Like many huge cities, Singapore is made up of uncountable smaller neighborhoods. However, the bulk of budget accommodation is in Chinatown and Little India, so most backpackers will end up staying in one or the other.
Both Chinatown and Little India are fairly central and near MRT (the subway) stations, but Chinatown is definitely closer to the “downtown” part of Singapore and the major attractions, both colonial and modern. If you’re interested in doing a lot of sightseeing, Chinatown is an easy place to base yourself while you zip up and down throughout the city. Little India is just a bit farther away from the action
Both Little India and Chinatown have lots of great budget eating options. Chinatown is right near a few hawker centers ( food courts full of street food) and sidewalk cafes where you can enjoy anything from Hainese Chicken to dim sum to chili crab. If Straits Chinese food is what you’re craving, get over there immediately. Of particular note is the Maxwell Road Hawker Center, where the rojack (fruit and bread salad in a savory brown sauce) is out of this world. Little India, on the other hand, has some of the best cheap Indian food I’ve had in a long time. Of particular note are set meals (often themed “Northern” or “Southern” Indian). Just wander up and down the side streets to find something that smells delicious.
Singapore is known for its squeaky clean streets and these neighborhoods are no exception. Chinatown is especially modern and clean looking. It’s obvious the buildings have had a fresh coat of paint recently, and hanging lanterns add a cheery tone. It’s bustling and busy, but there’s definitely a sense of catering to tourists here. It’s almost like Disneyland Chinatown. Little India is still pretty clean, but the buildings haven’t been remodeled lately and there’s just a bit more grittiness in the neighborhood. It’s obvious that members of the Singaporean Indian community actually live here.
Winner: Little India
Chinatown is lined with shops selling everything from kitchy souviners to Chinese herbal medicines. There was an eye-popping display at every store I passed. I’m not much for shopping but just browsing the stores was lots of fun. One store was even selling bird’s nests, which I learned are an important element in certain traditional healing practices. There’s much less shopping in Little India, although there is a giant mall with a movie theater nearby. If you actually need to buy something specific, that’s a better place to go than Chinatown.
Neither Chinatown nor Little India are particularly expensive by Singapore’s standards. But because it’s a bit less central and caters less to tourists, so accommodation prices are a bit lower.
Winner: Little India
It’s a tie! Both Little India and Chinatown are great places to base yourself in Singapore. Which one is best for you really depends on what you’re looking for in a place to stay.