Strictly: Sentosa

Our mammoth week of sightseeing finally came to an end (sort of) on Friday when we took a trip out to Singapore’s playground, the island of Sentosa. I hear far too much about Sentosa in my day-to-day life, mainly because there’s an aquarium and Universal Studios on the island which all the kids are obsessed with. Because of this it’s no surprise that I wasn’t particularly bothered to visit either. Luckily for me there’s far more to do on the island than just see fish and pretend you’re in blockbuster movies, so we went out to Sentosa to enjoy a day out and avoid running into any of my kids (which is a scenario I’m always a little worried about whenever I leave the house).

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Our last experience of going out on a public holiday, the day before, had not been brilliant, so I was filled with a certain amount of trepidation when we embarked on our journey, mainly because I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by locals and have to queue for about a million hours to go anywhere. Luckily, although Sentosa was busy, we actually managed to have a full day of doing things and enjoyed ourselves, double whammy. Sentosa is an odd place. It’s an island just off the southern coast of Singapore connected to the mainland by a bridge, a cable car and a monorail… because one form of transport is just never enough. It also happens to be entirely manmade. How you build a whole island in the ocean is completely beyond me, but yet again Singapore proves that literally anything is possible. So anyway, it’s a island, made by people, and housing all the family friendly attractions the country has to offer (with the exception of the zoo) in one handy area. Imagine the Isle of Wight if it was half the size, the weather was better and it was appropriated by Disney to make a massive theme park. That’s Sentosa. Even though a very small proportion of the island is Universal Studios or Resorts World the whole place is like being inside Disneyland, with brightly coloured brick paths, unnecessary jollity and random entertainments going on around every corner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool and pretty interesting place but there’s just something so fake and man-made about it. I’m not selling this day trip very well, lets go back to the start and outline our days highlights.

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It’s pretty cool crossing the boardwalk onto Sentosa, naturally it is lined with restaurants and shops, and features an unnecessarily large number of travelators, but there are some pretty stunning views of Harbourfront and the South China Sea, featuring some impressive cruise ships. The walk wasn’t even particularly ruined by other people, I think most of the day-trippers on their way to Sentosa probably took the monorail. We had a few things that we wanted to do on our day on Sentosa, but there was one that stood above all the others… the luge. I have to admit that I had no idea what a luge was before this week, but I came to learn that it’s a Kiwi invention that’s basically like tobogganing but with wheels and on a road. The luge tracks in New Zealand are legendary, but the Sentosa one was a lot more family friendly with only a few sharp corners and steep downhills. It was really fun though, and probably a lot less scary than doing an extreme luge track. For some reason we seemed to be the only people on the luge who actually had any idea how to use it. More than once I whizzed round a corner to be confronted with a group  of people who had no idea how to use the carts and were just sat in the middle of the road. Or people who had just about figured them out but were terrified of movement and so went at a snails pace. It would have been more frustrating if weaving around them at top speed wasn’t so ridiculously fun. I did get shown up by a child who sped past me then cut me off, but you can’t win them all!

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Thanks to some hustling we managed to get a free extra go on the luge, where the above picture was captured, so it was a pretty successful venture all round. There’s also a ski lift type thing that takes you back to the top of the track which offered some nice views of the island and also nearly took off my legs as it didn’t stop to let you get on and off. The number of shoes and luge helmets littering the treetops suggests that quite a few people have been victims to the stresses of the lift.

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Post-luge we explored the island some more and took in the beaches, beach bars and the unnecessarily large Merlion that looms in the middle of the island. Through a good helping of luck we also managed to watch a Chinese New Year lion dance. We were pretty bummed that we hadn’t managed to see one on CNY itself, so you can imagine our excitement when we stumbled across one in the middle of Sentosa (yes, it’s that sort of a place). A lion dance is the actual name for the dragon dance, the traditional entertainment that takes place over Chinese New Year and is supposed to bring good luck for the holiday. The dance is always performed by people trained in Chinese martial arts so it’s guaranteed to be impressive. The lion dance we were treated to on Sentosa was apparently from one of the most famous lion dance troupes in Asia, and it was impressive. The dance is accompanied by drums and cymbals that builds the tension and emphasises the danger of some of the moves. Sentosa’s lion dance lasted around 15 minutes and showed off men in an elaborate lion costume leaping between posts that were over 6 feet off the ground, which drew gasps of amaze and terror. I’d never seen a lion dance before and it was really, genuinely brilliant. You almost forgot that it wasn’t an actual lion as it leapt around the arena performing feats against gravity. It was also pretty funny which is not what you would expect. This is another thing I don’t think I’m explaining very well, but trust me that it was good and if you haven’t seen a traditional lion dance you should go find one next CNY.

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Sentosa boasts the only actual beaches in Singapore so we perused all of them and tried to go out to an island just off Sentosa which makes the bold claim that it’s the southernmost point in continental Asia, but for some unfathomable reason there was a massive queue to cross the bridge, and yet no one actually on it, so for our own sanity we abandoned that plan. Before I sign off I have to mention a phenomenon that we noticed more than once over the public holiday but that was ridiculously obvious on Sentosa. I’ll try and talk about it in the most diplomatic terms I can think of. There were a lot of locals on Sentosa enjoying the day off work. Apart from families the majority of them were large groups of men who really, really enjoyed taking pictures of each other. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but I promise you I’m not. It got to the point where we couldn’t turn a corner without seeing men taking pictures of each other, it actually went from hilarious to creepy, and back to hilarious pretty fast. And I want to stress that it wasn’t just the taking of the pictures. It was where they were taking them. Posing in fountains, in flower beds, by signs, next to statues, near a particularly pretty looking tree, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, they were everywhere. It became normal to see 10 or 20 men stood in a line in front of a statue having photos taken of themselves. And then there were the poses. Shirt collars turned up, aviators on, not smiling, one foot in front of the other with the knee slightly bent, hands on hips showing off the too big watch, sometimes lying in a ridiculous position on a step; it was like being in a Zealander convention. I can’t imagine I’m painting a very clear picture but it was a weird and hilarious thing to see that you would definitely notice if you experienced it. Please now enjoy a picture of Tom (courtesy of Christie’s camera) mimicking the pose and also surrounded by quite a lot of men doing exactly the thing he’s mocking (he didn’t really achieve the sultry pout but you get the idea).

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Despite (or perhaps partly because of) the amateur photo shoots we had a really good day on Sentosa. It’s a pretty unique place in Singapore, and probably in the rest of Asia, and it’s ridiculously popular, but the beaches are nice and there’s a lot to do that’s not Universal Studios. If you’re ever in the area I’d recommend a trip, just maybe not on a public holiday.

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A Gaudi style water feature only slightly ruined by posing locals (surprisingly out of shot).

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Leah Out X

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