By Marc Servos
In spite of Sentosa having a serene connotation, its direct translation from Malay being ‘peace and tranquility’, the island actually has a grisly past. Formerly known as Pulau Blakang Mati, meaning ‘island behind death’, as far back as the 15th century it was an enclave for pirates, then a fortification in the 1800s, up until World War II when Japanese forces seized the island and brought its inhabitants to a gruesome end.
In almost a sentimental twist to make peace with its past, Lee Kuan Yew approved the island to be a recreational area and, since the Sentosa Development Corporation began administration in 1972, it has gone through extensive changes. Many earlier high-profile landmarks in the form of military barracks and outposts disappeared to make way for Genting Singapore’s Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) beginning in 2007.
Among the first major projects was the Sentosa Ferry Terminal, completed in 1973. It served as a disembarkation point for visitors to explore the island. Further recreational amusements developed the following year with the opening of the cable car system connecting Sentosa and Mount Faber, the Sentosa Golf Club and the conversion of Fort Siloso to a military museum. Although the ferry terminal was demolished to make way for RWS, the cable car is still in operation today and offers fantastic views across Sentosa and Singapore’s coast.
Near the ferry terminal were two other bygone attractions, still ingrained in many of our memories, that were also razed to make way for RWS. The Singapore Musical Fountain, completed in 1982, encompassed a water feature and entertainment venue to accommodate 5,000 people for many events, special performances and variety shows. The Fountain Gardens, completed in 1989, was a promenade attraction inspired by French formal gardens and served as a gateway between the ferry terminal and the musical gardens.
With an increased focus on tourism, Sentosa’s monorail began operations in 1982 to provide passenger services across western parts of the island, but made way for the Sentosa Express which opened in 2007 to transport visitors from VivoCity’s Sentosa Station to Resorts World, Imbiah and Beach Stations.
On the east side of the island sits Sentosa Cove. A 1986 approval by the Singapore Cabinet to redevelop Buran Darat Island, at the time separated from Sentosa, led to the approval of the Master Plan in 1993, with the first residence being completed in 2006.
Attractions elsewhere have come and gone. One popular attraction was Underwater World located near Fort Siloso, operating from 1991 until 2016. It featured a travellator through a glass tunnel enabling visitors to view marine life beneath the water. On the site of where Universal Studios Singapore now sits was Fantasy Island, a water-themed park, which opened in 1994 for only a brief six years before it closed due to several accidents. The Asian Village also had a short-lived stint as an attraction, operating from 1993 to 2000 and featuring architecture, performances and crafts of different cultures. The most recent closure was The Tiger Sky Tower, formerly the Carlsberg Sky Tower which closed in December 2018.
Sentosa seemed to hit its groove in January 2010, with RWS launching its four hotels. Other attractions as part of this integrated resort were later unveiled, the last of which was the Marine Life Park, which includes the S.E.A. Aquarium and Adventure Cove Waterpark. Major attractions also include the casino and Universal Studios Singapore theme park, the Maritime Experiential Museum and the luxury tall ship, Royal Albatross.
In recent years, Sentosa’s importance in branding Singapore as an important tourist destination has grown with the introduction of amusements, such as the Skyline Luge and Skyride and Mega Adventure Park. Then, of course, there is the Merlion, looming over Imbiah Station, from where visitors can take the elevator to its upper levels to enjoy a panoramic view.
On foot, Sentosa can be accessed with a leisurely stroll on the Sentosa Boardwalk. Bus services and the Sentosa Line cable car allow for ease of travel around the island so visitors can enjoy the waterfronts at Palawan and Siloso Beaches, as well as a scenic trek among treetops at the 11-story Fort Siloso Skywalk.
It was in 2018, though, that Sentosa truly put Singapore on the world’s stage as, on June 12, the Cappella Resort was designated as the venue for the historic North Korea-United States Singapore Summit between Kim Jung-un and President Trump.
From a troubled past, this island really has come a long way.