TOURISTS who end up going to Singapore now head straight for the cosmopolitan appeal of world-class cuisine and global brand names. A local Brunei traveller once tweeted that "Singapore has anything and everything that money can buy", and to some extent this statement is true.
Singapore's skylines are getting higher and higher, and buildings and technology are transforming this island into one of the top holiday destinations in Asia.
While the modern aspect of Singapore is gaining popularity year-on-year, it's the less modern areas of Singapore that travellers are starting to forget.
People tend to forget that as much as Singapore is the epitome of Asian development, it is also rich in cultural diversity, and the best way to go about experiencing that is through a trishaw ride.
Travellers who wish to take a short trishaw tour around the cultural village of Singapore can make their way down to the Albert Court Village Hotel, located in the heart of Arab Street and Little India. What used to be pre-war shoplot was refurbished in the 1990s into a hotel that maintains its colonial exterior.
The Albert Court hotel boasts a trishaw ride which allows guests to hop on a 15 to 20 minute tour around the area and this is where tourists will be taken back to a time in Singapore where buildings were not more than a few storeys high and the shops seen aren't flashy or franchised.
The yellow trishaw that guests will be riding are driven by elderly Chinese uncles who may look quite feeble due to their age. But do not be fooled, these uncles ride the estimated 10km route at least three times a day.
Trishaw is the oldest form of transport in Singapore and gone are the days when a trishaw is made out of wood or thin metal.
Now, trishaws are built to be sturdier and have a touch of technology. Most trishaws are equipped with a modest sound system, so most travellers have their own "trishaw soundtrack".
The tour starts off leaving the hotel and passing by the famed La Salle College of the Arts, possibly the only 'modern' building you'll see for the rest of the way. Tourists can pop by the campus' cafe called 15 Minutes and marvel at the architecture. A suggestion would be to travel with the roof up as Singapore's heat is just as brutal as their taxi fare.
Riding along the Serangoon Road will lead travellers to the famed Tekka Centre, which is a blue building complex with a wet market, a food court and shops. One trishaw driver said that anything and nearly everything can be bought there - from Chinese prayer items to inexpensive clothes from China and Hong Kong and even herbs and spices. This building is a Singaporean cultural mixing pot where many Indians, Chinese and Malay shop owners congregate to conduct their daily business.
In what's known as 'Little India', travellers can see the variety of rows and shop houses and one doesn't need to get down from the trishaw to see the activities there. Most shops and restaurants are open air, which is excellent for travellers who want to have a sample of Indian delicacy being served at that time. Passing by the restaurants in Little India, travellers can see many tourists and locals in the same restaurant having lunch or afternoon tea. The scent of Indian spices fill the air around the restaurant so from a trishaw, travellers can mentally note which restaurant they want to try.
This is the reason why it is better to take a trishaw ride before exploring Little India and Arab Street. Without seeing what the whole area has to offer, just wandering around would mean that travellers could miss out on an even better restaurant or shop.
Along the Serangoon Road, tourists have to look out for the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, one of the oldest Hindu temples in Singapore and even on a normal day, much activity can be seen. The temple has carved figurines built by Tamils in the early 1935.
Along Syed Alwi Road is the famed Mustafa Centre, Singapore's only 24-hour shopping centre. Don't expect the glitz and glamour stores that one can find on Orchard Road because this shopping centre consists of a supermarket which sells items such as CDs and DVDs, electronic goods, household appliances and inexpensive clothing and footwear.
Once you hit Arab Street, travellers will notice a slight change in the shops, and the restaurants, from mostly vegetarian and curry houses, they'll notice more halal cuisine, Lebanese food and textile and carpet stores. Many of the shoplots still have the same tiles that it was built with and the same interiors that have remained unchanged throughout the years.
It is impossible to fully express how a simple trishaw ride encapsules the cultural heritage and diversity of Singapore but the best and only way to experience it is to do it.
Instead of rushing straight to the shopping malls and the five-star restaurants, travellers should make their way down for a trishaw ride and try some of the most incredible Indian and halal food Singapore has to offer.The Brunei Times
Thursday, May 10, 2012
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