The life-affirming joys of immersing oneself in a new culture.
Anyone can travel, but not everyone gets the opportunity to know a place for what it truly is.
Luxury travel, as we know it today, is about having access to hidden gems and cultural experiences that can’t be found with a couple of mouse clicks. Having extensive local knowledge of a foreign destination is what separates the average traveller from the worldly adventurer. It’s a rare joy to go somewhere new and be able to appreciate a culture in its purest form, untainted by tourist traps and hotspots.
Whether it is access to skilled local artisans or traditional cultural ceremonies, travel has become more about knowing than showing. Travelling lavishly isn’t all about yacht-like luxuries – as we’ve discussed before. Here, we explore the luxury of being able to fully immerse yourself in a new culture.
Delving into local culture often involves exploring enclaves outside of tourist hubs. In Singapore, while most visitors head to shopping boulevards such as Orchard Road, worldly travellers may be more inclined to head eastwards to the historic Peranakan neighbourhood of Joo Chiat. Peranakans remain one of the most diverse and distinct cultures in Singapore. The first Peranakans were Chinese immigrants who sought new homes on the Malay Peninsula. Today, their traditions and practices reflect an eclectic hybrid of Chinese roots and Arab, Indian and European influences.
To uncover the lives and stories of the Peranakans requires an immersive exploration of Joo Chiat. Take a stroll along Koon Seng Road and soak in the colourful facades of traditional shophouses, many built in 1920, decorated with intricate ceramic craftwork. Next, further your education by studying Peranakan wares. A Joo Chiat must is The Intan, a local haven for Peranakan treasures from jewellery to furnishings. If you fancy a souvenir, a popular keepsake is a pair of hand-beaded Peranakan slippers covered in intricate motifs of flowers, birds and butterflies.
Closer to the museum district of Bras Basah and Bugis is the one-of-a-kind Peranakan Museum, home to one of the finest collections of Peranakan objects and art in the world. Through curated exhibits and special curator tours, trace the origins and customs of the Straits Chinese that have shaped the multi-ethnic identity of Singapore.
Your Peranakan immersion doesn’t have to end when you get back to the comfort of your hotel room. The InterContinental Singapore in Bugis lets you go from street to suite, with newly renovated rooms detailed with Peranakan influences that seek to inspire the adventurer in you. Its Heritage Wing is particularly special: rooms and suites feature timber floorings and duck-egg blue panelling, as well as louvred windows and wooden shutters overlooking the streets below, reminiscent of shophouse living of yesteryears.
Encountering a destination’s local artisans can leave you with unforgettable memories, and every culture has traditional experiences that aren’t found in guide books. It may be commonplace to see a Japanese katana, the sword of samurais, in a museum, but only an expert would know the Tokyo address where you can witness one forged. Toki, an organisation that specialises in curating authentic Japanese experiences (many that aren’t accessible to the public) will take you to the workshop of the renowned swordsmith Yoshindo Yoshihara to see this historical tradition come to life.
With its curved, slender, blade and long grip, the katana has become a storied symbol in Japanese culture, with a history stemming as far back as the Kamakura period in the early 1100s. Its reputation as the quickest and deadliest weapon of choice in close combat has only added to its fascinating legacy. Today, Yoshihara is one of only 300 swordsmiths in Japan active in the tradition and one of 30 who is able to make swordsmithing their sole occupation.
Experiences like these highlight Tokyo’s allure as a place where hyper-futurism and sacred traditions happily co-exist. Another fine example is Jidayubori Park, 45 minutes by subway from the neon lights of Shibuya. The serene compound is home to a group of traditional thatched roof farmhouses dating back to the late-Edo period. Stepping inside is like travelling back in time, where life slows to a languid pace. Here, the local community continues to practise traditional skills and crafts, such as cotton-weaving, blacksmithing and the production of indigo dye.
Even the worldliest of travellers will find Jidayubori a welcome respite from the stresses of modern life, and be reminded that, sometimes, the best way to see the world is to stand still.
Discovering the undiscovered is an essential element of an immersive cultural experience, but there is something to be said about seeing in real life what some can only see on postcards. Even for the most discerning traveller, it would be almost criminal to explore Sydney without getting up close with the swooping roof of the Sydney Opera House. Landmarks are international icons of a destination; it’s why even the savviest souls take a dip at the Bondi Icebergs Club or ascend the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Quiz Sydneysiders on the icons of their beloved city, however, and you will unearth places that will ignite your imagination, even if they aren’t necessarily postcard perfect. One is Kings Cross, the infamous neighbourhood once ruled by criminal gangs in the 1920s, and the former meeting place for bohemians, beatniks and other misfits who partied away in dance halls and raucous nightclubs. Today, the area’s seedier establishments are gradually giving way to hipster coffee shops, but its stories will never fade. Walking tours of Kings Cross are the best way to live and breathe the streets, including one titled ‘Razor Wars of the 1920s and ’30s’ where knowledgeable guides share entertaining tales of Sydney’s most notorious female gang leaders, such as Tilly Devine, Kate Leigh and Nellie Cameron, who defended their turf with violence and bloodshed.
From national markers to local troves, authentically experiencing a different culture can open your eyes to the beauty that lies within our differences. Anyone can travel, but not everyone gets the opportunity to know a place for what it truly is. With so many experiences to be had and cultures to uncover, there is no better time than now to start your adventure.
Live the InterContinental life
To travel luxuriously is to uncover and explore the local culture. Immersing in the rich tapestry of stories not only enriches the mind but also builds a sense of worldliness and belonging, so take a multi-sensory journey into the InterContinental life and discover a unique perspective wherever you go.