The shocking historical past of Sentosa, Singapore’s staycation island

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(CNN) — It was often called Pulau Blakang Mati. Some translate the title politely as “the island of woe,” however essentially the most cited translation is “the island behind which lies demise.”

Now, it is referred to as Sentosa, from the Malay phrase for peaceable. Full of theme parks, seashores, luxurious resorts, casinos and different amusements, it is Singapore’s main island for staycations and is without doubt one of the metropolis’s hottest locations for worldwide vacationers.

However how did all of it start?

Fifty years in the past this September, the nascent nation of Singapore shaped the Singapore Growth Company (SDC), which — as its title signifies — was designed to rework a then rural, largely uninhabited island into an city playground.

A Malay island

The five hundred-hectare island is formed like the big finish of a smoking pipe, curving across the southern aspect of what’s now Singapore. Its form and place made it an ideal spot for merchants touring to and from Malaysia — and an everyday hideout for the pirates who raided these ships.

There have been three main kampongs (villages) right here: Ayer Bandera, Serapong and Blakan Mati. Residents of the island had been a mixture of Chinese language, Malay and Bugis (from Indonesia’s Sulawesi island).

Then, in 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in what would turn into the Lion Metropolis.

The British statesman left an indelible stamp not solely on Singapore however on a lot of East Asia, which he explored and wrote about throughout his diplomatic posts there.

Sentosa has a smaller model of Singapore’s well-known Merlion statue.

Sentosa Growth Company

In the course of the second half of the nineteenth century, the British started constructing fortifications round Singapore. On Sentosa, there have been 4 of those — Fort Serapong (close to the middle of the island), Fort Connaught, the Imbiah Battery and Fort Siloso (on the far northwest tip).

Whereas Singapore was managed by the British, troopers lived on Pulau Blakang Mati. Malay, Chinese language and Indian laborers did laundry, steered sampan boats and cleared land for the White army members.

Though Sentosa’s moniker was modified in 1970, historical past buffs will nonetheless acknowledge the names of lots of the locations dotted across the island. Fort Siloso — now a public park and historical past museum — remains to be there, however a seaside, elevated walkway by means of the jungle and a tram station all bear the Siloso title too.

The onetime Imbiah Battery is now a lookout spot for hikers, whereas the deserted buildings of Fort Serapong are well-liked for followers of city exploration and “destroy porn.”

In the meantime, the elegant The Barracks resort was, as its title signifies, as soon as the house to British artillerymen. Whereas the lodging are considerably extra comfortable nowadays, visitors can nonetheless solar themselves on the previous parade grounds.

A Singaporean island

A lot of Sentosa’s historical past parallels the historical past of the nation of Singapore.

In 1965, Singapore formally declared independence from Malaysia and commenced to determine what sort of a nation it needed to be.

As commerce and trade grew on Singapore, Sentosa remained largely rural and uninhabited. Many of the residents trickled away within the Seventies and resettled on Singapore.

Adjustments got here rapidly and dramatically. Within the Seventies, guests to the island may take a cable automotive, however inside a decade there was additionally an above-ground tram that made it simple to get from place to position. Then, in 1992, the Sentosa Causeway, linking the 2 islands, was unveiled.

Vacationer sights got here and went as well-liked tendencies modified.

Underwater World, on the time the biggest oceanarium in Asia, was attributable to open in 1989 however did not open till 1991. Customer numbers fluctuated through the years, and Underwater World ultimately closed in 2016.

One other relic of the previous was The Asian Village. This attraction was just like Disney World’s Epcot, with totally different “villages” representing Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and different Asian nations, plus some rides. It shut down in 2000.

The Apollo Lodge was the primary vacationer lodging on the island. It opened in 1978 and closed in 1986.

In the meantime, the primary seaside resort on the island was the Shangri-La, which welcomed its inaugural visitors in 1993. It took a decade, however ultimately different large luxurious manufacturers catering to worldwide vacationers adopted — the Capella in 2009, the W in 2012 and Sofitel in 2015.

A musical fountain mild present was one casualty of growth, because it was knocked right down to make room for the Resorts World advanced that features Southeast Asia’s solely Common Studios theme park and a few 1,700 resort rooms throughout a number of properties.

Additionally on the way in which out is Sentosa’s personal Merlion, a sibling to the well-known one throughout the water in Singapore.

“As tourism goes on, expectations are greater (and we have now to) make means for one thing new,” Christopher Khoo, managing director of worldwide tourism consultancy MasterCounsult, informed Channel Information Asia. “The renewal course of means giving means.”

Today, he says, vacationers are extra fascinated with experiences than in landmarks.

Town’s fixed warmth and humidity have additionally created a marketplace for nighttime actions. Digital creations and lightweight reveals are on the record of doable additions.

Ferries used to bring guests to Sentosa, but these days most people come by car.

Ferries used to convey visitors to Sentosa, however nowadays most individuals come by automotive.

Sentosa Growth Company

A lot of what exists on Sentosa is new and glossy that it is comprehensible why the frequent “it was a artifical island” false impression retains going round.

Land reclamation would be the supply of the confusion. Pulau Blakang Mati was about 280 hectares in measurement, and since 1972 Sentosa has grown to about 500 hectares.

Regardless of all of the bustle, it is doable to search out that peacefulness that Sentosa’s title guarantees, particularly when staying at one of many island’s accommodations. The Capella Resort is surrounded by greenery and is a well-liked spot for sundown cocktails.

Although the army days are lengthy gone, Sentosa made a shocking reappearance on the world’s political radar in 2018 when then-U.S. president Donald Trump met with North Korean chief Kim Jong Un on the Capella, the place a small plaque data the property’s place in historical past.

One main change was bringing again full-time residents to the island. Nevertheless, the trendy residents of Sentosa bear virtually zero resemblance to the communities who lived on Pulau Blakang Mati.

Sentosa Cove, on the island’s japanese coast, is the one gated luxurious neighborhood in Singapore. In a spot the place many individuals stay in cramped quarters, this rapidly turned a few of the most sought-after actual property within the nation.

Today, properties in Sentosa Cove can promote for as a lot as $23 million Singaporean ($16 million USD). Most of them have swimming swimming pools, rooftop gardens, multi-car garages and different upscale luxuries.
Sentosa Sensoryscape Rendering

An artist’s rendering of Sentosa Sensoryscape, coming to the island in 2023.

Courtesy Sentosa Growth Company

What comes subsequent

Singapore, at all times looking out for brand spanking new growth alternatives, is already pondering past Sentosa.

The brand new Sentosa is more likely to be Palau Brani, a trapezoidal land mass and former Navy base between Singapore and Sentosa. Today, most guests merely discover Brani out of the nook of their eye as they drive from one island to the opposite, however the bold Sentosa-Brani Grasp Plan will join the 2 with a $90 million Singaporean ($63 million US) hyperlink.

This “Higher Southern Waterfront” initiative is a multi-decade venture that may push out a few of the city-state’s industrial port areas in favor of extra vacationer sights and resorts.

Like practically each different large infrastructure venture on the planet, this one was held up by the coronavirus pandemic however has restarted as Singapore has dropped restrictions and adopted a “dwelling with the virus” technique.

The plan sees the 2 islands divided into 5 sections — waterfront, island coronary heart, beachfront, vibrant cluster (assume thrill sights, occasion area, and the like) and ridgefront.

The primary main initiative, a two-tiered “sensory walkway” by means of Sentosa that connects the northern and southern components of the island, is because of open subsequent yr.

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