Timothy Tye
Telok Ayer Street Walking Tour

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Telok Ayer St seen from intersection with Boon Tat StTelok Ayer St seen from intersection with Boon Tat St
Author: Terence Ong (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

Telok Ayer Street is a historic street in the Chinatown of Singapore. Standing on this street today, you can see skyscrapers of the Singapore Central Business District looming over the skyline a short distance away. Before we start our walk, I want to point out to you how old this street is.

Telok Ayer Street is older than all those skyscrapers. Not only that, when Telok Ayer Street was created, around 1822, the whole area where you see the skyscrapers today was the sea. In the early days, Telok Ayer Street was once coastal road that skirted a bay. The bay was known as Telok Ayer, which means "bayswater" or "watery bay" in Malay.

Until the later part of the 19th century, you could stand on Telok Ayer Street and watch boats berthed at piers that jutted out into the water. That landscape was changed in 1878, when the first phase of land reclamation pushed the shoreline outwards. Since then, subsequent land reclamations have continued to extend the shoreline. Different generations of Singaporeans would have a different recollection of where the shoreline was.

Starting our walk

We shall walk from south to north. We shall start our walk at the junction of Telok Ayer Street with Cecil Street, next to Telok Ayer Park. You can get there by taking the Singapore MRT East West Line to the Tanjong Pagar MRT Station (EW15) and walk a short distance to get there.

The southern end of Telok Ayer Street is today leafy. There's greenery on both sides of the road. As you begin your journey, picture in your mind's eye how it was when the street was built in 1822. Everything you see on your right was still sea.

The first building we pass is the Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, on our right. It is the only building along this stretch of Telok Ayer Street of any particular significance. A short distance away across the road is a modern hawker centre - the Amoy Street Food Center. You can grab a bite here.

The first intersection we come across is that with Amoy Street and Mccallum Street. On the right is The Clift, a 43-storey condominium block.

Across the intersection are more interesting shophouses. These appear to have been erected in the early part of the 20th century. Admire the façlade. They bear a mix of eastern and western architectural styles, creating a fusion called Straits Eclectic. Look out for Chung Hwa Free Clinic, which once offered free medical care to the poor in the area. The houses have been gentrified and given readaptive use as restaurants, bistros and salons.

Telok Ayer St in front of Thian Hock Keng TempleTelok Ayer St in front of Thian Hock Keng Temple (reverse direction from our walk)
Author: Terence Ong (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

The main attraction of Teluk Ayer Street is the Thian Hock Keng Temple, the principal Chinese temple in the 19th century, and today a tourist destination. It is on the left side of the street, and you can usually see lots of tour buses parked along this stretch. Across the road from the temple is 137 Telok Ayer Street, a modern glass-clad structure. Next to it are some restored shophouses. They have green roof tiles over the five-foot way.

Just before the intersection with Boon Tat St is another interesting building, the Nagore Durgha Shrine, on your left, with a small park, the Telok Ayer Green, right before it. This was restored around 2006. Admire the South Indian architecture of this Muslim shrine.

The next section of Telok Ayer St has some more restored shophouses with more bistros and restaurants. We continue past the intersection with Cross St, with the Cross St Viaduct overhead.

Look out for the Ying Fo Fui Kun, a Chinese clan association, on the left corner of Telok Ayer St and Cross St. On the right is another mult-storey office building, the PWC Building, at 8 Cross St. On this final stretch of Telok Ayer Street, look for Fuk Tak Chi Museum, which is housed in what would be the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore. It's that one-storey temple building on the left. Across from it is another modern office-cum-retail block called China Square.

On the right is Cheang Hong Lim Place, formerly a proper street now just a driveway leading towards Prudential Tower. Both sides of Telok Ayer St are lined by modern buildings. On the left is Capital Square while on the right is Samsung Hub. Telok Ayer St ends here at a T-junction with Church St.
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