SINGAPORE: Before Downtown East and Wild Wild Wet, there was the Golden Palace Holiday Resort.
Established in 1967, it was the go-to holiday spot in Pasir Ris for locals in the 1960s and 1970s, with a nightclub, restaurants, chalets, and Chinese-style pavilions that dotted its pond.
Despite its popularity, however, profitability concerns and internal conflict weighed on the resort, which closed down in 1971.
But its legacy lives on. In 1990, the pond became Singapore’s only commercial saltwater fishing pond for people to catch barramundis, snappers and pomfrets.
The 24-hour D’Best Fishing Pond continues to log about 8,000 visitors every month, said Mr Andy Tay, who co-runs the business with his family. It is still a place for old and new Pasir Ris residents – otters included – to gather.
About four years ago, Mr Tay noticed a small family of otters living across at the beach at Pasir Ris Park. He liked them so much that he later ordered customised carbon fibre statues of otters from Malaysia.
Now, there are 13 otter statues floating around the pond.
Mr Tay's fishing outlet, housed within Pasir Ris Town Park, is one of the 23 spots along National Heritage Board’s (NHB) latest heritage trail.
Launched on Thursday (Dec 19), the Pasir Ris Heritage Trail runs 14km long and aims to showcase the eastern neighbourhood's coastal and natural features.
“We hope to instil a greater sense of pride and belonging among residents,” said Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's deputy chief executive of policy and community. “We hope to pique the curiousity of Singaporeans so that they will visit Pasir Ris not just for its recreational offerings, but also to enjoy its unique heritage.”
The self-guided trail can be broken into three thematic routes that take between an hour to 90 minutes to complete by foot.
The Coastal Heritage Trail takes trekkers to places such as Pasir Ris Park’s mangrove forest and Sungei Api Api, Play@Pasir Ris Trail features a walk to recreational areas such as Pasir Ris Town Park and a Bumboat-shaped playground, while Architectural Highlights Trail enable participants to learn about Pasir Ris’ porthole-themed flats and various religious institutions.
Mr Tan said that NHB took about a year and a half to put the trail together, after they combed through the likes of old newspaper and archives, as well as getting anecdotes and photos from 30 people.
Past and present residents of Pasir Ris said the initiative is good as it is important for Singaporeans to know about the town’s colourful history.
Even in the past, Pasir Ris was “already very popular”, said Jamil Rimon, 68, who grew up in Kampong Guan Choon and still lives in Pasir Ris.
He noted the former beach-side Pasir Ris Hotel that opened in 1952. The hotel was a refurbished colonial-era bungalow and became a symbol of the town’s reputation as a getaway destination for society’s elite since the 1890s.
As a child, Mr Jamil used to play football on dry muddy fields and catch all sorts of seafood for his family.
“Last time, (we didn’t) need to go to the market,” he said. He misses rural life but is able to keep the “kampong spirit” going with his old friends, some of whom still stay in Pasir Ris or Tampines.
MANGROVES TO MONASTERY
Along the complete trail, participants will pass by Sungei Api Api, one of two rivers that intersects Pasir Ris. Mangrove trees line the river in front of two rows of HDB flats.
But before these high-rise apartments came about, it was kampongs that surrounded it.
Residents of these villages would collect prawns and shrimp from the river and use them to make Singaporean condiments such as belachan and chincalok, a NHB media release said.
Another site of interest is the Sakya Tenphel Ling, one of the first Tibetan Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. It was established in 1995 and replicates many of the Tibetan temple’s architecture and features, said Ms Regine Wong, a representative of the temple.
For example, parasols with the key Tibetan colours of blue, red, white, yellow and green hang prominently in the temple, while the dung-chen, or Tibetan long horn, is used during ceremonial rituals, she said.
The Pasir Ris Heritage Trail is NHB’s 19th heritage trail. Next year, the agency plans to launch two more under the series in Hougang and Sembawang.
The team started off developing these walks in areas with richer history such as Balestier and Chinatown, said Mr Tan.
Subsequently, they decided to move in to the heartlands “because we wanted to make Singaporeans more aware of their heritage that’s right at their doorstep”.