Little India is, as the name promises, the centre for the large Indian community in Singapore. While a rather sanitised version of the real thing, Little India retains its distinct identity without degenerating into a mere tourist attraction and is one of the most colourful and attractive places to visit in Singapore.
Little India (North-East/Downtown line interchange) or Farrer Park (North-East line) are the most convenient MRT stations near Serangoon Road. Bugis station on the East-West line is an 11-min walk away (see Bugis). Rochor (Downtown line), near Sim Lim Square, is 6 minutes walk.
Little India's main drag is Serangoon Road, which starts at Rochor Canal Rd and continues northward to Serangoon. The action is tightly concentrated a few blocks on either side of the road, and can be easily covered on foot.
There are several public buses travelling along the length of Serangoon Road from the bus stop, Tekka Ctr (ID 07031).
Hailing a taxis can be difficult on the crowded main streets like Serangoon Road or Race Course Road. Consider booking through a ride-hail or taxi app at a location away from the main street (Serangoon Road), where there are strict restrictions on where vehicles may stop.
Little India's primary attraction is the district itself. Here too you can find the gaily painted shophouses that are an icon of Singapore, but now most of the Chinese signs (almost) disappear to be replaced with Tamil, Hindi, Bengali and other 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.
- 1 Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, 141 Serangoon Rd. 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. Free.
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 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 (usually on the new moon day occurring in these months) and is a public holiday. Near the beginning of Deepavali, the fire-walking festival of Thimithi is held, in which many male devotees walk across a platform of burning coal. Although the actual fire-walking takes place at the Sri Mariamman 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 throng the streets of 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:
- 1 Mustafa Centre, 145 Syed Alwi Road (off Serangoon Rood near Farrer Park MRT), ☏ . 9 AM-2 AM. Singapore's supreme discount department store: floor after floor of absolutely everything at competitive prices, ranging from Rolex watches and washing machines to fresh mangoes, bags of lentils and tailored suits. The gold jewelry floors, now located in an annex, are a sight to behold, and 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. 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.
- 2 Tekka Market (Tekka Centre), 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.
- 3 Sim Lim Square, 1 Rochor Canal Road, ☏ . 10:30AM-9PM. Right across the street from Little India, Sim Lim is Singapore's Akihabara, a giant electronics Mecca squeezed into one building, with hundreds upon hundreds of tightly packed specialist stores. Some competitive prices can be found here on computer parts, but consumer electronics and cameras are not particularly cheap in comparison with large on-line retailers, and a good number of shops on the first and second floors engage in scamming tourists and wrecking their holidays. Upon stepping in, immediately skip the first and second floors (a big tourist trap) and start shopping at floors 4-5, descending to 3 later, not forgetting the back corridors - these are the only places to consider shopping. To reiterate, avoid the first and second floor shops as many of them have a tendency to grossly overcharge or cheat tourists by means of pricing tricks (omitting tax, selling included accessories separately, adding unilateral fees, and similar misleading or deceptive tactics) 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; grab price lists from the Sim Lim entrance and do your on-line price research. Sim Lim Tower, just across the street, also has a few shops but these focus on electronic components; it pales in comparison sizewise.
- 4 City Square Mall (Farrer Park Station, Exit I). Quite a large mall with mostly mid-range goods, on the edge of Little India.
The other shopping options in Little India cater more to the Indian market:
- 5 Little India Arcade, 48 Serangoon Road (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 at (#01-16).
- 6 Naranjan Electronics, 154 Race Course Road (Farrer Park MRT). Small shop for basic electronics like digital cameras and mobile phones, with bargain-basement prices. Please note the rock bottom prices comes with no 'warranty' or 'service' what so ever. Many of items are not for sale in Singapore. So try to check your goods before you leave though, as these guys have a strict (and theoretically illegal) no-returns-whatsoever policy.
Waiter, there's a fish head in my curry!
One speciality of Little India is fish head curry, a uniquely Singaporean dish. It's one of the stranger-sounding and admittedly stranger-looking dishes around: no, you don't eat the head itself, but there's plenty of meat to be found inside as the head in question barely fits on a plate! Cooked so long that it falls apart when poked at, just dig in and pile up the bones on your table. Eyeballs are not eaten, but the Chinese think the connective tissue behind it is the best part of the dish.
There are two types of fish head curry in Singapore, Chinese and Indian. Little India's fish head places unsurprisingly mostly serve the Indian kind, which is usually spicy and hot. Most speciality restaurants are on or near Race Course Rd, conveniently located between the Little India and Farrer Park MRT stations.
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.
- 1 Balaji Bhawan (formerly Sagar Ratna), 103 Syed Alwi Road (just across from Mustafa Cafe), ☏ . 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.
- 2 Jaggis North Indian Cuisine, 34 Race Course Rd, ☏ , fax: . Caters to meat-eaters too with a selection of tandoori dishes. Set meals available, or mix and match at the counter.
- 3 Komala Vilas, 76-78 Serangoon Road (and other branches around town), ☏ . 11:30AM-10:30PM. A Singaporean institution featuring purely vegetarian Indian food, the masala dosa here is epic. 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. 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.
- 4 Madras New Woodlands, 14 Upper Dickson Road (walk into upper Dickson Road (from Serangoon Rd) for about 50 m and you will find the restaurant to your right), ☏ . 7:30AM-11:30PM. This restaurant found in a slightly more quieter part of Little India (since it lies on one of the side streets) is a pure south Indian Vegetarian restaurant. Special dishes to try here are the "Keera Adai" (which is a type of South Indian pancake with spinach inside) and sambhar Vadai. Other dishes like the dosa, vadai and idli are also excellent for the price here. $5-10.
- 5 Azmi Restaurant, 168 Serangoon Rd (at the junction between Norris Road and Serangoon Road), ☏ . The most famous chapati stall in Singapore, with various curries to go with it, most famously their mutton keema.
- 6 Usman Restaurant, 238 Serangoon Road (at the junction between Rowell Road and Serangoon Road), ☏ . 11:30AM–12:45AM. Coffee shop specialising in North Indian and Pakistani dishes. Most famous for their naan. Also a hot favourite is their "white briyani", which is only served on Fridays.
- 7 Saravana Bhavan, 84 Syed Alwi Rd (Opposite Mustafa Centre), ☏ . 9AM-11:30PM. 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.
- 8 Banana Leaf Apolo, 54-58 Race Course Rd. 10AM-10PM 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" size is enough for 3-4 and will cost you $18, plus $2.50 a head for rice, pappadams and dips.
- 9 Bismillah Biryani, 50 Dunlop St, ☏ . Daily 11:30AM–8:45PM. The most famous biryani restaurant in Singapore, with a Michelin Bib Gourmand to mark it. The chicken and mutton biryanis are the star of the show, but there's plenty of interesting sides including things like brain masala. From $7.
- 10 Khansama, 166 Serangoon Rd, ☏ . Cheap coffeeshop-style eats downstairs (under $5) and a midrange air-con restaurant upstairs (mains $10-15). Generous portions if you don't mind their touts. Best known for its tandoori dishes and a wide selection of chaat appetizers.
- 11 Lagnaa, 6 Upper Dickson Rd (East off Serangoon Road, on the Southern side of the street), ☏ . Delicious Indian food from a very friendly owner. Upstairs is barefoot only with a very relaxed atmosphere. Offers cooking courses and also a "slave" deal: work for 3h to have one wish granted. Mains around $9 (a la carte).
- 12 Muthus Curry, 72-78 Race Course Rd. 10AM-10PM 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. Fish head $16-25 (serves 3-4).
- 13 Delhi Restaurant, 60 Race Course Rd (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. $30.
- 14 Podi and Poriyal, 486 Serangoon Rd, ☏ . W-M 8AM-3PM, 6-10PM (closed Tuesdays). A pure vegetarian fine dining experience that elevates South Indian cooking to an art. Yes, the dosai here cost $25 when they're $2.50 next door, but you'll taste the difference! Try the oppisu, the Tamil take on Japanese omakase, where the chef selects dish by dish for you until you wave the white flag (you're only charged for what you ate). All profits go to charity. Mains from $20.
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.
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. Some of the cheap hotels around Desker Rd cater to the sex trade.
Farrer Park MRT station on the Northeast (purple) line gives convenient access to many of these hotels. Follow signs for an exit on Birch Road to get close to the budget Penta Hotel. Exit G puts you near two luxury hotels, One Farrer and Park Hotel, or walk down Serangoon Road a bit for a Hilton. Rangoon Road (where Exit G is) becomes Kitchener Road on the other side of Serangoon Road, and there are more hotels along Kitchener. You can reach them from exit G or via exits H and I which are on Kitchener. Neither H nor I have signs near the centre of the station; follow the signs for G to find them. H puts you near three more upmarket hotels including Parkroyal, while I leads through the City Square Mall so it is not always open but when it is it is a convenient way to reach two decent budget hotels, Tai Hoe and Hotel 165.
- 1 Footprints Hostel, 25A Perak Rd (5 min walk from MRT Little India exit C), ☏ . All prices are net. Breakfast, internet, wifi and lockers are all free. Dorms from $22/pax,.
- 2 The Inn Crowd, 73 Dunlop Street. 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. Dorm $20, double $59.
- 3 Hotel 165, 165 Kitchener Road, ☏ . Basic but adequate accommodation within striking distance of Mustafa — and Desker Rd. $70.
- 4 Penta Hotel, 33 Birch Rd (Farrer Park MRT), ☏ . Rooms have air-con and the location near Mustafa and the MRT is fairly good. $70.
- 5 Royal India Hotel, 88 Syed Alwi Rd (opp Mustafa), ☏ . Another cheap hotel that's perhaps a small cut above the rest — their website advertises "homogenous tiles flooring", and offers discounts for advance booking. $100.
- 6 Tai Hoe Hotel, 163 Kitchener Road, ☏ , email@example.com. $120.
- 7 Parkroyal on Kitchener, 181 Kitchener Rd, ☏ . Large business hotel 5 min from Mustafa and the Farrer Park MRT. Good value if you're willing to pay a small premium. $220.
- 8 Mayo Inn, 1 Mayo St (corner of Jalan Besar). Spartan rooms but moderately priced, on the edge of Little India. The side facing Jalan Besar can be pretty noisy. $100-140.
- 9 Perak Hotel, 12 Perak Road, ☏ . A tasteful, small, private guesthouse in a renovated Peranakan-style building. $150-180.
- 10 Wanderlust Hotel, 180 Albert St, ☏ . Chic "urban residence" in a 1930 Art Deco house off Jalan Besar. Over half the units come with kitchens and monthly rentals are available. $250.
- 11 lyf Farrer Park, 2 Perumal Rd (Next to MRT Farrer Park exit G), ☏ . When serviced apartments meet backpacker hostels. If you can ignore the "how do you do, fellow kids" vibe, this can be a reasonable compromise: you get private en-suite rooms with shared laundry and cooking facilities, at a price that's also somewhere between the two. Two things to be aware of: there's a nice garden terrace but no pool, and the hotel overlooks the Sri Perumal temple, so expect continuous bell-clanging and chanting through most of the day (although they do stop at night). Studio from $160.
- One Farrer Hotel, 1 Farrer Park Station Road.
- Holiday Inn Singapore Little India, 10 Farrer Park Station Road.
- Park Hotel Farrer Park, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. Starting from US$119.
- LaundryMart Express, 22 Boon Keng Rd, 01-37 (Boon Keng MRT Exit B), ☏ . 24-hr self-service coin operated laundromat in the central area of Singapore. $5 for 10 kg, wash, dry, detergent and softener are provided.