Find out more about Singapore’s history and culture by exploring these unique temples, which still blow our minds no matter how many times we've visited...
We’ve got to thank Singapore’s diverse mix of cultures and communities for a whole lot of beauty in this tiny red dot. If you’re visiting and planning to go on some sightseeing walks, or want to rediscover your city with new eyes, put this Singapore temple trail on your to do list. From the classics that have become historical sights to the modern surprises, these temples are part of what makes this city come to life.
Seng Wong Beo
This Tanjong Pagar temple has captured our imagination not just because it’s a colourful scene that stands out amongst the surrounded high rises, but because it’s the only temple in Singapore that conducts ghost weddings. That’s right — wedding bells chime behind the gates of Seng Wong Beo Temple for the dead. As if those swaying lanterns casting shadows on the walls weren’t atmospheric enough. Intrigued? Pop by the temple to learn more about its history: Seng Wong Beo has been around since 1905, and is actually dedicated to the City God, Cheng Huang Ye. Worshippers and visitors are welcome from 8am to 5.30pm.
Seng Wong Beo, 113 Peck Seah St, Singapore 079332
Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist Temple
The modern building pictured above isn’t what you’d expect for a temple, but the Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist Temple is actually the oldest Theravada Buddhist tradition temple in Singapore, originally completed in 1925 and formerly located at Silat Street. What we now see at Jalan Bukit Merah is the new temple building, officially opened on 5 January 2014, and it even houses a cultural centre (museum) that is open to the public daily from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Check out and appreciate the prized Buddhist artefacts on display. Ad-hoc events and celebrations are also held at the temple – you can even participate in Songkran festivities, right here in Singapore.
Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist Temple, 50B Jalan Bukit Merah Road, Singapore 169545. Open 6.30am to 8.30pm daily. p.6276 9646
Thian Hock Keng
Thian Hock Keng is on the same street as Honeycombers HQ, and we often wander in for a change of pace. Tucked in amongst the shophouses, this historical temple was constructed in 1840 and remains one of Singapore’ most important Hokkien temples. (It earned the status of national monument in 1973). Did you know there’s even a plaque with the phrase ‘bo jing nan ming’ (‘Gentle Waves over the South Seas’ in Chinese) presented to the temple by Qing Dynasty’s Emperor Guang Xu in 1907? While the plaque is now a permanent display at the National Museum, you can still explore Thian Hock Keng in its architectural brilliance. Built in traditional southern Chinese architectural style, no nails were used in assembling the temple, which makes it quite a piece of art. Here’s a little gem for the foodies: Chong Wen Ge cafe is part of the temple complex and serves colourful Peranakan dishes. If you happen to be caught in the queue, Chong Wen Ge is also home to a Peranakan tile gallery, so take your time to admire the intricate decor and elaborate designs on display.
Thian Hock Keng, 158 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068613. Open from 7.30am to 5.30pm. p.6423 4626
Sri Mariamman Temple
If you need more convincing that Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, look no further because right smack in Chinatown is the oldest, and likely also the most iconic Hindu temple in Singapore – the Sri Mariamman Temple. It was built in 1827 and dedicated to Goddess Mariamman. What’s most striking about the temple is definitely the ornate tower entrance that leaves us all in awe with the amount of attention paid to detail and carvings. It’s definitely worth a visit, but you should always be aware of the temple etiquette, which includes dress code such as shoulders must be covered and trousers or skirts must at least cover the knees. Footwear should also be removed outside the temple. The temple also celebrates festivals, with the main one being Theemithi, more commonly known as the Fire Walking ceremony.
Sri Mariamman Temple, 244 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058793. Open 5.30am to 12.00pm, and 6.00pm to 9.00pm. p.6223 4064
Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple
The Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple is one of Katong’s hidden gems. Standing tall on Ceylon Road, its history began with the discovery of Lord Vinayagar’s statue near a Chempaka tree, which led to Mr Ethirnayagam Pillai’s decision to construct the temple’s first structure under the tree. Today, it is a piece of architectural beauty that evokes an ancient South Indian architectural style, and unique features include a five-tiered entrance tower that is 68 feet high and the four main granite pillars in the main prayer hall.
Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple, 19 Ceylon Road, Singapore 429613
Burmese Buddhist Temple
Did you know that the first and only Burmese Buddhist temple built in traditional style beyond Burma is actually right here in Singapore and along Tai Gin Road? It was founded in 1875 by Burmese U Thar Hnin and grew continually over the years. If you make your way down to the temple, you can see an eleven feet high Buddha image sculpted from marble and transported from Mandalay to Singapore in 1921. For the public, interesting events are organized year-round at the temple, including a 30-day light-up of the temple’s Shrine Hall during Chinese New Year and Thin Gyan (Water Festival) celebrations in April where water-splashing takes place in the spirit of washing away the stains of the previous year. Young ones who are keen to learn about Buddhism can also participate in the Sunday School Dhamma classes.
Burmese Buddhist Temple, 14 Tai Gin Road, Singapore 327873. Open 6.30am to 9.00pm daily. p.6251 1717
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
Scroll through Instagram, search for Singapore landmarks or tourist destinations, and you’ll be sure to find many photos of the famous Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Not only is it an architectural masterpiece, but it’s an iconic part of Chinatown’s landscape with its striking red pillars and elaborate designs. If you drop by at night, you’ll find it a hotspot for many photographers as the temple comes alive against the backdrop of the CBD night lights and a bustling Chinatown. But the temple is famous not just for its architecture – there’s a vibrant calendar of activities for the public including meditation classes and youth group practices on Sundays, where you can learn more about Buddhism.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, 288 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058840. Open 7.00am to 7.00pm daily.