The Intan Review | Gorgeous Peranakan Home Museum in Singapore

The Intan | Peranakan Home Museum at Joo Chiat Terrace, Singapore
The Intan | Peranakan Home Museum at Joo Chiat Terrace, Singapore.
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Have you flown with Singapore Airlines in recent years? If you had, do you remember their unusual in-flight safety video, most parts of which weren’t filmed in a cabin?

Any impression? If you do remember the video, do you recall watching a segment where a female “passenger” was shown sitting in an antique Chinese chair, before offered her beaded slippers in a wooden box? The passenger was in a traditional Southeast Asian Chinese home. One that’s both mysterious and nostalgic thanks to the lighting and numerous cultural artifacts displayed. Later, the passenger’s carry-on luggage was carefully stored in an exquisite-looking wooden chest.

Nyonya Tiffin Carriers
Do you remember seeing these tiffin carriers, or tingkat, in SQ’s in-flight safety video? (Video is here)

Well, as highlighted in the safety video itself, that segment was filmed at The Intan, an award-winning Singaporean Peranakan home museum at Joo Chiat Terrace. One of Singapore’s most intimate museums, The Intan is owned and managed by Alvin Yapp, a Peranakan who started collecting artifacts of his heritage 30 years ago.

Today, The Intan showcases over 1,500 artifacts, with every corner and wall of this double-storey heritage home full of culture and history. Walking into the museum is akin to entering a treasure horde, with the distinct sensation of a time-travel trip, too, one that brings you back to the colonial days when Singapore was a British Straits Settlement. (The Peranakans are also known as the Straits-Born)

All tours are by appointment only and hosted by the owner himself. An energetic, consummate guide whose earnest hospitality effortlessly charms, Yapp’s tours are less a presentation and more akin to a social gathering. Think of his tours as a leisurely house visit, one that immerses you in the unique traditions of the Peranakans, and one that comes with hot tea and yummy Nyonya kueh.

The Intan Visiting Experience

I visited The Intan about a fortnight ago and my quick summary is, the visiting experience is different from other Peranakan attractions in Singapore. Actually, I didn’t even feel I was visiting a museum.

There’s certainly a lot to see and appreciate; a lot to photograph too. However, there is a marked absence of the encouragement to read and learn, or to understand historical facts, i.e., the usual case with large museums. Instead, and as highlighted earlier, my hour there was like a house visit, with the lively host sharing titbits about not just Peranakan culture but also his journey as a collector.

Peranakan Attraction in Singapore
Stepping into the Intan is like an instant time travel trip back to the past. With the aesthetic beauty and styles of the Straits-Born community frozen in time for your appreciation.
The Intan Home Museum
The upper floor of The Intan is where the best of the collection is. For example, there’s a wedding bed and a historical planter chair. However, photography is not allowed.
Peranakan artifacts
The harmonious integration of Eastern and Western aesthetic styles is one of the most fascinating aspects of the collections.
Peranakan Home Museum in Singapore
One thing that I immediately noticed was how well-maintained the museum is. The porcelain collections, for example, are pristine in condition. (Which then furthers the impression of having time-traveled to a home of the past)

Speaking of the host, Yapp is an absolute joy to be with. He’s obviously very knowledgeable about Peranakan “Straits-Born” culture and history, perhaps even more so than academic experts. But he never just regales you with facts and numbers.

Interwoven into his narration are light-hearted anecdotes regarding his other life experiences—he previously worked as a Singapore Airlines Station Manager and is now in the printing industry. At regular intervals, he encourages guests to interact, too, and in doing so, creates an engaging ambience that goes beyond a standard museum tour.

He even entertains with music! Our tour ended with him delivering a superb piano rendition of Mamma Mia—an impromptu request from one of the guests. This was right after we enjoyed tea and classic Nyonya kueh, and chatted about other Singaporean attractions.

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Peranakan Culture in Singapore
The Intan might be small but every corner has something for you to admire. This is the restroom entrance. Next to it is a sample of Peranakan tiles.
Kamcheng Covered Container with Phoenix and Peony Motifs
Exquisite “Kamcheng” covered container with peony and phoenix motifs. According to Yapp, the Peranakans are proud of their Chinese heritage. Classic Chinese motifs of prosperity are beloved by them.
Peranakan Carvings
This is exquisite, isn’t it? The tour gives you a good idea of the opulent lifestyles of the Babas and Nyonyas (the men and women of the Peranakans). Through the art, which blends Eastern and Western influences, one can also interpret how they view themselves.
Classic Nyonya Kueh
Yummy Nyonya kueh (and hot tea) were served after we visited the upper storey.
Catholic Figurines From Across the World
The Intan isn’t just about Peranakan culture. Yapp owns quite an incredible collection of Catholic figurines too. You be amazed by how different cultures interpreted Christ and Mother Mary.

I put it this way. Visiting The Intan is a pleasant experience because of Yapp’s astonishing, truly astonishing collection of artifacts and because he is both a host and a guide.

You’re not going to be an expert on Peranakan culture after visiting—I’m quite sure The Intan isn’t meant for that. However, a visit will add meaning to your next Peranakan meal or Peranakan exhibition experience. I strongly recommend a visit for all who are keen to discover this colourful aspect of Singapore’s pre-modern history.

Visiting Guide

The Intan is at 69 Joo Chiat Terrace, Singapore 427231.

Google Maps, which I’ve linked to, gives a good idea of what the museum looks like from outside so I shan’t share pictures of that. Instead, I’ll highlight that Joo Chiat Terrace is a quiet road at the heart of the historical Joo Chiat district and away from the main roads. If you’re coming by bus, be ready for a short walk. The two nearest MRT stations, Paya Lebar and Eunos, are both about 15-20 minutes’ walk away. You will need a map in either case unless you’re thoroughly familiar with the area.

Reservations are a must, which you can do here. There are also several types of tours, including an innovative virtual one.

The one that I went for was The Intan Tea Experience, which lasted an hour. If you prefer a longer, more immersive experience, you can opt for The Intan Private Lunch/Dinner Experience (90 mins). Regardless of your choice, remember, booking is a must. Last but not least, do note that photography is only permitted on the lower floor.

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The Intan Review | Gorgeous Peranakan Home Museum in Singapore
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The Intan Review | Gorgeous Peranakan Home Museum in Singapore
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The Intan is a gorgeous Peranakan home museum at the heart of Joo Chiat, with over 1,500 Peranakan cultural artifacts on display.
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