Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sentosa Island

Wednesday 4 December:   Mount Imbiah, Sentosa Island

While Elaine attended work, Anne, Wendell, and I made a visit to Sentosa Island.  This is a very curious place, and the monorail train that accesses the island is literally a 10 minute walk from our apartment.  You can also reach the island by car (a short bridge, with a toll) or by a gondola, although currently that is not operable-- it is under renovation and will reopen sometime this coming May.

The bridge connecting the main island to Sentosa Island.  Ten minutes from the apartment.
The island has had many uses-- it contained a pineapple plantation in the 1800s, and then became a military post for the British.  During the Japanese occupation it was used as a prison camp.  It was retained as a military post until 1967 when the Singapore government decommissioned it, and began development, primarily as a resort and recreation destination.  It is a very small island (fourth largest of the Singapore islands), and it is only a stone throw from the main island of Singapore, as you can see from the picture.
In the old Malay days the island went by a different name-- Pulau Blakang Mati , which literally translated, means "Island of Death From Behind".  It was sometimes called the "Island of the Death".  However, it was renamed in more recent times to Sentosa, meaning "Place of Peace and Tranquility", obviously an idea promoted by someone employed in the marketing department.  "Place of Peace and Tranquility" has a lot more cachet for a resort area than "Island of Death".
I didn't know what to expect, but upon arrival, it had a similar feel to arriving at Disneyland.  There is a lot of concrete, clean walkways, and the plant life is immaculately manicured.  There are many small shop and cafes to purchase refreshments, or souvenirs.  Furthermore, our access to the island was via the monorail train, so the parallels to Disneyland are evident.

The Sentosa Island monorail leaving Siloso Beach station, as viewed from Imbiah station  (they are not far apart).
There are several resorts (with two golf courses) on the island, and a very large resort/casino under construction (including a Universal Studios theme park). The island currently has several amusement attractions-- a zip-line tour, a butterfly zoo, a theater, an aquarium, and beaches.  There is also a large tower ride (The Tiger Sky Tower, as in Tiger beer) that brings you and 78 of your friends up for a panoramic view of the island and Singapore.  Upon disembarking from the monorail train that brings you to the island, you are met by a large concrete statue of the Merlion-- the fictitious animal mascot of Singapore.  There is a viewing platform from the mouth of the Merlion, that provides an overview of Singapore (access for a fee).

The Merlion at Sentosa

The Merlion fountain walk
There are escalators to bring visitors to the top of the small hill on the island, Imbiah.  You may also tour the island on Segway people movers, or hike on the "nature" trails.  The trails are short (it's a small island), and are suspicously unnatural in a few locations.    There are one or two small water falls, with the names painted in white letters on the "rocks" (concrete?).  (I'm not sure what happens to the water falls if the power fails) There are a few concrete picnic stations and lighting along the way, and portions of the path are on elevated piers with railing.  In any case it is is a pleasant walk that traverses through a natural umbrella of tropical foliage and forest.

Any guess what this area is called?

Anne & Wendell at one of the picnic stations on the Imbiah nature walk
With our visit occurring on a weekday with school in session, there were many young students on field trips present.  One class group was broken into several teams-- blue team, red team, green etc with appropriately colored tee shirts.  A timed competition was underway between the teams to locate items on a list along the nature walk--  a scavenger hunt of sorts.  Apparently Sentosa is a destination for this type of school event.

Sunday 17 January:  Siloso Beach
We returned from our Christmas visit to Boise yesterday, and are still feeling the effects of jet lag.  Elaine and I thought a short Sunday expedition would be a good transition (in the sunlight), as she returns to work Monday morning.   A visit to Sentosa (Elaine's first) was decided, and we proceeded down the hill (15 minute walk) to take the short monorail ride out to the island.
On our ride out here, the construction on the casino/resort has obviously made much progress, although still not complete.  There has been some controversy in the news here about the project--  the resort has plans to hire upwards of 10,000 workers and was supposed to open this past August.  Promises of employment have been made to many people, only to have their employment (and salaries) held in limbo by the delayed completion and opening of the resort.  Those that have left their current employment have been left in the financial lurch.
On this visit, we decided to go down to the beach area.  There are three beaches-- Palawan Beach, Siloso Beach, and Tanjong Beach, with Siloso the largest of the three (apparently-- we only visited Siloso).  We took the beach walk to take in the sights of Siloso.  It is perhaps similar to a Southern California beach (on a much smaller scale), with a few life guards, and restaurants and small shops along the beach.   The beach is small, and has clean white sand, with no surf to speak of--  the beach is artificial, constructed from imported sand.  A small lagoon shelters the swimming area, and there are sea kayaks available for hire.    I also saw some beach volleyball in play, so that might be fun sometime.  There is also a small beach hotel resort in this area.

Siloso Beach swim area
The only negative aspect of the beach, in my opinion was the proximity of many container ships anchored offshore, as Sentosa is quite close to one of the harbor ports for Singapore. My bias comes from considering container ships an unusual visual fixture for a beach.  However, the ships are mostly visually screened by a offshore island (forming the lagoon area), and there are cabanas and chaise lounges for rent.  A day in the chaise would make for a pleasant afternoon, assuming a mild breeze was present to mitigate the tropical heat  (in my opinion).  Singapore Slings might also be a nice touch.

The view of Siloso beach from the Imbiah monorail station.  An indoor (simulated) sky diving ride is under construction in the area with the blue tarps.  As you can see, Singapore has an active maritime port, with this area Keppel Harbor, being only one of several ports in Singapore.
One of the particularly "cool" activities available at the beach  (I plan to try this sometime) is the Wave House--  a powerfully jetted pool that simulates surfing or wakeboarding.  You get on the board at the bottom of the pool, and carefully advance to a standing position to ride the jet current.  Should you biff, (which is likely--  most people we watched did so almost immediately) the jet current washes you to the top of the pool.  Looks like fun.

Wave machine at Siloso Beach

Another activity available is a trapeze (thankfully with a net).  Perhaps I'll pass on that one.

The trapeze at Siloso Beach
Elaine and I shared a pizza and drinks at the beachfront cafe before walking back to the monorail station and heading home.

Update:  January 20:  A Much Awaited Opening
Today the Resort World Sentosa had its "soft opening"-- a phased opening of the Sentosa Island development project.  The project is part of a government strategy to ease Singapore's economic dependence on the manufacturing sector, and develop a tourism economy element.  The government eased the way for the casino development by legalizing casino gambling in 2005, and providing licenses to two planned resorts for Singapore.
Four hotels, with 1350 rooms opened for business at the island resort, with an additional 500 rooms available next year.  Future phases of the project will include a casino, a marine life park, a maritime museum, and a Universal Studios theme park.  And don't forget the retail shopping, that will open soon too.
The island resort development is a S$4.4 B investment.  According to the news release, the hotel already has strong bookings, primarily from local Singaporeans, for the Chinese New Year holiday.  It is anticipated that when all phases are on line, 6 of 10 tourists will be foreign, with over 25% coming from China.
A second enormous casino/resort project is under construction in the downtown area, with an ~ S$6 B investment.

Construction of the downtown (Las Vegas Sands Resorts, Inc) casino/hotel development. The project has been delayed because of engineering problems with the filled land.
(View from the Singapore Flyer)

No comments:

Post a Comment