In Florida it’s the Magic Kingdom, Californian’s head to Universal Studios, and the French get their thrills at Disneyland Paris. From Alton Towers in the UK to the towering lights of the Las Vegas strip, our need for fun, thrills and spills is tangible and not exactly limited by choice.
Take Singaporeans for example. Their tiny island city is a built-up maze of high rise office towers, glitzy malls and crowded streets. There’s barely enough room to bow politely on famous Orchard Road, let alone whizz through the air on a rollercoaster or two. So when it comes to taking time off and letting their hair down, the Singaporeans head south, to the even tinier island of Sentosa, where partying is the only option.
Sentosa is so small that if you blink you might miss it. Covering less than 1.9 square miles it sits just off Singapore’s southern coastline, separated only by the busy shipping channel of the Singapore Strait. But despite its size it is the destination of choice for theme parks, glamorous nightclubs, animal attractions and picturesque beaches in this part of Asia. It’s the Orlando of the Far East. Even getting to Sentosa Island is an attraction of its own, because aside from the usual ferries to bring visitors in from the mainland, there’s a more unusual choice of gondola ride or moving travelator to help you bridge the gap.
The island’s biggest attraction is undoubtedly its own Universal Studios with eighteen of the rides completely unique to this park. The island’s Marine Life Park runs a very close second. Boasting the world’s largest aquarium featuring over 800 different species of marine animals, it’s an underwater adventure that attracts visitors from around the globe. Sharks, turtles and a variety of rays that most visitors will never have seen before can be watched from behind mammoth glass walls that give an impressive view of the underwater world.
By day the island is vibrant and lively with busy shopping malls, modern hotel resorts and street vendors hogging pedestrian precincts. Shopping on Sentosa Island is every bit as exclusive as it is in Singapore itself. Famous for inexpensive but big brand electronics, tourists also flock to Sentosa to pick up designer clothing and expensive jewellery.
Imbiah Lookout is a mall with a difference. Sitting in the heart of Sentosa, where the gondola from Singapore drops off excited riders, it’s filled with unusual boutiques and interesting trinkets. For a few Singapore dollars you can become the proud owner of your own wall-mounted butterfly collection of a jar of Chng Kee’s authentic home-style spice mix.
By night, the island lights up with laser displays and vibrant nightclubs pumping music out of open doorways until the early hours of the morning.
The entire island is styled like one big theme park, with monorails and free buses transporting visitors from one end to the next, and it’s not a bad idea to hop on board a circular route when you first arrive to get a great overview of everything there is to do here.
One of the most visible attractions is Mount Imbiah, a large hill on Sentosa that is worthy of a climb. At its top sits the remains of an old British gun emplacement that was used until the 1930’s. It’s a regular attraction now, with dummy soldiers and an interesting collection of paraphernalia to view. And when it comes to getting back down from Mount Imbiah, nothing fits this exciting tourist island better than a ride down the longest zipline in Asia, a 450m long slide that takes in the scenery of Siloso beach and the jungle canopy below.
Golfing fans can head to Sentosa Golf Club, which also boasts one of the island’s most exclusive hotels. The courses here are world famous, home to the Barclay’s Asian Tour as well as the HSBC Women’s Championship. Thirty six challenging holes and impressive views over the ocean from nearly every green give them both a well deserved reputation among professional players. Combine that with excellent club house facilities and haute cuisine fine dining and playing here will be a game to remember.
One of its most popular attractions actually doesn’t involve warp speeds or endless queues. At the very south of the island on pretty Palawan Beach, tucked away next to a Disneyland-style rock, is a sign that signals the very bottom of the Asian sub-continent before it becomes a trail of islands heading towards Australia. It’s accessible by a suspension bridge that’s passed over continually by day trippers wanting their photos taken next to the sign. It’s also a great spot for a picnic and a chance to enjoy a moment or two of tranquillity before heading back to the hectic mayhem that is Sentosa Island.