A Hokkien Cultural Icon A Guide to Thian Hock Keng Temple
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A Hokkien Cultural Icon: A Guide to Thian Hock Keng Temple

Being a melting pot of various ethnicities, cultures, and religions, Singapore is home to all kinds of places of worship—from Buddhist temples to Christian churches to Islamic mosques. For this reason, temple hopping is one of the popular things to do here.

One temple that you don’t want to miss is Thian Hock Keng Temple. Located in Chinatown, this temple has been around for more than a century now, making it one of the oldest in Singapore; in other words, it’s also a historical and cultural landmark!

If you’re planning to visit, be sure to read this guide first because it has all the information you need, such as its history, rules, dress code, and more.

Things to Know

Address: 158 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068613
Operating Hours: Monday to Sunday—7:30 am to 5 pm
Admission Fee: Free
Contact Number: +6564234616

History and Background

The history of Thian Hock Keng Temple can be traced back to the 1800s when the first Chinese immigrants, mostly from the Fujian Province, arrived on the shores of Telok Ayer Basin (now known as Telok Ayer Street). 

As the number of immigrants grew, they decided to have a shrine in their new home, so they built the Thian Hock Keng Temple. The building materials were all imported from China, and Fujian artists worked on the intricate carvings and decorations. 

This temple is technically associated with the Hokkien community, but it’s also considered a temple for tangren, a.k.a. Chinese from all dialect groups. Right now, it’s popular among Chinese Buddhists and Taoists. 

Hokkien Huay Kuan

An important part of Thian Hock Keng Temple’s history is the establishment of Hokkien Huay Kuan, which is essentially an association of Chinese philanthropists. 

Hokkien Huay Kuan was founded within the compound of the temple, and they were active in promoting education among the local Chinese community and providing social welfare and aid to new immigrants who also hailed from the Fujian Province. 

Nowadays, they don’t do their work within the temple anymore since they have their own headquarters. But they’re still actively achieving their goals of upholding the Chinese language, culture, and values. 

How to Get There

MRT: Riding the MRT is the best way to reach Thian Hock Keng Temple. You just have to take the train and alight at Telok Ayer Station. Then, walk toward the temple, which should only take about a few minutes.

Bus: For people who prefer riding the bus, your options are bus services 10, 131, 167, 196, and 97. The nearest bus stop is Church St—OCBC Ctr (05319), but you can also alight at Sth Bridge Rd—Opp Hong Lim Cplx (05199).

Car: If you’d like to drive, there are several parking lots near the temple. A few examples include the open-air car park on Amoy Street and the parking lot of Far Eastern Bank Building at 156 Cecil Street.

Dress Code

Since Thian Hock Keng Temple is a place of worship, it’s not a surprise that you’re required to dress up modestly. 

For men, sleeved tops and long pants are recommended; meanwhile, women have to wear sleeved tops and skirts or pants that cover up their legs. Be sure to conceal your cleavage as well. 

Many visitors tend to bring a shawl when they come to this temple so that they can easily cover a part of their body if needed. I recommend you do the same.  

Other Rules to Keep in Mind

  • Behave properly. Many people visiting are praying, so make sure not to disturb them. It’s also recommended that you keep a distance from other visitors as a way to show respect. 
  • Don’t take photos in the main shrine hall. Specifically, you shouldn’t take photos of the worshippers, deities, and prayer sessions. 
  • Keep your surroundings clean. So, no littering and smoking within the premises.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Thian Hock Keng Temple depends on your personal preference. If you want to avoid crowds, I recommend coming here as early as possible, preferably during the weekdays.

However, if you don’t mind the crowd or you’d like to see the place come alive, the best time to visit would be during the birthday celebrations of deities. It’s also active during events like Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival. 

To keep up to date regarding the temple’s events, be sure to check the calendar page on their website. There, you can see all the events the temple will host for the year. 

What to Expect

Eye-Catching, Intricate Architectural Design

The first thing you’ll undoubtedly notice when visiting Thian Hock Keng Temple is its intricate architectural design. 

This temple was built in the traditional Hokkien architectural style, and it also has the three-hall typology (an entrance hall, a main hall, and a rear hall) like many Chinese temples. There are also several side halls beside the primary prayer halls.

There are several interesting design details. On the roofs of the entrance hall and the main hall, you can find four dancing dragons that symbolize justice and power; these are also accompanied by a pearl that symbolizes immortality.

These decorations were made using jian nian, a special technique that involves colorful ceramics getting cut into smaller pieces and then pasted to form mosaic figures. This art technique makes a unique look, and I love examining their details!

Because of its eye-catching architectural design, there have been efforts to preserve it. The temple was also gazetted as a national monument of Singapore. 

Honors Many Deities

Technically, Thian Hock Keng Temple is dedicated to Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the sea, because the people who built it were immigrants who had to travel via sea. 

However, over time, several others have been welcomed here. These deities include Baosheng Dadi (god of medicine and health), Guansheng Dijun (worshipped for spiritual protection), Confucius (worshipped for wisdom), and Guanyin (goddess of mercy).

Since this temple is now home to many deities, you can pray for various blessings like safe travels and longevity. 

Chongwen Ge Cafe

Operating Hours

  • Monday to Saturday—11:30 am to 4 pm
  • Closed on Sunday

Contact Number: +6598646021

Back in the day, Thian Hock Keng Temple had Chongwen Ge within its premises. Chongwen Ge stands for “Institute for the Veneration of Literature,” and it was the first Chinese school in Singapore. 

Now, the school is no longer there. Instead, a cafe that also serves as a museum stands in its place, and you can come here to see some of the old school’s artifacts, such as pictures of former students. 

Aside from learning about the heritage and culture of the Hokkien community, you can also enjoy hearty, comforting local dishes like laksa (a spicy noodle dish) and Nyonya kueh (a popular dessert that’s made from glutinous rice, coconut, and palm sugar). 

Former Keng Teck Whay Building (Yu Huang Gong)

In addition to Chongwen Ge, another institution that was built near the temple is Keng Teck Whay, a private Straits Chinese association specializing in self-help. Membership in this association was reserved for its founding members and male descendants. 

Eventually, the association stopped using this building, and its ownership was passed to the Taoist Mission (Singapore). The group then decided to transform it into a Taoist temple and rename it Yu Huang Gong (Temple of the Heavenly Jade Emperor).

The temple was officially opened to the public in January 2015.

Free Guided Tours

You’re totally free to explore Thian Hock Keng Temple by yourself, but another option you can take is to join a free guided tour hosted by volunteers

When you join a guided tour, you’ll join a group (minimum of 40 members) with a leader who will take you around the temple while discussing its history, customs, and faith. The guide will also cover the temple’s architecture and the current preservation efforts.

If you want to join a guided tour (even better if you’re bringing your loved ones), you have to send an email to [email protected]. You should also book your spot two months in advance.