Little India is one of Singapore’s most colourful and interesting neighborhoods, with restaurants and cafes, shops and boutiques, temples and mosques. Keep reading to find out why you should visit Little India now.
Ethnic Indians are one of the three dominant ethnic groups that comprise Singapore’s demographic mosaic, which also includes Chinese and Malays.
Ethnic Indians account for 7.4% of the city-state’s population, which stood at 5.75 million in January 2017.
Malays, who are considered “indigenous”, account for 15%, and ethnic Chinese – the Lion City’s dominant ethnic group – account for the lion’s share, or 76.2%. Other groups account for less than 2% of the population.
During the colonial era (1819 – 1964), Britain maintained a policy of ethnic segregation in Singapore, with different ethnic groups assigned to different parts of town.
Following independence in 1965, the People’s Action Party promoted a policy of racial harmony. As a result, ethnic Indians can now be found living throughout Singapore.
Many of the ethnic Indians living in Little India, in fact, were not born in Singapore. Rather, they are migrant workers from South Asia.
By coincidence, my most recent stay in Singapore began and ended on the outskirts of Little India.
I spent my first two nights at a luxurious hotel at one end of the district. I spent my final four nights at a mid-range hotel at the other end of the district.
Little India made international headlines on 8 December 2013 when a South Asian pedestrian was killed in a traffic accident.
Passers-by attacked the bus that hit the victim as well as emergency vehicles that arrived at the scene.
Involving about 300 migrant workers, the riot lasted about two hours. There 62 injuries, 40 arrests, and 33 people were charged.
Twenty-five emergency vehicles were damaged and five were set on fire. As a result, the sale of alcohol remains banned in the district on weekends.
During my stay in the district, I went for a stroll through the streets on a Saturday night. I noticed a strong police presence in the district’s side streets and alleys.
This was the second riot in Singapore since independence and the first in more than 40 years.
Four people died and 80 were wounded in race riots that broke out in seven days of communal riots in 1969.
Little India is more of a vibrant commercial district catering to the needs of the people that live and work there than a tourist attraction.
As Little India’s main drag, Serangoon Road is lined with shops, food and beverage outlets, shopping malls, and religious institutions catering to the community.
What makes the street especially interesting is the large number of stalls lining the street. Included are numerous tailors making clothes and doing alterations.
There are also newsstands and a large number of stalls selling flowers and flower garlands to be taken to the Hindu temples that populate Little India.
Reflective of Singapore’s multicultural mindset, Little India is also home to many Chinese clan associations as well as Buddhist temples, Chinese restaurants, and other kinds of businesses.
A local buddy suggested Mustafa Centre for an over-the-counter remedy when I mentioned to him that I felt a cold coming on.
This is what I found when we walked inside: a crowded mass-market emporium catering to budget minded shoppers.
There were long lines at checkout. My knowledgeable friend directed me to another to another check-out counter where there was no line.
The shopping mall also had a low-end department store and two wings. One wing focused on jewelry and household appliances. It also had a supermarket.
The other wing focused on a variety of goods, including books, DVDs, watches, electronics goods, footwear, and clothing.
Open 24/7, the mall offered travel and foreign exchange services.
I’ve since learned that the mall has a rooftop restaurant called Kebab’s ‘n Curries, which serves a variety of Asian dishes.
- Mustafa Centre – 145 Syed Alwi Road, Little India, Singapore. The mall is within walking distance of the Farrer Park MRT station.
City Square Mall
Singapore’s first ecologically friendly shopping mall, City Square Mall, is the antithesis of the neighborhood in which it sits.
Integrated into a 49,000-square metre park, the massive shopping complex has a green roof that harnesses solar energy while reducing the internal temperature of the building, allowing natural light to filter in, collecting rainwater, and promoting cross ventilation.
There is an eco-playground for children and a green wall composed of colourful ferns in the basement.
City Square Mall has eight anchor tenants and about 200 smaller retail outlets spread across 11 levels.
The emphasis is on apparel, accessories, electronics goods, sporting goods, gifts, and other lifestyle products.
The complex also has numerous food and beverage outlets, with an emphasis on fast-food restaurants and chains.
- City Square Mall – 180 Kitchener Road at the intersection of Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore. The mall has a direct connection to the Farrer Park MRT station.
A meeting place for Singapore’s various ethnic communities, Tekka Market is a rabbit warren of stalls selling the ingredients used in preparing Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian dishes.
There is a wet market selling vegetables, meat, dish, spices, and flowers.
You will also find brass ware, knickknacks, crafts, and similar ethnic objects.
- Tekka Market – 665 Buffalo Road, Little India, Singapore. The market is a short walk from the Little India MRT station.
The Verge Shopping Mall
An air-conditioned shopping arcade selling ethnic Indian wear, crafts, and flowers.
There are also several food and beverage outlets. The adjoining Chill @ The Verge has entertainment venues and a tattoo shop.
- The Verge Shopping Mall, 2 Serangoon Road at the intersection of Serangoon Road and Sungei Road, Little India, Singapore. Telephone: +65 6307-6761.
Little India Arcade
A cluster of shops selling ethnic apparel, accessories, incense, and sweets housed in the restored shop houses for which Singapore is famous.
- Little India Arcade, 48 Serangoon Road at the intersection of Campbell Lane, Little India, Singapore.
You won’t go hungry in Little India – providing you like the spicy flavours of South Asia. The district is chock-a-block with curry houses.
But there are also several eateries featuring Chinese and Malaysian fare. Plus no small number of fast-food eateries and chain restaurants serving
On the first night of my third visit to Singapore, a buddy I met on my second visit suggested we have dinner at Komala Vilas – assuming I could handle spicy food and assuming I was more into taste than ambiance.
Dishes are served in the little tin trays reminiscent of how food is serve in military canteens.
And check out the yummy breads!
This has become a popular chain of restaurants, but this outlet is the original – and purists maintain that it is still the best of the lot.
Meal varieties run from rice meals and rice plates to vegetable briyani, chappati plates, dosai meals, and chappati meals.
There are also light meals, 40 kinds of dosai, snacks, tandoori specialties, Jain varieties – the list goes on.
- Komala Villas – 76-78 Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore. Telephone: +65 6293-6980.
Singapore is a multicultural society noted for its religious pluralism and cultural tolerance. About one-third of the population is Buddhist. Nearly one-fifth is Christian and a similar number is atheist.
Moslems account for 14.3% of the population, followed by Taoists (11.3%), Hindus (5.2%), and others (less than 1%). With its large South Asian population, Little India has several Hindu temples and two Moslem mosques.
There are also two Buddhist temples, mostly serving the Chinese community.
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
Dedicated to the 14-hand goddess of Kali, the Hindu Goddess that combats evil.
The ceiling of the temple has paintings of and sculptures of various Indian gods.
- Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, 141 Serangoon Road at the intersection of Belilios Road, Little India, Singapore.
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple
Dating back to 1881, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple is the oldest and busiest Hindu temple in Little India.
Built in the South Indian style, the temple is dedicated to Lord Perumal, a.k.a. Lord Krishna.
There is an impressive 20-metre tall tower with five layers at the entrance. The temple is a gazetted national monument.
- Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, 397 Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore.
Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple
Dating back to 1830, the site became full-fledged temple in 1935.
Of the various Buddhist and Hindu temples I saw in Little India, this temple was the loveliest and the best maintained.
- Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple, 555 Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore. Telephone: +65 6298-5053.
Leong San Temple
Dating back to 1917, this modest temple is dedicated to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy.
- Leong San Temple, 371 Race Course Road, Little India, Singapore.
Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple
Known as the Temple of 1,000 Lights, this Buddhist temple has a 15-metre high Buddhist statue.
Built by a Thai monk in 1927, the temple has Siamese architectural elements.
- Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, 366 Race Course Road, Little India, Singapore. Within walking distance of the Farrar Park MRT station.
Abdul Gaffoor Mosque
This lovely little Moslem mosque features a mix of South Indian, European, and Moghul architecture.
Completed in 1910, the mosque was renovated in 2003.
- Abdul Gaffoor Mosque, 41 Dunlop Street, Singapore.
This is an unpretentious little mosque located in the heart of Little India.
The temple serves the spiritual needs of nearby residents, business people, and employees.
- Masjid Anguillia, 265, Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore.Telephone: +65 6295-1478.
See + Do
Four major Indian festivals are celebrated each year in Singapore;s Little India distrct.
A traditional Indian harvest festival celebrated at the beginning of the auspicious month on Thai. It is celebrated in January.
A celebration of mind over matter, with devotees piercing themselves with spikes and hooks. Celebrated in January or February.
Nine nights and 10 days of music, song, and dance.
A celebration of the triumph of good over evil with a procession of 1,000 oil lamps through the streets of Little India. Celebrated on 18 October.
3 Ways to Sleep in Little India
None of Singapore’s most luxurious hotels are located in Little India, but there is a smattering of high end, full service properties.
One of the best is One Farrer Hotel and Spa, where I was hosted for two very comfortable nights at the beginning of my 14-night stay in the Lion City.
The hotel has a fantastic swimming pool, an excellent executive lounge, and a rooftop organic farm. It adjoins a hospital, making it perfect for medical tourists.
There are dozens of modest hotels catering to business travelers and independent tourists, many of them housed in historic buildings.
I spent my final four nights in the Lion City at The Nobel Hotel, a renovated shop house with 30 rooms. My stay was entirely self-funded.
The staff were very friendly, but housekeeping was sometimes a bit sloppy.
On the Cheap
Little India provides budget accommodation to legions of backpackers at countless hostels within the district itself and on its periphery.