Sentosa Island is the star of most Singapore itineraries and that made me instantly wary of it. It seemed to be like the Marine Drive of Mumbai or the Taj Mahal of India – that one place that every tourist must go to, no matter what. But unlike Marine Drive or Taj Mahal, this one isn’t a monument or a natural marvel. It is, horror of horrors, an amusement park complex with tons of rides, activities and everything else that I absolutely dislike.
In my imagination, Sentosa Island was a crowded place teeming with unruly kids and long queues for rides that were sure to make me nauseous. What’s worse, it appeared to be a real hole burner in my wallet, with entry to the main attractions bordering on 50 to 100 SGD. But I’m happy to say that reality panned out quite differently. Not only did I not spend a single penny, I managed to have an enjoyable half day there and found more than a few moments that took my breath away. Let me tell you how it all happened.
- Walk along the Sentosa boardwalk
After a morning spent exploring the museums of Bras Basah Bugis and the mythological sculptures at Haw Par Villa, a Chinese theme park, I was ready for a dose of good, old urban Singapore. “No more gardens!” my weary feet said and I was inclined to comply. I took a metro to HarbourFront station, took the exit to VivoCity and then assessed my options. I could either pay for the Sentosa Island Monorail and zip through to Sentosa Island or take the leisurely boardwalk and get there in 20 minutes. Money notwithstanding, walking is perhaps my favourite thing in the world after reading and writing. So, the boardwalk it was!
Half the boardwalk consisted of moving walkways which speeded up the process and allowed me to rest our tired feet. On the right side, I was treated to panoramic views of the sea, the cable cars tracing a steady arc in the sky and little boats and buildings in the distance. Now and then, I’d step off the boardwalk and sit on the warm benches, gazing at the sea and taking swigs of a liquid intoxicant stashed in my bag. It made for a relaxing walk indeed.
P.S.: Use of the boardwalk was free during the SG50 celebrations month, which is when I went. I believe they charge a small fee now.
- Sit by the waterfall and explore the caverns
When you enter Sentosa Island through the boardwalk, you’ll find that most of the main attractions are to your right. But if you veer left, you’ll find yourself in a cool sandstone cavern by a tranquil waterfall. I sat on the slippery rocks and marvelled at the hanging structures in the cave. The best part was I was absolutely alone – the other visitors were probably too busy forking up money to enter Universal Studios!
- Pose in front of Universal Studios and the casino
Say you really don’t feel like spending all day at Universal Studios but your friends and family back home will greet you with aghast expressions if you do tell them that. What you do is pose in front of the rotating Universal Studios globe and look suitably excited for a photograph. It makes for a great picture anyway! There is also a casino inside the glitzy mall and I was extremely curious about its internal goings-on. Alas, there was a fee to merely enter the casino. So I satisfied myself with a photo at its entrance (thankfully, there’s no fee for that).
- Enjoy the Merlion walk
I think it’s really funny that a half-lion is the mascot of Singapore though lions have never roamed the island in all probability! The story goes that the founder of the island, Sang Nila Utama, saw a Malayan tiger and mistook it for a lion. So today, you see the lion everywhere in Singapore and it’s even called the Lion City. Ah well, one good thing that came out of it is the spectacular Merlion at Sentosa Island. The Sentosa Merlion is much more impressive than the original Merlion sculpture at One Fullerton, especially in the night when it’s all decked up in lights and colours. Heading away from the mall, I spotted the Merlion in the distance and embarked on the mesmerising Merlion walk. It took me through lagoons, modern art and steps full of chattering tourists. For a fee, you can get inside the Merlion as well, but I was happy enough being so close to it.
- Soak in the view at Sentosa beach
At the end of the Merlion walk, I walked across a garden and began descending a flight of steep, zig zag stairs, lit up in a different colour after every few minutes. Gold, green and purple were definitely among the battery of colours that illuminated those stairs. When I came down, I realised I was quite close to the sea and also attractions such as laser shows and an indoor bungee jumping complex. Through a crack in the wall, I saw some of the laser show and a bird emerged out of forks of coloured, rocketing sprays of water. Pulling myself away from that marvel, I saw that there were different beaches to my right and left. I chose to go right and after some time, found the way leading down to Siloso Beach.
The soft sand, a cool breeze and the calming cover of the night was just what I needed after a day of walking, exploring, photographing and absorbing. The beach, with its lazy bars and shacks reminded me of Goa. I flopped down on a lounge chair and stared into the sea. A young couple played with their child on the shore. After a while, I went to dip my toes into the waves as well. Alas, when I returned, the shack waiters had wisened up to the fact that I hadn’t ordered anything and asked me to vacate the chair. I was quite content to sit on the bare sand and allow Singapore to sift through my fingers.
- Watch the mesmerising crane dance
I had no idea I was in for such a fantastic treat when I chanced upon the signboard for a ‘crane dance’ and took my seat on a flight of steps facing the sea. After a brief wait, a circular island-like structure in the middle of the sea lit up and from the centre, there emerged two gigantic ‘cranes’, designed like robots that could move, although they were anchored to one spot. An eerily beautiful music had me suspended in the web of the love story the two cranes spun. To symbolise feelings, multi-coloured water would pour forth from their ‘hearts’. Videos reminiscent of the visual graphics in Windows Media Player played on screens on their chests. Their arms moved gracefully and at one point, the cranes even kissed. I’m not sure what exactly the plot was, but the story seemed to have a happy ending. I don’t think you can see a robotic crane dance in the middle of the sea anywhere else in the world. You have to see it to believe it.
- Walk along the river in the night
I had spent an unprecedented and absolutely wonderful evening in Sentosa Island. With the applause for the unworldly crane dance ringing in our ears, I walked along the coastline, enjoying the silence and the shimmering reflections of the city’s colours and lights. Whatever you do, don’t leave Sentosa Island without a quiet walk along its shores and causeways. Here in the midst of modern Singapore’s best tourist innovations, I felt the vibrant heart of the city and I can say that despite the mishmash of Malaysian and Indonesian cultural influences, Singapore has something truly unique to offer even the cash-strapped tourist.
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