Sentosa and the southern isles Travel Guide

AS A COUPLE
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Though only just off the south coast of the main island of Singapore and linked to it by a bridge, Sentosastill has something of an out-of-town feel to it, and locals treat it as a kind of resort for full-day trips or weekend breaks. Don’t expect a quiet, unspoilt deserted isle, though – this is effectively one giant theme park, as epitomized by Universal Studios, and its three beaches are decidedly ordinary. That said, if you have kids in tow you’ll find plenty to keep them entertained for hours. Other, much smaller, islands lie further south within Singapore’s territorial waters, including St John’s and Kusu. They’re easy enough to reach by ferry, and while not blighted by development, they are hardly unspoilt either, having become somewhat manicured in true Singapore style.

Kusu and St John’s islands

St John’s

and

Kusu

islands, 6km south of the “mainland”, offer some respite from the hubbub of the city state, though both are a little manicured. The more interesting of the two is Kusu, also known as

Turtle Island

. Singaporean legend tells of a Chinese and a Malay sailor who were saved from drowning by a turtle that transformed itself into an island; today the island is home to a major

temple

, complete with turtle statues, and three Malay

keramat

s (shrines). Once a year during the ninth lunar month (mid-Oct to mid-Nov or thereabouts), tens of thousands of Singaporean pilgrims descend upon Kusu’s temple to pray for prosperity.

Sentosa

Thirty years of rampant development have transformed

Sentosa

into the most developed of Singapore’s southern islands (with the possible exception of one or two that are home to petrochemical installations), so it’s ironic that its name means “tranquil” in Malay. Sentosa has come a long way since colonial times, when it had the charming name Pulau Blakang Mati, or the “Island of Death Behind”, and was home to a British military base. Contrived but enjoyable in parts, the Sentosa of today is promoted for its rides, passable beaches, hotels and massive new casino resort on the northern shore. Besides the mandatory casino and much-hyped Universal Studios theme park,

Resorts World Sentosa

has half a dozen hotels, a maritime museum and a Marine Life Park.

Universal Studios Singapore

The ersatz character of

Resorts World

becomes rather entertaining at the

Universal Studios

theme park, where fairy-tale castles and American cityscapes rear bizarrely into view in the sultry heat. The park is divided into seven themed zones, encompassing everything from ancient Egypt – the least convincing of the lot – to DreamWorks’ animated hit

Madagascar

. Standard tickets offer unlimited rides, but there’s much more to do than get flung around on cutting-edge roller coasters or, in the case of the

Jurassic Park

Rapids Adventure, on a circular yellow raft: museum-type exhibits unwrap the world of film production, and you can watch musical spectaculars in a recreation of Hollywood’s Pantages theatre.

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Rough Guides Editors
9/14/2020
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