For many years I have used Singapore as a hub for my travels to Asia. I spend a night and then move on. This time I decided to include Singapore in my holiday plans and dig a bit deeper. One of the first places I wanted to explore was Little India.  I had been up and down the main street on the hop on hop off bus numerous times, but really had no idea what it had to offer. I did a bit of research but struggled to find any detailed information so this is my guide to Little India Singapore. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

As I walk through the streets the thought crosses my mind that I could be in Mumbai. Bollywood music blares, ladies stroll along the streets in beautiful, bright saris and gold wedding jewellery sparkles in the windows. There are restaurants everywhere and the smells are sublime.

 

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Gold Bangles

 

How did it start?

Labourers were needed to develop the city. Some of the first settlers were sent as convict labour and after serving their sentences many of them choose to stay. During the 1880’s labourers came from India to meet the growing needs of the city. Many of them also remained after their contract was complete. Indian labourers and convicts laid Serangoon Road which was the original name of the area.

 

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Indian Shop

It’s also called Tekka

The Chinese who lived in the Kandang Kerbau area nicknamed Little India “Tek Kia Kah” which was shortened to Tek Kah which refers to the bamboo that grew along the Rochor Canal.

 

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Main road

 

My Guide to Little India Singapore

 

Tan Teng Niah House

This colourful building is one of the iconic sights in Little India. This is the last of the Chinese villas that remain in the area. Tan Teng Niah started building in 1900 for his wife, incorporating elements of both European and Southern Chinese architecture.

 

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Tan Ten Niah House

 

Street Art

I was enthralled by the number of beautiful works that adorned the buildings in the area. What is interesting is that many of the works depict the origins of the area and cultural influences. They are vibrant and exciting to see. If you want a detailed guide to the art in the area this is the one I used when I planned my trip.

This work, depicting the surrounds, by Shah Rizza was definitely one of my favourites. It quirky and colourful and for me summed up the highlights of the area perfectly. The traffic moving along the road and the bicycles parked somehow also become part of the work which I thought was really clever.

You will also notice that there are some dotted lines. This is a work in progress that will be added to at some stage.

 

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Street Art

 

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

The temple dates from 1881 and is dedicated to Kali, the destroyer of Evil. I always wonder what prompted a dedication of a religious establishment. In this case, the deity Kali has always been popular in Bengal. The labourers who built the temple came there, so this dedication makes sense to me. The temple is constructed in a South Indian style like many of the Tamil temples rather than in the style of the Northeastern Indian Kali temples in Bengal.

Legend has it that during the Japanese aerial attacks in WWII the temple played a protective role to many, who were kept safe from the bombings.

Remember that this is a house of worship so be discreet when taking photographs.

 

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Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

 

Indian Heritage Centre

If it’s arts and cultural activities that you’re after then look no further than the Heritage centre. The building itself I found somewhat odd and wasn’t too crazy about it. Its facade is based on the baoli (or Indian stepwell). It is supposed to give the impression of a shining jewel in the day and a lantern at night, but you can judge for yourself.

 

Little India Arcade

On Serangoon Road, in the middle of the area, are a number of carefully restored shophouses that form the arcade. You will find saris, tableware, clothing, handcrafts and souvenirs all at bargain prices. You can also find incense and spices wafting on the breeze. I enjoyed wandering through the alleyways soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the selection of beautiful items on offer. I was tempted by a rather large carved elephant, but then I came to my senses which was just as well!

 

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Textile shop

 

Mustafa Centre

My guide to Little India Singapore would be incomplete without including this amazing store. This is a great story about determination. The owner originally started renting a basement of around 40 000 sq ft. He slowly bought up buildings until he owned an entire row. This then became the 70 000 sq ft that it is today. It sells everything that you can imagine and is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. They claim to have in excess of 75 000 items for sale. There is even a travel desk and a kiosk to exchange money.

I bought some gorgeous luggage wraps there at an excellent price. We also enjoyed a delicious snack at the restaurant outside the door, on the pavement. If you are a shopper then this is a paradise.

Note: There are now many mini-Mustafa outlets scattered along Serangoon Rd, but the original and by far the largest is the one facing Syed Alwi Rd. This a little bit beyond the main part of town.

 

Tekka Centre / Market

To be honest we discovered this by accident. We were looking for somewhere to eat along the main drag when we spotted hundreds of people coming and going into a door. Naturally, we went investigate and found the most amazing selection of food stalls imaginable. You could choose from Sri Lankan, South Indian, North Indian, Malaysian and Chinese cuisines to name but a few. The place was filled with happy people enjoying the food.

There is also a wet market and a fresh produce market in the Centre. Upstairs are souvenirs, clothes, fabric, flowers and beautiful scarves. This should be your number one stop, but I must add it’s not a fancy place so don’t expect glitz and glamour. It has a wonderfully authentic Indian feel to it.

 

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Tekka Food Hall

 

Sim Lim Square

I mention this in passing as technically Sim Lim Square is not really in Little India but on its borders. This is my go-to spot for IT requirements. I always find something new, quirky and something that I never knew I needed to buy there. You will find hundreds of shops with extremely competitive prices for computers, accessories, phones and electronics. If you want the best deal in town head for the upper floors and ignore the more trendy lower floors. Sim Lim Tower also has a few shops if you don’t find what you are looking for, but this is highly unlikely.

 

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Sim Lim Tower

 

I discovered that there is also a free walking tour of the area, but I just wandered around with my husband, taking in the sights. If you like Indian food and culture then Little India is a must visit addition to your itinerary.  So, there you have my guide to Little India Singapore. You can easily lose yourself for a couple of hours here as you immerse yourself in this dynamic neighbourhood.

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Exploring Little India
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Guide to Litte India Singapore

 

26 COMMENTS

  1. We have only visited Singapore once and it was a long time ago so we wouldn’t mind going back. The mix of languages and cultures was amazing also as Indian food is our favourite we would definitely take a wander around Little India.

  2. I’ve been to Little India in Singapore and your review is very thorough. I particularly remember Tan Teng Niah house and of course Tekka Market where we ate FAR too much

  3. Ah I love the look of Tan Teng Niah House!! So many colours, my ADHD went into overdrive haha. Singapore sadly isn’t in my travel plans at the mo, but the best part about my travel plans is I seem to change them on a weekly basis!

  4. I think I would have to be living in Singapore to find time to see out an Indian district ( otherwise I’d be seeing more Singaporean sites & eating local traditional food) but these colorful buildings and the street art are lovely!!!

    I miss being able to get great Indian food ( I’m in Spain currently but am from US where we have huge Indian populations in Bay Area and on East Coast and therefore awesome neighborhoods & food options as well as opportunities to experience the music & culture- beautiful!) 🙂

    • The food all over Singapore is fabulous. What I love is that each of the areas still has their own authentic food that hasn’t been watered down or westernised. I can relate to missing Indian food, but then Spain has so many other wonderful things to eat as well. 🙂

  5. I had been to Little India of Singapore several years back. These pictures kind of refreshed my memories. However I am unable to recollect the colorful facades and wall arts. They look so beautiful.

  6. Mustafa Center is really big and it’s, for me, the best place to shop for souvenirs and delicacies. Well, basically anything. They have your regular souvenirs but they also have a big supermarket inside! Now we’re making Bak Kut Teh at home! Ingredients straight from SG! Little India is amazing! The street art is amazing! you should not miss Haji Lane as well.

    • I loved Haj Lane. It was such an interesting place as well. I missed the supermarket which was just as well as I was already laden with foodie goodies to take home. 🙂

  7. Little India is a fascinating part of Singapore. We paid a short visit there when we were in Singapore last but unfortunately could not explore much owing to time constraints. Loved reading about the history of Little India. The street art is something really vibrant and colourful which we missed. We did pay a visit to Mustafa’s though.

    • I think that everyone manages to visit Mustafas :-). There is some awesome art throughout the area that is worth looking for if you like street art. Perhaps you will have another opportunity to visit one day.

  8. Before reading your post, I didn’t know there is a place called Little India in Singapore. The image I had in my mind was just a modern country with high buildings, but these parts are so different. It is so colorful

  9. I’ve always been fascinated by Indian culture and this looks like such a unique way to experience it with the blend of cultures. Little India looks so vibrant and I would love to check this out in person!

  10. Awesome! you have captured the essence of Little India in Singapore. Of late Sim Lim square has lost “It is cheaper than anywhere in the world” tag. You get good Indian food here. Inside the streets of Little India South Indian food is surprisingly inexpensive too.

  11. Looks like some fab cuisine Janine! Singapore has much to offer for a tiny little spot. We need to leave the airport during our next layover. Changi is just so lovely LOL. Super post and great pics!

    Ryan

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