The 2 square kilometers that make up Chinatown are the cultural heart of Singapore. This is one of the more colorful districts in the country but it also shares memories of the hardships immigrants endured when these areas were slums. The area was first chosen for Chinese settlement in June 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles who, upon his second visit, decided that Singapore should be segregated. Unfortunately, after independence the government embarked upon a redevelopment plan which nearly leveled the entire area. Luckily some places were saved so we can experience the history of these streets.
The Chinatown Heritage Center is a great place to learn more about the history of the hard everyday lives of Singapore's Chinese settlers. Exhibits focus on the culture, labors, and hobbies of these settlers, with particularly moving oral and video histories. The Thian Hock Keng Temple is one of Singapore's oldest and impressive temples. It is dedicated to Ma Cho Po, Goddess of the Sea, when Telok Ayer Street was Chinatown's waterfront. Before it was pushed 500m east from land reclamation, Chinese Hokkien immigrants would give thanks for a safe passage to Singapore. Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, built in the middle of Chinatown in 1823. The temple has over-the-top plasterwork images of Brahma on its tower and a sand pit where male Hindus walk across hot coals once a year to prove their faith. The temple is made up of smaller sanctums dedicated to various deities.