See Singapore from Sentosa
See Singapore from Sentosa

Waking early to see the mist rising over the South China Sea and lines of tankers waiting to head into port is an unexpected way to view Singapore.

More Singapore:







Later that day I lie by the pool, dip in the sea, visit a former military fort and an aquarium and try out a new trendy bar.

I'm doing all this on the island of Sentosa, Singapore's playground, traditionally used by Singaporean families to escape the stress of working life.

Now it's worth much more than a day trip, as more and more tourists have discovered, making it their base for a stopover or longer holiday.

The slogan is fast becoming, Come to Sentosa and visit Singapore.

Five hundred hectare Sentosa used to be known as Pulau Blakang Mati, the island of the dead, but these days it's the complete opposite with more resorts and entertainment popping up every day.

People reach it from the main island by car, bus, cable car or monorail but the Singapore government is planning a new monorail to replace buses and private cars, and at the same time protect the island.

In the 1880s a malaria outbreak forced the Malays who called Sentosa home to move to Singapore and the British turned it into a military fort, which was part of a ring of British fortresses guarding Singapore harbour.

Today Fort Siloso is a must-see for any history buff, as Singapore's largest repository of World War II memorabilia.

Lifelike wax work displays in the Surrender Chambers recreate the epic British surrender to the Japanese in 1942 as well as the Japanese surrender to Allied forces three years later. There's also moving artwork by prisoners of war and many displays on how the war affected Singaporeans.

In the late '60s, Sentosa had a makeover as a resort destination and now it's full of family attractions, including a Universal Studios, and a Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom at Imbiah Lookout, where you can also take the cable car over to see the Merlion from up high.

You can learn all about Singapore's incredible mix of cultures at the permanent exhibition, Images of Singapore, housed in a former military hospital near Imbiah Lookout.

Other attractions include the Skyline Luge ride (part go-cart, part toboggan) or the Tiger Sky Tower, where you can view the island's man-made beaches and the port of Singapore through a canopy of trees.

Underwater World was my favourite attraction, especially watching the antics of pink dolphins Han and Young and the fur seals. The highly intelligent Indo-Pacific Humpbacked dolphins have bubbly pink coats.

The day is topped off with a cocktail at the Tanjong Beach Club, right on the water, owned by the Lo and Behold Group and two Australian brothers who share a love for the beach.

Meanwhile, Singapore is now the coolest and hippest city on the Asian map, full of great bars and exciting nightlife. The Singapore Tourism Board is making the most of this with a cheeky swipe against Australian perceptions with its latest campaign telling Australians to "Get lost and find the real Singapore".

It's aimed at changing the stereotype of Singapore as just a place for Singapore Slings, chilli crab and the air-conditioned shopping malls of Orchard Road. They want Aussies to see the place as a leisure destination, not just a stopover hub.

Nobody knows the real Singapore better than the "legend of Singapore history and heritage" Geraldene Lowe, who worries that its authentic cultural history might disappear in the not too distant future, giving way to massive landmarks such as the Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino complex.

Over a cup of tea in a small cafe near Orchard Road, she explains the proceeds of the walking tours she conducts go to charity and most of them are linked with the myriad festivals taking places in sometimes little-known temples and streets.

She takes people to see Singapore's former battlefields and has designed a map of these sites, she says as she gives me a potted history of World War II when the island fell and forced her and her family's evacuation.

Particularly popular tours are ones of the historic, colonial "black and white" houses, some of which have now been turned into restaurants and bars.

The next day I am given a sample of one of her tours in Chinatown, including visiting Yong Gallery, a shop full of calligraphy brushes, inks and carved boxes, and a meeting spot for local artists. Here owner Cheh Kai Hon still does traditional Chinese calligraphy, and the ancient art of woodcarving, used originally to print books.

We're told that when a baby is born Chinese parents have paint brushes made using their baby's hair and carved with their baby's name, and this is given back as a 21st birthday present.

If you really must partake in the traditional tourist activities of shopping and eating while in Singapore try trendy Haji Lane near Arab Street for vintage and new clothes (tiny sizes though). Pluck combines a clothes boutique with a Style Emporium Ice Cream Parlour, so you can cool down after a day's hard work of exploring.


For more information: <a rel="nofollow" href=""> </a>; <a rel="nofollow" href=""> </a>;

<a rel="nofollow" href=""> </a>; <a rel="nofollow" href=""> </a>

On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays free guided tours are held of Fort Siloso, some leaving from Imbiah Lookout and some from the fort's tram station. Email:

Underwater World: <a rel="nofollow" href=""> </a>

Tanjong Beach Club: <a rel="nofollow" href=""> </a>

Singapore walking tours. Email: or

Pluck in Haiji Lane: <a rel="nofollow" href=""> </a>


Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort, Singapore, is the only beachfront resort in Sentosa and offers a great buffet breakfast. Visit: <a rel="nofollow" href=""> </a>.

The Shangri-La Singapore is at the top of Orchard Road's high-paced shopping scene. It has an exclusive Valley Wing with its own private driveway and a Champagne Bar, which serves complimentary champagne and canapes all day. Visit: <a rel="nofollow" href=""> </a>

Getting around:

There are a few options to get from Sentosa to Singapore for a day trip including the Sentosa Rider, a bus that goes from the island to final stops at Orchard Road and Marina Bay, the Singapore Cable Car which runs to Mount Faber on the main island across Keppel Harbour and the Sentosa Express, a monorail which terminates at HarbourFront.

  • The writer was a guest of Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort and The Valley Wing, Shangri-La Hotel Singapore.

AAP drp/cd 10-04-12 1107

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save