Singapore’s Sentosa Adventure
The Singaporean island of Sentosa is a magical spot for both time out and teambuilding
Riding a Segway is a dreamlike sensation. One moment you are motionless, the next, as in a hallucination, you can’t be sure if it is the landscape or the vehicle that is moving. There is no accelerator and no throttle or brake on the handle; you simply lean forward to start and lean back to stop, as if sleepwalking.
Since the instruction on how to ride the Segway takes less time than it does to put on the protective equipment, we are soon on our way. Smooth paths aid our glide down to Siloso beach and, once there, the Segway seems an appropriate way to experience the island of Sentosa, which is itself a little unreal.
Improbably perfect palm trees frame a scene of golden sand and a tropical ocean, yet with oil tankers moored on it. The peace might be broken by children flying over your head, yelling in glee as they slip down a zip wire from the cliff and out across the shallow water to an island connected to the beach by a causeway.
Among the thick trees and vegetation, you can see the tops of roller coasters, a silent monorail and the giant sculpture of a lion, with the tiny figures of tourists peering from its mouth. Throw in a little residual jetlag, and Sentosa feels far removed from the busy mainland.
Singaporeans are proud of their island state, but until recently were modest when it came to celebrating Sentosa, a small (less than 2 square miles), hilly landform connected by road to mainland Singapore.
For most of its history, it was called Pulau Blakang Mati, which meant “Island of Death from Behind. ”Not surprisingly, it was a priority of the Singapore Tourist Board to think of a new name and, since the 1970s, Sentosa (“Peace and Tranquility”) has been preferred, though it took a while for Singaporeans to fall in love with it, some preferring to think of the new name as standing for “So Expensive and Nothing to See Also.”
Sentosa certainly isn’t a secret and, in recent years, has surged in popularity. It was visited by five million people in 2012, but business travelers often miss out on a trip, not least because there’s so much to do on the mainland. On previous visits to Singapore, I’ve seen everything from the Botanic Gardens to the breathtaking Gardens by the Bay, which opened only a couple of years ago.
Then there’s the shopping – Orchard Road could take a day in itself – Little India, Chinatown and boat trips along the Singapore River, so one can see how travelers may lack the time to explore.
You could visit Sentosa for a day, but a couple of days or a long weekend would be best. The island is managed by the Sentosa Development Corporation, which runs some of the attractions and leases out other areas to companies. These include Resorts World Sentosa, which opened in 2010 to house the city-state’s first casino, the familyorientated Universal Studios theme park and the world-class Marine Life Park.
Resorts World has six hotels to stay in – including the Hard Rock – while elsewhere on Sentosa the choices include Amara, Capella, Movenpick, Shangri-La and W.
In Desperados, you gallop through the Wild West shooting everything in sight
Pick Your Diversion
Activities seem to be compulsory on the island. It may be a beach destination, but with competition in Asia so strong for relaxing resorts with ocean views, Sentosa has wisely gone overboard on diversions. Depending on whether you are there for a break or a work-related incentive, you will find everything from a virtual ride in the 4D Adventureland (4dadventureland.com.sg) to a round at one of two championship golf courses.
The former is a series of family-friendly rides where the 3D experience of wearing funny glasses is augmented by being strapped into your seat and thrown around. It sounds relatively tame, but having experienced the “Virtual 4D roller coaster Extreme Log Ride,” plunging through caverns, spinning around whirlpools and speeding along rickety mining tracks
like something from Raiders of the Lost Ark, I think these are the future of such attractions – death-defying thrills without fear of injury (though this being Singapore, there are plenty of health warnings if you have a pacemaker or a bad back).
On another ride, “Desperados,” you are on your own horse, galloping through a Wild West town shooting just about everything in sight in a competition with your colleagues to see who is the best shot. It’s the sort of activity that you think is silly for the first few seconds, then spend the rest of the time vigorously trying to be the best at.
All of this is at Imbiah Lookout, a good vantage point for the island as a whole. Getting around Sentosa on free buses is easy, so you can have a varied itinerary or simply go with the flow, jumping on and seeing where it takes you next.
One recommendation that perhaps won’t suit everyone, but is great fun, is the Laser Tag Adventure “Combat Skirmish.” Not only do you get to shoot people you work with (or even your own family members if this is a leisure trip) but you do so in Sentosa’s only restored defensive batteries from the Second World War, a warren of concrete passageways and abandoned rooms at Fort Siloso on the northwestern side of the island. The ammunition bunkers, barracks, tunnels and gun emplacements of the fort are also open to visitors who simply want to stroll around and look at the collection of artillery guns dating as far back as the 17th century.
Seeking a brief escape from the theme park atmosphere, and also to get some food that didn’t come in giant containers, we went down to the marina, home to the W hotel and a row of restaurants managed by Quayside Isle (quaysideisle.com). A variety of cuisines can be found here, including Italian (Da Spago), Indian (Earl of Hindh), Chinese (Blue Lotus), French (Saint Pierre) and Japanese (Ezoca). The Quayside Fish Bar and Bistro (qsfishbar.com) had a great choice of fresh fish and shucked oysters.
From there it was straight back to the action. First, for the Segway tour (segwaysentosa.com), which was the highlight of our whole trip. The experience of riding on a Segway is nothing like what you’d imagine it to be after seeing someone else on one. Even the toned and tanned lifeguards who were using off-road versions to patrol Siloso beach looked a little goofy. (You expect the emergency services to sprint to the scene of the accident, not nonchalantly glide there with a bicycle helmet on their head and shin pads on.) Nevertheless, they are among the best fun you and some friends or colleagues can have.
After only a couple of minutes’ tuition we were happily speeding our way from the Segway center, but just ten seconds later one of our number had lost control and disappeared into one of the tall manicured hedges. Thankfully no one was hurt, and the memory had us laughing for the remainder of the day – though that was after a spell in the Wave House (wavehousesentosa.com), home to the tenfoot Flow Barrel, Singapore’s first artificial barreling wave.
One hour of first trying to bodyboard and then surf in this was enough to leave me battered and bruised but happy for the evening. Then, it was a short walk to the restaurants on Siloso Beach, including Coastes (coastes.com), which had a wooden veranda overlooking the sea where we sipped sundowner cocktails.
Finally, there was the option of continuing the activities or enjoying some entertainment – in our case, the “Songs of the Sea ”show at the west end of Siloso Beach. The story concerns Li, a young man whose singing voice conjures up stunning light effects that are projected on to giant sprays of water – a lot better than it sounds, though thankfully less than half an hour in duration. From there it was off to the bars of Sentosa, including the Bikini Bar, where all the waitresses… well, you get the idea.
Sentosa caters to both families and corporate gatherings remarkably well, in terms of both its attractions and the hotels on the island. We stayed at the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa, where incentive groups were having a whale of a time. Walking past the meeting rooms one morning, a large number of employees of an organization that shall remain nameless, all wearing special polo shirts for their trip, were whooping it up in some team play exercise, and later were very active in the pool after the day’s activities had ended.
At around 1:00 AM, suffering from jetlag, I went out on to the balcony of our room and looked across the resort to the restaurant, where they were all throwing shapes on the packed dance floor. Experiences like these are probably priceless.
Visit sentosa.com. BT
Main picture: Desperados at 4D Adventureland From far left: Mega Zip; Wave House; cable car; the Merlion at Imbiah Lookout
Above: Segway tour