It wasn’t cheap even though we tried
A friend recently visiting Singapore for the first time asked if there were any overrated tourist destinations they should avoid.
“Sentosa,” I told her.
She was chagrined, since she already planned to spend an entire day on the 5km-long island off the southern tip of Singapore. “Why?” she queried.
The beaches are boring. The food is overpriced. The tourist traps are tacky.
This was an opinion I generated after two visits to Sentosa. The first trip was shortly after we moved to Singapore in the midst of the pandemic. We had to make a reservation to go to the beach. We were allowed to stay for one hour.
At the restaurant for lunch our family of four had to split up between two tables. It was a stressful day trip to the beach.
Our second visit to Sentosa was a rainy day at Universal Studios Singapore.
My memories of Sentosa were tainted. After my friend’s visit, our family made our third visit to Sentosa. We had a pleasant time. The new memories are a bit brighter.
Here’s what changed my perception of the land of “peace and tranquility.”
The Cable Car
My two boys are obsessed with modes of transportation. The more obscure the better. On our first trip to Sentosa, they marveled at the monorail that took us from VivoCity on the mainland across Keppel Harbour to Sentosa.
However, we eschewed the cable car and traveled about the island on foot. It was blazing hot, and we straggled down the scorching sidewalk like freshmen on the last leg of the tuba club’s annual bar hop.
Amidst our sweltering misery, we watched the cable cars in the sky above, easily glide from place to place across the island. “Suckers,” I thought. Walking is free.
However, we were the sticky suckers hauling bags of swim gear, toys, snacks and water bottles from one end of the island to the other (there is mind you, a free tram traveling between the beaches).
We wised up on our third trip to Sentosa. Tickets aren’t cheap – about $100~$150 for a family of four – but we purchased a Cable Car Sky Pass.
We discovered the best views of Sentosa from the cable car. The peaceful trip that took us over seas, mountains, and cities kept the kids entertained for a spell while us old folks could catch our breath before the next adventure.
We started our day on Mount Faber, which is not on Sentosa, and is not a mountain. But it is connected to Sentosa by cable car.
Mount Faber is a 300-foot hill that is shorter than our condo building. Still, it’s a lovely spot of greenery amidst Singapore’s business district.
Start your journey on the cable car at VivoCity. Instead of riding out to sea, head inland to the mountain. To be honest, there isn’t much of a view from Mount Faber. But there are some nice restaurants.
We were pleasantly surprised by the Arbora Hilltop Garden and Bistro. It’s spacious, bright interior is complemented by the wood fashionings. The food is Western-Asian fusion, and delicious. Their cocktails = yummy. All for a relatively reasonable price.
We got there right as they opened and were able to nab one of the few non-reserved tables. Reservations are definitely recommended.
Tummies full, hop back on the cable car and head to the day’s destination: Sentosa.
When my friend asked about Sentosa, my “meh” attitude was mainly aimed at the manmade beaches.
Sentosa Island was originally covered in rainforest, and mosquitoes. It was called Pulau Belakang Mati, or “Island of Death Behind.”
It could be fun to associate this name with the island’s past reputation as a pirate enclave, for its malarial outbreaks that wiped out Bugis settlers, or for the time during World War II when the occupying Japanese commandeered the existing military forts to be used as prisoner of war camps.
Most likely, according to Wikipedia, the morbid name may derive from nautical voyagers who discovered still, or “dead,” wind behind the island.
Whatever the reason, the name is gone. In the 1970s the tourism promotion board came up with the much more inviting name Sentosa, meaning “peace and tranquility.”
Over the past 50 years more than $1 billion has been put in to revitalizing the island. Once covered in military installations, it is now home to mega zip lines, 4-D theaters, indoor surf waves, the world’s largest themed vertical wind tunnel, and gelato stands.
It also has three artificial beaches open to the general public – Siloso Beach, Palawan Beach, and Tanjong Beach.
They are beaches. With soft, white sand. There is decent, turquoise water. The horizon view is lined with transport ships. Underneath the surface the water is murky and kelpy. Snorkeling is a venture in futility.
We went to Siloso Beach first. It is the westernmost beach. It is family- and sports-friendly.
On our latest trip to Sentosa we went to the Palawan Beach. The centermost beach, it is busier and more crowded with rowdy teenagers. You can walk across the suspension bridge to a small island said to be the southernmost point of Asia – or Asia’s closest point to the Equator. That’s kind of neat.
Point being, nobody is coming to Sentosa (or Singapore for that matter) for the beaches. Sentosa as a sum is greater than its parts.
Resorts World Sentosa is home to the aforementioned Universal Studios, an aquarium, a water park, and a casino. The island has a topnotch golf course. There are resorts, spas, high-class restaurants, other stuff I can’t afford.
The stuff we could afford included the inflatable water park and the Skyline luge. I would like to check out the butterfly park.
There is a whole lot to do in Sentosa, and is worth one day out of your life.