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.
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.
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).
Places to see
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 the Chinese signs (almost) disappear to be replaced with Tamil, 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 (141 Serangoon Road) is Little India's busiest and oldest temple, dating back to 1881 Ă˘â‚¬â€ť although the present structure was completed in 1986. The temple is particularly busy on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
- 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). Devotees attach ornate shrines to their flesh with piercing hooks known as kavadi and walk across town in a day-long procession. The procession starts from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon 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.
- 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.
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:
- Mustafa Centre (145 Syed Alwi Road, off Serangoon Rd near Farrer Park MRT) is 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 and tailored suits. 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.
- Sim Lim Square (1 Rochor Canal Road), not actually in Little India but right across the street, 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. 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 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 Ă˘â‚¬â€ť it's best to shed your inhibitions and dig in, although cutlery can be provided on request.