Tanjong Beach on a lazy Sunday afternoon
Sentosa  is an island just off the southern coast of Singapore.
Formerly known by the rather unattractive name of Pulau Belakang Mati ("The Island After Death" in Malay) and the centrepiece of Britain's unsuccessful "Fortress Singapore" strategy in World War II, Sentosa has been rebranded and resculpted into one big tourist attraction, popular among Singaporeans as a quick island getaway. The new jewel in the crown is Resorts World , an enormous complex comprising a Universal Studios themepark, Singapore's first casino, shopping malls and hotels.
The small southern islets of Kusu Island, St. John's Island, the Sisters Islands and Pulau Hantu are managed by Sentosa. Various plans to develop them have not come to much and they remain off the beaten track, but by no means undiscovered. The first two can be reached by public ferry, for the rest you will have to charter a boat.
Basic admission to the island will set you back at least $2 per person which is included in the transportation fares from the mainland to Sentosa. There is an ever-changing palette of combination tickets that may work out marginally cheaper if you plan to visit multiple attractions. The island itself is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, although many of the attractions are not.
The best way is in to take the North-East Line of the MRT to HarbourFront and then make your way to Level 3 of Vivocity, where you'll find the Sentosa Express monorail to the island. The train operates every 5-8 minutes from 7AM to 11:45PM daily, and an round-trip ticket costs $3 (island admission included, EZ-Link accepted). The cheapest way though, is to take an SMRT bus  for $2:
- RWS 8 from VivoCity/HarbourFront MRT
By taxi or private car, you'll need to pay $2 to $7 per vehicle to enter, and a $3 taxi surcharge also applies on the way out. It is now possible to walk across the bridge via the Sentosa Broadwalk ($1, EZ-Link accepted) .
The Cable Car  between Sentosa, HarbourFront and Mt. Faber has completed its renovation and reopened to public in July 2010.
Return ticket on Cable Car costs $26.
Sentosa's ferry terminal has been demolished to make way for the casino, but there are still limited ferry services  from Singapore's Marina South Pier (bus 402 from Marina Bay MRT) to the southern islands of Kusu and St. John. Monday through Saturday, there are two services a day, leaving at 10AM and 1:30PM, looping to Kusu, St. John, Kusu again and then back to Marina South. This gives you one hour on Kusu, which is plenty for seeing the sights. On Sundays and holidays only, there are five services, at 9AM, 11AM, 1PM, 3PM and 5PM, which run to Kusu, St. John and then return directly to Marina South, giving a minimum of two hours on any island you go to. All ferries cost $15 return, no Sentosa entry fee needed.
All transportation around Sentosa (except taxis) is free.
Three coloured shuttle bus services — Yellow Line, Red Line and Blue Line — connect Imbiah Station to various points on the island. Buses run from 7AM-11PM on weekdays and until 12:30 AM on Fri/Sat.
Beach trams supplemented by minivans shuttle people along the beaches every 15-20 minutes. One service connects Beach Station to Siloso Beach, another connects Beach Station to Palawan and Tanjong Beaches.
The old round-the-island Sentosa Monorail was decommissioned in March 2005 to make way for the new Sentosa Express, which can also be used to shuttle between the beaches and Imbiah Station (near the Merlion).
Long a bit of a joke — Singaporean wags like to quip that "Sentosa" actually stands for "So Expensive and Nothing to See Actually" — Sentosa's attractions have received some much-needed upgrades in recent years, with the worst of the lot unceremoniously demolished. Offerings of interest to adults are still quite limited, but at there's enough to keep children amused for a day or two. For all attractions below, a "child" is defined as being between three and twelve.
- Tiger Sky Tower, near Cable Car (blue/green bus), . 9AM-9PM daily. Asia's tallest observation tower. It takes you up to a height of 131 m above sealevel and offers a 360-degree view of Sentosa, Singapore and the Southern islands. On clear days the outlines of Malaysia and Indonesia can be seen. $10/7 adult/child.
- Dolphin Lagoon, Siloso Point. Has cute pink dolphins doing all the usual tricks (jumping through hoops, balancing balls, etc).llll Shared ticket with Underwater World.
- Fort Siloso, near Underwater World (all buses, then transfer to tram), . 10AM-6PM. Formerly the largest British naval base in Fortress Singapore, its guns staring balefully out towards the sea in preparation for enemy attack. The Japanese rode bikes down the peninsula instead; after your visit here, be sure to visit the Battle Box at Fort Canning Hill to find out what happened next. Now turned into a museum, you can follow a tour through the area (complete with lots of wax figures) to find out what the life of a recruit was like. Nearly doubled in size in 2004. $8/5 adult/child.
- Images of Singapore, near Cable Car Station (green, blue bus). 9AM-7PM. A sugar-coated, kid-friendly retelling of the official Singapore story, where people of many races have come together to live in harmony. Renovated in 2006 and now uses the latest technology, but there is not all that much substance under the glitz. $10/7 adult/child.
- Sentosa Merlion, (Imbiah Station). 10AM-8PM. A stretched-out 37-metre version of the statue by the Singapore River, which is lit up at night - note, the Merlion highly disappointingly no longer shoots lasers (if in fact it ever did) from its eyes. Admission enables you to take the elevator up into its mouth and gaze out over the nearby Port of Singapore, as well as experience some seriously cheesy exhibits downstairs. $8/5 adult/child.
- Sentosa Luge & Skyride, Beach Station. Up the hill in a ski lift and down again in a steerable bobsled. Kid safe. Good attraction for younger kids as the incline of the track hinders going very fast. Not very exciting for those over 15. If you are inclined to go, resist temptation to purchase multiple trips until trying it the first time. The newer Dragon Trail is closed on rainy days. $10 single ride, plus $1 for child riding with adult.
- Songs of the Sea, (Beach Station). Daily at 7:40PM and 8:40PM. Additional show are available at 9.40pm every Saturday.. Multimedia extravaganza with live cast, pyrotechnics, water jets and lasers. Very popular, so book ahead, especially on weekends.Video preview of the performance: $10.
- Underwater World, near Siloso Beach (all buses), . Claims to be Asia's largest tropical oceanarium, it features a walk-through aquarium with lots of sharks and fishes and many smaller tanks. $22.90/14.60 adult/child, includes admission to Dolphin Lagoon.
There are a few sights of minor interest on Kusu Island, reachable by ferry. The name means "Turtle Island" and there are indeed lots of the reptiles scampering about, but don't expect an unspoiled tropical paradise: the island was thoroughly reworked with land reclamation in 1975 and looks exactly like the rest of Sentosa.
- Da Bogong (Tua Pekong) Temple, Kusu Island. An unassuming little Taoist temple dedicated to the Merchant God. This is the focal point of the yearly Kusu Festival (Oct-Nov), when pilgrims come to the island to pray for prosperity.
- Keramat Kusu, Kusu Island. An unusual Muslim shrine (not a mosque) atop a small hill, dedicated to the saint Syed Abdul Rahman and his family, who lived here in the 19th century. The shrine is painted bright yellow and is visited in particular by childless couples.
Resorts World Sentosa
Resorts World Sentosa can be reached via the Waterfront station of the monorail or via the dedicated "RWS" buses from Harbourfront and other points in Singapore (see Get in).
- Casino, Crockfords Tower B1M, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS buses, Waterfront Station), . 24 hours. Singapore's first casino is tucked away underground underneath the Crockfords Tower hotel. There are 500 gaming tables offering 19 different games, but the emphasis is on Asian favorites like baccarat, roulette, tai sai and pai gow, with poker a distinct minority. A dress code applies: no slippers, no singlets and no shorts. Overseas guests free entry, Singaporean/Permanent Residents $100 Casino Levy.
- Universal Studios Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS buses, Waterfront Station), ☎ 65778899, . 10AM- 7PM Mon-Sun, 7PM-10PM Fri-Sat (Hollywood After Hours). The first Universal Studios theme park in Southeast Asia opened its doors in March 2010 — but only partly, with some rides to be added later. During the soft opening period, tickets are limited and for time being only available online. There are seven zones: Hollywood, New York, Sci-Fi City, Ancient Egypt, The Lost World, Far Far Away and Madagascar, with tickets valid for all rides in all zones. The star of the park is Battlestar Galactica, the world's tallest "dueling" rollercoaster, with two tracks battling it out simultaneously: "Cylon" suspends you in the air, with plenty of loops and inversions, while "Human" is seated and reaches speeds of up to 90 km/h. Weekdays $68/50 adult/child, weekends $74/54.
- Voyage de la Vie, Festive Grand, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS buses, Waterfront Station), ☎ 65778899, . A circus theatre spectacular, “Voyage de la Vie” (french for “journey of life”) is about the story of The Boy’s metaphoric journey to seek the true meaning of life. The story is told through song and dance, combining with the energy, physicality and athleticism of circus arts, resulting in a contemporary cutting edge performance art form which fully engages the senses and keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. The first circus theatre spectacular ever to be created in Singapore, it presents an international cast of circus stars brought together from 16 countries. Singapore Idol runner-up Jonathan Leong was also featured as the lead vocalist in this unique production. This resident show premieres in June 2010 and it is currently running at Festive Grand in Resorts World Sentosa.
The prisoner of Sentosa
Most people feel they can see Sentosa in a day — how about being confined to the island for over twenty three years? This was the fate of Chia Thye Poh, a member of the opposition Barisan Sosialis, who was arrested in 1966 under the Internal Security Act. He was asked to sign a document renouncing violence and ties with the Communist Party of Malaya, but Chia, a man of principle, refused as he had no such ties and had never advocated violence. Never charged or brought to trial, he was held in prison for 23 years, becoming the world's second-longest-serving political prisoner after Nelson Mandela, and was "released" only in 1989 to house arrest on Sentosa. He was allowed to move back to the mainland in 1992 and had all restrictions lifted in 1998.
Among Singaporeans the most popular reason to go to Sentosa is to hit the beaches: Siloso, Palawan and Tanjong from west to east respectively. All three are artificial, but does it really matter? Unfortunately the water is rather murky due to the neverending parade of ships across the Straits. Siloso has a nice beach promenade full of clubs and restaurants, some rather noisy, while Palawan claims to be the southernmost point of continental Asia (if you count the bridge connecting Sentosa, and ignore any competing Malaysian claims). Tanjong, the quietest of the three, is the place for beach volleyball and also hosts the low-key beach club KM8 (see Drink).
- Fish Reflexology, Underwater World (near ticket booth), ☎ +65-62799229. Daily 10AM-7PM. For a spa treatment with a difference, pop in to have fish nibble dead skin off your feet. You have a choice between "gentle" Turkish fish and "aggressive" African ones: neither will cause damage, but the African ones are pretty ticklish! The treatment concludes with foot reflexology or head and shoulder massage, performed more traditionally by humans. $35/40 min.
- Sentosa Golf Club, 27 Bukit Manis Road, ☎ +65-62750022, . The only golf club in Singapore open to the public, it features two famously challenging 18-hole courses and hosts the yearly Barclays Singapore Open. When sipping your gin and tonic in the clubhouse, raise a toast to Chia Thye Poh (see box), who was for years held under house arrest in a one-room guardhouse in the club grounds. $120 weekdays, $220 weekends.
- Spa Botanica, 2 Bukit Manis Road (near The Sentosa Resort), ☎ +65-63711318, . Singapore first self-proclaimed "tropical garden spa". Shared facilities are limited to a swimming pool and a mud bath, but a wide range of treatments are available. $100-300.
The nearby islands of Kusu and St. John also offer some beaches, which are quieter but otherwise not much different from those on Sentosa itself. St. John is also a popular spot for fishing.
Every corner of Sentosa is inundated with gift shops filled with all the plush Merlion toys you will ever need (and then some).
- VivoCity, HarbourFront MRT, . This giant complex on the mainland just next to the Sentosa bridge is Singapore's largest shopping mall, featuring anchor tenants like The Gap, two giant food courts and creative landscaping. There is a huge hypermarket featuring Singapore's largest organic supermarket. There is also Singapore's first all-natural handcrafted rock sweet shop aptly named <buy name="Sweet Enchantment" address="VivoCity #01-159" url="http://www.sweetenchantment.com/"> where you can watch their artisan sweet chefs create lovely rock candies or lollipops 'live' inscribed with words to mark your passage in this lovely island country i.e. "I <Heart> SG". The Sentosa Express monorail station is integrated into the mall - the ticketing station can be found on the 3rd floor beside the themematic food court, and the Singapore Cruise Centre is connected to VivoCity via a bridge to the HarbourFront Centre, where there are also other shops as well.
By presenting their passports at any Customer Service Counter, tourists can redeem a free tourist kit that features discounts and deals at participating stores at VivoCity all year round. However, check carefully as some shops require a minimum spending or only discount certain articles. At least you can knock off 10% at the food court.
During Great Singapore Sale (27 May to 24 July 2011), spending $100 entitles tourists to a $10 Most Original Burgers dining voucher. Exclusive to MasterCard, cardholders only need to charge $80 to qualify. Redemptions may be made at any Customer Service Counter.
As you might expect from a giant amusement park, food on Sentosa is (by Singaporean standards) rather pricey and mediocre. Things have, however, gotten slightly better in recent years with local chains allowed to open up outlets. For cheaper food options try either VivoCity or HarbourFront Centre.
- The Garden restaurant (The Garden @ Sentosa), 2 Bukit Manis Road, ☎ +65-63711130, . 10am - 10pm. Located in a charming conservation building next to Spa Botanica, The Garden offers wholesome contemporary cuisine termed “conscious dining”. Familiar local favourites are prepared with an innovative twist and vegetarian choices are also available. $30. (1.248583°,103.826557°)
- Seah Im Food Centre, Seah Im Road (across road from Vivocity). Popular with locals, has a range of Indian Muslim food stalls and a variety of local cuisine. The building is rather old, but the food is quite good. $5.
- Food Republic VivoCity, 1 HarbourFront Walk, #03-01. Themed like a collection of 1960s hawkers, only with air-conditioning (and hygiene). Slightly expensive for a food court, but the selection is good and it's usually packed. $5-6.
- Koufu, Palawan Beach. 9AM-9PM. The only foodcourt on Sentosa with the local food found in any run of the mill foodcourt. Food prices are ridiculously priced compared to mainland prices. Food all right, but there are tastier options around. $4-$6.
- 7/11, Below Monorail Stations. 24 hours. The only shop in Sentosa that sells drinks below 3 dollars. Good for a snack. Similar to mainland prices.
- Thanying, 1 Larkhill Road (Amara Sanctuary Resort), ☎ 6825 3881. Daily 11.30AM-3.30PM, 6.30-10.30PM. A branch of the well-known Thai restaurant at Amara Hotel in Tanjong Pagar. Best known for their duck curry with pineapple and longan. $30.
- Trapizza, Siloso Beach (north end), ☎ +6563762662. Daily 10AM-11PM. Offers the improbable combination of pizzas, pastas and a trapeze school. $20.
- Sakae Sushi, Siloso Beach (south end). Beachside conveyor belt sushi (yes, with aircon), hardly gourmet fare but quite tasty anyway. $20.
- Barnacles Restaurant & Bar, 101 Siloso Road (on beach in front of Rasa Sentosa Resort), ☎ +65-63712930, . Daily 6:30-11PM, Sunday lunch noon-3PM. Mildly over-the-top beachside restaurant complete with rippling waves projected onto the ceiling. Competent if not cheap Mediterranean and Chinese seafood dishes and grills. Terrace and outdoor seating. Free parking and they'll even reimburse your Sentosa entrance fee. $70.
- The Cliff, 2 Bukit Manis Rd (The Sentosa Resort), ☎ +65-63711425, . In sight of jungle, beach and sea, repeatedly voted the most romantic restaurant in Singapore and popular with bosses out for a naughty night with their secretaries. Book a table on the lower deck for the best views. $100.
- Il Lido, 27 Bukit Manis Road (Sentosa Golf Club), ☎ +65-68661977, . Daily 1:30PM-2:30PM, 6:30PM-11PM. Modern, stylish Italian restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, featuring views of the Straits. Bar-lounge with live DJ attached. Some dishes are excellent (try the spaghetti with sea urchin or the seabass with porcini), but for the very high price the quality is rather uneven. $200.
- Jewel Box, Mt. Faber, . On a hill opposite Sentosa, accessible via the cable car, the Jewel Box is an assemblage of three fancy, pricy and generally unspectacular restaurants (Empress Jade, Sapphire and Black Opal), but the rooftop Moonstone bar is a good place to just go for a drink and watch the lights twinkle.
- Sky Dining at Singapore Cable Car, Mt. Faber, . The Sky Dining Diamond Set starts at $218.00++ per couple and is available daily (except on Public Holidays). You can also request for a Floral Cabin which will be decorated according to the theme you select (there are 3 themes to choose from) and it costs $488++ per couple. You will be served a 3-course set menu (you will be required to indicate your preference of main course during booking). Each course is served every 30 minutes (the time required for the cable car to go from the Mount Faber cable car station to Sentosa cable car station and back)
- kunio tokuoka, Crockfords Tower Level 2 (Resorts World Sentosa), ☎ 66863633, . The very first overseas venture by 4-star Michelin chef Kunio Tokuoka, who is a leading culinary maestro in Kyoto, Japan and grandson to the founder of the famous Kitcho. Located at level 2 of Crockfords Tower with easy accessibility from FestiveWalk, kunio tokuoka offers Japanese haute cuisine that extends far beyond the flavour of the food and its presentation on the plate.
Cafe del Mar on a rainy day
The beaches can offer some pretty wild parties on Friday and Saturday nights, especially if one of the on-again, off-again foam parties pops up. The New Year's Eve party in particular is legendary, as is ZoukOut , a massive yearly outdoor party organised by Zouk, featuring a roster of international and local DJs. Beaches, beer, bikinis and booming bass, what more do you need?
- Bora Bora Beach Bar, Palawan Beach (yellow/red bus), ☎ +65-9005-4238, . Open daily 10:30AM-7PM or later. Laid-back beach bar playing jazzy tunes. Free entry, beer $8, cocktails $12.50-.
- Cafe del Mar, Siloso Beach (Beach Tram), ☎ +65 62351296. A franchise of the famous Ibiza club, offering a pool by the beach and chill-out music. The restaurant is pleasant but slightly overpriced and the outdoor seating is very nicely set up, although the volume is often cranked up way too high. Reserve in advance if you want one of the little pavilions. Free entry, beer $8, cocktails $12-.
There are a few nightspots of note on the mainland side of Sentosa Bridge.
- Privé, 2 Keppel Bay Vista (drive down Keppel Bay Dr, just before The Caribbean condo), ☎ +65-67760777. Daily noon-1AM. Built on a private island connected to the mainland by a bridge, arriving here is half the fun. There's an expensive steak restaurant indoors and an equally expensive Japanese eatery upstairs, but the crowd-puller is the slick, breezy outdoor bar with DJ playing chillout tunes. Free entry, drinks $12-.
- St. James Power Station, 3 Sentosa Gateway (opp Vivocity), ☎ +65-62707676, . Former power station now hosting no less than 9 clubs and bars with different themes, including Powerhouse for dance pop, Dragonfly for Mandarin/Cantonese live music, Movida for Latin rhythms and Bellini Room for jazz. Popular with Singaporeans and somewhat more downmarket than the options at Clarke Quay. Opening hours and prices vary per club, but most are open Wednesday to Sunday and charge $10-20 for entry (including one drink).
Sentosa is not a particularly convenient base for sightseeing elsewhere in Singapore, and most of the accommodation targets visitors looking for a simple beach holiday. However, there's a race on to complete new hotels before the casino opens, and the new monorail has improved access to the mainland, so some excellent deals can be found if you scout around.
Camping on Sentosa is not allowed, and the only campground on the island has closed. Camping is possible on St. John's Island, the Sisters Islands and Pulau Hantu, but free camping permits from the Sentosa Development Corporation (tel. +65-62750388) are required.
- Costa Sands Resort Sentosa, 30 Imbiah Walk (red/blue bus), ☎ +65-6275-1034, . Offers simple "kampung" huts (max 3 people) for $50/36 peak/off-peak and new air-con chalets (max 2 people) for $125/98; there are additional discounts for trade union NTUC members. In addition to the nearby beach, guests can use a swimming pool.
- Treasure Resort, (Imbiah Station), ☎ +65-6271-2002, . Formerly Sijori Resort, the prewar colonial building may interest architecture buffs, but beach lovers will be disappointed to find that it's plonked down in the middle of the island far from the coastline and the interior is badly in need of a renovation. At least there's a pool. $180.
Sentosa features a sprinkling of resort hotels catering to those who want a beach holiday within striking distance of the city.
- Amara Sanctuary, 1 Larkhill Road (near Palawan Beach), ☎ +65-68792538 ([email protected], fax: +65-62231293), . Surrounded by 3.5 hectares of tropical rainforest, this hotel features 120 rooms in a converted British army barracks as well as 10 standalone garden villas. Three pools, in-house spa, easy walk to the beach. Disabled-friendly. $500.
- Capella Singapore, 1 The Knolls, ☎ +65-63778888, . Luxury resort designed by Foster+Partners, built around two colonial-era bungalows. Main building and private villas, spa and restaurant. $500.
- Rasa Sentosa Resort, 101 Siloso Road (all buses), ☎ +65-6275-0100, . Run by Shangri-La Hotels, with 459 rooms this is by far the largest hotel in Sentosa, offering a rather generic package holiday experience. The main selling point is that this is the only full-fledged beachside resort in Singapore. $235.
- The Sentosa, A Beaufort Hotel (The Sentosa Resort & Spa), 2 Bukit Manis Road (Free shuttle to/from VivoCity), ☎ +65-6275-0331, . Formerly Beaufort Sentosa, this hilltop resort-style hotel on the quieter eastern side of the island is well known for its Spa Botanica and fancy restaurants. Recently renovated and looking better than ever, with a deep Olympic-sized pool. 300 metres to Tanjong Beach. $300. (1.248583°,103.826557°)
- Siloso Beach Resort, 51 Imbiah Walk (Beach Tram), ☎ +65-67223333, . Opened in 2006, this resort looks like a minimalistic city hotel, all black paint and green glass, accidentally built on a tropical island. Despite the name, the resort is not on the beach, but across the road from it. $260.
Four new hotels have opened at the Resorts World Sentosa integrated resort, but while good deals are on offer, expect to deal with construction noise until at least mid-2010. All share the same reservation number, +65-65778899, and can also be booked online at Resorts World Sentosa .
- Crockfords Tower, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS bus, Waterfront Station). All-suite hotel exclusively for casino high rollers. Even if you aren't staying here, take a peek at the lobby and its several million dollars' worth of Chihuly glass. Invitation only.
- Singapore Hard Rock Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS bus, Waterfront Station), ☎ 65778899. Corporate rock for wannabe rockstars. The lagoon-style pool with real sand is nice though, and the Rang Mahal Pavilion is among the better options. From $225.
- Hotel Michael, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS buses, Waterfront Station), ☎ 65778899. Designed by and named after architect Michael Graves, but mostly in shades of lime. From $250.
- Festive Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS buses, Waterfront Station), ☎ 65778899. Family-oriented hotel where most rooms feature a special loft bed for the kids. More upmarket than you'd think. From $200.
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