Bear with me whilst I have a little meander down memory lane won’t you?
Years ago when I was young, free and full of bullshit, err…I mean adventurous spirit, my BFF and I decided to give up our jobs, our homes (well, I left mine with my then boyfriend) and our families to travel to the wonderful land of Oz. We booked our flight and didn’t pay much attention to the stop over destination. We just agreed that a few days in some place called Singapore would be an ok idea.
I remember getting off the aeroplane, finding the bus stop then walking for miles looking for a hostel. We checked in to a not-so-great looking place where flip flops were a necessity when visiting the bathroom and downstairs was a cafe frequented all through the night by labourers. I have no idea to this day where we stayed I just remember my friend fell down one of the storm drains whilst we were crossing the road and I thought this was hilarious. What I do remember is taking the cable car one day across to Sentosa Island. We only went there as it was in the tourist guide and there didn’t seem much else to do (sharp intake of breath from everyone).
It was all very low key. Some kind of nature walk and a mono rail, but that was pretty much it. What stands out in my memory was discovering the ‘beach’. A line of palm trees in front of the Rasa hotel through which was the merest hint of sand. Walking through the trees revealed this magic patch of sand with a few straw umbrellas dotted around. My friend and I whiled away an hour or two chatting, planning, bullshitting no doubt. But it was lovely. Peaceful, serene even. And yes, there were tankers sailing by just across the way. That was 1996.
Years later, with a husband (the aforementioned house sitting boyfriend no less), a couple of children and a whole life time on I came back to Sentosa. We were there, again on a stopover to Oz. In that weird way that life has, we were actually on our way to visit my BFF who had never left Sydney all those years before. After saying ‘see you up the coast’ as she had a job that was keeping her in Sydney for a few more weeks, we bid farewell. Then my BFF met and fell in love with her now hubby and never made it.
Anyway, I digress. So, there I was with my little family and the beach was just as I remembered really – the line of palm trees, the patch of sand with the umbrellas shading just a few people, all still fairly low key. Except it was now called Siloso Beach, well that patch of it was anyway. This was 2004.
By this time there was also the aquarium on Sentosa – a big shiny attraction with dolphins to swim with, huge tanks, petting pools and so on. There was also a few other things to see such as the musical fountain and a butterfly park, there were a few restaurants dotted along the beaches too. There was even a tram that could take you from one end to the other.
My hubby, myself and our two young boys – took the tram to visit the Merlion. This 37m towering giant was a sight to behold – and a sight that catches your eye as you enter Sentosa across the causeway bridge. Well, it used to – more of that later. Night or day it looks amazing. Standing proud of all of its surroundings. Well, it used to – but more of that later!
We went up to the observation deck at the top of the Merlion’s head, stood and roared in its mouth and had the obligatory tourist shot taken. We went back at night too when the Merlion takes on a whole new feel with it’s beady eyes shooting out laser beams, and its mermaid scales that twinkle with thousands of lights as the water gushing around it sparkles.
I know, I’m a little bit in love with the Merlion.
From that visit though it didn’t seem that that much had changed on Sentosa apart from the odd new place to eat and things were a bit more polished for the tourists. A few years later though and it was a whole new story.
With hubby’s work now bringing him to Singapore more and more we would come with him on work based holidays. By now we had a new addition to the family too. So, he’d work for a week whilst me and the kids holidayed – hubby would then join us for a week. Each time we chose to stay on Sentosa. Each time it changed a little bit more. First, the restaurants grew, then a few more attractions were being advertised – Songs of The Sea, Images of Singapore and so on. Then, my husband heard the rumours that there was going to be a Universal Studios resort built there. This was around 2008.
What? On our lovely serene Sentosa. Don’t be daft.
The next year when we visited we could see the skeleton of what was to become this mammoth building project taking shape. I didn’t like it.
After a few years of being away, in 2012 we returned and the change was amazing. In fact, it was jaw dropping. My husband had given us updates each time he’d been over. That the park was pretty much taking over the whole of Sentosa. That you could see it as you came up towards Sentosa Gateway. That it was now a fully fledged tourist attraction. But nothing could prepare us for this amazing new mini town with its huge fairy tale castle, sky scraping hotels and hair-raising rides, restaurants, shows and much more.
You could see it as you drove across the causeway. In fact, it kind of hits you around the gob full on. And here I quietly stifle a sob.
My poor majestic Merlion no longer stands proud and tall over Sentosa. Instead, he has been hidden away behind the buildings, rides and general stuff that make up a world famous theme park. Now, you’re lucky to spot him as you drive around the bend towards the beach.
But, I have to say, it is spectacular and for Singapore it does add an element that was missing. Or, an element that tourists couldn’t see or find before so easily. Fun!
Nowadays if you head to Sentosa you are going knowing full well you’ll be spending the day having fun. Whether it’s visiting the Images of Singapore exhibition (wonderful), skimming the treetops on the 450m long megazip ride (my Son tells me it’s amazing), flying down the luge (the best fun ever), cooling down at the Port of Lost Wonder (great for younger kids), watching the stunning water and laser show (worth the $15 or so) or meandering around the butterfly park (good fun).
There is so much to do you need a whole weekend at least. And that’s without stopping for food. On that note, a mention to one of our favourite spots in Singapore – Coastes restaurant. The best place to kick off your shoes, sink your feet in the sand, grab something cold to drink and chill. We go there often on a Sunday after taking our dog for his Sunday morning dip at Tanjong Beach. The fish and chips is always fab, the all day brekkie is good too.
And what of Universal Studios; Singapore’s answer to Disney land? It is fab, I can’t deny it. My kids love it and would go every weekend if they could. It has some great rides, is clean, well laid out, easy to access and never so busy you want to scream (well not much anyway). It does add an element to Singapore that was perhaps missing. I just wish they’d given some more thought to the poor old Merlion and his view. Still, he seems quite happy as he now has an even sparklier walk up to see him.
And, this, as it turns out is just part one of my Sentosa story. A friend of mine recently moved to Sentosa so I went for a little wander around the residential area one day whilst waiting for her to let me in for a cuppa. Oh my. It’s a whole new world! And, there’s another story…