Little India in Singapore
Little India is, as the name promises, the center for the large Indian community in Singapore. While a rather sanitized version of the real thing, Little India retains its distinct identity without degenerating into a mere tourist attraction and is one of the most colorful and attractive places to visit in Singapore.
The North-East MRT line's Little India and Farrer Park stations, near Serangoon Road, are convenient entry points into the area. Bugis station on the East-West line is also within walking distance (see Bugis).
Getting taxis in Little India can be difficult, especially on weekends. It's best to either book by phone or head to the major roads on the edges to flag one down.
Little India's main drag is Serangoon Road, which starts at Rochor Canal Rd and continues northward to Serangoon itself. The action is tightly concentrated a few blocks on either side of the road, and can be easily covered on foot.
Little India's primary attraction is the town itself. Here too you can find the gaily painted shophouses that are an icon of Singapore, but now most of the Tamil signs (almost) disappear to be replaced with Hindi, Bengali and other more exotic Indian scripts. Stores hawk saris and gold bangles, spices and incense waft in from the doorways and Bollywood's latest soundtracks blare from every other alleyway.
- Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (address: 141 Serangoon Road)
Little India's busiest and oldest temple, dating back to 1881 — although the present structure was completed in 1986. The temple is particularly busy on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Be sure to take your shoes off before venturing inside.
The most extreme thing to do in Little India is to join the festival of Thaipusam, held yearly during the full moon in the lunar month of Thai (usually Jan/Feb). Male devotees attach ornate shrines to their flesh with piercing hooks known as kavadi and walk across town in a day-long procession. Female devotees would usually just carry a pot of milk on their head and join the procession. The procession starts from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road and proceeds to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple at Tank Road.
Around Deepavali, the Hindu festival of light, Serangoon Road is festively decorated (with lights, of course!) and open-air markets are set up to sell Deepavali goodies. Like Thaipusam, the exact date is set by the lunar calendar, but it takes place in October/November and is a public holiday. Near the beginning of Deepavali, the fire walking festival of Thimithi is held, where many male devotees will walk across a platform of burning coal. Though the actual fire walking takes place at the Sri Mariammam temple in Chinatown, the procession starts at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road and makes its way to Chinatown early in the morning where the fire walking commences.
A more low-key event happens every Sunday evening when a half-million workers from the subcontinent turn up in Little India to hang out on their day off. Most of the crowd is friendly enough, but inevitably a few get into drunken fights and there's a heavy police presence about to keep an eye on things.
The central streets of Little India are packed with stalls selling all sorts of Indian goods. Two giant shopping centres, however, are unique not just in Little India but all of Singapore:
- Tekka Market (address: 665 Buffalo Road)
Little India is a cacophony of car horns, bicycle bells and the vibrant chatter of its residents. This explosion of sights, smells and sounds in Tekka Market is only a short walk from Little India MRT Station. Tekka (as it is locally known), has a plethora of stalls selling Indian, Malay and Chinese food that draws crowds from all over Singapore. There’s also a wet market stocked with the freshest vegetables, meat, fish, spices and flowers. Also available are souvenirs such as brass oil lamps and pots, or fresh garlands of jasmine, whose scent is signature aroma of Little India.
- Tekka Mall (address: 2 Serangoon Road)
Little India's first and only modern air-conditioned shopping mall, and rather soulless when compared to the bustle outside. In the process of being rebranded as the IT-oriented The Verge in a bid to compete with Sim Lim, just around the corner. The adjoining Foodmore food court is not bad if you want something other than Indian food. One can also find a comforting ayurlly massage parlour at the fifth floor. A supermart at the basement and a travel agency on the second floor. Plus, many more shops catering to all interests. Fast becoming a place to go shopping.
- Mustafa Centre (address: 145 Syed Alwi Road) (directions: off Serangoon Rd near Farrer Park MRT) +65-62955855
Singapore's supreme discount department store: floor after floor of absolutely everything at rock-bottom prices, ranging from Rolex watches and washing machines to fresh mangoes, bags of lentils, tailored suits and airline tickets. Open 24 hours; the exchange counters in front are probably the best place in Singapore to exchange any currency you can think of (and many you can't) at competitive rates. Mustafa Centre also offers travel, hotel reservation and visa assistance services. 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.
- Sim Lim Square (address: 1 Rochor Canal Road)
Not actually in Little India but right across the street, Sim Lim is Singapore's Akihabara, a giant electronics mecca squeezed into one building, with hundreds upon hundreds of tightly packed specialist stores offering some of the most competitive prices for computers and consumers electronics in Asia. The first floor is for tourists, the upper floors and the back corridors are where the real deals can be found. In general avoid the first and second floor shops as they have a tendency to grossly overcharge tourists. Watch out for pricing tricks (omitting tax, selling included accessories separately, etc) and the occasional outright substitution fraud; unless you know exactly what you're doing and/or need something unusual, you might want to shop at Mustafa instead. The third floors and above are the real haven for computer geeks looking for cheap bargains and to upgrade or put together a system. Sim Lim Tower, just across the street, also has a few shops but pales in comparison sizewise.
The other shopping options in Little India cater more to the Indian market:
- Little India Arcade (address: Campbell Lane)
A narrow pathway through a cluster of restored shophouses, filled to the brim with Indian clothing, accessories, incense and a rather good Indian sweet shop (#01-16).
- Naranjan Electronics (address: 154 Race Course Rd) (directions: Farrer Park MRT)
Small shop for basic electronics like digital cameras and mobile phones, with bargain-basement prices. Try to check your goods before you leave though, as these guys have a strict (and theoretically illegal) no-returns-whatsoever policy.
The thing to eat in Little India is obviously Indian food. Both southern and northern cuisines are well represented, food is cheap even by Singaporean standards, portions are generous and vegetarians in particular will have a field day. Note that these are authentic Indian places and people around you will be eating the way Indians do, namely by hand — it's best to shed your inhibitions and dig in, although cutlery can be provided on request.
- Jaggis North Indian Cuisine (address: 34 Race Course Rd) +65-296-6141
price: $3 and up - some of the most pathetic food is served here, they would claim it's just 3 dollar and up but you would end up spending 25 dollars per head and still being unsatified. It is really bad place, if you want to get looted or fell cheated then you should definately visit this place.
Caters to meat-eaters too with a selection of tandoori dishes. Set meals available, or mix and match at the counter.
- Kasturi Restaurant (address: 1 Roberts Lane) +65-62995510
North Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cuisine, meals from $2 upwards.
- Komala Vilas (address: 76-78 Serangoon Road) (directions: and other branches around town) +65-6293-6980
A Singaporean institution featuring purely vegetarian Indian food. Downstairs is fast food, head up for restaurant-style seating and serving. Sets start at less than $3 and even the largest platter of breads and dips will cost less than $7. Note that gourmands prefer the original outlet over the many franchised fast-food copies, and that not all dishes are available all day. South Indian set meal upstairs is $6.50 with top-ups.
- Saravana Bhavan (address: 84 Syed Alwi Rd) +65-6297-7755
open: 8 AM-11 PM
The Singapore branch of a restaurant chain from Chennai, serving up vegetarian Indian food. Get a massive set lunch for $4.80 or just order your favorites for a few dollars a piece. Try the rava dosa, a steal at $2.60.
- Sagar Ratna (address: 103 Syed Alwi Road) (directions: just across from Mustafa Cafe)
Opened in the second half of 2005. Franchisee of a South Indian restaurant from Delhi, and serves up decent fare for reasonable prices. Set meals ($5-7) are good value, ordering a la carte will cost you more. The rasam (spicy lentil soup) in particular never fails to impress. Strictly Pure vegetarian.
- Banana Leaf Apolo (address: 54-58 Race Course Rd)
open: 10 AM-10 PM daily">A well-known place for all sorts of South Indian food; no prizes for guessing what serves as the plate. Most visitors come here for the fish head curry, even the "small
- Khansama (address: 166 Serangoon Road) +65-62990300
Cheap coffeeshop-style eats downstairs (under $5) and a midrange air-con restaurant upstairs (mains $5-10). Generous portions if you don't mind their touts. Best known for its tandoori dishes and a wide selection of chaat appetizers.
- Lagnaa (address: 6 Upper Dickson Road) (directions: East off Serangoon Road, on the Southern side of the street) +65-62961215
price: Mains around S$9 (a la carte)
- Muthus Curry (address: 72-78 Race Course Rd)
price: Fish head $16-25 (serves 3-4)
open: 10 AM-10 PM daily
Muthu's has a respectable claim to coming up with the idea of fish head curry; now run by the founder's son, this shop continues to draw the crowds.
- Delhi Restaurant (address: 60 Race Course Rd) (directions: 2nd branch on Serangoon Rd)
Offers a more upmarket experience with vested waiters and a stack of awards posted on the wall. The menu features northern Indian food and has non-vegetarian selections as well; order a couple of Kingfisher beers to get pappadam with an excellent mint dip on the house.
Race Course Rd has some funky pubs and bars. Desker Road is Singapore's dingiest quarter of ill repute and best avoided, especially on Sundays.
Little India has quite a few sarabat stalls offering local drinks, especially teh tarik ("pulled tea", a Malaysian variant of sweet, milky Indian chai), also available in iced. A particularly popular one can be found at the intersection of Perak and Dunlop Rds, next to the mosque.
- Prince of Wales Backpacker Pub (address: 101 Dunlop St) +65-62990130
Brightly painted Australian corner pub/hostel transplanted in Singapore, with Gippsland Gold draught beer shipped in, near-nightly live music and fun theme nights (eg. free drinks for guys in skirts). Drinks around S$10 (half price for in-house guests), dorms S$18, Private rooms with windows & private bathroom S$60 aircon.
Along with neighboring Bugis, Little India is Singapore's backpacker district and has many hostels offering cheap lodging, as well as some of the most affordable hotels in town. Note that some of the cheap hotels around Desker Rd cater to the sex trade.
- Footprints Hostel (address: 25A Perak Road) (directions: 5min Walk from MRT Little India exit C) +65-62955134
price: Dorms from $12/pax, Privates from $17/pax
All prices are Net. Price includes Free Breakfast,Free internet, Free Wifi, Free lockers.
- Ali's Nest (address: 23 Roberts Lane) (directions: off Serangoon Road, near Farrer Park MRT) +65 62 91 29 38
price: rooms $20-30
Possibly the cheapest hostel in Singapore, but for a reason: some travellers complain of bedbugs. No sign outside so look for the number. Price includes breakfast of toast and tea/coffee. Ali is helpful and well traveled.
- Empire Residences (address: 202A Syed Alwi Road) (directions: corner of Jalan Besar) +65-91009123 firstname.lastname@example.org
price: Dorm $22-$35, single $80 up
New hostel located at the northern fringe of Little India, near Mustafa but rather far from the MRT. Free wifi and free breakfast.
- Fragrance Hostel (address: 63 Dunlop Street) (directions: 2nd block East of the intersection with Clive Street) +6562956888 email@example.com
price: Dorm $20
A new and clean, if slightly crowded, backpacker hostel/hotel. Rooms are 6 bunk dorms, but all have aircon. A member of the Fragrance Hotel Chain, which has branches of differing levels all around the city. Only a short walk from Little India MRT station, and right in the middle of Dunlop Street and the engaging madness of the Little India district.
- Hangout @ Mt.Emily (address: 10A Upper Wilkie Road) (directions: 7 min uphill from MRT Little India exit A) +65-64385588
price: Dorm $40, doubles $120
No frills, just fun!", proclaims the recently renovated Mt. Emily Hostel. Sparkling clean primary colors and IKEA furniture make the rooms feel more like Oslo than Singapore. Free internet PCs, rooftop bar, laundry facilities, lockers, etc.
- The Inn Crowd (address: 73 Dunlop Street)
price: Dorm $20, double $59
A friendly backpacker hostel with an excellent website. They run a free kick-scooter tour around Singapore, which is a great way to see some of the central districts of the city. Prices include breakfast and internet access.
- Mackenzie Hostel (address: 114-A MacKenzie Road) (directions: near Little India MRT) 68372887
price: dorm $15, single room $35, double room $40
- Pass By Bed and Breakfast (address: 245 Jalan Besar) +65-63960812
price: Dorm $18, twin $45
Nice, clean and friendly staff. All rooms have aircon. Free simple breakfast and Internet. Be warned: the mattresses are covered in plastic, with a sheet on top.
- Prince of Wales (address: 101 Dunlop St.) +65-62990130
price: Dorm $25, Double $40
Free breakfast, wifi, and lockers. A hostel that also serves as a bar. The accompanying bar has a party almost every night and a beer garden with live bands. It can get a little loud but if your the wild type it's perfect.
- Ambassador Hotel (address: 75 Desker Road) +65-63923944
Self-proclaimed charming boutique hotel, but it's smack dab in the middle of Singapore's dodgiest red-light district. Dingy inside - part of the same chain as Aspinals and Claremont.
- Aspinals Hotel (address: 83 Syed Alwi Road) +65-63923944
Budget hotel near Mustafa.
- Claremont Hotel (address: 301 Serangoon Road) +65-63924855
Recently renovated mid-range hotel, around the corner from Mustafa.
- Penta Hotel (address: 33 Birch Road) (directions: Farrer Park MRT) +65-62996311
Rooms are air-conditioned and the location near Mustafa and the MRT is fairly good.
- Shing Hotel (address: 165 Kitchener Road) +65-62912565
Basic but adequate accommodation within striking distance of Mustafa — and Desker Rd.
- Tekka Boarding Service (address: 462 Serangoon Road) +65-62975038
price: $35/45 single/double
Brand-new hotel promising minimalist design and maximum comfort. The prices certainly are among the cheapest around.
- Tekka Hotel (address: 22 Belilios Lane) +65-62253378
price: $59/69 single/double
No-frills hotel in the heart of Little India. Internet connectivity in rooms. Cockroaches aplenty.
- Royal India Hotel (address: 88 Syed Alwi Road) (directions: opp Mustafa) +65-62977488
Another cheap hotel that's perhaps a small cut above the rest — their website advertises "homogenous tiles flooring", and offers discounts for advance booking.
- Albert Court Village Hotel (address: 180 Albert Street) +65-63393939
Tastefully converted from pre-war shophouses, this boutique hotel is located diagonally opposite the Little India MRT Station, a block from Sim Lim Square and right beside the newly opened Lasalle College of the Arts.
- Parkroyal on Kitchener (address: 181 Kitchener Road) +65-64283000
Probably the most upscale hotel in the neighborhood, 5 minutes from Mustafa and the Farrer Park MRT. Good value if you're willing to pay a small premium.
- Perak Hotel (address: 12 Perak Road) +65-6299-7733
A tasteful, small, private guesthouse in a renovated Peranakan-style building.
- LaundryMart Express (address: 22 Boon Keng Road, 01-37) (directions: Boon Keng MRT Exit B) +65-6294-2256
price: $5 for 10kg, wash, dry, detergent and softener are provided
24-hour self service coin operated laundromat in the central area of Singapore,