Lunar New Year in Singapore 2013 [Photos]

This was my first Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year) in Singapore, in fact my first in a Chinese-majority country. Despite the almost incessant rain I wanted to see how Singapore celebrates this festival.

We started at Uncle Ho’s River Hongbao at Marina Bay Float, where we saw enormous models of Chinese deities and other symbols. Then we moved on to Chinatown where stalls were set up along the side of the road selling all sorts of colourful decorations, food and flowers. The following day we visited Sentosa Flowers. Sculptures covered in flowers taught us some Chinese legends, with garden sections devoted to the four seasons and a giant sand snake sculpture on the beach.

Photo Gallery – please click on the images to view as a slideshow and read the captions.

If you are planning where to spend your next lunar new year, check out my recent article on Worldette: 10 Places to Celebrate Chinese New Year



Penang: A Wander Through Georgetown

Penang, a Malaysian island, is a popular tourist destination. I spent a few days looking around, following in the footsteps of my grandfather, Peter Allen, who often spent holiday time there. He frequently travelled to Southeast Asia for his work as a scientist in the rubber industry, and I remember receiving postcards from Penang (he also visited Bogor, Indonesia).

Temple rooftopsGeorgetown was the first place the British arrived in Malaysia, the beginning of Britain as a coloniser in Southeast Asia, and it’s full of colonial era architecture. Now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are more colonial buildings in Georgetown than anywhere else I have visited so far in Southeast Asia.

Although it rained almost constantly throughout my entire trip, I didn’t want to waste time sitting in my hotel. Wandering through the streets of Georgetown and visiting some of the tourist attractions was still bearable, even if my hand ached from holding an umbrella for several days!

Fort Cornwallis

Fort Cornwallis (RM2 per person) is the site of the first British entry into this region. It is amazing to imagine Francis Light arriving here on his ship and building the original fort, made of nipah palm, and then remember that a palm tree fort was the start of hundreds of years of British rule in the Malay archipelago.

Gunpowder StoreAt Fort Cornwallis today, there are the remains of the old stone fort walls (that were built after the initial nipah palm construction), as well as the gunpowder store. Cannons point out to sea. Some of the tunnel-like rooms have been made into a museum that traces the history of the fort.


Across from Fort Cornwallis is the Padang, or “field”, a large open grassy area. There is a foodcourt here, called Medan Selera Lapangan Kota, where we enjoyed a tasty mee goreng (fried noodles) and coconut shake. On the opposite side of the Padang are some large and impressive colonial buildings, including the town hall.

the Town Hall buildingPenang Museum

Another short walk and we arrived at the Penang Museum (RM1 each). This was actually very interesting, adding to the knowledge we had gleaned from the Fort about Penang’s history. Each ethnic group has its own room displaying cultural items, furniture, clothes and so on, that are considered to represent the ethnicity. Upstairs are displays about old Penang. Outside in the museum courtyard is a real old-style funicular train carriage, that was used at the Penang Hill funicular railway.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Then we walked on to Pinang Peranakan Mansion (RM10 each). Peranakans are found in Malaysia and Singapore, and are mixed-race people. The term is most often used to describe people of Chinese-Malay mixed race ancestry. Peranakans have their own distinctive culture, from wedding traditions to home décor. The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is indeed a mansion house, where items of peranakan furniture, clothing and household items are displayed. The furniture is stunningly elaborate and highly ornamented with mother-of-pearl details and it fills an opulent house. There was not much information available about the items on display, but it was worth a visit to experience such extravagance.

mother-of-pearl benchEthnic Enclaves

Penang has its own ethnic enclaves, and we wandered through Little India, filled with colourful fabric shops. A man rushed up to us, trying to sell us a Bollywood DVD. We saw Sri Mariamman temple, but it was closed by that time.

We did see an interesting Chinese ancestor temple which had been recently refurbished and had amazing detail in its brightly painted carvings. Chulia Street and Campbell Street, parts of Chinatown, were filled with Chinese writing on shop signs.

Chinese temple paintingGeorgetown is a great place for randomly finding yourself somewhere interesting. It’s small enough to walk around in a day, including visits to museums and temples. And it’s bearable in the rain.

Singapore Chinatown in Pictures: Pagoda Street, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple


This gallery contains 18 photos.

Singapore Chinatown is a vibrant, colourful neighbourhood, with plenty of eye-catching sights to be photographed. These images stood out from my recent visit to Pagoda Street, the Chinatown Heritage Centre and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

Chinatown in Singapore: Museums, Temples and Cheap Souvenirs

We stepped out of the MRT station on to Pagoda Street, right in the centre of Chinatown in Singapore. This pedestrianised street is lined with souvenir shops in the ground floor of colonial buildings. The atmosphere is instantly different to other parts of Singapore I have visited, touristy, yes but in a fun way.

Pagoda Street

Pagoda Street

Despite having visited Singapore several times, I had never been to Chinatown. Perhaps I assumed it would be the same as the Chinatowns in other cities around the world, and of course there are similarities. However, Chinatown in Singapore has a great atmosphere and is a fun place for wandering around, browsing for very cheap and tacky Singapore souvenirs, and cultural tourism.

Chinatown Heritage Centre

A little way down Pagoda Street is the Chinatown Heritage Centre. This museum, set in two adjoining colonial buildings, tells the history of Chinese people in Singapore, from the hardships endured by the first immigrants to the success stories of Singapore’s Chinese business people. Combining personal biographies with historical reconstructions of living conditions it was fascinating to think that we were standing in the very area being described.

I learnt a lot about Chinese culture in Singapore, from clan names and their significance to Chinese foods and festivals. The authentic reconstructions of cubicle living and shophouses also reminded me that in other parts of the world, people still live in these conditions, that here in Singapore can be shown as a museum’s historical exhibit.

Me in a historical kitchen reconstruction

Me in a historical kitchen reconstruction, but outside Singapore this is not so different to the kitchens people use every day.

At S$10 per adult the Chinatown Heritage Centre is not cheap but we felt it was worth the ticket price.

Perfect for a Wander

Walking back out on to Pagoda Street the old buildings around us had a new significance thanks to what we had learnt at the museum. We wandered around for a while and came upon a public dance aerobics session with people of all ages joining in.

Food stalls and endless souvenir shops continued to line our path, and there were a fair number of Chinese medicine shops selling remedies for everything as well as traditional Chinese teas.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Although I don’t know much about Buddhism, I had been intrigued by this temple since I first heard its name, and as we approached from a side street, passing table upon table piled high with offerings, we knew we would see something special. In my brief temple-visiting experience, the peaceful but friendly atmosphere is a welcome retreat from a bustling cityscape.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Fortunately we were not wearing very short shorts or hats and so we were allowed to enter the temple. Chinese Buddhists were arriving for a ceremony, mingling with tourists like us. We walked around the sides, where thousands of Buddhas are displayed. Information about the displays is given in English as well as Chinese.

We learnt about the Imperial Life Protectors who protect followers according to the animal of the year of birth. For example, I was born in the year of the pig so mine is Amitabha Buddha. Followers can pay to consecrate their Imperial Life Protector.

Upstairs in the Temple

We went upstairs to the top floor where we saw the Buddha Tooth Relic, which the temple is named after, along with many other Buddhas. To enter this room we slipped off our shoes. Platforms on either side were reserved for meditation and there were some people meditating, despite the tourists coming to see the relic.

Climbing the last flight of stairs we came out at the roof garden, a square with lush, green plants and in the centre, a prayer wheel. We watched the people in front of us walk round, pulling the prayer wheel until it had rung three times, and we did the same.

Buddhist Prayer Wheel

Buddhist Prayer Wheel

A Buddhist Ceremony

There are more floors in the temple, between the ground floor and the tooth relic, but it was closing time. We made our way back down to the ground floor and were just in time to watch a ceremony taking place in the front courtyard.

Buddhist monks chanted and played percussion instruments and the congregation, wearing black robes, joined in at certain point. The rich aroma of incense filled the air.

Temple Ceremony

Temple Ceremony

Heritage and Religion of Chinatown

The combination of visiting the Chinatown Heritage Centre and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, although the most touristic places of Chinatown in Singapore, really gave a flavour of the area, showing us the history and religion of the area.

Wandering around the narrow streets and alleyways gave us a taste of modern Chinatown in Singapore, and now we know where to go for cheap souvenirs!