the owners are very relaxed about small children raiding their stalls, and most seemed to really want to engage with the boys, but I did avoid taking them into the more expensive stores – too many potential breakages to pay for! It was really interesting watching the boy’s reaction from the start, as everything seemed to catch their imagination. I like that.
When you hit South Bridge Road, turn right and you’ll discover the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum– you can also enter from the back. I’ve watched this temple being built, but it’s the first time I’ve been inside, and it is MAGNIFICENT. I don’t know how many Buddha’s adorn the walls, but there must be 1,000 – truly wonderful. As a tourist site, they are relaxed about children coming in, but you’ve got to watch them as it is a place of worship – we had a few hairy moments. Also ladies need to cover shoulders, but don’t worry if you forget as they provide shawls when you enter. Also if your kids burn some incense – which mine just had to do – make sure you leave a donation.
Once you’ve enjoyed this magnificent temple, leave out the front, and follow South Bridge to the left, where you will come across one of the most magnificent Hindu Temples in Singapore, and also the oldest. Named Sri Mariamman Temple, tourists are welcome, but again, should be respectful. I love this temple, always have, and the boys were entertained with some traditional Indian music, and they found the decorations on the building fascinating. Check out this site for some interesting activities you can be part of.
There is also a Mosque further down, but two places of worship were enough for my boys, and as we had been wandering for a couple of hours already (and were all hot and hungry), we crossed the road and took the back streets to Club Street. We had lunch at Spizza where the boys got a pizza cooking demonstration from the friendly chef – probably because we were the only customers at that time. Naturally on Club Street, there are many wonderful eating options, but pizza is always a good bet with youngsters, and Spizza do wonderful pizza, including a kids menu for around $8.
Once we were satiated and rehydrated, on the way back to Chinatown, we found a funny little second hand market tucked in one of the back streets, behind the new multi-story car park on Club Street (and tucked around behind Tin Sing Goldsmiths). There really wasn’t much to buy – apart from a few shabby toy cars – but it was interesting never-the-less and the boys entertained the guys hosting the stalls by walking along in the olden-style gutters. Once I got them out of there, we wandered back into the heart of Chinatown.
I can definitely say that Chinatown is awesome. It’s teeming with shops, stalls, antiques, traditional medicines, cafes, and temples. There’s also lots of live stuff – we found a cage of frogs, tanks of crabs and fish, and there were some baby turtles as well. There’s also a plethora of cheap, crappy toys, racks of silky clothes to delve under, glittery jewellery, gems, statues, lucky cats, and, of course, DRAGONS. It was a feast for their eyes, but as they are still of an age where they need to touch to experience what they see, it was definitely intense sometimes. I just want to teach them to be respectful of other’s people’s property, but it’s not the easiest place to reign them in.
After nearly four hours, we piled into the car – HOT and exhausted – but the boys had a wonderful time and took home lots of lovely little trinkets to show their Dad. So as a kids’ adventure option, definitely a success. Of course, you can also visit in the evening for the night markets, as Chinatown is constantly humming.
On a logistical note, it’s intensely hot in Chinatown at any time of the year, and by late morning it starts to get crowded, so it can be a bit challenging with kids. You also need to take lots of water, hats, and make sure you’re covered up as much as you can. Toilets can also be a challenge, but there are a few shopping centres with toilets – 10 cents-a-go type of places. I’d definitely suggest you take advantage of toilets whenever you find them so you don’t face any emergencies – we got pretty close.
Let me know if you go and how you enjoyed it?
PS: this blog is an extension of another post I published on the 3Six5 Project last weekend – a global initiative, featuring blog entries from people all over the world. Last Saturday was my turn and I figured doing a Chinatown adventure story, along with the associated exasperation that goes with taking children to a place like this would be interesting. Not to mention an opportunity to show off Singapore to the world.