the river of life
Nobody encapsulates the spirit of the Singapore River more than the figure of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore. Make your way down to the River, and just at the side of the Asian Civilisation Museum is this imposing figure of the man himself, hands folded across as if very pleased with how it has all turned out.
With bold vision, he and his early pioneering colleagues from the British East India Company decided that this little 'insignificant' river would be the very heart and soul of the nascent settlement known as Singapura. History was much more kinder to him than fate, and the River did become the centre of commerce and life of this island nation. Even today, tall skyscrapers line the River as if in a bid to gain Raffles' approving nod, housing corporations and enterprises that epitomises global trade and finance. This humble River has seen it all and still holds sway. Come walk down her promenade and imagine a time in history where the early settlers and traders also did the same.
A Brief History
The earliest inhabitants of the Singapore River were believed to be the nomadic Orang Laut (Sea Gypsies) that lived on their boats along the River banks, choosing that over living on the shores. The River hundreds of years ago were marsh swamps that had to be drained when Sir Stamford Raffles the founder of modern Singapore arrived and started to develop Singapore from 1819. His striking white marble statue right next to the Asian Civilisation Museum stands on the site believed to be where he came ashore and signed a treaty with the Temengong Abdul Rahman (Chief of Singapore) who lived along the river at that stretch. Raffles envisioned that this place should become a "great emporium of trade" and set out a town plan based on the various communities settling around the a river based port enterprise.
For the next few decades, the River became the very centre of the busy port city of Singapore, starting from the mouth of the River stretching over 3km up river. In the mid and late 19th century it attracted traders and merchants, labourers and adventurers who traveled from near and far, and settled on both sides of the river. It was truly the lifeblood of all the business activities here in Singapore, true then and still is now.
British and other European merchants mingled with Chinese Towkays (bosses) and Indian business owners, who also in turn collaborated with traders from Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi and as far afield as Arabs from the Middle East. All along the river, quaint shop houses are remnants of that past. They were warehouses, godowns, retail shops, offices, and over crowded residences of the early immigrants to come ashore. At one time they become derelict in the 70s and 80s, in danger of being completely bulldozed and replaced with towering skyscrapers to keep up with the times. They were thankfully conserved, restored and given a new lease of life and today serve as hip and vibrant enclaves for the coolest in riverside F&B offerings. The tall sky scrapers of the commercial heart of Singapore known as Raffles Place now loom over Boat Quay, housing regional and global headquarters and offices of major local and international banking & financial institutions, insurance and trading firms.
Before a massive government led effort at cleaning up the river in the late 1970s, the River itself was polluted and chocked, with putrid stench of refuse and garbage that was strewn upstream, from pig and vegetable farms, roads, drains and streams that fed the River. It was a bold and ambitious plan to clean up the River in 10 years, and make it once again attractive and pleasant for the enjoyment of those who visited it. Over the years it was also widen and deepen to facilitate boats plying the length of the River. Now pleasure River Cruises travel up and down the River.
The once tidal-river used to empty into the sea known as the Singapore Straits. Now it flows into the Marina Bay, created when the Marina Barrage (a dam) was built over the mouth of the Marina Channel some 2km away. It created the only urban water catchment reservoir within the city, of which the Singapore River is a major source.
The Bridges over the Singapore River are also worth a mention as over the course of history they helped to connect between the communities of the residential districts of the Chinese in Chinatown and the Indians of Kampung Chulia (Indian village) in the south with the European communities and wealthier Asians in the north. Bridges like Anderson Bridge, Coleman Bridge, Elgin Bridge, Read Bridge bear names of their designers or British governors of Malaya and Calcutta. Today these bridges still play their important role facilitating travel between Chinatown and the Civic District.
Zones such as Boat Quay and Clarke Quay once busy trading dockyards, are now the places to see and be seen.
Clarke Quay - The venue for the hippest joints in town, restaurants and lounges; bars, clubs and cafes truly something for everyone. For the adventurous try the G-Max Reverse bungy 40m free fall and 100 kph fling near the River! Yicks!
Now if that's not your cup of tea, a leisurely cruise down the river on motorised historic river boats round trip to the Marina Bay Sands, passing the Merlion and the Esplanade Theatre By The Bay is a lovely treat. You can choose to go just one way or return trip back to Clarke Quay (River Cruise/River Taxis Tel: 6336 6111 Prices: starting from $25 adult $15 Child. *Updated April 16).
Largely restaurants and pub/lounges along this stretch. You can make your way here by walking across from Chinatown or taking the train from Raffles Place MRT. Look out for several public art pieces that details the life of the early inhabitants and settlers
Look out for these public art installations that immortalised the river life of the River's early settlers and occupants.
Stroll down the river and take in the sights of the historic warehouses from the old trades along the river.
Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay going up river are places to hangout.
River Cruises, G-Max Bungy and Shopping Malls.
Restaurants, Pubs, Cafes and lounges.
Back To TOP SIGHTS
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location and getting there (Singapore River)
The Singapore River can be accessed through several MRT stations.
Raffles Place MRT (EW14/NS26), Clarke Quay (NE5).
*Almost any road in town will lead you to any stretch of the River.