The objective of this fascinating museum, the first of its kind in the region, is to present the history of the different cultures of Asia. Throughout the eleven galleries you'll see exhibits focusing on the Singapore River, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia. It's a comprehensive collection, including even the smallest countries, such as Java. The historically significant building once housed government offices – today, in addition to the museum, it also hosts several food and beverage venues operated by the IndoChine Group: Bar Opiume, IndoChine Waterfront Restaurant, and Siem Reap II Café.
Hua Song, which means "in praise of the Chinese," opened to much acclaim in the spring of 2006. The museum details the inspiring stories of Chinese immigrants, not just those who came to Singapore but those who made their way to distant locales such as Canada, the US and South America. Some well-known individuals are documented, but mostly this is a museum dedicated to the average man and woman and their struggles and successes as they settled in new lands. A series of dioramas depict various scenes of Chinese migrant life, and there are plenty of vintage photos and artifacts to round out the exhibits. Quite fascinating.
Wonderful for kids and adults alike, the Science Centre features more than 850 hands-on exhibits that are not only educational but a lot of fun. On your way in, stop in the Kinetic Garden, a cool outdoor space with 35 sculptures, exhibits and displays including several water features. Inside, you'll find exhibits devoted to aviation, space, chemistry, dinosaurs, eco-friendly cars, energy and the human body. There's also an IMAX theater, a discovery zone for little tykes, and a planetarium.
The magnificent Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is located in the heart of Chinatown. The most revered part of the temple - the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Chamber is located on the 4th floor, its importance evident in the magnificence of the room, complete with gold floor tiles surrounding the solid gold stupa. One floor up, the roof garden houses the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pavilion with its large Vairocana Buddha Prayer Wheel, while the excellent Buddhist Culture Museum can be found on the 3rd floor. This impressive collection of rare Asian Buddhist artefacts accompanies a display on the life story and teachings of Lord Buddha. Several daily ceremonies take place in the 100 Dragons Hall on the ground floor.
Local Expert tip: Try to visit when a daily ceremony is taking place in the 100 Dragons Hall on the ground floor, when the chanting monks and congregation add to the air of reverence.
When the British army surrendered to the Japanese on 15th Februrary 1942, Singapore came under Japanese occupation, in what was probably the darkest time in the country's history. The Changi Museum is dedicated to the memory of all those who suffered during this time, and is probably the most harrowing collection of stories in all the war museums of Singapore. The incredibly moving exhibition is based on interviews with former inmates, Prisoners of War and their families. Personal accounts of torture and humiliation at the hands of the Kempeitei are interspersed with stories of the hardship of rationing and high inflation, and the struggle for survival.
Local Expert tip: Entrance is free, but it is well worth paying for the personal audio tour which really brings the exhibition to life with additional stories and actual interviews with survivors.
Shophouses are two- or three-story buildings unique to Asia – most are found in Malaysia and Singapore. Primarily built during the early 1900s, the structures housed businesses on the ground floor and living quarters on the upper floors. This museum occupies three of these structures, displaying different time periods in the history of Singapore's Chinatown. Dioramas are based on the recollections of former residents, and using authentic period details, depict the cramped quarters people shared with extended families and sometimes even strangers. Interesting and inspiring to say the least!
When it was completed in the mid 1800s, the Istana Kampong Gelam functioned as a residence for the son of a sultan. Today, the palace houses the Malay Heritage Museum which has nine engrossing galleries devoted to the history and influence of Malays in Singapore. Another historic building in the compound, the Gedung Kuning, now operates as Restoran Tepak Sireh, a restaurant serving traditional Malay fare. On Wednesdays and Sundays the museum offers cultural programs featuring traditional dance, martial arts and music; pottery and batik-making programs are offered on occasion as well. Special exhibits and programs may require additional fees.
Housed in what used to be a Catholic boys' school, the Singapore Art Museum has 10,000 square meters (about 108,000 square feet) of floor space devoted to Asian art. In fact, this is the largest public collection of modern and contemporary Asian art in the world. In addition to exhibits of pieces from the permanent collection, the museum also hosts traveling exhibits of greats such as Leonardo da Vinci.
From the age of six, Chang Ya Fa collected toys and related ephemera like comics and posters. His collection today amounts to more than 50,000 items, of which only about 3% is actually displayed. The purpose-built five-story structure houses items hailing from some 25 countries, and covers about a century's worth of toymaking. Pre-war Japanese toys, a teddy bear collection, Chinese comic covers from the 1920s, Tintin collectibles, Disneyana, Betty Boop collectibles and a host of other rarities line shelves and walls. Even if you're somewhat curmudgeonly, this museum will boggle your mind!
The National Museum of Singapore should be top of your list if you only have time to visit one museum during your stay. Its main focus is the Singapore History Gallery, a modern, high-tech exhibition walking visitors through the country's history, from the 14th century to the building of modern Singapore. The excellent Audio Companion provided to each visitor supplements the visual displays with interviews, dramatised scenarios and personal accounts. Alongside the History Gallery, the four Singapore Living Galleries celebrate Singaporean society and culture through the years through Food, Fashion, Photography and Film respectively.
Local Expert tip: Free guided tours of the Singapore History Gallery are held at 11am and 2pm on Monday to Friday, and at 11.30am, 2pm and 3.30 pm on Saturday & Sunday.