Telok Ayer Street

Singapore Infopedia


Telok Ayer Street extends from Market Street to Anson Road. Telok Ayer was designated a Chinese district by Stamford Raffles in 18221 and gained prominence in the 1820s because it served as the landing site for early immigrants.2 This led to a concentration of religious buildings and Chinese clan associations along the street.3 The street thus gives a useful insight into the life of early Chinese immigrants.


Telok Ayer Street used to face the original seafront and served as docking bay for the boats and sampans of early immigrants.4 Grateful for a safe journey, many set up altars and worship houses to give thanks to their gods.

Indian Muslims who had survived the perilous journey from south India built the Al-Abrar Mosque6 and the Nagore Durgha Shrine7 along the street. The Hakkas and Cantonese built the Fuk Tak Chi Temple, dedicated to the earth god, Dak Bak Gong,8 also known as Tua Peh Kong.9 The Hokkiens set up a simple shrine in 1819, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, Ma-Zu-Po (Tian Shang Sheng Mu), the Mother of Heavenly Sages, the Heavenly Holy Mother, the Celestial Queen, in gratitude for their safe arrival from China. The Thian Hock Keng Temple (Temple of Heavenly Happiness) eventually grew out of this shrine in 1842 and houses shrines to several Chinese deities.10

Chinese immigrants from China congregated in the area (including at nearby Smith Street and Amoy Street), particularly the Hokkiens from Fujian province, and it became a bustling business centre.11 The Hokkien Huay Kuan and the Ying Fo Fui Kun, a Hakka Association Hall, were also established here.12 Many led difficult lives as the area was rife with slave trade, with many Chinese immigrants serving as slave labour.13 A big fire also occurred in the area in 1891.14 Around the turn of the century, due to rising pollution and congestion, merchants who had started businesses in this area moved out to more conducive and pleasant surroundings.15

Reclamation of the Telok Ayer Bay in 1887 created the land on which Cecil Street and Robinson Road now stand, and reclamation of the Telok Ayer Basin in the early 1900s created the area now known as Shenton Way.16 These developments pushed Telok Ayer Street four streets further away from the seafront.17

Pre-war houses can be found along Telok Ayer Street, with neighbouring McCallum Street containing old buildings of great historical interest, such as the Thian Hock Keng Temple, the Fuk Tak Chi Temple, the Ying Fo Fui Kun Hakka Association Hall, the Hock Teck Ch’i Temple, the Nagore Durgha Shrine, the Al-Abrar Mosque and the Chinese Methodist Church.18

Variant names
Malay name: In Malay, telok means "bay" and ayer means "water".
Chinese name: The Hokkien name for Telok Ayer Street was Gwan Sun Koi, where koi meant "street" and Gwan Sun referred to the name of a shop along Telok Ayer Street.19 Telok Ayer Bay was also known as nan wan or "southern bay" by the Chinese.20


Sharon Teng

1. S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1961), 6. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM)
2. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 306. (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
3. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 457. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
4. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 306.
5. “The Story of Telok Ayer,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 1 July 2016.
6. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 439.
7. Audrey Tan, “5 Things to Know about the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre,” Straits Times, 7 January 2015.
8. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 306.
9. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 435.
10. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 438.
11. Tan Bee Choo, Street Names in Selected Areas of Singapore: A Study of Historical Geography (Singapore: n.p. 1977), 11. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 TAN)
12. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 378. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
13. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 378.
14. S. Durai Raja-Singam, Malayan Street Names: What They Mean and Whom They Commemorate (Ipoh: Mercantile Press, 1939), 145. (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 RAJ-[HIS])
15. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 457.
16. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “Story of Telok Ayer.”
17. Urban Redevelopment Authority, “Story of Telok Ayer.”
18. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 378.
19. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 457.
20. “Telok Ayer Street Singapore,” Focus Singapore, accessed 23 June 2016.

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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