As an Ascott Star Rewards member (a free-to-join loyalty programme), I received an email about Ascott’s partnership with the award-winning Monster Day Tours offering complimentary walking tours of Singapore’s cultural heritage neighbourhoods (eg. Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Little India). These guided tours are available to guests staying at participating Ascott properties until 31 December 2021, so do sign up if you’re interested! With our reservation at Ascott Raffles Place Serviced Apartments (more on that experience here), we booked ourselves a Chinatown Walking Tour that happens every Sunday at 2pm.
There were only two other people in our tour group so that made for a more customized and intimate experience. Our tour guide was the lively and personable Jamie, who is very much a history buff. We learned so many things from her that day! To start us off, she set the context for our trail by giving us a brief history of the Chinese immigrants who came to Singapore. Our first destination was the Thian Hock Keng Temple, where people back then came to pray for or thank Mazu, a sea goddess, for a safe journey across the sea. She also shared some background stories of the various deities within the temple. Right behind this temple is an extensive wall mural depicting the Chinese immigrants’ journey from humble beginnings right up to their later contributions to Singapore’s society.
On the way to the next destination, Jamie pointed out one of the last remaining water wells left in Chinatown (it has long been boarded up and not in use, of course). We then stepped into one of the Chinese clan associations along Ann Siang Hill, where Jamie explained how the functions of these clans have evolved over time. The weather was really hot and humid that day so we rested for a short while at Maxwell Food Centre with sugarcane drinks in hand and tried the traditional snack “orh nee” or yam paste.
Next, it was time for a stroll in the heart of Chinatown, which unfortunately is more of a tourist attraction these days instead of an actual authentic lived space. Jamie brought us to key landmarks like the Lai Chun Yuen Opera House that have since been conserved, although repurposed, and expounded on the activities that were held there back in the day.
Our tour ended at the enormous Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, built just recently in 2007. Jamie compared the architecture of the two temples we visited and elaborated on how these fascinating differences in construction and design came about. Thanks to this tour, we really felt like we learned a lot about the history behind these important places in Singapore, with a ton of trivia bits thrown in too (:
My overall rating of the experience: 4 out of 5 stars. The trail we took was largely open-air and didn’t have much cover. Thankfully it didn’t rain, but on the flip side, we did have to walk in the sweltering heat (although I’d prefer the sun over rain any day). Our guide, Jamie, was impressively knowledgeable and able to tailor her information based on the profile of her clients. She also took good care of us by having us stay in the shade while she pressed the traffic light button, as well as choosing shadier spots for us to congregate at while she fed us little nuggets of information. One thing I thought could’ve value-added to this experience would be some type of hands-on DIY activity, like folding dumplings or tea-tasting (random ideas off the top of my head, heh). Other than that, our 2-hour journey was truly enriching and we were even given a cute local food postcard as a memento at the end!