When I visited the travel agent for my first trip to Singapore he made mentioned that the hotels that people tend to stay at are either in the Downtown Core, or on the island of Sentosa (and while there are hotels at the airport they tend to be more for people who want to get a bit of shut eye between flights, especially the longhaul one from Europe which, I have to admit, does take a lot out of you). One of the reasons that I wanted to go to Sentosa was to visit Universal Studios – I have been to Movie World and Disneyland, and wanted to add another one to my experience, not that I’m a huge fan of such themeparks, but they can prove to be good distraction (and I also recently discovered that Luna Park in Sydney and Melbourne are actually owned by the company that owns Coney Island in New York).
Anyway, we caught the MTR to Harbourfront Station which promptly dumped us in a shopping centre (which seems to be quite common when it comes to Singapore). Now, there are two ways to actually get over to Sentosa that doesn’t involve swimming (and I suspect that if you do attempt to swim you might find yourself with a fine, but then again you might not – who knows when it comes to Singapore), and that is either by the Chairlift or by the Monorail. While I sort of knew about the monorail, it was the chairlift that was actually the most noticeable, namely because you could see it when you stepped out of the shopping centre. Mind you, the chairlift doesn’t actually begin there, it begins at the peak of another mountain and crosses the bay to Sentosa, while passing through a building that happens to be the halfway point. However, getting to the chairlift (well, it wasn’t strictly a chairlift, more of a cable car because you didn’t sit in chairs that were open to the elements but large cars that dangled from the cable) wasn’t all that easy as you had to cross a carpark and then ascend to the top floor of the building.
Anyway, here is a video of the cable cars:
And here is a video that I took as we crossed over to Sentosa in the Cable Car:
Oh, and here is a map of Sentosa so you can first of all follow me along, and also find out where it is in relation to basically everything else:
Off the Cable Car
The cable car did afford some pretty impressive views of the surrounding area, which since it is Singapore’s southern shores it is basically the harbour and in all honesty, unless you like industrial wastelands there there isn’t all that much about the harbour that is worth describing. Mind you, like Hong Kong, there is this strange mix of tourism and industry, however like Hong Kong, since both places were originally British Colonies, the industry tends to trump the tourist side of things (though a lot of people do make a point of going to Singapore for the food). The thing with Sentosa, like much of Singapore, is that it is mostly, if not all, artificial. Okay, being artificial isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I did enjoy my time on the island, however in many ways it is still basically a resort.
As for the cable cars, there are actually two on the island, one that takes you from the peak of Mount Faber to the island (via a rather tall building at Vivocity, which is the name of the shopping centre), and another that sort of, but not quite, runs the length of the island. Oh, there is also the monorail, which takes you from Harbourfront to the beach with a couple of stops along the way, one of them being at the foot of a huge Chinese Dragon (actually it is called the Merlion, namely because it is a cross between a lion and a seal, but in my mind basically every strange Asian creature looks like a dragon, probably because dragons are the creatures that I am most used to, even though you see lions scattered all over the place, despite the fact that lions aren’t native to Asia). Oh, and there is also a ‘tram’ that runs along the beach, but it isn’t a real tram, just a buggy pulling a bunch of carriages.
Here is a video of the other cable car:
Anyway, as usual I seem to have become a little distracted because I was supposed to be talking about my arrival, even though there is probably not all that much to say, except that the cable car dumps you out the front of Madame Tussards, the famous wax museum that seems to appear pretty much everywhere these days, which means that the original one in London doesn’t have the same charm as it used to (though I have never been inside a Madame Tussards, and certainly wasn’t planning on starting now, though I might, one day, go into the one in London). However, after wandering around for a bit, trying to find out how to get to the aquarium (since my brother really likes fishes), we stumbled across one of those places that take photos of you holding birds, and my brother, being the person that he is, didn’t even need to be asked – he just walked straight inside and started playing with the birds.
Swimming with the Fishes
One of the problems that I have with writing about aquariums is that they are simply full of fish. Okay, the other problem is that it has been quite a while since I wandered through the dark depths of the SEA Aquarium on Sentosa, but even then if you asked me what I saw there then all I’m going to say is fish, a few crustacians, some star fish that we were able to pet, but mostly fish in aquariums. Mind you, I’d probably say the same about zoos, but in my mind animals in zoos are a lot more recognisable than fish in an aquarium. Actually, to be somewhat more specific, I would probably say that I saw some coloured fish, some fish that were big, and some that were small, but mostly I saw fish, and despite the outward appearances, and the fact that a shark doesn’t look like a stingray, and vice versa, and neither look like a gold fish, there is probably little else that I could say.
Well, I can tell you that before we actually got into the aquarium we did wander through another exhibition called ‘Silk Road by the Sea’, namely because it explored the various ports that the Europeans (namely the Portuguese) took to get goods from China to Europe. However, I have already written a post on this on my other blog so I won’t repeat anything that I have already said here, except that it was one of those exhibitions that we had to pass through to get to the actual aquarium (and while my Brother was probably more interested in seeing the fish, he’s happy enough to look at anything). As for the tickets, well, we ended up paying for the tickets to the aquarium, and Universal Studios, at the ticket booth for the cable car, and while there were other places we could have bought tickets for, Tim wanted to see the aquarium, and I wanted to check out Universal Studios.
Anyway, after meandering our way through the exhibition (which ironically made no mention of Singapore, but then again Singapore never because a major port until the British arrived – the Portuguese and others set up shop at Malacca) we finally arrived at the entrance to the aquarium, which was rather further down than expected. As an aquarium it was pretty large, and did take a while for us to make our way through each of the exhibits. Also, like other aquariums that we have visited, there are some really large tanks that contain some really large fish, and the path takes you along the bottom. Also, there was one room where one entire wall was the side of the aquarium. However, as I mentioned, it was an aquarium, and basically contained a variety of fish including jellyfish, seahorses, and of course a huge variety of tropical fish. Then again, many of the habitations are set up to mimic the environment of the fish, which is somewhat easier to do in an aquarium than it is, say, in a zoo (it is probably impossible to set up an artic environment in the middle of the desert).
So, after my brother had the pleasure of checking out the fish it was then time to go and have some lunch, and then make our way to Universal Studios. Mind you, we ended up having lunch at a place called ‘Slappy Cakes‘, which is actually a place that sells pancakes, or should I say Pancake Dough – each of the tables has a frier on the middle and you get the dough and make your own pancakes. Mind you, as my mother says with regards to similar restaurants, we go out so that somebody else can cook, if we wanted to cook we would just stay home. Needless to say we didn’t have any pancakes.
On the Set
So, after lunch it was time to head over to Universal Studios. Look, in reality this place is basically a theme park which is as real as the films that it represents, yet for some reason I had this desire to go and visit it. Mind you, it turned out to be somewhat disappointing, if only because the famous Jaws ride is now a distant memory. However, all it really is is a tribute to a bunch of movies and some rides going from being rather tame to incredibly scary. The other problem was the time when we actually went there – a Saturday. This was a problem because quite a few of the rides had quite long lines. Sure, if you had a special VIP pass then you could effectively cut the line (or if you were a single person then you could also squeeze in to some empty seats), but otherwise you would probably discover that your experience of Universal Studios was effectively standing in line with maybe a five minute burst of some thrilling ride.
Actually, we didn’t go on that many rides, partly because my brother isn’t a big fan of rough rides, and partly because we really couldn’t be bothered standing in line for so long and effectively spending our time doing absolutely nothing. We did go on a couple of rides mind you, that is being the Sesame Street ride and the Madagascar ride, which were both rather tame comparatively speaking (that is to the, well, Batman ride). I remember when we went to Movie World and to Disney Land – both times were on a weekday which meant that getting onto the rides was much quicker, though Tim would simply wait. Disneyland was much better for him, namely because the rides were nowhere near as rough.
Which brings me to the composition of the rides that we were on (well, we also went to the Donkey show, that is Donkey from Shrek, which had me scratching my head because we also met Shrek at Warner Bros Movie World, and it now leaves me wondering which film studio actually owns the rights – maybe both of them), that is the Sesame Street ride and the Madagascar ride. Basically these rides are a new way of telling a story. Sure, there are a lot of rides out there that are simply adrenaline rushes, such as roller coasters, or spectacles such as the ghost train, or Its a Small World at Disneyland, however what I discovered at Universal Studios (and I suspect it is the same at Movie World but it has been years since I was there) is that a number of these rides are a new way of telling a story.
So, basically you jump into what is effectively a car (as was the case with Sesame Street, and a boat with Madagascar) and you are taken into a tunnel. That is similar so far to Its a Small World and the Ghost Train. What will happen is that as you travel through the tunnel the story will slowly unfold, as with Sesame Street you have Super Grover flying to the Spaghetti World and defeating the evil spaghetti man (or something like that, I really can’t remember), while in Madagascar you had the animals taking over a ship, crashing on the island of Madagascar, and then going on an adventure. Actually from what I could figure out, it was simply a retelling of the film (which I have since seen, and it was).
Come to think of it, having been to one film related theme park you have probably been to them all, though my cousin did point out that the Disneyland in Hong Kong was a pale reflection of the Disneyland in California. However the first thing we noticed as we walked into Universal Studios was, well, how plastic it was, but then again it is a theme park based around a bunch of movies and if there is one thing that pretty much defines a movie and that is its fakeness. However it wasn’t that hard to wander around, and like Disneyland, it was divided into a number of different zones, including New York, Science Fiction, Jurrasic Park, and Shrek (as well as The Mummy and other places). As it turned out, you ended up just walking around a lake, and also like Disneyland, you pay once to enter and all of the rides are free (though you still have to pay for food, and the souvenirs).
Wandering the Beach
Well, after spending a couple of hours wandering around Universal Studios it was time to go and check out the beach. However before I head down that way I should mention resort world. Well, resort world is basically what the name says – a resort. I would say that it is a resort that effectively cuts you off from reality, but then again that is basically what a resort is all about anyway. I remember seeing people post pictures of the multitude of different swimming pools that they visited in Bali, and no doubt they never actually saw the real Bali. Okay, my experience in Phuket was that you had to travel through the real Phuket to get to the resorts, but the thing with me is that I actually like the real places as opposed to the resorts that are little more than ‘safe zones’ for Westerners that really don’t want to believe that the world is actually an incredibly harsh place.
The annoying thing about Resortworld was that the only place that I could eat was that Slappy Cakes – everything else simply seemed to be a part of the modern megacorporate reality that we create around ourselves. In fact a part of it was this huge undercover mall with your standard chain restaurants, gyms, and a casino, which I have at admit that I had no intention of entering. Actually the last time I went into a casino was back in Adelaide and that was only to have a beer while waiting for a train. Okay, I might have visited the Melbourne one, but that would have simply been to watch a football match.
So, after collecting our bags from the locker room, we jumped back on the mono-rail, wandered past the Merlion, and caught the cable car to the other side of the island. I was supposed to go and visit Fort Siloso, which I suspect was an old British Fort, but I sort of got a little confused thinking that Google Maps had effectively got everything wrong, particularly with the aquarium. So instead we walked along the beach.
Now the interesting thing about the beach is that it is sort of sheltered with some islands just off shore. The other thing is that looking across the straights you end up seeing what is in effect an industrial hell – this is why I don’t actually find Sentosa to be a resort of any worth, it just seems as if it is one of those places that seems to being trying to create an illusion that is easily pierced, which is probably what most resorts are like. Mind you the difference between Singapore and, say, Phuket, is that Phuket is phenomenally cheaper, however what I have also discovered is that while something may appear to be cheap in reality that cheapness is actually a deception because by appearing cheap it actually makes you spend a lot more.
As for the beach, well it turned out that there was only one bar along the stretch, a bar called the Bikini Bar that had Bintang Beer bottles everywhere. A part of me felt that they were trying to replicate Bali, but then again I have never been to Bali so I can’t really comment. I did try to go somewhere else for a drink as well and unless you were willing to actually buy something to eat they wouldn’t let you in. Oh, they also had some ‘beach clubs’ along the stretch as well, but my impression was that they seemed to be targeted towards the young and hip, and since I am neither I decided that it was probably best to catch (what turned out to be a rather crowded) train back to the city.
At least the Singaporeans are polite enough to stand up so that my brother can have a seat.