SINGAPORE - A popular seaside getaway for Singaporeans now, Pasir Ris coast used to be a private enclave for the British elite during colonial days.
On Thursday (Dec 19), a 3.5km stretch of the beach was unveiled as part of the National Heritage Board's (NHB) 19th heritage trail, which includes another 10.1km of paths inland.
Divided thematically into three parts that together takes about 3½ hours to complete on foot, the continuous trail includes such landmarks as Sakya Tenphel Ling, one of the first Tibetan Buddhist temples in South-east Asia, and Singapore's only commercial saltwater fishing pond in Pasir Ris Town Park.
NHB said on Thursday that it plans to eventually have such heritage trails across the island, with two more- in Hougang and Sembawang - already in the works. They will be launched next year.
NHB said that although it does not track visitorships, it is aware that existing trails in areas such as Bukit Timah and Singapore River are "well-used by heritage buffs and families looking for a weekend fun family activity", as well as tourists and schools.
Alvin Tan, NHB deputy chief executive (policy and community department), said the board is looking at having more trails in the heartland so that "heritage can be brought right to Singaporeans' doorstep and made more accessible to them".
On the new trail in Pasir Ris trail, he said: "Singaporeans will find out how Pasir Ris earned its reputation as a town for rest and recreation, and how it evolved from a getaway destination for the affluent to an affordable resort-like retreat for holiday-makers from all walks of life."
Taking one-and-a-half years to research and prepare - including conducting interviews with residents and scouring through old newspaper clippings - the Pasir Ris Heritage Trail presents users with a choice of three themes.The first is an exploration of the area's coastal heritage, a route that takes in mangrove swamps, Sungei Api Api, a river where settlers used to catch prawns to make belacan, and the iconic elephant playground frequently reproduced on souvenirs.
Then there is the 5.6km architectural highlights walk, which features religious institutions like the multi-faith Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple and the 24-hour Masjid Al-Istighfar, a mosque about a 20-minute drive from Changi Airport which caters to tourists and locals going to and from the haj.
Finally, the more family-oriented 4.5km Play @ Pasir Ris Trail passes by the Pasir Ris Hawker Centre, Downtown East, formerly a National Trades Union Congress "country club" for workers, as well as one of Singapore's largest playgrounds.
Regine Wong, a representative of Sakya Tenphel Ling, said that Singaporeans would get to experience the Republic's multiculturalism for themselves on the architectural highlights walk.
The 57-year-old said: "This is a beautiful experience for everybody. You can walk into a temple whether you are Christian or Muslim. Ultimately, we all play a part towards helping the community, spiritually or otherwise."
Andy Tay, a consultant of the Pasir Ris Town Park fishing pond, said he was glad that the younger generation will get to know about the "kampung spirit" which he has tried to preserve when operating the pond.
The 62-year-old said about 60% of the 8,000 visitors he sees monthly know him by his moniker,"Xiaodi", or "little brother", and he hopes business will boom as a result of the trail.
Jamil Rimon, 68, who has lived in Pasir Ris for all of his life, said he was proud that the area has now been recognised by NHB.
He said: "My two sons and daughter all still stay here. I still remember when we used to catch mussels and prawns here, play football in the mud.
"A lot of things have changed since then, but what we can keep, we keep."
The Pasir Ris Heritage Trail's companion guide and map can be downloaded from NHB's heritage portal, Roots.sg. Printed copies of the guide will be available at NHB museums, as well as Our Tampines Gallery at Our Tampines Hub. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network