Sentosa Island, Singapore. Originally called Pulau Blakang Mati (Island of Death from Behind), this tiny island had been a British Naval Fortress, home of the British forces in Singapore and a powerful defence against attack from the Straits of Malacca. Unfortunately, it proved to be woefully ineffective against the land-based invasion the Japanese launched in 1941.
In the 1970s, the island was renamed Sentosa and turned into a theme park style resort, providing a playground for Singaporeans and a worthwhile tourist attraction. It was Singapore’s glamour piece for 20 years or more, before becoming worn out and somewhat “old hat” when stacked up against other attractions around the city.
However, Sentosa has recently undergone a major revamp and has been reborn as a somewhat more upmarket location. Attractions include a two-kilometre long sheltered beach, Fort Siloso, two golf courses and two five-star hotels, and the Resorts World Sentosa, featuring the theme park Universal Studios Singapore.The old Sentosa had a small camping ground with a few grass-hut shelters for hire. The new Sentosa has a cluster of resort style hotels surrounded by fine dining outlets and chic coffee lounges.
We spent 3 nights at the new Mövenpick Hotel, part of the famous Swiss chain. We found a budget priced deal on the Internet some time back but even so the rate was a shock after the financial ease of Lombok and Bali. The hotel is only half complete, the new building being in operation while work on restoring the old British army barracks goes on. The rooms are spacious and beautifully appointed, right down to the espresso machine. The pool is 25 metre job with glass walls on 2 sides, giving a strange underwater view of swimmers. It is excellent for lap swimming but useless for a bit of subsurface hanky-panky.
Movement around the island is easy. At first, we used the monorail to go down to the nearby beach, until we realised that the monorail actually covers very easily walkable distances. The beach area also has some good cheap eateries. The beach, like everything on Sentosa, is completely artificial, being made of imported white sand (purchased from Malaysia) and protected from the rougher waters of the Straits of Malacca by artificial islands and rock walls. The system works, making a very useable and comfortable beach.
We used the monorail for travelling to and from the mainland. It is about 900m across to Harbourfront and the fabulous VivoCity, the largest shopping mall in a nation made of giant shopping malls. The old monorail that used to service the island itself has gone, replaced by open buses but we tended to walk around much of the island area. Another wonderful new method of accessing Sentosa from the mainland is a covered walkway across the causeway. It includes a travellator and it is a lot of fun to travel on this at a brisk walk, covering the ground at what would be a good jogging speed but without the effort.
Most major attractions on the island are expensive. An amazing flying simulator where you can experience the sensation of flight in a column of very fast updraft air costs around $75. There seems no shortage of people prepared to pay over another $70 to tour around on a Segway scooter for an hour or $35 to ride a road luge down the hill, followed by a ski lift back to the top. A day of fun can cost a lot, although some of the all day package sets make good sense. We avoided all, mostly because we have done these or similar things before but also because we prefer to spend our dollars elsewhere. There is so much to do that is free. As hotel guests, we have unlimited free access to the island. Even so, access via the walkway only costs $2. One night, we watched an amazing mechanical and light presentation of a crane dance, set on the harbour front. Another night, we watched a laser light, fountain and musical production called “Song of the Sea” for $15, hardly breaking the bank, and providing a great night’s entertainment. All around, the scenery, lights, street theatre and demonstrations provide continual free entertainment. We also used the jogging track and fitness equipment provided down on the beach. We had a lot of fun just sitting around watching others. I think that at any vantage point on the island one can see at least three couples posing for photographs. Walking around was often made more difficult because of the need to avoid cutting across someone’s photo shoot. It is tourism to the max and heavily influenced by the Japanese packaged tour way of doing things. In short, it is like living in a fairy land 24 hours a day.
We did come to realise that a stay on Sentosa is best done during the week. On the weekend, the prices of all the attractions rises and the crowds become almost unmanageable. On Saturday, there was a huge pop concert and all-night beach party just down the road. It was timed to go through the night, with the last act playing 5-7am. We ended up going to sleep to the sound of festivities in the ballroom below us. In the morning, we were up early for a walk and to do a fitness circuit. On leaving the hotel, we found a world filled with the walking dead. There were hung-over people at every turn. At breakfast, many tables seemed to have young people just staring vacantly at a plate of food. Oh well! Been there, done that!
Despite the artificial nature of the island, there is enough remnant vegetation to give some insight into what Singapore must have been like before it was turned into one of the World’s great concrete jungles. Pockets of beautiful creeper-draped forest still exist in places and an early morning excursion will reveal some wonderful bird life and scurrying squirrels out and about. Beautiful butterflies and jewelled beetles are common but thankfully the mosquitoes that plagued the island with malaria early last century have departed.
With the Singapore MRT available just across the Sentosa bridge at Harbourfront, a stay on Sentosa is well worthwhile and adds a different dimension to staying in Singapore. We loved every minute of our 3 night stay and missed it when we moved over to a more conventional hotel in Lavender. By our standards, the price is high but we’ll keep an eye out for specials and promotions.